www.forapieceofcake.com PEDAL POWER PROVIDES SWEET SUCCESS FOR A PIECE OF CAKE In January’s issue we featured the incredible journey of two intrepid cyclists who vowed to cross continents on their bicycles to raise awareness about diabetes. We now catch up with the remarkable riders who have completed their year-long cycling challenge.
“I lost 13 kilograms during the trip and definitely strengthened my legs like I never did before” Two campaigning cyclists who used pedal power to ride through more than 20 countries, to help raise awareness about diabetes, reached their final destination after a year in the saddle. The global cycling challenge, called For A Piece of Cake was the brainchild of professional photographer Riccardo Rocchi and his partner, engineer, Chiara Ricciardi who cycled 18,000 km over 12 months.
The determined duo decided to embark on the epic two-wheeled project to help raise awareness about diabetes worldwide, a condition that affects over 400 million people across the globe. Chiara, who has type 1 diabetes, embarked on the journey, cycling with Riccardo from Cesena, Italy to Singapore, in a bid to shine a spotlight on the medical condition. They embarked on their extreme expedition aboard bikes because exercise can help reduce the daily insulin requirement for people like Chiara.
During the trip Chiara significantly reduced the amount of insulin she needed to regularly inject. Cyclist Chiara said: “We showed people with diabetes and their families that diabetes shouldn’t stop anybody from following their dreams. Indeed the intrepid Italian cyclists revealed the health benefits both have had from spending over 365 days in the saddle to cycle across continents.” Chiara said: “To me the regular cycling has drastically reduced the amount of insulin injected daily: I passed from 45/50 units per day to 20/30 and this was an unquestionable success.”
Riccardo added: “I lost 13 kilograms during the trip and definitely strengthened my legs like I never did before.” Chiara explained that despite her medical condition she was determined to complete the cycling challenge during which it was essential she managed her diabetes throughout the trip. She said: Cycling was not more difficult for me than it was for Riccardo. Of course, I always had to be aware about my blood sugar levels and adapt my therapy accordingly, but the effort we made on every single climb was the same. Also, travelling with Riccardo simplified the management of my diabetes, adding two watchful eyes on my work: for example he could sometimes detect a hypoglycaemia before me from my slowdowns in the pedal.
However cycling long distances daily, often spending many gruelling hours in the saddle day after day would take its toll on most people and the two were mindful that Chiara would not only need to regularly monitor her blood sugar levels but also ensure her vital insulin medication was with her at all times.
Another challenge that faced them was how to safely transport Chiara’s insulin medication while keeping it protected from the severe temperature changes they would encounter en route. Rider Riccardo said: The protection of insulin for one year, on a bicycle with very hot climates, was a challenge that we had never faced before. Insulin is vital for Chiara, so this wasn’t a small concern.
They found a solution from UK based project partner Peli BioThermal, which specialises in cold chain packaging for the pharmaceutical industry. The company donated its Cr.doª ProMed, a robust, temperature controlled medical transport bag designed to ensure protected pharmaceutical products remain intact and is used by emergency first responders and medical couriers worldwide. The Cr.do ProMed was a permanent fixture on Chiara’s bicycle throughout the 12-month momentous journey ensuring her medication remained intact without the need for external cooling for days at a time as they cycled across continents through some of the world’s toughest terrains and temperature extremes.
The pedaling pair discovered some more novel uses for the bag and even used it to store cheese at some stages of their trip! The couple took a sabbatical from their professional careers to dedicate themselves to the cycling challenge and set off from Cesena in their native Italy to cycle over numerous countries to their final destination of Singapore, which they reached as successfully, as planned in just over a year. Riccardo reflected on the epic two wheeled adventure which was the first of its kind encountered by them both . He said: The cycling challenge built day by day, with us carefully listening to our physical and mental needs. Of course we had some hard days, but overall it has been exactly how we expected it: a great pleasure and privilege.
