Friday 23 March 2012

The Ball is Rolling

Hello there! Things have come a long way since I lost wrote. Amongst other things I have moved the start date back by just under a month to Saturday 16th June 2012. There a few reasons for this. Originally, the idea to leave in May came down to me thinking that I needed to get through the mountains of Tajikistan, China and Pakistan before winter set in (I was thinking sub zero temperatures and roads submerged beneath 10ft of snow). As it turns out, a few minutes of research put all my worries to rest. Similar to Kashmir, which I visited last year, most of these areas are technically deserts, it very rarely snows there! The temperatures are also quite forgiving in that they don't seem to drop below 0 Celsius too often, sounds like perfect cycling conditions to me!

This new start date also means that I will be in Europe during the middle of the summer instead of Turkey and Iran. It also gives me more time to sort everything out for the trip; in my last post I outlined 3 major elements I needed to start working on. The first was choosing equipment.

To be completely honest, I've been rather passive in this area. The main reason being that compared to getting sponsored and getting publicised, it seems like a relatively easy task. However, I do have one huge bit of news for you. I have been offered a bike (yes, an actual bicycle)! So, as it turns out, a friend of a friend of a friend (it's good to know the word's spreading) heard about England to India and just happens to be starting an awesome retro bike company; Quella. Quella have designed and manufactured a lush fixed wheel urban bike which has just gone on sale and are going to sit down with me to design a one-off custom-build touring bicycle completely from scratch! Amazing!

I'm actually currently helping Quella launch their website, but for now there's more than enough info over on their Facebook Page. I'll let you know when the bike design stage begins but, for now, anyone with any nomadic bicycle touring experience, please get in touch if you have any recommendations as to what makes a bike roll for 6,000 miles!

I also have some brilliant news regarding sponsorship! I have received my first major offer of sponsorship from a company, Pet24, who have offered £500 (that's £625 including Gift Aid). That brings the total raised so far up to a whopping £845. That's still a long way off £25,000 but it's £845 more than where I started!

Other really exciting fundraising news; you can now donate by text! Just text "TEXT69 £5" or "TEXT69 £10" to 70070 to donate £5, or even better, £10 directly. All of the money you donate this way goes straight to the cause. Far out.

I sent out a load of sponsorship request emails the other day. It took just about all day to send out 40 or so emails; I didn't want to simply send to so first I tried to find a phone number of someone who could help me. This itself can be hard enough. Try going onto, for example, O2's website and finding a phone number that isn't something along the lines of customer care. I soon found out that the best way to access companies real offices is to search for a press office number, it seems to be the one way to access a real person which the companies feel the need to keep open! Once I got through I had to try and establish who the best person to speak to was. 9 times out of 10 I would be given the email address of the head of PR or marketing. This was good enough for me, at least I had a real person's email address that I could send my sponsorship letter to.

I did have one really embarrassing mishap. I emailed Le Coq Sportif but accidentally addressed the email to Nike (not the email address: the start of the letter). I got a reply back saying something along the lines of "you obviously meant to send that to Nike". I explained the copy and paste error and said that I did actually want the people at Lacoste to read it. Doh! I got an email back an hour later saying "we are not Lacoste, we are Le Coq Sportif, thanks". Oh well, I'm not going to be contacting Le Coq Sportif any time soon.

Trying to get publicity, via newspapers etc has been a very similar experience to applying for sponsorship from companies. A lot of time is spent finding out who is the right person to speak to. My general feeling now, regarding sponsorship and publicity, is to go for the large organisations still, but not so much the XL organisations. Companies like Mars, Kellogg's, Vodafone etc all have their own foundations set up already and this is where 100% of their charitable donations go. My best option is to find large organisations who feel they still have some giving to do!

In other news, last Friday I was working in Luton when I met a man called Sajid, from Azad (free) Kashmir in Pakistan. We talked for a long time about Pakistan and what I would experience there. He told me to text him when I was next back in Luton. It just so happened that I returned pretty quickly; on Tuesday. I told Sajid that I was there and he came out to meet me while I was working. He is one of the kindest people I have ever met; he said that when I get to Pakistan he will tell his best friends to throw a party for me. He also gave me a kurta which his brother gave to him for when I get to Pakistan. He said to me "my brother gave this to me and so now I would like to give it to another brother of mine". It's a actually a really nice one; black with gold decorations, a photo to come soon! I've met so many people from Azad Kashmir now that I'm really tempted to take a detour off the Karakorum highway just to experience this peaceful land.

This blog has been written in quite a rush, I will edit it tomorrow and add in anything that I've forgotten.

Khuda Hafiz,