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The Volunteers: Coming Back for More

 The Volunteers: Coming Back for More 

There’s no doubt about it – the volunteers for RacingThePlanet: Vietnam have a job that few would envy, especially not this week. The competitors are slogging through rain and mud.

The volunteers remain at checkpoints in rain and mud, often for hours, without electricity, heat, any food other than they have carried with them, and usually without hot water. Fun? And does this explain why they keep coming back for more?

RacingThePlanet: Vietnam has an unusual number of volunteers who have been competitors or volunteers before. Dr. Emma Dawber and David Annadale are key members of the medical and operations team who are repeat participants. Dan Stake, who writes a lively blog for the web site, is a competitor turned volunteer, Don Keliher, and Jane Fraser, a 65-year-old grandmother who treks into remote parts of the planet, volunteered for the Atacama Crossing in 2007 and is back for more. She spent one evening with Keliher in the desert by accident due to engine problems with a jeep, a memory she laughs about now.

There are plenty of newcomers as well – Bernd Reisinger, a software engineer from Mexico, was intrigued by a CNN report on RacingThePlanet and asked to join. Allen Lai and Nicole Chiang, both from Taiwan, learned about the race from their boss. Simone Turner, a New Zealander who has lived in Hong Kong for the past six months, learned about RacingThePlanet from a relative.

Four days ago, the 15 volunteers were sitting in a hotel room in Hanoi in relative comfort. Monday afternoon, volunteers Claudia Fiedler and Nam Lam Ngoc were manning Check Point Seven, the last way station along Stage One, together with staff member Andrea Kean, who normally manages hotels, food and beverages, and correspondence with competitors. This day she was trying to keep dry and sane in what would likely be at least a 30-hour day. After Check Point Seven, there are still 15.5 kilometers to go, and some competitors will only reach it sometime midday on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, at Check Point Five, volunteers Simone Turner, veteran Don Keliher, and medic Jeannie Tyan were settling in for a long haul at mid-day on Monday. The three were reminiscing about the night before, when a H’mong woman invited them in for a drink and offered delicacies from the recently finished Vietnamese new year, Tet, and home-made snake and honey wine on her guests. “She was so happy to see us that she nearly cried,” said Turner.  That may be the kind of experience that keeps them coming back – the unexpected human encounter in a place as remote and pristine as this one.

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