The ride itself went extremely smoothly. A few operational hiccups, like the start sign being left in Siem Reap but we laughed it off. This ride was put together in just a few months and I am very proud about how it turned out. All credit to the riders for trusting me to guide them the correct way!! I had a few nerves on day 1 and I missed a few turns but it never mattered as my 9 new brothers and sisters were very supportive to me as well. A mutual respect and love for Cambodia made me feel extremely connected to each of them even with a language barrier.
Some of the riders had never left Siem Reap so it was special even getting on the bus down to Phnom Penh! Laughing and talking the whole way , I felt this same energy during the whole trip. We arrived at our hotel , got settled and then we had our safety briefing & ride info meeting. I spoke and then it was translated. It was so cool , when the real boss… Bong Dy ( incredible guy!) stood up after me and asked to speak. Of course!! He asked everyone to make sure they were protecting the environment , not to drop litter , to refill water bottles and respect Cambodia. This was a great addition and something sadly you don’t hear much in Cambodia. A proud moment.
The next morning , we had an early start and the riders it seemed had been awake for hours as they were all raring to go 1 hour early! We had breakfast and then as a surprise , we had organized for the Battambang Govenor to come to the hotel to say Good luck to all the riders and set them off on their way! This was a really cool moment for all the riders. They were very proud to meet him and shake hands.
I am going to talk about the days quite briefly otherwise this will turn into an essay! The first day was from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham. To avoid the busy traffic of PP , we took the van to the outskirts and then started on the quieter countryside roads. A very dusty start as we found ourselves on the red roads. We rode alongside the Mekong River. Bik, one of the cyclists , told me he always wanted to visit the Mekong. I could hear him behind me shouting ” Mekong again” & ” Its everywhere”. The ride went really well, very hot but the team coped fine. Sadly, 100m from the hotel , a car pulled out stupidly and cut Naret up. She lost her balance and fell. I did my best not to go nuts at the car and instead focused on helping Naret up. A little cut but she brushed it off and we finished. We sorted her out with first aid at the hotel. In her words, its a war wound, she was semi proud of it!!
Day 2- We cycled from Kampong Cham to Kampong Thom. This was an epic day and potentially my favorite. This was the longest day by far and the riders had never done 80km before. The most we did in training was 60km but I had complete faith that they would be fine. How I was right! A beautiful start saw us ride along the Mekong for 25km. After this , we were met by some unexpected hills. Some of the team struggled and hopped in the van but atleast 5 riders took the hills head on. One of my favourite moments of the ride was when Naret was clearly struggling, she is a fighter and would never give up but the hills were tough. Vannak cycled beside her and gently put his hand on her back and pushed her for 3km. This was just one example of teamwork during the ride! We had many stops for watermelon & bananas which helped us power on. Around 65km , all the riders who were in the van got back on their bikes to finish with the whole team. We went through the rubber farms which offered well needed shade. Spirits were very high and I selected a Pagoda for our finish line for the day! Everyone was buzzing and the feeling of completing 80km was huge for all the riders.
Day 3 – Kampong Thom to Kampong Kdei. We started at 5:45am but first we watched the sunrise over the Independence Monumnet which was a great start. We also took headshots of each rider holding a blank bit of paper. This was to add “Thank you” to and send to all our donators. Day 3 was our biggest fundraising day where we raised close to $700! The cycle started by crossing a beautiful bridge with the orange sunrise beaming on us! We stopped for our usual local breakfast at a local market. It cost 50 cent for a big rice noodle soup! Delicious! The day of riding was very flat and we had to stay on the highway for a lot of it but the riders kept a very fast pace and we were finished early! When we arrived in Kampong Kdei , we decided to visit the oldest bridge in South East Asia!! A 12th century bridge. Everyone was tired and we slept from 7pm!
Day 4 , Kampong Kdei to Siem Reap! I had been panicking all day as I was told we were to arrive at 16:15 exactly to the finish line. This was made very hard as we only had 35km to cycle which really doesn’t take long especially with our strong riders. The cyclists every day without fail would be ready at least 1 hour before the set start time. On the last day , I said we would leave at 10am. This was much later than the previous days ( 5am & 6am). I woke up around 6am and went outside and saw 6 of the riders ready in their kit!! I reminded them they had 4 hours to wait! They smiled and said no worries!! We set off at 9:50am as the bus was loaded with everyone except me as I was trying to delay the time! We then got to Phnom Bok. Beautiful rice fields surrounded us and we knew it would be a great day. We set off and arrived just outside the temples around 11:45am, I thought again , we are way too early!! So we stopped for Nom Banh Chok- Khmer Rice Noodles. After lunch , we cycled through the temples, stopped for lots of photos and then we parked up by a beautiful river. Naret , who is very adventurous asked me to go swimming with her! First of, I thought hell no , there must be snakes in there but after her very persuading argument , we jumped in! Later on , it was time to head back into the city. We had around 15 support cyclists who joined which was awesome as it meant we had a big group going through town. People waved and cheered! 16:05 , we arrived just short of the finish line. We stopped and I asked Naret to over take me , take the lead and lead the team to the finish. All day I had told her about the finish banner , she needed to cross the road and ride underneath! Sadly this got lost in translation and they completely missed the banner!! We all had a giggle , went round the roundabout and came under it. Around 30-40 people were they waiting and cheering. It was extremely special as the riders families were there to watch. Truly got me emotional to see how proud the riders were.
Lessons I learnt. Welll… there was quite a big language barrier, so I learnt I need to go back to Khmer school!!
But in all seriousness , I learnt so many lessons. I learnt to be patient, supportive but not patronizing but most of all, to treat everyone the same. Since the event , I have still had something in the back of my mind. I still feel I want to learn more about disability inclusion. At the final, we had a huge ceremony and there were lots of photographers. The riders were very proud and happy but I also noticed a few were shy of the camera. It popped into my head that maybe they wouldn’t want all the attention. I have been reading all morning to further this. I found the term “Inspiration Porn” article. I think it is good for us all to read about it. Social media has been the centre of our trip. Every day we posted about the ride and took photos. I didn’t write anything about their disabilities and just wrote about the cycling, thanks to Rick who reminded me this is a chance to show the cyclists as more than their disability and its not appropriate to focus on their disability. However, after reading this article, I still wonder if we got it right. I whole heartily believe we gave each and every rider empowerment through this ride. Seeing their faces light up every time they were on the bikes made this clear to me. However, potentially next year , I think it should be led by them. They honestly didn’t need me there. They are totally capable of running it themselves. I think this would give them the freedom, responsibility and pride even more.
Read the article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewpulrang/2019/11/29/how-to-avoid-inspiration-porn/#944e7375b3db
During the ride, as I mentioned previously I tried my upmost to forget completely about the riders disabilities. Of course as the Tour guide I had to ensure the riders were safe but just because they have disabilities , didn’t mean I had to try more than I would if I had a group of friends. Does that make sense? The riders knew when they were hitting the wall and because of our support van , they would stop , inform me and then hop in the van. It didn’t need to be anything more than that. Their capability didn’t even need to be a thing. The riders smashed every target. What a journey , I am so glad I got to connect with each of the riders who are genuinely my friends now.
Thank you to everyone for the support and for following the journey! If you can donate, please do help us as it is for such a good cause: