Bicycling (South Africa)
TWO YEARS AFTER MICHAEL TABTABAI LOST HIS FATHER, HE PLANNED AN AWESOME CROSS-COUNTRY RIDE THAT SHIFTED THE TRAJECTORY OF HIS LIFE. SOON HE WAS JOINED BY OTHERS LOOKING FOR A CHALLENGE.
BICYCLING: WHEN DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THIS RIDE?
michael tabtabai: It was right after I told Andrew [Hudon] that my dad had passed away. Andrew had watched his mom fight cancer. We had been doing these shorter, self-supported charity rides. I had always wanted to ride across the country. I remember him saying, “We have to do this.”
At the time we thought, This is the biggest one, it’s the last one. That’s why we called it Leave It On The Road. Frankly, it was meant to be the end of a chapter and not the beginning of one. But then I had a sense of, okay, what’s next? The goal now is to continually challenge ourselves with a ride that has that same sense of nervousness and life-altering effect.
WHICH LIOTR RIDE MOST CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
randall fransen: When I came on [in 2015], I was recovering from some pretty bad health issues. I lost blood and my body couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. The pain was tremendous and unmitigated. I spent seven months before the ride trying to get my body to rebuild red blood cells. I was finally just getting back on the bike when it started. The first day we set off I was very quietly and internally terrified. I didn’t think that I could finish. But when I did, I felt like I was coming back from the dead.
ANY LIFE-CHANGING MOMENTS THAT STICK OUT? FUNNY, DARK?
rf: Yeah. [Both laugh] There’s a couple on both sides of that spectrum.
mt: That first ride across the country is still probably where I had the lowest moment I’ve had on a bike. We got lost in a thunderstorm, and we realised around 1 a.m. that we’d been riding in the wrong direction for 60km. The terrain was short, punchy, 20 per cent uphills and downhills. It was freezing, we had already ridden 160km, we needed to ride 290km tomorrow, and we’d just added extra mileage. But we were committed to riding every inch of that ride. We got to the hotel at 5 a.m.
There are always the moments when I have to dig deepest into the painful memories from my dad’s last couple of days. It helps me detach from I don’t want to feel my legs anymore. I don’t want to feel what my lungs are doing.
I think about a memory that reminds me why I’m doing this, and frankly pisses me off, and makes me wanna ride harder. Sometimes that’s at a moment when everyone’s having a good time, and I’m thinking about watching my father die. I got to say goodbye, I got to have my final words with him, and I feel lucky to have that. WHAT IF SOMEONE HAS A REVELATION AND DECIDES THEY WANT TO DO A RIDE LIKE THIS? DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE ON HOW YOU LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE AND COMMIT? mt: Yeah! Definitely do it! rf: Decide to do it, and worry about the other things later. Coming up against obstacles is just part of the journey.