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Pedalled pilgrimage to NZ

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English rugby enthusiasts Thomas Hudson (left) and Jodie Burton pose with their bikes in front of Independence Monument yesterday.

From the iconic Twickenham stadium to the land of the legendary All Blacks, adventurous London couple Thomas Hudson and Jodie Burton are cycling their way through 28 countries and 28,000 kilometres on an unprecedented rugby pilgrimage that will end in Auckland’s famed Eden Park in time for the 2011 World Cup in September.

Twenty-nine-year-old Thomas Hudson and his girlfriend Jodie Burton, 30, pedalled their way into Cambodia on April 8 from neighbouring Laos and are heading to Thailand via Siem Reap today on the next leg of their incredible journey.

As the 150-day countdown began for the World Cup, the couple embark on their latest demanding stretch that will take them through Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta in the ASEAN belt before a jump to Darwin in Australia.  

From Melbourne, they will fly to New Zealand’s southern tip of Dunedin before their arrival in Auckland for September’s rugby showcase.

“Cambodia has been a wonderful experience,” Hudson told the Post in an exclusive interview yesterday. “We travelled along the Mekong River. It has been very pleasant on the road and it has been equally exciting to get to know the rugby community. I feel the future for Rugby looks bright in Cambodia.”

Cambodian Rugby Federation Secretary Thomas Sterling said he was “more than pleased to have them in our midst for these few days.” The couple spent some quality time in Phnom Penh with the rugby community, interacting with Cambodian players, expats, administrators and juniors.

“Our aim is to collect as many pieces of rugby memorabilia as we can from each one of the countries we have visited,” said Burton. “We are also getting the signature of one iconic figure on a scroll from each country we cycle through. We are happy that we could get Cambodia’s well known player Ratana Pich to sign on that scroll.

“We are planning to hand this over to the International Rugby Board in New Zealand to be used as an exhibit in a rugby museum.”

What on Earth led them to this epic adventure?
The two met in a London gym three years ago. When acquaintance blossomed into a relationship, Jodie’s longing for an adventure on two wheels and Thomas’ passion for rugby as an amateur – playing for
the likes of Finchley RFC in North London - sprouted the idea to pedal all the way to the World Cup.

“We had plans to emigrate to Australia anyway. Both of us had worked in the financial sector for quite some time and we wanted to get into something new and challenging,” said Hudson.

“We have saved enough money to cover this trip. We plan to spend about US$10 a day between us.

“We are wild campers. We spend the night wherever we can pitch our tent. We carry everything with us, a heater, a water filter, some canned food, a whole lot of what you can call a survival kit weighing nearly 100 kilograms.”

Hudson added that their bikes, although not custom made, are “tough and reliable.”

“We have had no major problems so far,” he said.

The couple took off from the gates of Twickenham in London on May 1, 2010 to “discover the world that is not segregated.”

After riding the thoroughfares of France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, and now Cambodia, the pair have realised the path they have chosen is an illuminating one.

“This is a self funded trip. We are pursuing individual projects, but it is rugby all the way.

We are also planning to raise about £28,000 [$45,650], one pound per kilometre we cycle, for two chosen charities; the United Kingdom based Rays of Sunshine and the internationally acclaimed TAG Rugby Trust,” said Hudson, with his partner adding that the “rest of our lives will also be rugby.”

The cyclists revealed that one of their “most bewildering experiences” was arriving in Hong Kong, while the hardest section of their journey was to cycle through China in freezing temperatures.

“Contrary to widely held notions about the dangers of travelling in Iran and Pakistan, we had no problems at all,” said Hudson.

But for an unfriendly visit to their sleeping tents of a bear in Romania, the couple has had no major scares during the 18,000 plus kilometres that they have so far cycled.

“I lost about 20 kilograms and I had a few minor health problems here and there. But Jodie has been fine,” said Hudson.

Even though the trip is all about rugby, the dynamic duo are “not even thinking about” the fact that they have yet to secure tickets for the World Cup.

“The English rugby authorities are aware of our trip and also the IRB. We will think about it when we get to Eden Park,” said Hudson. “Right now we have to get through to New Zealand in time.”

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