At 2am the doorbell rang. I peered out the window with some trepidation, wondering if this person might be a serial killer, but opened the door for the stranger anyway. In front of me stood a British man with a chipped tooth and a rucksack; we’d never met, but I smiled and invited him in. “Welcome, Hugh! Would you like some tea?”
A month prior I had signed up as a host for the website www.couchsurfing.org, an organization that allows travelers to stay in people’s homes for free and experience life as a local. Hugh had messaged me to request my couch for a night and after perusing his account and deciding he probably wouldn’t chop me into pieces, I accepted. Little did I know what a rockstar I was letting into my home!
Hugh was road tripping through California after having finished a job as a soccer (sorry, “football”) coach in New York (and that was how he explained the chipped tooth, from a football match… I told him he should have stuck with a more epic story, like fighting off a hungry bear). We hit it off as friends immediately and I spent the day showing him the sights of Santa Barbara. We went to the beach, ate the best Mexican food, and even got a private tour of the courthouse clock tower and learned an interesting secret.
At some point he mentioned his dream of biking around the world to raise money for charity. I smiled and nodded, thinking it was a nice gesture but not entirely believing in the idea’s reality. Many people talk of undertaking these grand plans, but how many actually follow through on this sort of idea?
At the end of the day I was sad to say goodbye as I knew I had met an awesome person, but we agreed to keep in touch. Then, nine months later, I got an email with the link to his new website: Ride2Rio. He was really doing it! His plan was to cycle–unsupported!– around the world for a year in time to arrive at the World Cup in Brazil, all the while raising £20,000 for Tackle Africa, an organization that uses football to engage and educate young Africans about sexual health, relationships, and HIV. HOLY WOW!
Hugh set off on July 6, 2013 and has since cycled nearly 20,000 km through 24 countries. He finally made it to Rio and is wrapping up the final phases of his trip and fundraising. He is still shy of his goal so please feel free to DONATE and support his amazing cause!
I don’t carry much, two t-shirts, some cycling shorts, my tent and a sleeping bag. I have lived off roughly £10 a day for the past year and more than anything I have learnt that you don’t need much in life to be happy. Life is very simple. So many people in the world are living off nothing but are extremely content. The people with the least also tend to give the most.
For the last year I’ve enjoyed reading his updates and tales from the road (of which he has many… everything from cycling naked to being chased by wild dogs). But more than anything, his journey has been an incredible inspiration. I’ve included his interview with FIFA below, but one thing he said really struck me: “I have been in so many situations where I have felt that I can not continue: the monsoon rain in Asia , the searing African sun, the madness of India and most recently the altitude of the Andes. But in many of these situations you have no choice but to continue. I learnt that the human body and mind has an unbelievable endurance and overall if you put your mind to it and don’t look for a way out, anything is possible in life.”
To find a way to merge a dream of travel with supporting a cause that makes the world a better place is my ultimate goal. I don’t know that I could ever survive such a hardcore endeavor as cycling around the world, but it’s inspiring to know that it can be done and has instilled in me a drive to make a difference in my own way as I meander around the globe. Hugh’s story goes to show the powerful impact that one person can have on the world and I’m so proud to call him a friend–even if he does call me “wine belly”.
What gave you the idea to Ride to Rio? – What’s your inspiration?
I volunteered for TackleAfrica 5 years ago in Uganda, running HIV education through football courses in rural Uganda. I was blown away by the impact the charity was having on local communities. I fell in love with the country, the people and their passion for football. From this trip I also witnessed the need required to educate young people about HIV and was inspired to make a difference and raise some money for this superb charity.
– You’re nearing the end of your journey, what are some of the best stories from your time on the road?
-Naked cylced paths in Viena -Chased by wild dogs in the dark in rural Bulgaria -had my balls grabbed in Thailand in the side of the road after a lad gave me two bottles of milk to hold -got head butted in the bush in Tanzania by a local tribesman who was high on Khat (local drug) -ran a footy tournament in Sydney, Manly, raising 4k on the day with 20 teams taking part. -cycling through the wild west coast of Sumatra, jumping off my bike and joining in endless game of football on the side of the road as the sun came down. -coaching in Colombia and getting the kids to do the Faustino Asprilla celebration when they scored -Coaching/Visiting the development though football projects connected to the Street Football World Projects in Mumbai, Nairobi, Budapest, Kampala to name just a few. -Having the privilege of visiting many of TackleAfrica’s projects in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Working alongside the African coaches/teachers that the charity has trained up over the tears to deliver HIV education through football. Meeting some incredible women empowering young women in Tanzania and overall witnessing first hand the amazing impact the charity is having through the power of football.