They are still coming to terms with how life changing the trip has been and what impact it will have in the long term. Riccardo said: “Its hard to tell now, before we go back to our normal lives. Despite the fact that life has been completely different over the past year, I suppose that, once back, everything will be pretty much the same as before, just with a lot of new stories to tell!”
The trip was not always easy and they faced challenges along the way, sometimes having to make last minute alternative arrangements regarding their mode of transport to ensure their safety while travelling through areas experiencing some unrest and issues. They revealed what they found to be the biggest challenges during their journey and how they overcame them. Chiara said: “Cycling through Northern India was probably the biggest challenge of the trip. The traffic, the lack of rules on the streets, the poor hygienic conditions and the people were not always very friendly, which made us pedal as fast as possible to the next country: Nepal, the nation of Buddha.”
Riccardo added: “Also, when cycling back to India (the North-East part of the route taken had been really enjoyable) we discovered the situation in Manipur, the Indian state with the only overland border crossing to Myanmar, which was very complicated due to large scale social/ political disorders.” It was hard to get reliable information about crossing that state overland. Most of the people told us it was too dangerous to cross the area and that we’d better fly to Myanmar. That’s what we did for our safety, but we still think that it could have been a very interesting journey.”
Despite the challenges they faced both remained adamant there was never a time when they ever felt like giving up. Navigating more than 20 countries with only a bicycle as a means of transport meant that travelling at a more leisurely pace afforded them the opportunity for many positive encounters and the opportunity to experience some stunning sights, many of which Riccardo captured from behind his camera lens. These photographs will feature in an exhibition they have planned which highlights their year-long adventure and will be staged in Cesena, Italy during September. With so many amazing shared experiences it was difficult for them to select their favorites. Riccardo confessed: “There are probably many possible answers, but if I have to pick one then I would choose the Iranian Kurdistan where the people were incredibly friendly and welcoming and the mountainous landscape was just stunning.”
Chiara revealed: “My favourite parts were the mountains in Nepal before reaching the Kathmandu Valley and the jungles and forests we crossed in South-East Asia, especially in Thailand. The monsoon season there made everything as green as I had never seen before.”
Cycling such distances daily meant they had to ensure their main mode of transport, their bicycles, continued to perform throughout and now they have completed their cycling challenge there are no immediate plans for another epic trip just yet.
Riccardo said: “The bikes performed great, we trusted them in every single ride and they never had any problems. For sure we will use them to go the beach back home however it’s too early to talk about future projects. “We don’t have any real regrets, just one little thing: we both really love the sea and we didn’t spend much time along the coast. We will keep that in mind for the next ride!”
Chiara commented on whether she feels they accomplished their mission of raising awareness about diabetes – a condition she has lived with since first being diagnosed as a young girl aged 11. “Despite the challenges they faced both remained adamant there was never a time when they ever felt like giving up.” “I think that of course we can always do more to create awareness about diabetes, but I’m happy with what we managed to do in this year. Both through our social networks and physical presence we talked about diabetes to people who didn’t know about it.
“It is always a big success when we receive messages from families that have diabetic kids and thank us for the hopeful message that we are trying to spread.” The remarkable riders revealed what they have learned about themselves during their journey and how they feel about what they have achieved.
Chiara said: “The emotions when finally reaching Singapore were really strong and pure, not just because of getting to our goal, but also because of getting to the end of this unbelievable adventure. I feel very proud about what I completed – it wasn’t always easy and fun – but also very lucky for the amazing experiences I could collect along the journey. “I have learned that every big challenge starts with one small step, or pedal stroke in our case. Now I know that I have all the determination needed to carry a big challenge to its end, proceeding step by step.”
Riccardo added: “We spent 24 hours a day together for over a year, and it was easy, very natural and never a difficult coexistence: I learned that we are a very good team. Our photo exhibition about the “For a Piece of Cake” project took place in Cesena in September, and then we will go back to our normal lives and start dreaming about the next adventure!”