India by bike: the adventure of a lifetime

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In February 2019, seven intrepid RedR UK fundraisers took on the challenge of a lifetime; cycling 300km across India and raising an incredible £26,000 to support our work training life-savers worldwide.

The team started their journey in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan and finished at the world-famous Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Joana Ferro, a landscape architect at Arup was a member of the cycling team. She shared how she heard about the trip, why she decided to get involved and how she stayed motivated through the training process:

Joana's Story

"My original background is in architecture and urban design, but I relocated from South Africa in June last year to take on a new role within Arup’s landscape architecture team in London. As landscape architects we are involved in the holistic understanding of planning, ecology and the built environment. We look at the interface between people and nature; connecting and rationalizing the competing needs of both.

I came across the opportunity to go to India through one of the Arup online forums. Arup is a RedR UK Patron, so there’s a lot of awareness of your work in our global offices. I saw the chance to go to India and I thought, great, let me do something for charity, let me challenge myself! I didn’t even think twice about it or I’d find a way to talk myself out of it, I signed up within minutes!

I was working remotely from South Africa at the time, so I could only really start training once I was back in the UK at the end of December, giving me just about 6 weeks to get fit. I didn’t even own a bike and hadn’t ridden one in years, so I had to start from scratch! I miraculously found a 6-week panic plan online and joined a gym, at the very least I had access to an indoor bike. What kept me going through the training was that I knew that I signed up and couldn’t back out; whether I liked it or not there was no running away, so I had to keep going – every day counted! I didn’t go to the gym every day, but I made sure that I kept building on my previous sessions by committing to my goals - that kept me positive and gave me a sense of progress. In the last few days before I left, I started hiring bikes so that I could get a feel for riding on the road with the traffic and other obstructions.

Fundraising for the trip was also a big challenge, it got me completely out of my comfort zone. I take my hat off to people who do this as a day job! I always find a way to do things on my own but there was no way I could overcome this hurdle without approaching companies, colleagues, friends and family for support .I leapt into this challenge not because I was ready for it but because I wasn’t."

The RedR UK cycling team take a break on the road in India.
The RedR UK cycling team take a break on the road in India.

On the road

The cycling team was made up of employees from RedR UK corporate sponsors and patrons including Arup, Cundall and Laing O’Rourke. Together the team took on the challenge and excitement of cycling through India’s villages and countryside, even encountering a tiger along the way! Joana shares her experiences of cycling as part of a group and the challenges and rewards of the trip:

Before we left, I was nervous about hampering the team, potentially disappointing them and myself, but the minute we met we had something in common – taking on this incredible adventure for a worthy cause! We were all from engineering companies, so we had that in common and the rest unfolded from there. We were a playful and supportive team with some of the stronger more experienced cyclist often lending a supportive hand up a hill or shielding us from persistent prevailing headwind!

The trip was a colourful, sensory overload on every level, it was a mix of mystery and beauty along with the most arduous struggle I’ve ever put myself through. The first day was already my personal best; I had never continuously exerted myself physically for so many hours before. At the end of the day I thought, right, I’ve done it, I cycled for charity and I can go back to London now, but then of course that was just the start of it! I clearly hadn’t done enough saddle training before I left, because the moment I made contact with the seat the very next day it felt like a million pains shooting through my body. However, when you are surrounded by a unique experience, scenic landscapes and great weather, the pain quickly fades into the background and the reward to keep going far outweighs any barrier.

I had been to India before, but nothing could have prepared me for cycling on Indian roads. Cycling is such a great way to see the country; the sights, smells and sounds, all the senses are all fully engaged when you’re on a bike. You can feel the air  on your skin, you are free to stop whenever you please to, take a photo and contemplate the amazing scenery or perhaps even share a few words with a backseat passenger on a bike riding beside you! There were so many great moments with people along the way.  As an architect, my curiosity about the rich cultural history, exploring the mysterious ‘lost cities’, and observing the intricate overlays of daily urban and rural Indian life were some of my most treasured moments. Being a bystander, observing this unfamiliar place was really the highlight of my trip.

We finished at the Taj Mahal which was one of the most extraordinary demonstrations of love that I had ever seen. I feel like I am still assimilating everything that I saw and felt on the trip. More happened in one day in India than during an entire month living in London! A lot has changed since I got back from India; I've been continuing with fundraising for the trip and have now purchased a bicycle and ride it to work every day. I've also found a new direction in my professional career, one which will hopefully open opportunities for the role of landscape architecture in the humanitarian sector.

Making friends along the way; the team stop for a well-earned break.
Making friends along the way; the team stop for a well-earned break.

Feeling inspired? Get in touch!

Are you ready to trek to the highest point in Africa, take in the sunrise at the summit of Snowdon or challenge your office to a football tournament? If you’re interested in taking part in a challenge to raise money for RedR UK and support our work training life-savers worldwide, we want to hear from you!  Click here to find out more or email our fundraising team: We look forward to hearing from you!