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Fairtrade pioneer overcomes grief and injury to cycle 18,000 miles around the world for charity

29 March 2018


Robert Cleave shows off the lightweight, high-performance bike which he hopes will take him 18,000 miles, across five continents and through 20 countries, to complete his fund-raising ride

Robert Cleave shows off the lightweight, high-performance bike which he hopes will take him 18,000 miles, across five continents and through 20 countr...

ROBERT CLEAVE, one of the first Traidcraft representatives in the UK and the man who introduced the Fairtrade movement to the diocese of Southwell, 30 years ago, is about to embark on a solo round-the-world cycle trip.

He is raising money for Traidcraft Exchange and Cancer Research UK. It will take up to 18 months.

Mr Cleave, a retired IT manager of a global health-care company, embarks on “Robert’s Ride” on 7 April. He will be cycling 18,000 miles, across five continents and through 20 countries, starting in Morocco.

It will be only his second long-distance ride, after a 1000-mile trip from Land’s End to John O’Groats, which he completed in 14 days.

He acknowledges that the trip is going to be both a physical and mental challenge, and a spiritual journey. His venture has twice been postponed: once after the death of his mother from stomach cancer, two years ago; and a second time because of injury. Osteoarthritis necessitated a hip replacement, and he broke his shoulder in several places last year, after being hit from behind by a car while cycling home from work.

Mr Cleave, who is 62, is a well-known figure in the diocese, having served in a lay capacity within his own church, St Michael and All Angels’, Bramcote, and on the Bishops’ Council and diocesan synod — often cycling the 40-mile round trip to Southwell for meetings. He acknowledges that what he is undertaking would challenge a man half his age, but has been “building up the miles and the legs” and has no intention of trying to break any records.

The only hard-stop timings relate to seasonality in necessities such as avoiding monsoons.

A key part has been managing risk: the route has been selected to be as safe as possible, and he will not be going through the hot spots of the world. His trip has caught the imagination of the many schools, groups, and Traidcraft roadshows that he has been visiting with his lightweight, high-performance bike. Everything he is carrying will be in two panniers, and he likes that notion.

“It does strip life down to the bare essentials, to something simpler and more immediate,” he says. “All your effort and interests are focused on getting from A to B, having enough to eat and drink, and having somewhere to sleep at night.”

He regards the solo trip as “almost like going on retreat for a year and more”. Modern communications will enable him, though, to keep in frequent contact with his family and supporters; and his iPad holds the Lonely Planet guides for every country he is visiting, as well as “masses of music and masses of books” (they include the Archbishop of Canterbury’s new book, Reimagining Britain). His bike powers a USB charger on the handlebars.

In north-west Spain he will visit Santiago de Compostela, and in India and south-east Asia he plans to visit some of the farmers, producers, and artisans with whom Traidcraft works. “I’ve always been impressed and inspired by the charity’s approach to fighting global poverty through trade,” he says. “And I very much like what Cancer Research UK are doing in applying medical science to beating cancer.”

Mr Cleave’s wife, Christine, will join him at five stages of the tour, for a few days’ holiday and to bring out spares and replacements such as tyres and brake blocks if required. A retired physics teacher, she has recently completed training as a spiritual director, and reflects that the prayer practices associated with that discipline are things that will stand her in good stead over the many months of absence.

“I will be able to resource myself in God when I’m praying. I feel naturally drawn to spending time on my own; so that solitary part of my life is probably the most important thing that is going to sustain me day by day,” she says.

Family and friends are close by, and she has a supportive church community: Robert’s Ride is to be commissioned at a family service on Palm Sunday.

The distances are formidable and the time will be long, but love for one’s husband is like an elastic string, she suggests: “Even if the string stretches a great deal, that connection is still there.” But Mr Cleave might have to speed up if he is to get back back in time for the couple’s 40th wedding anniversary, in July 2019.

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