The Reverend Dr David Munchin of St Mary's Church in Welwyn raised almost £6,000 for HWSF by cycling 1,700 miles to Rome this past autumn. We caught up with him recently to talk about the highs and lows of his extraordinary journey.
What inspired you to cycle to Rome?
Every twelve years clergy are lucky enough to have a sabbatical – three months for rest, reflection and renewal. I’ve been a keen cyclist for the last six years and knew that I wanted to include a long distance cycle ride. I had originally thought of taking the Camino to Santiago in Spain, but then a friend got a job in Rome, which meant I had a place to stay where I could enjoy a few weeks in Rome at the end of the ride. In fact the route from Canterbury to Rome was once a well known pilgrim route – the Via Francigena - and recently it was converted to a long distance Eurovelo cycling route, so I followed that.
Can you tell us about your decision to be sponsored in aid of Herts Welcomes Syrian Families?
My church’s giving action group wanted to help HWSF and it turned out to be an inspired choice. I’m careful to say that my experience was nothing like that of a refugee, apart from the fact that it involved a journey which could have been made easier. I had a destination, a home to go back to, a definite route, passport, money, a bed to sleep in every night, unlimited communications with loved ones. However having time to think made me realise how lucky I was, and what it would be like to do a journey like that with none of those things.
What were some of the challenges you experienced on the ride?
People always ask about my legs and my bum! But as a cyclist I knew I could do the ride itself, though it was a tough one. Getting over the Alps and Apennines with a fully laden bike was the challenge I wasn’t sure I would be up to. Logistics were far more of a worry – injury, accident, bike failure, kit failure. To be honest, the greatest worry was getting one’s laundry done and dried before running out of clean clothes!
Did you ever think that you wouldn't finish the journey?
It got easier as I went on. I remember being in Lille after three days of cycling and thinking ‘I can’t do this.’ The trick is convincing yourself that once you’ve done it for four days, even if it’s tiring, you can do it for four weeks, you just need to keep going. So that got easier as I went on – once I was over the Alps at the start of week 3, I knew that I could do it.
Do you have a particular memory from your trip that you'd like to share?
Arriving in Rome was one of the best moments ever. Apart from that riding on quite flat roads through Alsace was the best experience. Very beautiful countryside – we’re going back there on holiday this year – by car!
What advice would you give to people who want to help or welcome refugees into their local communities?
I think perhaps we might be tempted to think that people who arrive will be so grateful to be safe that all will be well. Of course they will be overwhelmingly thankful, but they will also be tired and anxious and maybe traumatised by their experiences. For me, just getting to Rome and seeing an old friend in a lovely flat, and having a suitcase flown out with friends, was overwhelming – but I also needed to get over the ride. So I probably needed to rest and eat rather too much the first day or two. That need to attend to oneself must be much greater in the case of refugees.