Chris Beresford (foreground) and John Beresford head to Beijing in June to take part in the gruelling 2019 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge car rally in a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle they restored. (Courtesy the Beresfords)

Victoria brothers’ epic VW Bug adventure a journey to remember

Peking to Paris odyssey honours longtime volunteer

Rick Stiebel

News Staff

Two brothers are tuning up for a trip to honour the memory of a passenger who will be with them in spirit every step of their incredible trek.

Chris and John Beresford are heading to Beijing in June to take part in the gruelling 2019 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge car rally in a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle they restored. The epic trip is in honour of John’s wife, Deirdre, who died suddenly in 2016 after a long battle with rheumatoid arthritis.

Chris, a 66-year-old Oak Bay resident, and John, retired engineer and graphic designer who hangs up his keys in Brentwood Bay, have been restoring cars for a number of years, including the lovable Bug that’s already on its way to China.

Chris Beresford (pictured here) and his brother John Beresford head to Beijing in June to take part in the gruelling 2019 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge car rally in a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle they restored. (Courtesy the Beresfords)

“Deirdre was diagnosed with arthritis in her 40s. It’s a very painful, debilitating disease that picks no friends at all,” Chris shared during a telephone interview while the brothers were making final preparations for the trip. “She was an absolutely incredible person who never let the chronic disease colour her outlook. Deirdre was an incredibly bright, vibrant person who volunteered for the Arthritis Society and a number of other health-related organizations even as she struggled with her own health issues. She taught us all a lot of lessons.”

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Deirdre experienced more difficulty getting in and out of vehicles as her illness progressed, which led to John, 68, searching for something more suitable for something most of us take for granted.

“There’s nothing easier than a ’56 VW Bug,” Chris noted. “Tragically, Deirdre died unexpectedly after only one trip in the car.”

The brothers had been kicking the tires on doing something adventurous for some time before deciding two years ago to apply for the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, which takes place every three years. Organizers select only 110 teams from the more than 450 that apply for the challenge, which restricts participating vehicles to ones built before 1977.

“We didn’t know the criteria, so we were thoroughly surprised to be accepted,” Chris said, adding they are the only Canadian team in this year’s event. “We want to do well representing our country.”

“After the thrill of acceptance started to wear off, the reality of the challenge set in,” explained Chris, who works for the provincial government. “It’s about 14,500 kilometres of driving in five weeks. Roughly a third of the way around the world on badly paved roads, gravel or dirt roads, and there’s only tracks through the Gobi Desert.”

They decided on the Volkswagen because of its reputation for durability, and because they wanted to honour Deirdre by completing the challenge in her car. John set about rebuilding the Bug to prepare it for the daunting challenge before the brothers shifted their focus to dealing with visas, travel and health-related arrangements. “We don’t have to worry about packing because there’s not much room at all in that car,” Chris says with a chuckle. “Steamer trunks are not an option so a couple of backpacks will have to do.”

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Although the Beresfords have made a point of not accepting any sponsorships whatsoever for the trip, they started discussions with the Arthritis Society early on about whether they could raise funds for the organization as part of their adventure. “They were fully on board,” Chris noted. “We made a pledge to raise $50,000 and we’re halfway there already. We’re going to have a fun time, but exceeding our goal of $50,000 will be a legacy that will last. It remains and will always be the most important component.”

Liesl Drayton, associate director of development for The Arthritis Society, BC & Yukon Division, said Deirdre was a beloved volunteer who left a lasting mark on the society through her tireless efforts. “We are delighted that John and Chris are going on this amazing adventure in her memory, and along the way building awareness, raising funds and helping to transform the lives of Canadians with arthritis.”

To make a donation in Deirdre’s memory, go to arthritis.ca/hostyourown/DriveForDeirdre.

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