Poorest the most generous on epic 322-day world cycle ride

322 DAYS AND STILL BIKING: New Zealand Olympic cyclist Rebecca Wardell, 41, biked into Mangapapa School yesterday to share her 19,000km journey, called The Long Way Home, with, from left, Katy Gibson-Baty, Manaia Wynyard, Izzy Scanlan, Riana Mauheni, Ariana Shanks and Cameron Walters. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

Yesterday’s visit to Mangapapa School was part of the long way home for New Zealand Olympian Rebecca Wardell.

The cyclist is biking back to Lake Hawea, in the South Island (where she lives) from Lake Geneva, in Switzerland.

It has been 322 days of cycling an average of 80 kms (or about five hours) every day. It has taken the 41-year-old across 18 different countries, a distance of 19,000 kilometres, a climb 10.5 times the height of Mount Everest, and 10 flat tyres.

Ms Wardell is doing it to encourage young people, especially high school-aged girls, to participate in sport.

Also, to show crazy adventure ideas are possible.

Ms Wardell was joined on sections of her journey by New Zealand rowers Emma Twigg and Sarah van Ballekom. The three of them hatched the adventure ride, calling it The Long Way Home, while they were cycling in Switzerland. They knew how positive an involvement in sport had been for their lives, and wanted to pass that benefit on.

Friends from Switzerland also covered a few kilometres with them, and Ms Wardell’s parents joined in at different times for moral support through different countries.

The only country she biked through solo was Thailand.

Ms Wardell spoke to other Olympians from the countries she passed through, and took time to stop in at local schools.

There was a social element to her journey, she told the learners at Mangapapa. For every kilometre biked, $1 went to the Forward Foundation — a Kiwi charity to encourage young girls through sport.

Ms Wardell showed a montage of the journey to the class.

Highlights for the students included every time an animal walked across the screen — including camels (as many as there are sheep in New Zealand), monkeys in Malaysia watching from telephone wires, elephants, donkeys and even rats that ate her chocolate when she slept in drains underneath highways in China.

They went from 40 degree summer heat in Iran, biking covered from head to toe because of the culture, to minus 10 degree days in China where one day it was so cold the gears on her bike froze up.

Ms Wardell said her life became packed into four bags attached to her bike, which made it weigh 46 kgs — “very heavy”. Items included food, water, clothes for all seasons, phone, toothbrush, toothpaste, sleeping bag, tent, chain oil for the bikes . . . you name it.

Physical discomfort aside, it was the mental challenges that posed the most stress, she said

Where would they sleep that night, what would they eat, and how would they get there were the three daily concerns.

Every day they biked into the unknown but even when hopping on a train tempted her, Ms Wardell remembered her goal and biked on.

As they cycled further East through Turkey and Iran it became harder to find shelter — there were no campgrounds, no guests houses or hotels.

They would cycle into villages, find a dairy, then ask if they knew anywhere to sleep.

“Every time they helped us out.”

The kindness and generosity of strangers was amazing, she said.

Iran had the kindest people, who brought the cyclists into their homes, fed them and gave them shelter for the night.

“They were very generous people.”

Turkish police gave them an escort across their country. In Tajikistan, farmers stopped them as they cycled past to offer bananas, other fruit, water, or a cup of tea.

“It was the poorest people who wanted to give us the most.”

Ms Wardell said in some places there were no people at all — just an endless expanse of desert.

Ironically the hardest part of the journey so far had been the roads and hills of New Zealand. Cars went too fast and passed too close, Ms Wardell said. It was the most scared she had felt throughout her whole journey.

Plus the hills of the East Cape had given her sore legs that day, she told the students.

Ms Wardell said she cycled as far as she could on land until they met the ocean and had to fly.

Countries she cycled through included Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and New Zealand.

Yesterday’s visit to Mangapapa School was part of the long way home for New Zealand Olympian Rebecca Wardell.

The cyclist is biking back to Lake Hawea, in the South Island (where she lives) from Lake Geneva, in Switzerland.

It has been 322 days of cycling an average of 80 kms (or about five hours) every day. It has taken the 41-year-old across 18 different countries, a distance of 19,000 kilometres, a climb 10.5 times the height of Mount Everest, and 10 flat tyres.

Ms Wardell is doing it to encourage young people, especially high school-aged girls, to participate in sport.

Also, to show crazy adventure ideas are possible.

Ms Wardell was joined on sections of her journey by New Zealand rowers Emma Twigg and Sarah van Ballekom. The three of them hatched the adventure ride, calling it The Long Way Home, while they were cycling in Switzerland. They knew how positive an involvement in sport had been for their lives, and wanted to pass that benefit on.

Friends from Switzerland also covered a few kilometres with them, and Ms Wardell’s parents joined in at different times for moral support through different countries.

The only country she biked through solo was Thailand.

Ms Wardell spoke to other Olympians from the countries she passed through, and took time to stop in at local schools.

There was a social element to her journey, she told the learners at Mangapapa. For every kilometre biked, $1 went to the Forward Foundation — a Kiwi charity to encourage young girls through sport.

Ms Wardell showed a montage of the journey to the class.

Highlights for the students included every time an animal walked across the screen — including camels (as many as there are sheep in New Zealand), monkeys in Malaysia watching from telephone wires, elephants, donkeys and even rats that ate her chocolate when she slept in drains underneath highways in China.

They went from 40 degree summer heat in Iran, biking covered from head to toe because of the culture, to minus 10 degree days in China where one day it was so cold the gears on her bike froze up.

Ms Wardell said her life became packed into four bags attached to her bike, which made it weigh 46 kgs — “very heavy”. Items included food, water, clothes for all seasons, phone, toothbrush, toothpaste, sleeping bag, tent, chain oil for the bikes . . . you name it.

Physical discomfort aside, it was the mental challenges that posed the most stress, she said

Where would they sleep that night, what would they eat, and how would they get there were the three daily concerns.

Every day they biked into the unknown but even when hopping on a train tempted her, Ms Wardell remembered her goal and biked on.

As they cycled further East through Turkey and Iran it became harder to find shelter — there were no campgrounds, no guests houses or hotels.

They would cycle into villages, find a dairy, then ask if they knew anywhere to sleep.

“Every time they helped us out.”

The kindness and generosity of strangers was amazing, she said.

Iran had the kindest people, who brought the cyclists into their homes, fed them and gave them shelter for the night.

“They were very generous people.”

Turkish police gave them an escort across their country. In Tajikistan, farmers stopped them as they cycled past to offer bananas, other fruit, water, or a cup of tea.

“It was the poorest people who wanted to give us the most.”

Ms Wardell said in some places there were no people at all — just an endless expanse of desert.

Ironically the hardest part of the journey so far had been the roads and hills of New Zealand. Cars went too fast and passed too close, Ms Wardell said. It was the most scared she had felt throughout her whole journey.

Plus the hills of the East Cape had given her sore legs that day, she told the students.

Ms Wardell said she cycled as far as she could on land until they met the ocean and had to fly.

Countries she cycled through included Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and New Zealand.

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