Military veteran Chris Gee is completing a fully self-funded, solo bike ride around Australia raising funds for Legacy, but it's not about the money.
"I just want to get the conversation out there that it is OK to talk about mental health," Chris said.
"I toured Timor in 1999, but I didn't go to Iraq or Afghanistan, and I left after 10 years then did 12 years with the Queensland Ambulance service as a paramedic.
"Over the course of 22 years, I saw stuff that isn't the nicest thing to look at and packaged up a lot of things and put them at the back of my head because I didn't want to process it."
After suffering a breakdown last year, Chris admitted himself to the Townsville Private Clinic.
"My marriage ended, and I've been diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression, hypervigilance, and alcohol misuse disorder," Chris said.
"I never really opened up about my problems, and I think that is common practice with a lot of veterans as they just don't want to talk about it, and that's why the suicide rate is ridiculous, and we need to get on top of it.
"For me, this is like the great reset, I suppose; I've taken six months out of my world just to take this ride on to see how I do.
"I have three beautiful boys, 9, 7, and 3, and I'm missing them dearly, but I explained to them why I wanted to do this."
Chris has already raised close to $5,000 for Legacy, but he says the fundraising side of things is not his main purpose.
"I thought if I'm going to do this ride, why not attach a foundation to it, and Legacy came straight to mind, he said.
"I'm not putting a value on it - whatever I can raise is more than they had without it."
Meeting as many people as he can to discuss mental health and listen to others' stories is also becoming a big part of Chris' routine.
"I'm trying to stop whenever I see someone at a rest area to say g'day and have a chat," Chris said. "It's been pretty amazing so far. I've bumped into some characters that talked about suicide and depression in their lines of work which sort of blew me away."
Nearly two weeks into his ride, Chris said he thinks the recently announced Royal Commission into veteran suicide is good, but it needs to be expanded.
"I spoke to one guy who told me about some old guys who butchered cattle, and they did it for years then they'd retire, and they'd top themselves because they realised what they'd done for such a long time and a big wall came over the top of them," he said.
"I'm also meeting people who are talking about fly-in -fly-out suicide, and I'm thinking, wow, this is not just locked into the two industries I'm familiar with; it's actually quite broad.
"While this ride is a healing process for me, I also want to get the conversation out that it is OK to talk about mental health, and hopefully, we can achieve something."
Before joining the military, Chris grew up on the Gold Coast and went to an all-boys boarding school.
"I played rugby league, rugby union, I rode surf boats and you had to have that hardened exterior and couldn't really talk about the issues and what is happening inside," he said.
"It cost me my marriage. I met my soulmate, and we had three beautiful kids together, and we had 16 years together, but she couldn't take anymore - and it was my fault.
"Now, 8 days into my adventure, I can understand - I was on a collision course of self-destruction, and it sucks."
Defence support services:
- The Defence all-hours Support Line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families 1800 628 036
- Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families 1800 011 046
- Soldier On is a national support services provider for Defence personnel, contemporary veterans, and their families. Contact during office hours 1300 620 380
Chris said his time on the road cycling long distances had given him plenty of time to think - but some legs have been more meditative than others.
"I'm never riding a pushbike from Cloncurry to Mount Isa again," he said.
"It was undulating, it was hot, it was good for fitness, but it was a hard push."
But so far his punishing schedule has not given him any problems physically - even though he did not train for the trip and has never done marathon cycling before.
"I've done two ironmen marathons, but I'm pretty lucky because, for some reason, I don't get saddle sore," he said
"I've had six operations on my right knee through my military career, so I use my left leg a little bit more than my right, and my left quad's been a little bit sore and so has my right hip flexor but other than that, I'm fine."
Last week, Mr Gee stayed with a paramedic mate of his in Mount Isa after riding 897 kilometres over eight days from Townsville to get here on what he expects to be about a 24-week journey.
"I've got to have plans A to Z because I'm already on plan B as I broke my first bike 18 km east of Pentland," Chris said.
"I had an army mate come and get me and take me back to get a new bike back in Townsville; then an old ambo mate brought me back to where I was.
"And obviously, with the current pandemic, if there border restrictions, I'll have to rejig my ride.
Inland at the moment, Chris said he is basically following the A1 Highway and his plan when he gets to West Australia is to hug the coast doing about 100 to 150 kilometres each day.
"Already, I feel a lot better than I did," he said.
"It's a good journey, but it's a hard journey, and I'm terrified. I'm stepping off into the never-never now, so we'll see what happens."
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