Dave Benfell and a team of Kiwis have completed an epic 2500km Bluff to Cape Reinga tandem bike ride to raise money for injured soldiers.
Everyone is tired but elated, says the ex-soldier from Brookfield.
"It's just been such an amazing experience. The amount of confidence you get when you finally arrive at Cape Reinga is difficult to explain. There have been so many good things come out of this."
One of those good things is the confidence Dave and the riders have experienced having reached their goal of riding on tandem bicycles for 20 days cycling and raising money for his charity Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen's Association of New Zealand (SSAANZ).
"You get to see their faces and realise the journey they have been on ... they are so proud of themselves. It is not just a physical journey but a mental journey."
Operation Ride 2018 is the first of its kind and was organised by the Pilgrim Bandits UK, special forces veterans who use their training to help and inspire injured personnel. SSAANZ is the Kiwi answer to the Pilgrims.
Operation Ride 2018 involved injured soldiers with support teams from New Zealand, Canada and the UK.
Each charity raised money and SSAANZ raised about $13,000.
The bike ride started on October 28 in Bluff and the riders landed at Cape Reinga on November 16, jubilant to have completed the trip.
The purpose-built recumbent tandem cycle were not easy to ride, Dave says. They broke down often.
"Riding the tandems is completely different from riding a regular bike. If the person in the front doesn't work, the person at the back will be shattered."
Dave, from Brookfield, says there were big moments along the way.
"There were four or five guys from the UK who were just supporters who raised money but they helped on the tandems and rode the entire trip. They really stepped up."
There was also the veteran who carried his wheelchair-bound buddy over his back to see the lookout at Mount Victoria. They were welcomed with food and open arms where ever they went.
Operation Ride started as a race, Dave says.
"But what it ended up was as an big combined effort. We all helped each other out when they were sick or tired ... the race went by the wayside. If we didn't do that we wouldn't have made it."
The cycling soldiers included those with amputated legs, burns and brain injuries.
"It's hard to say you are having bad day when you look at teammates and the injuries they have endured ... a lot of stuff we complain about is rubbish. We're really lucky in New Zealand."
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen's Association of New Zealand (SSAANZ)
Dave took up organising Operation Ride from the New Zealand side, for the Pilgrims to raise money and awareness of SSAANZ.
"SSAANZ is trying to stop the isolation. I want to stop people from struggling. We're trying to create a positive model through activities and adventure sports — workshops such as snowboarding, trout fishing, hunting or family fun weekends."
Dave was in the first battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment from 1996-2001. He joined the British Army and the Parachute Regiment, serving nine years. He was injured in 2009 after joining the Red Devils freefall team. He doesn't want contemporary soldiers to be forgotten.
"There are more contemporary veterans than there has ever been. And we are forgotten. That's why I started this charity. I want them to know that we appreciate their service. It's kind of a thank you to them."
SSAANZ will now be running the Pilgrim's branch in New Zealand.
Check them out on Facebook.