Xin chao! or otherwise known as Hello! in Vietnamese. I loved saying Xin chao sounds like (zin chow) as
we rode our bikes into the small Vietnamese villages. Quite a few infact! Covering 470km from Hanoi to Nha Trang over 6 days, riding along the beautiful coastline and smaller rural tracks. The children would see us riding through and excitedly run up to the road singing Hello! Hello! and waving their arms rapidly. Some would walk out onto the road putting their hands out for a "high five" which was easy initially until it became a game and the children would slap their hands with such velocity that I wonder if they were trying to get us to fall off our bikes!
Wow what a life changing experience. As I write I have tears of joy with such appreciation for this journey. It had been eight months in the making. Fundraising, introduction to spin classes (45 min of intense cardio) , learning to use cleats, getting kitted out with lycra etc, falling off the bike, sports massages for my weary muscles, PT sessions, abstinence from alcohol for 5 weeks, an amazing Gala Dinner, chiropractic/kinesiology alignments, naturopath, vitamins, immunisations and lots of baths! I wanted to be prepared as my goal was to ride the 425km (that was the planned distance) in joy as was the theme of my Gala Dinner Cycling Back to Joy. Every inch of planning and preparation payed off. It was the most joyous experience that not only met my expectations but certainly exceeded them. Then to meet some of the many children we had raised money for from The Christina Noble Children's Foundation (CNCF) was the icing on the cake.
My goal was to cycle back to joy as this is our natural state. We learn fear, to worry, limitations and being "not enough". I used to have a lot of feeling "not enough" going on, and my final lesson was to realise I am enough in the physical. I had achieved much peace emotionally, mentally and spiritually and my final challenge was to incorporate this into my physical being. I used to be very fit and it came from a place of "not enough". Pushing myself harder and harder, driven from fear rather than love and putting my body through the wringer. Getting injured, taking things far too serious, putting too much pressure on myself, being competitive with myself, busy and always in a hurry. This time I was determined to come from a place of "good enough" and love.
I did it! I had fun! I laughed at myself often especially when I fell off the bike. I trained with joy, rode with joy and have loved every minute of this whole journey. I had fears around it being too hot, getting saddle sore, falling off and injuring myself, getting sick, not wanting to continue riding day after day and not being able to keep up. All fears were squashed and I exceeded my goal. Certainly due to the preparation, my new mindset, cycling for the children from the CNCF but mostly due to the amazing team I had around me. Who are we without a team? Or family, I like to call them. My family of supporters were amazing. I had family back home and a new family made up of 20. I knew 3 from Melbourne and the 17 are from all over the world. The Vietnamese crew, England, Ireland, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Dubai, France, Switzerland, China, USA and another country Perth!! Ha ha a joke we had!
I have never laughed so much in my life! From slipping and sliding around on our challenging hike in Sapa, the quick witted Poms and teaching our beautiful Frenchy Aussie slang! We also had very deep conversations as we rode along, shared experiences and connected like long lost old friends. I kept commenting to my room mate that she reminded me so much of one of my best friends that I met in primary school. The reason being that this is how I felt about her. A best friend that I felt had known forever as we laughed together, cried together and always unconditionally loving.
Then there was THE PASS!! I had heard there would be a 7km elevation on one of the days. Elevation all right! 500m of it over 10km. Hai Van Pass, apparently it is famous. Very famous to me now and a memory I will always cherish. I was nervous and excited. Some of the riders skipped lunch and tackled it earlier in the day. I rested for lunch, fuelled up and then took the challenge. Thank God for cleats and the unknown! Not sure I would have done so well without both. I had no idea what to expect. Was told will take approx 40- 60 minutes?? Just a spin class I thought!
Conditions were perfect....overcast. Thank God again! No sun! I said to myself, "You can do this Melly!! This is what you have been training for". I also had some inspiration from one of the challengers that morning as he shared about the children we were riding for. I was deeply moved and my heart was so open. Off I went. I needed to get some momentum so pushed ahead and rode behind our expedition leader. I just went for it!! Throughout the 10km I talked to myself, sung and kept saying "you are almost there". Buses, cars and motor cyclists would toot and offer words of encouragement which made such a difference. Another family. Like angels from heaven at the right time when I needed it.
It will level out soon?? Then another steep incline. As each incline approached I would look up and say "surely not?" "The roads not going up there?" I laughed!! "Oh yes it is". Hung the expedition leader in front of me would ask if I wanted to stop and take a photo? Hell no! Firstly I didn't know how I would start again and secondly I didn't know how to stop as I was locked in with my cleats! "Just keep going, never give up". At one stage I was breathing so heavily and then I said to myself "this is it, last hill!". It was. I rode up and saw Kirrily ahead who was videoing us. Oh my God I made it. By this stage it had started to drizzle rain which was so refreshing. I kept riding up as it levelled out remembering to slow....click out and STOP. I was quite delirious and hopped off the bike. I just wanted to walk. As I walked along a backpacker sitting at one of the tables said, "Did you ride up that? That's amazing..." Then I lost it. I cried and cried. Wow I did it!! I felt like the King of the world and that anything is possible.
