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Motorcyclists Embark from Greece on Peace Rally to Olympics

Carrying a branch from the oldest living olive tree in Greece, more than 50 motorcyclists have embarked on a two-month journey to China. They aim to bring a universal message of peace to the Beijing Olympics.

Michael Schumacher tests a Honda HRC CBR 1000 RR

The motorcyclists will cover 23,000 km, but likely not on streets this smooth

The 51 participants this week began their 52-day, 23,000-kilometer (14,300-mile) trek in ancient Messinia in the Peloponnese and are due to travel through remote desert, mountains and scrub to carry a symbolic "flame of peace" and 4,000-year-old olive wreath to 14 countries, including China.

The journey, which covers the route of the olive oil trade and the Silk Road, will take the riders from Greece to Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria.

"The Silk Road was known as one of the most historically important trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and China where business once promoted culture," George Karampatos, president of the Olive Tree Route, told DPA news agency.

Olive exhibition in tow

Olive tree

The group will plant olive trees in each country they pass through

"Today, with this rally, we are trying to promote the message of cross-cultural dialogue through the olive tree because we believe that culture promotes today's business," he said, adding that the motorcyclists' olive tree rally is carried out in association with the Council of Europe and Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The riders, from Greece, Britain, Ireland, Germany, France and Switzerland, will have to travel a gruelling 12 hours a day in order to reach Beijing one day after the start of the Olympic Games on Aug. 8.

The motorcyclists will be accompanied by dozens of doctors, mechanics, journalists and historians who will follow the bikers in a convoy of jeeps and an 18-meter (60-foot) trailer truck which houses an olive exhibition.

Unleaded gas supply concerns bikers

Organizers of the rally said that while they do not expect security to be a concern en route, finding enough petrol for the motorcycles and jeeps will likely pose a problem for the team.

"One of the biggest problems we expect to face is finding enough petrol, namely unleaded petrol for all the bikes and jeeps," organizer Mihalis Kalogeropoulos said.

According to Kalogeropoulos, the most strenuous parts of the journey will most likely be the trek through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and enduring the high altitudes through China.

"The motorcyclists will be given a short time to relax when we place the bikes on the Trans-Siberia train to Moscow for the return journey, but other than that it will be an extremely tiring journey."

Organizers said it took two years to prepare for the trip and to finalize the selection of 51 participants which include doctors, architects, engineers, teachers, a financial banker and even an olive tree farmer from Switzerland.

Pump at a gas station

The bikers hope to find enough unleaded fuel along the way

"All the participants had to pass a series of interviews as well as undergo a number of psychological and physical tests including camping and kayaking to see how well each individual could cope in a group setting," Kalogeropoulos said.

None of the bikers, who vary in age from 35 to 60, knew each other prior to the trip.

Bikers to leave a trail of olive trees

"It will be very exciting but the hundreds of kilometers that we will need to cover every day will not exactly make it a holiday," said Christos Retsas, an investment banker with Dynamic Securities in Athens. "I am really counting on experiencing the culture of every place we visit."

Journalist Filio Myrtsidou, one of three women taking part in the rally, said the trip would be difficult for all involved but saw it "as a symbolic gesture towards peace and bridging people's differences."

During another olive tree rally through northern Africa in 2003, Morocco and Algeria temporarily opened their borders to allow the bikers to pass, nicknaming them "the terrorists of peace."

Aside from their quest to deliver the ancient olive wreath and peace flame to Beijing, the bikers will bring a message of peace to every country they visit en route by planting olive trees during special ceremonies.

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