“It’s going to be an amazing experience,” says John Pemberton, CEO of Heart of Darkness and one of the 20 participants in this year’s H2H cycle ride.
Started in 2009 by three teachers at ILA — James Ortmann, Rob Wilson and Sophie Lewis — the annual, month-long cycle ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to raise money for charity has been a regular fixture ever since, and remains one of those activities that many expats feel they need to do before they leave Vietnam.
This year’s 2,000km ride will be led by New Zealand teacher, Craig Berry, and will see cyclists average 80km a day. Much of the route is through some of the most stunning scenery this country has to offer, the hills and mountains of the Central Highlands.
For John, who is doing the first 1,000km of the journey, the motivation to get involved in H2H was a heartfelt need to give something back to charity.
“I’ve got a big soft spot for KOTO,” he explains. “Jimmy [Pham, KOTO’s founder] helped us out at Heart of Darkness and gave us a bunch of advice. I love what KOTO do. The concept of taking street kids off the street and teaching them F&B is just phenomenal.
“They’re given a home, they’re given an address, they’re given legitimacy and they’re learning skills which will at least get them started in life if not take them all the way through it. It will give them a grounding.”
John was born in Australia and raised in the UK, and when he was young he sometimes had to rely on the support of the welfare state. In Vietnam this kind of support doesn’t exist. Instead, it’s “the families that look after people.”
“So those kids that don’t have families, don’t have homes, for me that’s a very emotive point,” he continues. “If I can do something to make a difference, to change just a few of those lives and put them on the right track, I think it’s my duty to do it.”
With funds raised from ride going not just to KOTO but also to Saigon Children’s Charity, ILA Community Network, Blue Dragon Foundation and the Live and Give Foundation, at the end of the month-long journey, all the money raised by the 20 riders will be split between the five entities.
A Personal Challenge
While charity is a key motivator for John and his fellow riders to take on the challenge, another reason is to get into shape. The drinking-based lifestyle in Vietnam often makes people put on the pounds, and when you open a bar and a brewery like John Pemberton has, it can start to add up.
“I’ve put on about 12kg since I opened Heart of Darkness,” he laughs. “So, I figured that getting a good 1,000km ride under my belt and having to train for it would be good for my health as well.”
His training routine saw him starting with a 35km cycle ride every other day before ramping it up to 50km a day at speed, all with the aim of getting into prime cycling shape.
“For me it’s more of a psychological battle,” says John. “It’s going to be 80km a day, six days out of seven, which is going to be brutal. It’s very mountainous and lots of hill climbing.”
Yet, like all the other riders, John knows that the hours of training and then the ride itself will be more than worth the effort.
“Cycling through spectacular countryside in a country that I love is going to be an amazing, once in a lifetime experience.”
PHOTO BY OLGA ROZENBAJGIER