– You said at the start you wanted to play football in every country – where’s the most picturesque / amazing place you’ve played football on the journey?
I played and coached in some beautiful paces, from kenya in Africa to Sumatra in Indonesia but the one that stands out for me was when I was coaching/playing in Budapest as part of a homeless football project. It was a beautiful afternoon on Marget Island on the river that runs alongside the city and nearby there was a musical fountain. I read that morning that it was 4 years to the day that Bobby Robson has passed away, while I played in the sunshine with a great project, the famous Nusema dorma came through the musical fountains, it was a great moment on my football adventure with memories of 1990 coming flooding back.
– What have been the toughest, most difficult times on the ride?
-terrorist attacks in Nairobi (westagte mall) -knocked of my bike in Istanbul, Banglaore and Newcastle (OZ) -mentally, long stretches of not talking to anyone…I found myself talking to myself a lot. -Most recently cycling the dessert on the coast of Peru, I hear endless stories of cyclist getting robbed at gun point outside the small towns….not enjoyable cycling ahead.
-I found India incredibly hard, short bit from my blog why….
Its 38, my top is soaked with sweat and I am climbing a big hill looking over the the andalucan waters..my heart drops as I hear the familiar sound of the motorbike slowing down next to me for the 30th time that day to get the familiar interview….
Mister, Where you going? Mister, where from? Mister, why alone? Mister, what reason you cycle? Mister, why no girlfriend?
(this happend every day, 30 times a day for 30 days!)
I thought at least the last question would be obvious…India has been exhausting yet fascinating…snapped spokes and burst tyres in the middle of nowhere, dodging snakes on the road, sharing my rooms with rats and being knocked off my bike in Bangalore….the toughest yet most enjoyable leg so far.
– What’s got you through those difficult times?
The incredible kindness of strangers;
-buying me food -giving me free fruit -inviting me into their homes for tea -passing donations for the charity through their car windows -the endless beds, floors, camping spots people have given me on my journey -I found the Muslim countries amazing, people so happy and kind, endless smiles. -beautiful Colombian women… Obviuosly the support from family and friends back home has been huge and instrumental to my journey.
Finally and more than anything the knowledge that I am rasing money for such a good cause makes it all worth while not matter how tough days.
– Any injuries to report?
I developed an injury called cycle palsy in Asia. Because the roads were so bad In India and Africa and I was cycling everyday without rest I damaged the nerve in my hands, leading to numbness and lack of grip. Luckily a bit of rest, some flat roads so I could cycle with one hand and some drugs sorted this out. In terms of strain on the body, the hardest thing had been the mental strength, on your own for long periods of times can send you slightly mad especially when you don’t speak the local language!
– What have you learned about yourself on this journey?
I don’t carry much, two t-shirts, some cycling shorts, my tent and a sleeping bag, I have lived off roughly £10 a day for the past year and more than anything I have learnt that you don’t need much in life to be happy. Life is very simple. So many people in the world are living of nothing but are extremely content, the people with the least also tend to give the most.
I have been in so many situations where I have felt that I can not continue, the monsoon rain in Asia , the searing African sun, the madness of India and most recently the altitude of the Andes. But many of these situation you have no choice but to continue. I learnt that the human body and mind has an unbelievable endurance and overall if you put you mind to it and don’t look for a way out anything is possible in life.
– Tell me about your history in football?
Always been very passionate about football but began a career in the industry when I volunteered for a homeless football project in the North East. This led to employment as a progressions coordinator for a suberb development through football charity, Street League, who use a structured football and education programme to support 16-25 year old NEETS back into education, employment it’ll training. With Street League I worked across Newcastle, Sunderland and then in North London. Prior to leaving for Rio I spent a year in New York working for the MLS club, New York RedBulls as a development coach. Over the 8 years of working in development through football I have volunteered for TackleAfrica, who deliver HIV education through football across Africa. I volunteered in Uganda and supported fundrasing events in the UK and was really passionate about the work they do, with that I chose this charity to fundraise for on my road to Rio.