By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – It has been almost four months since Ron Rutland and James Owens left Twickenham stadium to embark on an epic 20,000 kilometre cycling adventure to Tokyo before the Rugby World Cup.
With them, a very special delivery; the whistle to be used to kick-off the World Cup opener between hosts Japan and Russia in Tokyo on September. 20.
Rutland and Owens have recently passed the halfway stage on their journey, having cycled through more than 20 countries, including Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, since their journey began on Feb. 2. They are currently in Nepal.
Rutland completed a similar journey before the 2015 World Cup, travelling from Cape Town to London, but Owens is a relative cycling novice.
“Having never crossed a border by bicycle before setting off on this adventure, I didn’t fully know what to expect but Race to RWC has exceeded even my greatest expectations,” Owens told Reuters via email last week.
“I have been loving the simplicity of life on the road and enjoying being able to live in the moment.”
At stages along the journey, Rutland and Owens have been joined by keen cyclists eager to play their part in the quest and have been welcomed everywhere they have been.
“These stunning landscapes made for special days but its been the people we’ve met along our journey that have really made the adventure,” said Owens.
“When you make yourself vulnerable and get outside of your comfort zone, you see the best in people.
“From being invited into homes, schools and places of worship to warm up on cold winter days to being provided with food, water and a place to stay when caught out on hot summer days, people have been consistently friendly, welcoming and generous.”
The cyclists have certainly need all the help they can get as they have battled through rapidly changing weather conditions armed with no more than a small tent.
“The remainder of March and April was spent in conditions more suited to snowmen, before dropping from sub-zero temperatures at 4,600 metres in north-eastern Pakistan down to over 40 degrees in Lahore over the space of three days,” Owens added.
“There is something quite strange about cycling straight from the middle of winter into summer.”
At times, it has been a slog but Rutland and Owens are on schedule to arrive well in time.
“Add in some nice winter weather and the mental challenge of getting up each morning, putting on soaking wet shoes and pushing through the pain barrier … and you have a real adventure.”
As well as the support from locals, the cyclists are motivated by a desire to raise funds for ChildFund Pass It Back, a programme supported by World Rugby that empowers under-privileged children across Asia through rugby.
Owens has a photograph of some of the children he is hoping to help on his front wheel for motivation and the pair will be stopping in Laos and Vietnam on their journey to aid ChildFund projects there.
“Having a purpose greater than yourself is important and really keeps me ticking when times get tough,” he said.
“The special commemorative whistle for the opening game of the Rugby World Cup is still safe.
“World Rugby don’t need to worry about delaying the event for us just yet.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)