By Lance Jensen
On April 21st 2019, Jo and I rode into the 'The New Life Project' home in Kanchanaburi and met the kids we fundraised for... and the best way I can sum up the whole experience is 'Life Changing'!
Jo and I were part of a group of 65 riders that had spent the last 5 days biking 500km across Thailand in 42-46 degree heat -- it had been seriously challenging -- and it was all instantly forgotten the moment we saw the children's faces ♡♡♡
My little guy (Ice) barely said a word - but our connection was instant. He was obviously a staunch little dude with his mates but then he was also one of the cutest, cuddliest and most incredibly affectionate kids I've ever hugged. He didn't care what his mates thought as he climbed into my lap or clung on for cuddles and I felt so much appreciation and love from this tiny little 8-year-old that it completely melted my heart.
Like most of the children in the home, Ice's backstory is pretty hard to read... His mother had AIDS and a serious drug problem both during and after the pregnancy, his father wasn't in the picture at all, so Ice and his older brother lived with their absentee mother and their 89 year-old ailing and forgetful grandfather. They had to scavenge for food from restaurants, bus terminals and riverbanks. Often their grandfather would lock them in their room until eventually they got so hungry that they had to find a way to escape. I really don't know how they survived. They had another brother that didn't – he drowned before they were adopted by the Project in 2015. Today, Ice (and his brother Ohm) have no living parents or grandparents. If we were actually allowed to bring him home we would have.
The harsh contrast to how we live had a massive impact! The realisation of just how lucky we are to have been born in NZ and to have the parents and upbringings that we did... We had no influence over that. And these kids had no choice in theirs. I really do 'love my life' and now appreciate everything we have on whole new level!
And we're now proud to be sponsoring Ice directly and look forward to watching him grow up. He's also a strong motivator to return to Thailand, do the ride again and visit him - we've already registered for the 2020 ride.
The ride: (500km through the middle of Thailand - from Ayutthaya to Kanchanaburi):
The best thing about the actual ride was definitely the comradery. 65 of the most generous and genuine people I've ever met all supporting each other on one very self-less mission. And between us the group raised $390,000 for Hands Across the Water.
Parts of the ride - the countryside on day 4, the elephant sanctuary, the temples and the history on display in this country - were absolutely stunning...
Other parts of the ride - the hills, unsealed roads and even sand - were just brutal!
Personally, the distance wasn't really that big of a challenge... but I can't begin to describe what it's like to ride that far (or at all for that matter) in 46 degrees Celsius... nothing can prepare you for that!
We survived by filling snap lock bags with ice and putting them in the back pocket of our riding top (at the small of our back), filling two water bottles with ice - one on the bike, the other in a back pocket, and then wrapping ice in a scarf that we tied around our necks. And we re-loaded all of them every 20km because that was as long as they would last.
I'm immensely proud of Jo... I always knew she was determined but OMFG! It was the 3rd leg of day three when she physically hit the wall and literally couldn't get off her bike or stand up by herself as she came in to the stop. I'm relieved I was there to catch her as she pulled in calling out for help before she started hyperventilating. That was definitely scary! We'd seen others broken by the heat and the distance - but after a sit down, a lot of ice water (mostly over her head) and some food she seemed to have recovered and doggedly got back in the saddle for the next leg. Another 20 something kms in 45 degree heat. For large portions of that next leg I rode with Jo while she cried on the bike beside me - but she never stopped pedalling. She'd found her physical limit in the last leg and this one was obviously going to be her mental test!! The most I could do was encourage her. I managed to get her drafting behind me occasionally, poured water in her helmet to help keep her cool, and made sure she kept drinking - 'cos I knew she wouldn't give up. She didn't! She got through that leg too and then as the temperature finally dropped a bit - to approx. 35 - the last leg of the day felt (relatively) easy. Knowing we were over half-way and had just smashed 120km in a day probably helped too.
My 'rough' day was day 5... I woke up feeling like @#$€, my tummy wasn't happy with me and I did NOT want to get on the bike - but after having seen what so many others (including Jo) had pushed through, I knew my own complaints were pretty pathetic. So I had my little sulk before giving myself a bit of a pep-talk - and then for reasons I still can’t fathom I decided to really go for it and empty the tank. It was the last day, and I figured this would either cure me or kill me! I also think the masochist in me kicked in because I was pissed at myself for being such a wuss.
The first half of the day definitely hurt - but it was one of those rewarding hurts (like when you've pushed it hard at the gym) as I rode with the front pack... and then on the last leg (before we regrouped to ride into the home) a few of us were in a group that was absolutely flying. I finished feeling fantastic. For the first time on the trip I even had enough energy to ride back several km's - encouraging others, letting them know how close they were, and to find Jo so I could ride in with her.
There was a LOT of 'emotion' and hugs amongst the group at this penultimate stop. I was actually holding it together pretty well, right up until ‘big’ Steve gave me a hug. He’d been one of my riding buddies for a lot of the trip so we’d already been through most of the emotions together… he’d already had his moment and could see I was holding everything in and he just held me until I finally let go. It was a weird combination of exhaustion and elation at the realisation of what we'd all accomplished - and a sense of sorrow that it was nearly over. I was going to miss these people!
And then we all rode the last few k's into the home together - where the emotions were completely overwhelming!
I said at the start of this post that the experience had been life changing - and it really has; but not at all how I expected...
The most profound impact has been the change in my 'internal dialogue - which is already manifesting in exciting ways since we’ve been home. It's not one specific thing I can pinpoint, but the culmination of so many factors - none of which by themselves could have had the same impact.
Where do I start!?
Committing to doing something completely foreign and outside our comfort zones… I hadn’t ridden a bike for about 8 years, but it was the prospect of fund-raising that stressed me out more. Yet, the support we received for this was overwhelming and humbling!
Riding the whole 500km in that heat – physically (and mentally) overcoming something so challenging and pushing through boundaries (with support) that would have made it easy to give up.
Seeing the extreme poverty in Thailand first-hand with a visit to the slums… Hearing the tragic backstories of so many of the kids who were born without any influence or choice about their situation. Then seeing just how happy so many of them still were.
Learning about some of the history of the country – particularly the construction of Hell Fire Pass during WWII. Realising the extreme conditions endured during that time and the massive loss of life.
The size, scale, reach and impact of Hands Across The Water today. Especially after how and why it started – with just a few people seeing a need and wanting to make a difference.
The emotional connections and deep, authentic conversations shared with so many amazing people. Vulnerabilities exposed and shared that were only ever met with complete acceptance and support.
How could that list NOT change my outlook and perspective on life and what’s possible!???
And so with that, bring on the 2020 ride!