2019 Hiro4Hope’s Journey

2019 Hiro4hope Journey 28

Day 0
Hi everyone and welcome to the first instalment from the 2019 HIRO ride.

Firstly thank you all very much for your support this year. We have once again raised a huge amount for Hope for Cambodian Children Foundation. The total is nudging AUD 150,000 which is unbelievable! The HOPE team in Cambodia rely on this support and this will make a real impact on their ability to continue their work in Battambang.

Sitting in the departure lounge in Sydney with bike packed, loaded and all ready to go, I’m really looking forward to the ride this year. This being my 6th year means I know what the conditions will be like but we have a bunch of new riders and I will be able to see Cambodia through their eyes which will be akin to seeing Christmas through child’s eyes!

For the first time I will be coming to the ride from Sydney, without the advantage of training in the similar conditions of Singapore. The heat and humidity can be debilitating so I will be interested to see how I cope. We have some big distances to cover this year so it will be a challenge for all.

Time to jump on the plane and watch movies. You can all sit back and observe over the next week, the hard work is now in the hands of the riders – here’s hoping we all have a safe ride.

Speak to you again tomorrow from Phnom Penh!

Quick reminder….This is what last year was like!

Day 1
Hi everyone.

I made it to Phnom Penh (PP) after a couple of uneventful flights from Sydney. Sorted a visa on arrival, picked up my bike and grabbed a tuk tuk to the hotel. $10 for 30 mins sure beats Sydney taxis!! I was the last to arrive so great to see the whole group together, renewing friendships and greeting the first timers. Most were well behaved with a solid ride coming up on Saturday.

Our first days ride is out and back on the main road out of PP, the A1 – about 130km. The PP traffic is legendary so after the obligatory first morning photo in full ride kit on the hotel steps….we headed out early… just as the sun was rising over the mighty Mekong river…….

We were joined by a few members of local cycling clubs and got a really good look at how fast PP is expanding along this road. PP is so different to the rest of the country. There is obvious poverty for sure, but also a huge contrast between haves and have nots. Growth is as rapid here as any other major Asian city and, although it is a holiday weekend in Cambodia so a bit quieter than usual, the range of vehicles passing us goes from brand new Range Rovers, Mercs etc – to very basic farming vehicles – all on the main road. There is miles of new condo developments along this transport corridor, side by side with tradition roadside street stalls. Such a country of contrasts! Sunshine and heat for our first day, still better than rain! Here are a couple of our riders obviously enjoying their first days ride….

6 hours on the road, 135km done and another really interesting loop around PP with local riding clubs tomorrow before we head out into the country side and on our way to the HOPE centre in Battambang.

All safe and no mishaps on day 1 – long may it continue!

Thanks all, more tomorrow.

Day 2

Ok, so Day 2 was another “out and back” ride from Phnom Penh. 60km out to a quiet little temple, stop for breakfast and head back. Sounds simple right? Yeah right, this is Cambodia so anything can happen.

Last night over dinner we all decided that an early start was in order to avoid the heat so we gathered at 5:30am, with a promise of breakfast at the turn around point. To my amazement the entire crew all turned up on time, ready to go and lights flashing.

We stopped briefly at the Independence Monument in PP (obligatory photo opportunity that I won’t bore you with) then headed out on highway 2 with a turnaround just before the Vietnamese boarder.

Really nice conditions following a huge storm last night, and the cooler early start was a great idea. We made good time and had stopped at a temple for breakfast with everyone in good spirits and showing no ill effects from yesterday’s ride.

Here is Dax and Nick at our breakfast stop, discussing Karma and the path to real consciousness…I’m hoping it comes with fashion advice for Dax!

So far the roads have been smooth and the weather good, almost lulling us into a false sense of security before tomorrow’s beast of a day. As we headed back to PP we took on a headwind and the Sunday morning traffic. The next 30km has us all digging pretty deep as we pushed against the wind. The heat was rising and the traffic becoming increasingly more erratic. There are basically no road rules here and any traffic lights encountered (which is rare) are treated merely as a “proceed with caution” rather than obey the colour displayed. Basically you proceed with caution at every intersection so you have to wonder why you’d bother with the odd traffic light anyway. We had one last stop for water before the final 30km back
into PP.

By now the traffic was heavy and we stayed as one large group, weaving in and out of tuk tuk’s, mopeds, trucks, tractors, cars, buses, kids, dogs, chooks, people, you name it!

