Each January and with an increasing regularity throughout the year I lead groups of people on a bike ride through the countryside of Thailand that is a distance between 1600kms, which is covered in the space of 16 days, or a more respectable ride of 500kms in five days.
I have been leading these groups since 2009, and no I don’t run a travel company, nor do I run a bike riding company. I am a former forensic police officer who worked internationally in some of the biggest crisis and disaster zones we have seen, and now I run a charity supporting 300 kids each night across seven different homes in Thailand. So what’s the connection with this to riding bikes?
What started with one person deciding to ride from Bangkok to Khao Lak, a distance of 800kms to raise money for my charity Hands Across the Water, has grown into something none of us could have imagined. I make my living by speaking at conferences around the country and indeed across the globe on leadership lessons that I took from working in and leading teams through unprecedented challenges that we faced in these areas. Each time I speak though I share stories of my charity and the bike rides and there are a couple of common responses from audience members when I catch up with them. The first is “How do I sign up for one of the rides?” and the second is “I’d love to do the ride but I could never ride that far”. Unless those who believe they couldn’t ride that far, change their mindset, they are probably right!
No matter which ride people consider signing up to do, given an appropriate training program, each of the rides are very much achievable. You don’t have to be an elite cyclist, you don’t have to be a regular cyclist, seriously you don’t even need to own a bike to make the commitment, you just need to take action and get active.
One of the greatest pleasures I have in leading the rides are meeting those who with every fibre in their body, but one, believed it was beyond them, but for some reason signed up anyway. Often it is after years of inactivity that has seen their weight blow out and the thought of something audacious such as an 800km bike ride is completely beyond them. But often it is the audaciousness of the goal that gets them moving, keeps them moving and brings about significant life changes.
Only a few weeks ago in March of this year, I was walking through the slums of Khlong Toei in Bangkok with a group of our latest riders in what was the day prior to the ride. One of the riders who was joined by his wife I was meeting for the first time and he was telling me of the change that committing to the ride has brought to his life. He had lost over 30 kilos in his preparation for the ride which he shared with his wife who had also benefited greatly for the nine month journey they had been on leading up to the ride. He described for me how his business had improved, his relationship with his wife and kids had improved, he was a happier person and of course the health benefits have added years to his life, particularly if he continues on his current journey.
Our rides are what I like to describe a “tour with challenge”. We ride an average of 100kms per day in stages that average 25kms at a time. Roughly every hour or so we stop for our water breaks which consist of coffee’s, fruit, refreshments and lively conversation. The beauty of the model is that we break a 500km or even the 1600km ride down into 25km stages or one hour at a time. Then it’s just a case of repeating what has already been done.
The riders will arrive for their first ride with heightened levels of anxiety, the questions that keep them awake the night before the first day on the bike are “will I make it”, “will I be the slowest rider” “can I keep up with the group” “what happens if I am the slowest rider” all of these questions and many others sit with the riders in the lead up. But a transformation occurs usually a couple of days into the ride when they can answer the questions for themselves. “Yes I can keep up and no it doesn’t matter if I am the slowest rider”.
It’s the nature of the shared experience and the personal return that comes to each of the riders from committing in the first place that sees the riders so successful. We started with 17 riders in 2009, five of whom were my family and in that first year we raised $174,000 for the charity. In 2015 with all our rides combined we had 191 riders and raised just under $1.8million. One of the best things in those figures relates to the number of return riders that we have each year. During our January 2016, rides which is the start of our riding calendar for the year, over 76% of our riders had ridden with us at least once before. We have nine riders who have ridden at least five times and three riders who have never missed a year on the bike since 2009. It’s a remarkable effort on behalf of all of the riders, be it their first time or tenth ride.
A conversation I often have with the riders is around their “why”. Many who might be a day or two into their first ride will comment along their lines of “doing something for the kids” we are supporting or their desire to “give back”. But you ask the same question to the same riders towards the end of the journey or ask a return rider why and they acknowledge the kids, but the real benefit is what they personally take from the experience.
The benefits of getting active are often found across many areas of your life. You will feel better physically and mentally, you will choose to eat in more considered way, the people you surround yourself with in such a shared experience are positive and you are often encouraged along to achieve things that alone you might not have otherwise have done.
You don’t have to commit to a 500, 800 or 1600km ride with us in Thailand to bring about the benefits of getting active. Signing up to something that does take a commitment and change in lifestyle is a good way to focus your attention.
The best thing you can do, no matter what your plan or goal might be, is to commit to parking your excuses. Our eldest rider to date on our rides in Thailand was in 2012 when we had a 73 year man take up cycling the March before with the goal of riding 800kms with us in the following January. After a couple of years off he is coming back to ride with us again in 2017 and he will be 77 when he rides with us for the second time. I’m proud to say this man is my Dad and I feel pretty privileged to share this journey with him. I thankful for the shared experiences that we have together, along with my kids, that Dad decided to get active.