Grass Roots Rugby Project

A full rugby year on the saddle

After an entire year on the road it feels like a reasonably good time to reflect on things, only weeks before our hideous self-inflicted schedule sees us attempt over 6,000km of Australia in a little over 9 weeks, starting in Darwin on June 28th.

Yes, we have now bagged over 20,000km on the saddle, and yes my marbles are more than aware of this. Yet the fact remains, we are not setting any records in the world of pedal power, and it will take something a little extraordinary from here to become the new faces of Bran Flakes. Of course it's been a mixed bag and as you can imagine, 365 days spent largely in a 4 foot wide tent has tested our resolve, hygiene expectations, and perhaps the relationship a little too. Naturally, for such a confined environment, the inevitable hormones, tears and emotions have flowed, but thankfully Jodie has always managed to pick me right back up again.

Perhaps our closest venture into exploring unchartered territory was in October 2010, when we cycled within 1.2km of Osama Bin Laden's hideout in Abbottobad, Pakistan. Thankfully, we chose not to go knocking around for water that afternoon, although that same day we still ended up sleeping in Abbottobad police custody.

The ride has definitely had its ups and downs, but with the bikes weighing nearly 60kg each (with water), I have to say I'd take the downs any day of the week. We froze at -25 in the Chinese desert but somehow pedalled on, as we had in 45 degrees through Iran, with Jodie wrapped to the eyeballs in reluctant Islamic conformity. Yet without a moment's hesitation, we can pinpoint the hardest part of this project; It's been trying to make a difference.

Working with the Tag Rugby Development Trust (TRDT), we set out to uncover a world of rugby, and to remind anyone who will listen, that cultures, religions, and the odd testicular delicatacy aside, we really aren't all that different. Rugby has been present globally since its innoculation, but often generations of players have come and gone in waves, quite literally when considered the Navy had a resounding influence in it's initial spread. Now the tides have turned, and in almost all our 24 countries this far, rugby has some young roots in the culture, and we have an obligation as the "rugby family" to support this growth.

Somehow, despite 21 language barriers and a Geordie coach in Laos, we have unearthed projects from all over the world, where men and women together are using rugby to change the lives of those who need it most. Who cares whether we see the Cambodian rugby team make the Rugby World Cup 2023, only to lose 183-0 to Scotland 'B' in the group stage? I certainly don't and if that's the only reason anyone would choose to invest their time into such a project, then I fear they have no love or understanding of what the sport can offer. Where rugby has travelled, I can promise that somehow an unwritten spirit and camaraderie has followed, the same that you enjoy at your club, but often these groups are small and isolated and could achieve so much more with just a little support from you and I. With only the time and energy of these few inspirational individuals, the sport is tackling everything from drugs, prostitution, human trafficking to unimaginable poverty, but yet still it remains that they are left working ill-equipped and over-stretched.

The other thing that was ill-equipped and over-stretched was our self funded budget of just 10 dollars per day, not each, but between us. Recently, this took a rather substantial hammering, when in Bangkok I was hospitalised, eating up twice our Australian-New Zealand airfair budget in the process. I should add, without hesitation, that if the dilemma were to repeat itself, I'd save all those kittens, puppies and orphans over and over again, selflessly taking my chances of recovery back with the 15 hot Thai nurses.

With the entire project brought to the brink of failure, a new friend from our rugby journey stepped back in to deliver us to the tournament. Ray Peacock, who had introduced us into the Hong Kong Football Club, Hong Kong, works for DHL and with his worldwide team of rugby-fanatic colleagues they conjured a plan to see us reach Eden Park. Thanks to Ray and the DHL Global Forwarding team, we now have the transport of our bikes and luggage sorted across the remaining water crossings. All to help support true grass roots rugby.

I guess our news to everyone is that you have a world of friends out there, people who would love you to get involved, in any way that you want or can. They are your rugby mates, the ones laying at the bottom of a ruck and currently getting a good shoe-ing for the cause, it's time that we got in there and did some clearing out. As we travel, we will now be encouraging rugby clubs, or individuals, to engage in our "sister-brother" rugby scheme, uniting western rugby clubs with poorer counterparts worldwide. Through the TRDT, volunteers can get involved and participate in unique experiences all over the world, and now, they can even assist from the comfort of their clubhouse too. If you are reading, please go another step and introduce yourself to us, this is why we pedal. At least I think this is why we pedal, as admittedly I never truly established the link between rugby and so much scrotal discomfort.

So that's our year sign off, and after 365 dinners on the road my passion for 2 minute noodles is finally waning. I've even considered spending tonight's 40 cent allowance on a cornetto but it won't happen, we have another 100km to pedal tomorrow, and as I am often reminded, I treated myself to an ice cream last week.

www.CyclingToTheRugbyWorldCup.com
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