Thankfully no major dramas and everyone made it back in one piece. 120km today bringing the total to 250km so far. Tomorrow looms as a nasty day with 200km to get through on our way to Battambang. There are some nerves among the group as this will be the longest ride many have ever attempted and they have all now had a taste of the conditions here in Cambodia. We will spend the majority of the day on the road and from about 10:30am the heat really kicks in. Tomorrows write up may not be full of happiness and joy!

Here’s Craig and me battling our way into the headwind (although the smile belies the effort)……..

And here is just what you want to read on the side of your bus before getting on board – says a lot about the traffic conditions in Cambodia!!

Until tomorrow everyone – here’s hoping we all stay rubber side down!

Day 3

Ok, so it is THE big day. We’ve covered 250km so far but today we ride from Phnom Penh to Pursat – looks about 200km on the map but the distances in Cambodia have never been too reliable so we were looking at anything between 180 and 220 km.

As I said yesterday, plenty of nerves among the first timers as this would be the furthest they had ever ridden in a day. There were a few returning from previous years who had also succumbed to the heat and general conditions and finished on the bus previously who were determined to see the day through.

So just what you need is to be woken by cracks of thunder at 5am. Bugger. Our start time is 5:30am and it is pissing down. We have no option, we’re not going to walk 200km so it is onto the bikes and onto the rain. Now for those of you that have lived in the tropics you will have experienced the tropical downpour – often quite localised but a lot like being under high pressure shower – the drops are so big they hurt! 200m down the road and we are a saturated lot. As we ride out of PP the rain intensifies and riding becomes pretty uncomfortable, not to mention filthy dirty! 27 riders, lights flashing in the dark, navigation standing water in PP streets as the city starts to awaken on a Monday morning – oh, and it is our traditional “National Day” where you wear a Jersey from your country – so we were a wet, flashing and colourful peloton.

10km out of town and the rain just stops – road is bone dry – and we can knuckle down to the serious business of putting some km behind us. But 30km down the road…..Oh wait, there’s a place open serving coffee – let’s stop there!

Now this was semi planned as we were always going to break to day down into stops at every 30km. Stop 1 coffee, stop 2 breakfast, stop 3 rehydrate, stop 4 rehydrate, stope 5 lunch, stop 6 why the f*** are we doing this and rehydrate, stop 7 hotel in Pursat.

Here are the 2 big Sth African lads, brothers Gavin and Steve, at stop 3……..

We quite often use temple grounds to stop in as we can get all the vehicles off the road and the monks are really accommodating, even intrigued. It is these spontaneous interactions which are most often both funny and rewarding. The Cambodians in general are so hospitable, yet they have (relatively) nothing. You can’t help but smile!

So this all looks great, smiles, happy monks, but the reality is about to bite! We haven’t ridden these roads for 3 years and since then the wet seasons have really taken their toll. The roads are in really poor condition, with major Chinese funded roadworks going on across 50km of the main Highway 6. The potholes have to be seen to be believed. The traffic is already all over the place but when you throw in potholes that you can ride into, along and out of then all vehicles will do whatever they have to avoid them. This includes driving on the wrong side of the road directly at oncoming cyclists! Without wanting to sound alarmist, we had a number of pretty hairy moments with several of the group being forced off the road to avoid head-on collisions. This was our worst day of road conditions in the 6 years I have been on this ride. To be honest, if we had known they were as bad we would not have ridden – it was pretty bloody dangerous. So you mix in large sections of gravel, potholes, oncoming traffic and the heat and you have a recipe for disaster. Thankfully we managed to avoid disaster and continue to our last stop with only 4 falls and no serious issues, unless you count 10 punctures as serious!

Here is Eric (French), Wozzie (Polish), Phil (English) and Craig (Amsterdam based Aussie) with about 30 km to go and looking like that is a big ask;

Finally we had some decent, pothole free, roads to cycle and a final push to get everyone to the finish with no-one on the bus. We were on the road for 10.5 hours – from 5:30am to 4pm – in the heat and the sun following the early morning storm.

The group this year is amazing. Rather than complaining about elements that can’t be changed, they all got stuck in with a great camaraderie that comes with suffering together as a group.

We made it, all of us, in one piece. It ended up being 187km. Time for shower, beers, dinner, bed, then 105km tomorrow to the Hope Centre in Battambang – a highlight of the trip.

Well done to the group for getting through one tough day!

Now we just have to work out what to have for dinner….

Till tomorrow……..

Day 4
After yesterday’s travails we were due some good weather, good roads and well behaved traffic – and that’s exactly what we got!

Today’s ride took us from our overnight stop at Pursat to the HOPE centre in Battambang, some 105km up the road. It was such a relief to not have the potholes and roadworks of yesterday that meant today seemed pretty easy in comparison. Now you have to remember that riding 105km in Cambodia’s heat is never “easy” but, compared to Monday, pretty much any ride would be easy.

