01-25-2011 16:48
British rugby enthusiasts cycle on global charity run

Tom Hudson and Jodie Burton pose on the banks of the frozen Han River upon arriving in Seoul during their global bicycle marathon. / Courtesy of Tom Hudson

By John Redmond

Undertaking a 25,000-kilometer bicycle charity ride from one end of the globe to the other might not be everyone¡¯s cup of tea, but for rugby fans Tom Hudson, from Lewisham in London, and Jodie Burton, from Harlow, Essex, currently in Seoul, it is without doubt the experience of a lifetime. The two are 14,500 kilometers into their trip.

They are cycling to raise awareness of the benefits of the sport of rugby. But also they seek to generate funds for ¡°Rays of Sunshine¡± a children¡¯s charity dedicated to granting the wishes of children with life threatening illnesses between the ages of three to 18,¡± and the ¡°Tag Rugby Trust,¡± which works with orphanages in remote regions around the world. The two have so far raised £5,000 ($8,000) of a £28,000 target.

They started out with a send-off at Twickenham Stadium, the largest rugby stadium in the United Kingdom by Rugby Football Union (RFU) President John Owens on May 1, 2010. In Seoul on Monday night, Hudson and Burton took time out of their busy schedule to speak with this reporter at Scrooge Pub in Itaewon about their challenging journey.

Having traversed most of Europe after taking the ferry to France they have cycled through countries including France, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Georgia, before heading to the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. They eventually moved on to such Central Asian nations as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan and China and finally ending up in Seoul earlier this week.

Nine months into the journey and about to head to Japan, Burton elaborated on the planning stage that was fraught with the unexpected.

¡°I started planning about five months before we undertook it. I had it mapped out, but things never go as planned. We had to improvise a little bit, but we¡¯re still on track,¡± she said.

As with most travel plans, the unexpected happens. In the case of Asia, the cold spell has not been a setback.

On some of the more challenging aspects of their travels, Burton had this to say.

¡°When we go online (on our laptop if we can get a signal) and people say ¡®It¡¯s so cold here in England,¡¯ I think about me sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere and I think, ¡®What are you complaining about?¡¯¡± laments a tongue-in-cheek Burton.

The couple use the laptop as a means of keeping people updated on their progress and to make calls using Skype.

Together the two have forged a strong sense of community throughout their travels and have never lost sight of their objective.

¡°We went to countries where rugby is not a high-profile sport. It¡¯s often perceived as American football. We noticed that in Turkey and Iran, the dictionary definition of rugby is ¡®American style football,¡¯¡± said Hudson referring to official definitions.

Speaking about the work of the ¡°Tag Rugby Trust,¡± Hudson explained the basic concept.

¡°They organize global community work and use rugby as a social development tool,¡± he emphasized.

The Tag Rugby Trust is a rugby-based charity that was formed in 2002. It exists to help improve the lives of children in the U.K. and in some of the poorest regions of the world. The organization currently works with orphanages and government schools in India, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico and Romania using the game of Tag Rugby as a vehicle. It funds tours through volunteers who pay to join the adventure and who work closely with the children in a coaching capacity. Almost without exception, volunteers say that the tour is a life-changing experience for them.

Arriving in Seoul was a bit of a milestone as members of the Seoul Survivors Rugby Football Club were instrumental in setting the two up with decent accommodation (and this interview), introducing them to members of the Korean rugby fraternity, and ensuring a safe passage for the next leg of their sojourn.

¡°Where¡¯re basically bang on schedule which is why we¡¯re strict on 500 kilometers per week. We¡¯ve been in Seoul for two days this week and tomorrow morning we¡¯ll head to Busan and that will be our five-day cycle for this week,¡± said Hudson contemplating their heading to Japan, the next leg of the journey.

The trip has not been without a few hiccups as equipment failures enviably have taken their toll.

Having tested the limitations of their bicycles and equipment, Hudson elaborated on issues not commonly associated with riding a bike over a long distance.

Most people associate riding a bicycle for a long distance with the inevitable puncture or flat tire, back pain or being saddle sore. Rather than carry a replacement tire, it¡¯s more practical to carry a spare inner tube. They are lighter and very easily fixable.
However, even with a good bike, replacing a chain seems the least of one¡¯s problems. Not so according to both riders. Hudson explains the rationale behind packing a spare chain.

¡°I¡¯ve replaced two tires, I usually replace the inner tube, but the tires went. What most people don¡¯t expect is to replace a chain. Jodie has been lucky so far. What most people don¡¯t realize is that the chain, over such a long haul, stretches. It becomes slack and screws up the catchment in the gears, leading to bent cogs and bad gear action. It¡¯s easier and a hell of a lot cheaper to replace a stretched chain than buy a whole new set of gears.¡±

An option blatantly not worth considering when in a non-English speaking country on a budget of £5 a day. The average replacement bicycle chain for a 27 gear basic mountain/hybrid bike can stretch upwards of $30 whereas a set of Shimano gears will set the user back a minimum of $150 for a basic set of 18 gears (a set of six cogs) plus chaining.

A figure that might seem a little trivial by some standards, but bearing in mind, in the middle of nowhere, this can be a daunting situation, given a dedicated timeline and restricted funds, resources, plus sleeping in a tent in the Himalayas.

The couple is in the process of writing a book on the journey and to unearth useful and amusing stories of rugby throughout the world.

The 25,000-kilometer cycle charity run is slated to be concluded at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup final to be held on Oct .23.

For more information contact jodieandtom@googlemail.com or log onto www.CyclingToTheRugbyWorldCup.com

For more information on Ray of Sunshine go to www.rayofsunshine.org.uk

For information on Tag Rugby Trust check out tagrugbytrust.co.uk