More than a boys' adventure
Waikato University law graduate Rob Gray has more than just Russian street kids relying on him to finish a 25,000-kilometre charity ride across some of the world's most difficult terrain – his fiance also needs him back for their December wedding.
Mr Gray will head off with four of his mates – fellow Waikato University graduates Rob Climo and Mike Jacobson, as well as Tom Anselmi and Misha Kravcenko – for the adventure of a lifetime in April.
The trip, which they're calling the 51st Traverse, has been two years in the planning and will take the 24 to 26-year-olds from Russia's Far East through Mongolia and Central Asia, across Turkey and southern Europe, and up through France before finally ending in London.
They have given themselves about six months to do the trip.
The idea of riding half-way across the world – a boys' adventure of a lifetime – was floated over a couple of quiet beers.
It became much more when Mr Gray told his friends of his travels, a few years earlier, through Russia.
He saw child poverty like nothing any child in New Zealand would ever experience, he said.
Armed with that insight, Mr Gray suggested they make the trip a charity ride for Living Hope, a Russian charity set up by New Zealander Rachel Hughes. The aim is to raise a dollar for every kilometre they travel to help build a shelter for street children in Vladivostok.
Mr Gray spent some time in the basements and sewers where the street children live in freezing temperatures.
"I was just really blown away by it," Mr Gray said.
"We had to crawl through a small tunnel, through what smelt like human waste, through some curtains and into a room. It absolutely stank and was full of flies. It had about 12 kids living in it and no beds to speak of, just cardboard mats."
Mr Gray said his fiance, Alanna Muir, was very supportive of the trip, which had been planned before they decided to get married.
"She has been incredibly supportive and has never once suggested I should pull out," he said. "I'm feeling pretty blessed, I have an amazing girl and an awesome trip planned."
Mr Climo, who first suggested the ride even though none of the five men had any real riding experience, said raising the money for Living Hope had spurred the group on.
"It's more than just us now,' he said. "We can't let the charity down."
The men picked up their Suzuki motorcycles about 12 months ago and have been trail blazing ever since. Taupo riding expert Nick Reader, of Epic Events, even gave them some free training.
Mr Jacobson has only just recovered from a broken leg which he suffered after falling off his bike in September. It has meant he has had less riding time than the others.
The adventurous five will update their travels via blogs and videos on their website, 51st.co.nz.