Here is the group on the road early in the day. We kept the entire group together as one peloton today so we would all arrive at the centre together. Riding like this is much more fun than getting caught out on your own. As a group we move much faster but we are about the length of a semitrailer so overtaking us is a bit difficult. Rather, it would be difficult if there were any road rules, but no problem here – just pull out and make three lanes, the oncoming traffic will move over!

….and the seatbelt law is not necessarily followed – which makes riding on Dad’s tractor so much more fun!

Our attention today was firmly focussed on the HOPE centre. We needed to be at the centre by 11am so we didn’t keep the welcoming party waiting, so we rode hard and kept the breaks short and arrived at the centre on time.

It is difficult to describe the reception we receive each year in Battambang. Quite simply the welcome is wonderful.

We are met outside the town by the 4 wheel drive that was purchased using the funds raised from our 2nd ride some 6 years ago. It’s full of kids waiving Aussie and Cambodian flags and escorts us to the centre. The driveway into the centre is lined with kids and their parents, singing and throwing streamers.

We are then formally welcomed in front of the local community and local dignitaries and this is when how important this place is to the community starts to sink in.

This year some of the kids from the kindergarten, that is funded through your support, danced and sang – just delightful!

Then we each presented new uniforms to the kids who are starting at the centre.

You can imagine how emotional it is for the group. We have battled through together for the last 550km and then are left in no doubt by all the staff and parents of the kids how important the funds are that are raised through completing this ride.

While we still have one more days ride, arriving at the centre is the highlight. I’ll let these pictures do the talking and give you a final update from Siem Reap tomorrow.

Thanks to you all, your contribution makes a real and obvious difference

Day 5

Made it to the last day!

Yesterday was fantastic but we didn’t go overboard with the celebrations as we knew we had another day ahead. But as is often the way in Cambodia things did not go according the script.

We had a few quiet beers around the pool with the board members from HOPE who had arranged their AGM and Board meeting to coincide with our arrival in Battambang. Most of the board members had flown in from Sydney and driven up from Siem Reap on the same road we were going to ride today. The reports of the road conditions varied between “diabolical” to “un-driveable”. It appeared that highway 5 (the main and only sealed road between Battambang and Siem Reap) was undergoing significant road works. It was being called an upgrade but they were really only in the early stages – the stage where they rip it up before laying new road surface. The word was that the first 80km was basically on gravel and single lane.

So we had a decision to make, do we ride 180km with a significant portion on gravel or……? We decided that the safety of the group and the well-being of our arses came first and we would bus it out of Battambang to Siem Reap. As disappointing as this is, we are all riding road bikes and these conditions call for cycle-cross or mountain bikes at the least. It is classic puncture territory and the chances of an incident were just too great.

….and here we are 1 hour out of town on the bus and the road has been like this the whole way…..

Comfortable we have made the right decision it still doesn’t come as a surprise that Steve (Singapore based American) decided that was going to ride so took off at 5:30am on his own. We will see him on the road or in Siem Reap later – I’ll let you all know.

The group decision was to get to Siem Reap on the bus then complete a ride around the temples in the afternoon. This will be about 60-70km and, while hot, the roads will be rideable and the dust less choking. It will be a really nice way to finish off the ride this year. Then it will be a few beers by the pool, final dinner with the group and out into Pub Street – the main party street in Siem Reap. It is at this point all communication will cease as what goes on tour, stays on tour – although I might take a sneaky photo or two.

So it is time to sign off from the Hiro4Hope ride 2019. It has been one of the best due in the main to the group of people who took a week out of their “normal” lives, paid their own way, tapped friends, family and colleagues to raise some money for an incredible charity. Our riders hail from Australia, England, Scotland, France, Poland, America, Ireland, Sth Africa and Cambodia. Fantastic bunch!

It isn’t just the week, it is the months or training beforehand as this is not a ride for the feint hearted. It is NOT a 5 star luxury cruise around Cambodia – far from it. It is however a challenging, rewarding, painful, exhilarating and thoroughly worthwhile endeavour. This ride hasn’t just changed the lives of the kids HOPE look after in to Battambang, but many of the riders have found a way to bring regular exercise into their routines. The motivational impact of taking on a challenge of this nature is not to be underestimated.

Thanks again, from all the riders and the HOPE foundation……

Cambodia, you are a special place….(that’s me on the left by the way)

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HIRO'S 4 HOPE 2020

This year’s bike ride is taking place in October at multiple locations around the world.
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