The story of one man, a 3300km journey on a tandem bike and the kindness of strangers, all pedalling for an incredible cause. Freedom Seat is a project that is raising funds to help the 4.5 million children and women who are enslaved and trafficked globally. Naresh Kumar, the founder of the project, came up with a unique idea to raise awareness for the cause. This is his story.
Words and Photography by: Naresh Kumar | @iamarunr
Where did the idea for your ‘Freedom Seat' trip come from?
"Humans are only one of many things and all these things long to live, and the highest form of living is freedom" - Richard Flanagan
Freedom - the highest form of living but yet there are 27 million people in slavery and about 4.5 million are children and women. They are enslaved, trafficked and exploited sexually. The numbers may be overwhelming but as Edmund Burke once said, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
We have seen our friends, or friends of friends, run marathons or extremely long distances to raise money for a charity that they so care for. But why do they go the distance to raise money? Simple - the cause is so near and dear to them that they are ready to throw themselves on harm's path, out of their comfort zone and to endure some serious pain to show the world they care. When the world notices that, they feel the urge to support the charity in any way possible.
Why a tandem bike?
Instead of making this experience ‘my' adventure, I wanted to take people on an adventure, combined with the simplicity of bicycling. The tandem bike worked out to be a great vehicle for the adventure but also drew a great metaphor for the cause we were fighting for.
As a passenger (Stoker in cycling terms), you can't steer the bicycle and you can't stop when you want to and the fact that you are putting your trust in a random stranger brought a clear metaphor to what a trafficked victim goes through.
What has been the most memorable moment of the trip?
On 15th Jan, I was in Cape Reinga (Northern most point of NZ) filled with joy and excitement but also with lots of doubts and uncertainties. Who is going accept my invitation to pedal? That’s when I saw a couple from the UK walking from the lighthouse at Cape Reinga. I asked them if they could take a picture of me to mark the start of my journey. As I was about to push off, they inquired about my passenger and how far we were riding. I explained to them about the adventure and requested if they would help me pedal for the cause. The man gave away the camper van keys to his wife and asked her to meet us 25km from Cape Reinga at a cafe.
That interaction gave me hope that all was going to be well with Freedom Seat. Not only did he ride 24 hard and hilly km with me but he also gave a generous donation.
What has the experience taught you?
A challenge can’t be a real challenge unless there is a possibility of failure. Freedom Seat came with its own set of real challenges. Nature threw its fist at me throughout the journey. Some days were long and hard and mechanical failures put me to the absolute test. By the end of the expedition I had:
6 flats, 1 tyre, 34 broken spokes, 1 disk and 4 disk brakes.
Throughout the expedition, I had no plans. All I knew was my end destination and I let life and people direct my journey. It was a journey riding kindness relying on the kindness of people. So much so that for the duration of the expedition, I didn’t even spend a $$ on accommodation.
Uncertainty makes life at it's best. It's also full of surprises, and sometimes with uncertainty comes the best surprises. Here’s a story that’s so close to my heart. It got hilly, windy, freezing cold and a storm was rolling in with rain predicted all night! I bought myself a meat pie and was eating outside a Pak n Save with an 80 year old man.
Just as I was about to take off, I heard someone holler, "Mate, you are missing a passenger"! I smiled and asked him if he would help me pedal to Gore and his answer was a prompt "No”. Simon asked me where I was planning to stay for the night. When I said "No", he offered a place to sleep for the night. I still had about 140km to go but the weather changed my mind and I took him up on his offer.
I met his beautiful family, 3 adorable kids, 2 puppy dogs, a dutch cyclist he was hosting, awesome food, spa, whiskey, etc.
It's pissing down with rain with crazy gales outside but I'm warm and comfortable wondering what I did to deserve this kindness.
It's uncertainties like these that makes the journey beautiful and special.
How did you feel when you completed the trip?
After 35 days of pedaling 3330 km with 140 people, we finally got to Bluff. Along with awareness we also exceeded our fundraising goal. Along the way, an incredibly kind human (who wishes to remain anonymous) had come forward to MATCH EVERY DOLLAR that had been/will be donated for Freedom Seat wish was $20,000. That's right! Every donation. Past, present and future. A humble goal of $20,000 was set but we have raised over $43000 and are still going.
You pedal into someone's life in weakness and vulnerability, and it was fascinating to see people open their homes to you! It's extremely humbling! Is it the bike? Is it your trust? Is it making yourself vulnerable? I would never know.
But what I know for sure is that people are wonderful wherever you go!
All the dollars and awareness raised will be put to great use. The 140 riders and thousands who heard me speak at various events promised and showed their support to #standwithher.
What will it take to see a world without slavery? All of us!!
You can donate to the ‘Freedom Seat’ cause here: freedomseat.org.nz