Ron Rutland is re-counting the highs and lows of an incredible and gruelling adventure which has taken the 40-year-old from Durban in South Africa through every country in Africa, and now into Europe as he targets arrival in London to coincide with the 2015 Rugby World Cup. His journey is intriguing but his method of transport is even more so: a simple push-bike.
Rutland has been inspired by sport and adventure for as long as he could remember.
“I’ve always been fascinated by adventure stories. I’ve read almost every book published about great Antarctic explorers to modern day explorers like Mike Horn paddling down the Amazon River and walking around the Arctic Circle, I’ve always been intrigued.”
Rugby, being the main sport in South Africa, caught Ron’s heart at a young age and he was lucky enough to follow his dream to play rugby in Australia, before following his coach to Hong Kong to play a season there.
His adventure then took a turn towards London, where he gained a contract working for a major bank in the city. “It paid the bills, it was a fun time and I got the chance to visit cities and it was really during this time that I decided travel was what I wanted in life,” he reflected.
Before long, Ron was back in South Africa and involved in the organisation of a 10-a-side Rugby tournament. Despite a desire to play more golf in his home country, he was drawn towards the incredible trails of Cape Town around Table Mountain, with his friends who were mountain biking and trail running. Previously hooked on rugby, Ron got a taste for endurance sport and caught the bug.
“I definitely wasn’t the right shape or size for that sport but I absolutely loved it. I may have been at the back of the pack each time we went out but I found I had a good engine and could run forever.”
Rutland continued to read and research adventure before making a decision. “I just thought to myself, ‘why can’t I do this?’ and I couldn’t find a reason why not?”
Rutland sold everything he owned, barring one or two small electrical items to help document his journey, bought a suitable bike, attached what he needed to it and got on his way.
“It was the best feeling to have everything I owned attached to the bike,” he said. “I didn’t have to worry about what to wear, because I only had one thing. It makes you realise what’s important.”
“The simplicity of cycling appealed to me, carrying everything I have on my bike, there cannot be a better way to experience a place, you can’t escape the hills, the smells, the wind, the rain. You even notice little bugs on the side of the road, you experience it.”
Aside from mapping out his route prior to departure, and doing a little research of each country before he crossed the border into it, Rutland was mostly entering the unknown. He knew little of the native languages of each nation he was entering, relying purely on the language of sport to get him through. People, he said, changed his perception of a continent and made the gruelling hours of pedalling worthwhile.
“On the bike, because you’re going so slowly, you’re interacting with people all along the way. I can’t tell you the amount of times people would come running next to me, people on bikes racing me. On a bike, you’re also making yourself completely vulnerable; you’re relying on humanity to look after you.”
And they did. “The longest I went without showering was forty days. Four zero,” he says. “That’s when you realise what you appreciate in life. I arrived on someone’s hut-step to ask if they would be so kind as to allow me to pitch my tent on their land. These people are the poorest on earth, they have nothing. The response I received was no, but you can come and sleep inside, eat with us and use our water to wash. It was incredible.”
“They go out of their way to offer this strange white man on a bicycle, who can’t offer anything in return apart from maybe taking a photograph of their children on a digital camera and showing them the photograph. It’s the most humbling thing in the world, someone who has absolutely nothing sharing their food with you. For me it completely changes your perception of Africa. “
“I took some detours because of wars but I haven’t felt threatened by a human in my entire trip through Africa, everyone welcomed me with open arms. If you’re on a big flashy motorbike or land cruiser, people automatically turn away and think ‘he can look after himself’, on a bike you’re down at their level, their pace and they can immediately relate to you.”
Ron’s journey will now take him through the continent of Europe with the goal of finishing in London to coincide with the Rugby World Cup taking place in September and October. Along the way, Ron will visit a number of Laureus Sport for Good Foundation projects throughout Europe, highlighting the power sport has to impact social change empower young people.