Delivering emergency aid to disasters all over the world

Husband-and-wife team Huw and Carolyn Thomas are preparing for a 10,000-mile tandem bike ride in aid of ShelterBox, a Cornish charity that delivers emergency aid to disasters all over the world
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The Independent Online

"The inspiration for our trip was a short video filmed in Java of a young girl, Siti, whose home had been completely destroyed by an earthquake," says Carolyn, a former journalist turned English teacher. "Siti described the terror of the experience, her sadness at losing lots of her friends and how all she wanted was for life to go back to how it had been.

"It was a very simple plea, but that made it all the more moving. I showed it to some of my students and had to fight back my own tears.

"I really wanted to do something involving children. My original idea was to cycle around England giving talks to schools, but my husband thought that wasn't quite ambitious enough!"

"We start our tandem trip in Vancouver in August and will spend the next four-and-a-half months cycling to Florida, a distance of about 4,500 miles," explains Huw, also a former journalist turned English teacher, who spent two years in charge of ShelterBox’s communications and fundraising activities. "After that, we plan to cycle the length of New Zealand and from Brisbane to Melbourne in Australia during the first few months of 2011.

"We haven't finalised an exact route for the last, European, leg, but we'll probably be starting in London, doing a loop through the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark and then coming back so we can link up all the capitals of the British Isles. We plan to finish some time in July 2011 at ShelterBox's HQ in Cornwall.

"Our basic idea is to link countries where ShelterBox has offices and, along our route, give talks to as many schools, Rotary clubs, youth groups, community organisations and the like as possible. Our mission is to tell people about the work done by ShelterBox, inspire them with our trip and challenge them to do something to support the charity.

"In part, we're celebrating the huge amount of work ShelterBox has already done in providing aid for hundreds of thousands of disaster victims. But, as shown by recent events, like the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, we're also stressing that we can't be complacent."

Says Carolyn: "The plan is to cycle around 50 miles a day, or 1,000 miles a month. Some days will be longer and some shorter. We’ll have some rest days, but inevitably we're going to be cycling most days and sometimes we'll have to give a presentation to a Rotary club or school at the end of a long ride, so we'll need to keep focused. We’ll have a couple of weeks of rest between the different legs.

"In preparation, we've got to fit the training around our jobs, but we're trying to keep up a mixture of cycle rides, long walks and going to the gym. We're building up gradually, but we'll have to be reasonably fit by the time we start, as within a few days of leaving Vancouver we're going to be cycling over the Rockies.

"Although this trip is a lot more ambitious, it's not the first time we've done something like this. In 2004, we did a 6,000-mile trip around Europe for pleasure, although that involved a lot more rest days and we didn't have to give talks to anyone!"

The Thomases have been shortlisted for the current round of Great Britons (for which public voting is taking place now), a programme run by British Airways to celebrate The London 2012 Games. BA, the official airline partner of the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, is looking for people who need support to develop their talent in the areas of community, fashion, sport, performing arts, innovation, and art and design. The winners get flights to BA destinations anywhere in the world, and the Thomases hope to win flights to Sydney for that leg of their journey.

"We estimate that the trip is going to cost us about £15,000," says Huw, "and that includes cadging lots of free meals and beds along the way. Getting a free flight to Sydney will make the whole thing a bit more feasible.

"Even if we don't win, we're still delighted to have been shortlisted – it's a great opportunity to tell people about what we're doing and why we think ShelterBox is so special."

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