The world lost a good soul on 1 December 2020. Paul Begg passed away after a four-year battle with cancer. If you know cycling (or motorcycling) in Australia, chances are you have a story about this larger-than-life character who will ride on, forever in our memories…
In memoriam: Paul Begg (14 December 1966 – 1 December 2020)
Eventually it happened. It was a long time in coming and, of course, he had us fooled that he’d beat the bastard. Alas, cancer got him in the end. He rode bikes. He laughed often. And he had universal appeal. And now there’s a long list of people shedding tears, trying to come to terms with the end of a life that was well lived.
Paul Begg was, quite simply, a good bloke. And it’s awful to think that he’s gone so soon. A few weeks shy of his 54th birthday, he said goodbye for the last time.
Cancer got him, but the illness won’t define ‘Beggsy’. It was just that little part of his life that happened to come along and, somehow, wrestle with his heart and, eventually, get it to stop. It must have been quite a fight though.
The Big C comes along and destroys many a life, but Paul didn’t just bow down to it and succumb. He rode. He laughed. He defied the odds, momentarily. And he led us to believe that, despite the enormity of the battle he faced, he would overcome it.
On Tuesday night, Paul Houston Begg “slipped away”. And many in the Australian cycling realm realised that someone special was gone.
He was one of the country’s original mountain bikers. He carved out a reputation as a rider without fear, with a good dose of ability, and an endless sense of adventure. He could ride and he liked to race, and he took to coaching with true passion… but what makes Paul Begg so unique was his ability to make everything he did seem like it was riotously hilarious.
A few years ago, he set off on a mountain biking adventure along with Matt Holmes in a journey they called ‘Salt2Snow’. It was a charity ride and a showcase of how cycling can help people, even blokes who had come up against this illness.
Both Paul and Matt have had their battles with cancer. Together, while they rode from Lake Eyre to Mt Kosciuszko late in 2018, they effectively penned a little note to the illness.
‘Dear Cancer,’ they were saying with their adventure, ‘Fuck you. Leave us alone. Kind regards. Paul and Matt.’
The Salt2Snow ride is one small example of the many things Paul Begg did while embracing life. Now that he’s gone, there is going to be a flood of other anecdotes that will inevitably spill onto social media pages, and get spoken about at social gatherings, by people who got to know him.
Many of us in the cycling game have our stories about Paul. My association with him began back in 1993 when he was recruited by a magazine I worked for at the time. Back then, I did the design and editing, and Paul went on adventures and – occasionally – did the writing. He also arranged the photography and managed the chaos of a scene that was just getting established.
Talk to anyone in the Australian MTB community and say the words ‘Paul Begg’ and you’re going to get a smile in return. He was one of the originals, a pioneer of a sport that offers fun, randomness, competition and camaraderie. He had the kind of personality and physical gusto that allowed him to amuse and explore and race and bring people together.
He couldn’t ride his bike towards the end, and that must’ve irritated him enormously as sitting still is one thing that Paul found difficult to do. Everything else in life, however, seemed to come easily to him.
He was an athlete, an entertainer, a designer, a craftsman, a thinker and a larrikin. He united people from all walks of life and at a memorial next Friday in Oberon, there’ll be a wide mix of characters.
The cycling community will be well represented but so too the motorcycling community, who have a whole collection of different anecdotes. And, of course, there are the people from the many other worlds he inhabited and impacted. He was an advertising copywriter, furniture designer, and a renovator who took delight from turning something discarded and decrepit into a work of art.
He was the kind of guy who seemed capable of doing anything and everything – and even though he was living with the effects of an illness for four years, we could be fooled into thinking that he’d keep on ticking off the items on his never-ending to-do list for many years to come. Alas, that’s not going to happen.
The note on his FB page offers plenty for us to consider, but it also highlights how difficult it is to summarise who Paul Begg was and what he meant to the many who came to know him. He was a man for all seasons and all people.
“Paul Houston Begg – son, brother, twin, lover, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend – gently slipped away on Tuesday night after a 4-year journey with cancer. A rider, adventurer, designer, maker, aesthete and inimitable source of joy and laughter, he came at life with gusto and courage. His friendships were broad and many, his ideas grand, his grin infectious, and his heart huge and kind. Remember him well, and often.”
– Paul Houston Begg (14 December 1966 – 1 December 2020)
One of the many memories which spring to mind when I consider my interactions with him is from a random Friday afternoon a few years ago. We’d worked together and become friends but, as happens, we drifted off in our respective directions. We would follow each other sporadically on social media and, once in a while, we’d ping each other a hello on FB, or like a post.
We knew that, eventually, there’d be another reason to meet and when that time came, we’d surely ride bikes and behave as he always liked to behave – as though life was one big adventure… and it was too short to take everything seriously.
He could talk about old times as easily as he spoke about the future. He lived an accomplished life and had little left to prove, but he was always willing to learn and try something different.
On the Friday I have in mind, my phone rang. The screen showed an all-caps name: “BEGG”.
‘Huh?’ I thought, ‘I haven’t heard from him in a long time… what’s he calling about?’
When I answered, he hollered: “Robbie! What are we doing now?!”
“Speaking to mates,” I replied.
“That’s right, my friend. It’s easy to do, huh? Just pick up the phone and ring someone you used to know,” he announced, before cutting quickly to the reason for the call.
“People don’t speak so much anymore,” he explained, “they just write or ‘like’ stuff. But they don’t talk. I looked through my phone,” he told me that day, “and I saw your name and thought, ‘Time to catch up.’”
If only it was possible to reciprocate that concept now. If only I could dial a number and get him on the line. It’s too late. He’s gone. He’s not forgotten, and I will indeed remember him well. If I were able to chuck in one last call to him, it’d be a simple one.
“Hey mate,” I’d say, “Love your work. Thanks for being a good bloke. I miss you. Let’s ride.”
– By Rob Arnold