Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Update on Teens cycling 10,000 miles Silk Road for charity A Child Unheard

The ride was all to help raise money for children like these in Africa, A Child Unheard School - Ayenyah, Ghana
This is a slightly delayed update (sorry) on Charles' and Will's grand cycling adventure. All the details including a pre-event interview can be found in my previous post on it here. In a nut-shell they completed their marathon (not literal marathon) ride across many countries all in aid of raising money for A Child Unheard. It's a real pleasure to be able to interview them again after the event! They are now both settling into university, but I've no doubt we will hear more from them in the future! 

Nayu:  1) It's truly amazing that you've finished the epic journey which I was able to interview you about before you set out - congrats on doing it! Was any part of the trip (countries/the ride itself/the living conditions etc) as you'd expected it (both positive and negative aspects)?

Setting off I tried to keep any open mind about things - in that way it makes the challenges you have to overcome less daunting and the positives parts even better. However, in terms of cycling I was not expecting sandstorms and 9-10 hours of riding time in the first fortnight. I think that helped to prepare us both for how hard things can get and even though there is very little that you can do to prepare for those sorts of things in the UK that you just have to keep on going.
Culturally I was expecting kindness and hospitality throughout but the level of it surprised me. People everywhere are almost always warm, welcoming and curious as well. Iran was the friendliest country that we went too. More often than not shop keepers were offering not to charge us for what we brought, people would give us gifts on the side of the road and everyone would wave and smile. It is a country with the most wonderful people.

For the vast majority of the trip we were camping and with this comes the routine of every day taking down and setting up your tent. This was monotonous but something we got used to. Because we would start cycling as soon as it got light, often we would be taking down our tents in the dark. At the beginning of the trip and we were at more northerly latitudes this would be at 4am. 

Saddle sores and general muscle fatigue was just something you had to put up with and manage the best you could. Unfortunately it is just something you have to expect after spending almost every day for months on a bike.

Going into the trip I didn't really know what to expect but I was hoping that I would get to experience being in a true wilderness, in the "middle of nowhere" because it's harder to find than you think. And I certainly feel like we did in Mongolia, where you feel like your the only people there.

The riding itself was as hard as expected to begin and the off road harder, however I found it got much easier towards the end as you were not only fitter but more mentally prepared for any of the challenges that lay ahead like the final mountains and headwinds in Iran.

Charles and Will climbing the Tian Shian Mountains in Kyrgystan
2) What kind of reactions from the locals did you get on your travels? 

Being on a bike the way you interact with people I find is more interesting than in a car per say. You get a constant sense of what the locals are thinking as they stares at you when you ride past or the children who are running towards you. I find you built up a picture of these things as you go along but it was mainly curiousity and warmth. When we talked to them about the trip it was closer to disbelief.

We found the locals to be hugely welcoming and almost overly generous to the point where you feel guilty. We were welcomed into people's homes for tea and food on countless occasions, given a free taxi ride and one person handed us a bag of apples from his car window. 

The locals were usually always curious though to see us in such remote places and we learnt to explain what we were doing through mimes and a few words.

You can't beat scenes like this! Charles and Will at 4600 metre pass in the Pamir Mountains - Tajikistan
 N: 3) What were the top 3 most rewarding parts of the trip? 
1. Knowing that it has helped to secure the future of the school we were raising money for in Ghana with the help of the fantastic charity 'A Child Unheard'
2. Seeing and experiencing parts of the world that few from the west get to
3. Finishing
1. The most rewarding for me was the Pamir Highway which stretched from Kyrgyzstan over the Pamir Mountains to the boarder of Afghanistan in Tajikistan. I enjoyed it thanks to the long climbs at high altitude combined with amazing views and fun downhills.

2. Then I would say cycling across Mongolia; it was so challenging both physically and mentally that it made finishing it hugely rewarding when you could put the long, hard off-road days behind you. However it was also an beautiful country with amazing scenery and the nomadic culture is a fascinating one to explore.

3. Finally I would say the final ten days from the Iranian boarder to Tehran. We knew that we were almost there and it made appreciate every minute we spent travelling on our bikes and being greeted by our family's in Tehran was was a real high point.

Seemingly endless cycling: Charles and Will off road in Mongolia
4) What were the top/bottom 3 hardest parts of the trip? 
1. Knowing that you have cycled from 60 days and are only half way there. 

2. The days with headwinds and sandstorms in the Gobi Desert which saw us going at 10kph with 140km or cycling still to go and with nothing to look at. All you can do it count down the kilometres. It is mentally very challenging to put in exactly the same effort as you would if you are going 30kph with good conditions but instead ending up going 66% slower. We had many many days of headwind but these were some of the worst.

3. After cycling over the Pamir mountains into Uzbekistan it started to get very hot and at the same time I was suffering from diarrhea which had been going on for over a fortnight. Without the heat it is still not much fun doing exercise when all you want to do is sit on the loo but without the heat it just saps your strength. Because we were burning over 4,000 calories a day and sometimes as high as 6 or 7,000 you have to eat a lot. It isn't something pleasurable having 6 chocolate bars in a row but just something you have to do. With my stomach problems I wasn't eating nearly enough and my shorts went from just about staying at my waist to falling down completely. It was a challenging cycling with little energy whilst also not knowing how much longer this could go on for

I would say Mongolia would be number one, because although it was rewarding it was also the stretch I found hardest. It was early on in the trip so we didn't have any way point to look forward to and the terrible roads really took their toll over the 3 weeks we spent there.

Kazakhstan was a real challenge as it was a flat and monotonous landscape combined with strong headwinds, which made the riding tough and boring. So I was glad when we reached Almaty in the south.

Finally, Uzbekistan due to the heat. The 10 day stretch through Uzbekistan is when we experienced the highest temperatures I think. The records temperatures hovered around 39-40*C making hydration difficult and the cycling more challenging.

5) Do you think you'll do more trips like this in the future (these may be shorter time lengths) 
I have been back in the UK now for just over a week [when he wrote this response] and finish about a week and a half ago so I haven't yet fully digested it. I think this will just take time and rest. I am already thinking about other thinks both cycling related and more generally. Sailing the Atlantic or cycling across Europe could be fun.

I will definitely be doing more adventures and I've learnt on this trip that any journey is possible so long as you have the time and just take everything day by day. I don't know whether I would spend 4 months on my bike again, at least not it the next couple of years whilst I'm at University. I would encourage everyone to do some kind of adventure if they haven't done so, it's hugely rewarding.

Nayu: Thanks to all the sponsors for supporting Charles and Chris on this once in a lifetime journey, as well as Deren who I dealt with by email for sorting these blog posts!

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