A Journey to the Rugby World Cup
Enduring police custody in Pakistan, an attack of cockroaches in Indonesia, nearly freezing to death in China and being harassed by a bear in Romania while you're naked would be outside the comfort zone of most backpackers. But not so for gap year travellers Jodie Burton and Tom Hudson.
Jodie, 31, and Tom, 30, both had respectable but unfulfilling lives in London when, in 2009, they came up with the idea of a cross-continental adventure that would change everything. Between May 2010 and October 2011 Jodie and Tom cycled 28,000 km across 29 countries to reach the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, raising around £30,000 for their chosen charities in the process. Gapyear.com spoke to Jodie to find out more about their adventure.
Hi Jodie. Why on Earth did you do this?
Why? Well, we needed a challenge. We both read an adventure travel book called The Crossing, by James Cracknell and Ben Fogle. Tom was super keen to do the same, i.e. row across the Atlantic, sadly I wasn't so enthused so I persuaded Tom to come round to my old dream - cycling across the world. He agreed! And that was it. Decision made. But.... he needed a hook. And it turned out to be the Rugby World Cup in NZ. As long as we could explore rugby along the way, in every country, he would do the cycle with me. Great.
Can you talk us through the trip planning?
The planning took a few months, mainly Google research to learn about equipment and route planning. We knew nothing about long distance cycling so we had to learn it all from scratch - from saddles to tyres, bike frames to spokes! Plus all the camping gear we would need, how much was too much what clothes would we need for what conditions; that was tricky, especially as our route kept changing!
What did you leave behind to travel?
Friends and family were the hardest thing to leave. We loved London, but not the lifestyle we had to maintain to live there: working long office hours, high stress, living for the weekend and our trips away. It’s no way to live. Our careers were not what we wanted to do in the long run so that was fine.
What equipment and support did you make use of?
The equipment was good; we researched and found what had worked for other people and then chose what would work well for us. Overall, we were pretty happy with our choices, though Tom did moan that the tent wasn’t long enough for him. We had no support apart from people we met within the rugby family and an abundance of strangers! Rugby clubs were amazing; we slept in clubhouses, and were fed and treated as one of them for as long as we needed.
What charities were you raising money for?
The Tag Rugby Development Trust is a rugby-based charity that was formed in 2002. It exists to help improve the lives of children in the UK, but mainly in some of the poorest regions of the world. They currently work with orphanages and government schools in India, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico and Romania using the game of ‘tag rugby’ as their vehicle. They fund our tours through volunteers who pay to join the adventure, and who work closely with the children in a coaching capacity.
Our other chosen charity is Rays of Sunshine Children's Charity which exists to grant the wishes of children who are living with serious or life-threatening illnesses in the United Kingdom.
How did you fund the trip? How much did it cost?
We had to do this trip on a super low budget. I mean ridiculously low: AU$10 a day between us! It was pretty tight and essentially meant camping pretty much everywhere, with no treats and basic food (lots of pasta and tuna.) Note this budget excluded any visas and costs for flying or ferries.
What challenges did this trip pose?
I guess a number of the challenges were personal: dealing with low days, the long boring headwinds in the outback, the wetness of Europe - 28 wet days out of the first 31 days on the road; seriously unimpressed! Then there was the wild camping, finding camp spots, getting a good night's sleep, eating rubbish food, getting lost - we didn’t have maps, in fact I drew the maps for three countries and just hoped for the best! Oh, and communicating without internet or phones - we used stand outside McDonalds to use the free wi-fi where we could!
How are you feeling about the whole trip?
Nostalgic! I loved it, and love it even better looking back. We have learnt so much about the world; it's just an amazing experience which can never be replaced. I have thousands of memories: good, bad, funny, silly, sad ... I simply say that if someone wants to travel the world then go for it, it is something that you cannot regret.
How has your relationship with Tom changed over the trip?
The trip has definitely brought us closer. When you spend so much time that close and personal it could go either way, but for us it was a positive. We have nothing to hide; we have seen each other at our best and worst both physically and mentally.
Best stories from the road?
Spending the night in police custody in Pakistan, as they were concerned for our safety and would not let us camp. We later found out in Thailand that we were only kilometres away from where Osama Bin Laden was still hiding out!
Being led through the Romanian hills by an alcoholic cycle tourer who spent all his money so had to turn around and leave us in the middle of nowhere. This led to us having to camp in a really bad spot and we had a bear sniffing around our tent after sunset while we lay terrified and butt-naked inside.
