IndiPac's Trail Angel, Kay Haarsma

Kay Haarsma lives in suburban Adelaide in South Australia. Every year, she opens up her home for the Indian Pacific Wheel Race riders to offer them a few creature comforts on their journey through to Sydney. We wanted to know a bit more about Kay and her "Highbury Refuge" ahead of the 2020 race which takes place in March.

How did you get into dotwatching?

I’ve dot watched a few Tour Divides where I knew people riding.
I really only understood the power of dotwatching when I rode the initial 2016 Tour Aotearoa, which was 3000km end to end in New Zealand by mountain bike. Only a few of my friends were following it but I had some funny calls from Australia. One morning I had stayed in an open house (like a refuge) and left a little late, after 8am (being polite over breakfast) and an Adelaide friend rang to ask if I was ill/injured as my dot wasn’t moving! Another friend rang as my dot showed I was camped under a tree in suburbia – yes, I was!

How far along the route is the Highbury Refuge and why do you think you’re particularly well-placed to offer support to riders?

I’m at the 2806km mark which is about 4km from the start of the linear path route along the River Torrens which leads to the Adelaide CBD. I’m literally 30m off the path on a no through road, so access is easy.

Riders tend to take longer than they think getting to Adelaide on that day, so I’m a welcome stop.

In 2017 & 2018 I did a lot of leading riders from the Gorge Rd down the linear path to Victoria Square in Adelaide as the path is difficult to follow; they like the company, and it gives me a ride too. On one occasion I spent 12 hours continuously going up and back! I always carry a backpack with cans of coke, bananas, apples, hot cross buns etc to distribute.

More stayed overnight this year as I was home all the time. It helped that I usually messaged riders a day out reminding them of my refuge & giving exact details. It’s a bit harder finding a refuge in a big city than in a country town. This year a fellow dotwatcher, Scott Wood who lives just up the road, escorted a few riders to my place in the night, as he knew I had an “open house".

Sign to Kay's house
Riders are encouraged to visit the Highbury Refuge on their way into Adelaide.

What are some of your most memorable moments?

This year I had Hadyn Bevan staying when I went to bed about 10.30pm. I heard some packing type noise at midnight and I went to the toilet at 2am only to see a bike in the hallway but thought that Hadyn must have moved his from the lounge. At 5am I went to the kitchen for painkillers & saw that it was a different bike. looked in the lounge and there was a body asleep on the floor! At 6am Hadyn left after breakfast and Fuzzy Wuzzy (Justin Barrasch) moved into the bed & slept until 10am!

One rider got worried by strange animal noises outside but it turned out that it was a koala or two grunting.

I made a great big IndyPac sign and put it on the path opposite my house. However, halfway through the race it got stolen/moved. I realized this just as dusk drew in and had a rider due in that night. Being on crutches at the time, I asked one of my neighbours if they could concoct a sign. They knew nothing about the event but father and son had fun making a basic sign & tying it down for me.

New indipac sign
Kay's new sign by her creative neighbours.

When riders stop by the Highbury Refuge, what can they expect?

I have one spare bed plus mattress on the floor, a shower and some food. I also have a surfeit of bike bottles which was useful this year as Paul Chartres had both bidons driven over by a car whilst restocking at Kersbrook – I managed to declutter by two after his visit!

FWuzzy&Kay
Kay discovered Fuzzy Wuzzy in her home when she woke up one morning!

What motivates you to offer riders a helping hand throughout the race?

Pay back time. Having done many long remote distance rides myself, I know how riders look forward to human interaction, a good bed, shower and food. The front runners don’t usually stay, but the others certainly value a real bed. I was house bound with an injured knee in 2019, so it was nice chatting to someone other than myself!

Have you got any favourite 'tales from the road' from riders?

Dave Cashman told of being inadvertently locked in a service station at Pt Augusta, luckily with his bike inside, when the power went out. Some local youths tried to break in shortly afterwards.

Sarah Hammond being refused service at the McDonald’s drive through in Pt Augusta is a classic.

Seb Dunne had to pull out of an event at Wilmington (southern Flinders Ranges near Melrose) and he got completely outfitted (thongs, shorts, shirt, jumper) at the local op shop for the princely sum of $6 and he had trouble convincing them to take $10. This is a legendary op shop in the area!

Trevor Fairhurst had been given a “Leave Pass Certificate” to do IndiPac as a birthday present. I think it was him also who had lovely bright orange handcrafted bags by his wife.

Kevin Paine admitted to not having done enough training & preparation plus not having enough leave from work, so he needed to “finish” in Melbourne, however he was using it as a learning experience for doing the whole thing in 2019/2020.

Michael Cross, another Taree rider, was doing IndiPac as a 50th birthday present to himself and aimed (and did) finish in Sydney on his actual birthday.

PBP & Kay
Eventual winner Jacob Fryatt, who raced under the pseudonym PlantBasedPedaller.

We look forward to watching the dots of the 2020 IndiPac race courtesy of MaProgress. Riders have begun signing up now and if you're interested, you can do so here.

Look out for Kay's Highbury Refuge as you pass through Adelaide!