What goes up must come down!! Then a cruisey long ride down hill in the rain to meet the others who took off earlier in the day. Eventually we were all back together, saturated on the bus, eating chips , biscuits, high five-ing and gorgeous Kirrily organised a beer for us all to cheers and celebrate!! That night we stayed at a lovely hotel with a cool pool and comfortable bed. I'm sure the dip in the pool aided in the recovery and after a great sleep I was ready for a 93km ride.
My body was used to cycling in the end and I had my routine down pat. We smashed the planned 425km completing 470km. I was grateful to finish and so excited to meet the children at The Sunshine Centre in Ho Chi Minh City. We flew out from Nha Trang in the morning and were bused to the school after lunch. I was quite teary as we approached knowing this would be an overwhelming experience. It certainly was. We were treated like royalty. The children were lined up on either side as we entered, screaming with poppers and streamers going off everywhere. I was overwhelmed to meet the little beings who were so grateful for our efforts and joyful with no signs of the harsh conditions they had come from and as I learnt that evening, some go back to at night. The Christina Noble Children's Foundation is a foundation and not a charity as such. It is about breaking the cycle and giving children the opportunity for the basics in life. Safety, food, shelter, education and unconditional love. You could feel the love in the centre and see the joy in the children's faces. I cried as I felt so grateful for my education and the opportunities my parents had given me. I also felt bad for the times I didn't want to go to school and when I had taken it for granted.
We had a presentation about the foundation which is far reaching in Southern Vietnam, Mongolia and wishing to expand. It provides so many services to educate, improve health and safety, training for job placement and care for disabled children. I was moved by a loan of equivalent $30 to a start up business which was paid back and is now very successful and has 25 employees. A graduate of The Summer School has moved onto tertiary education to become a Dr and there are many other stories of how the cycle of poverty is being broken. The Centre is also a permanent residence for children affected by Agent Orange and disabilities who have been orphaned and require 24 hr care. We were honoured to be allowed to play with these children which is a privilege as a Noble Challenger. The love and joy in the air was palpable which is a credit to the staff. Not one child cried in the whole time we were there.
I was wrecked after the visit. It was so emotional and drained me much more than the ride. We were all deeply moved and appreciative of the time we had with the children. That night after dinner as we were walking back to the Hotel we became lost from some of the group and ended up taking a turn into a side alley. As I walked along I saw the same bright colours of the uniforms the children had on during the day. I quickly realised it was one of the students and gave him a hug. He hugged me back and I thought he knew who I was. He did not. He was on the streets with 2 other children selling chewing gum. One of the challengers showed him pictures of us and the children at the centre that day and he remembered us. This was no coincidence. We were initially upset and disturbed and then realised that this is reality. These children's parents were most likely out working as were they. They will work until late at night and get up for school because they choose to and want to. There is a break during the day when they can sleep. I was comforted in knowing that the children who attend the school are aware of an alternate reality and provided with safety, food, shelter, education and fun during the day. They have the opportunity to break the cycle so that they won't need to work on the streets at night like their parents.
After a relaxing break at a resort in Mui Ne I was excited to come home feeling refreshed, inspired and ready. These feelings did not follow me home. I slept most of the day after I landed and on the second morning I woke up early as had plans to catch up with my Mum and sisters. As I was getting ready I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness and started to cry. What goes up must come down.... I had been on a high for 3 weeks and consumed with preparing for the trip for 8 months. I felt sad for a number of reasons. What was I going to focus on now? Is it fair that I live in such luxury compared to what I had witnessed and the limiting belief that arose was "I'm not making a difference in the world".
I allowed my body to grieve and did some writing which revealed this limiting belief of "I'm not making a difference in the world". I knew this had surfaced from the subconscious mind and was grateful for the awareness to change it. I know how important it is to grieve to release the old to make way for the new. It is to die. My body was sad as it let go of this belief. I felt depressed for a couple of days as the emotions moved through my body. Depression is not a new thing for me as I have felt it many times throughout my life. I used to resist it but this time I was grateful for it. Something in me was dying for rebirth. I treated myself with love and kindness and asked "What do you need?". I had a good cry, a bath, bought myself flowers, practised gratitude for what I have and did some more writing to create new goals. The depression lifted and I felt inspired and excited about life again. I realised what died in me was "not enough" with the rebirth of "I am enough". "Not enough" and I had been so close for such a long time and it all makes sense now why I would feel sad at letting her go.
The journey of completing this cycling challenge and fundraising for The Christina Noble Children's Foundation has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was asked today if I would do it again? Without hesitation I responded YES! There are no words to explain how it feels to find yourself, see yourself and love yourself at the deepest level. I thought I was going to make a difference in the world for these beautiful children, but the person that I made the most difference for was myself.
For further info on The Christina Noble Children's Foundation visit: www.cncf.org