Taking the ferry from Batam to Jakarta, which took 38 hours. We were the only two white people on the whole boat so apart from being crawled all over by cockroaches, we were also the on-board entertainment for the entire duration!
What were the trip highlights?
Highlights for me would be camping on the banks of the Mekong River in Cambodia after a long and dusty cycle, running down to the river and jumping in for a sunset swim and being 'cleaned' by the little fishes sucking our dirty feet.
Seeing Mount Fuji for the first time was also incredible. Also, just experiencing so much kindness and hospitality from complete strangers all across the world. There was truly incredible kindness everywhere we went; every single country looked after us and treated us to their culture.
What about lowest points?
The lowlight would be China at minus 25 degrees. We were sleeping in the tent, out in the deserts of Western China and colder than we could ever have imagined. We slept in all of our clothes (I wore three pairs of trousers, three pairs of gloves, & socks, four of five tops). It was just the most savage experience and one that I felt was the hardest to deal with. I was very nearly broken by that one.
What was your favourite place?
Oh, far too many to mention but I did love Georgia. The people, the food, the scenery and history, it was just magic. And Japan. You can simply camp anywhere in Japan. But we truly loved everywhere, Iran and Pakistan were incredibly interesting and were so friendly and hospitable - the bad media is absolute rubbish!
And the least favourite?
We don’t have one, really, though China was incredibly cold so we had some real hard times.
What have you got out of the trip?
Hard to describe, perhaps a feeling that there are no barriers, only the ones that you put there yourself. We didn’t know if we could cycle across the world, or if we would manage to reach out to all the rugby clubs. Or that we would still like each other at the end of it all! But we did what we set out to do, and for that I think we are proud and understand our own strengths and weaknesses much better than we did before.
Have you reached more people pushing social networking?
Yes, it makes you feel more connected for sure. We were really reliant on the internet to find the rugby clubs and contacts that we wanted to meet along the way. We used Skype a lot and social networking to keep in touch with all the people we met - so many people use Facebook all across the world!
The only problem is that I cannot read half the posts on my wall now as they are all in foreign languages! Twitter is also a good tool, though I struggled to use that one; I had to hand it over to Tom! And as for raising money, it was hard, we would like to have raised more but small steps, we will keep supporting rugby and trying our best to promote all the good work they do.
What did you actually do when you got to the Rugby World Cup?
Well, we cycled from Dunedin in the South Island to Auckland in the North Island, squeezing in as many rugby matches as we could. We were very lucky to be given tickets to a number of matches all the way up, so we saw a real variety of games. We met the All Blacks in Christchurch and had been contacted by loads of Kiwis who, just from hearing our story, invited us to come and stay with them. We were even given quarter-final tickets by one man, which was incredibly generous.
On the day of the final, we had no tickets and plans to watch the match with some friends. Two hours before kick-off, we did an interview with John Inverdale for BBC Radio 5 Live and it transpired that he had made it his mission to get us tickets. We were given two of the best seats in the stadium. It was amazing.
How did you get home?
We flew back to Dunedin where Tom's parents had emigrated to years before and started writing our book. We managed to finish it by January 2012, and are now busy trying to promote our story. The book is called A Journey To Leave You With... Odd Shaped Balls, and is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek story about our lives on the road, how we got on, who we met and all the rugby in between. We really enjoyed regaling our times with these people whilst giving an insight as to what it is like to travel across the world, on your own steam with a ridiculously small budget!
What did you family and friends think of your adventure?
That we were mad! But the main response we got was, 'Oh, I wish I could do something like that!' and 'You're so lucky to be able to do that!'. We kept reminding people that we were in exactly the same position as them, and if you want it badly enough, you have to chase after it. Dreams don't fall into your lap - you have to make it happen! You have to seek out your ambitions and goals. And there is no time like the present.
What’s does the future hold?
A life in Australia; working in adventure travel and running our own adventure tours hopefully, and planning a return trip to the UK for the Rugby World Cup 2015.
What advice would you give people going on similar charity gap adventures?
Just do it. Research what you want to do. Be persistent. Don't be put off my negative feedback or comments. We had someone tell us that we could never do it - it was ‘impossible’ and ‘a stupid idea'. Don't let that grind you down. It's hard work, but you get out what you put in. Some days will be really tough, but it will be worth it in the end.
Check out Jodie and Tom's website.