Out of Civilisation – TIM (This is Mongolia).

Mongolia is a huge country dominated by the great Gobi desert and vast steppes as far as the eye can see with a tiny population of 3 million. Hence, humans, food and water are all rarities. Our cycle across this country and the Gobi section of China = ten plus punctures, 35 days cycling, two hospital visits with severe vomiting, diarrhoea, heat stroke and loss of vision and Grinham’s legs officially dying.

Our crossing of Mongolia was portrayed by hardship, drunks and extreme acts of kindness. Stolen from blood diamond (TIA – This is Africa) the quote TIM – This is Mongolia became a regular saying for anything that went wrong or was just bloody difficult.

My diary reflects Mongolia – “It is hard to believe how anything can survive here, everything is barren and dry. There are sandstorms, no water and we only see the odd Ger a day”.

Our lives became dominated by the daily struggle to find water. Our main sources came from waving any car that was passing and having our daily Ger visit. For the first time on a expedition we had to rely on muddy stagnant puddle water for our water. Purifying it involved straining it through a t-shirt, boiling it then adding a double dose of chlorine tablets so even though you were drinking swimming water you new it was as clean as it could be.

Then there is Mongolia’s alcoholic problem each time we would enter areas of habitation they would be stained by the village drunk begging you for money to buy vodka. While Grinham in his fluffy manner would stay patient, I would struggle to contain my anger.

We had rain and sand storms, chafing, were called off by Mongolia search and rescue as the road was washed away at multiple stages and were flooded out of a storm shelter we were using for shelter being forced to contend with the elements once again.

However, stories of hardship though are a bit boring and mainstream so as a Bristol student I will a bit alternative and will save them for the likes of Bear Grylls. The real story of our crossing of Mongolia and the Gobi section of China is about kindness, hospitality and a bond between expedition partners.

Mongolia was marked by the extreme kindness of the nomadic people who without their help it is safe to say I would not be here writing this blog. Everyday we would head into any Ger we could find and on each visit were met with hot fermented tea, food and crucially a refuel of water.

People were always giving, Russians gave us food and beer commenting on how mad we were. The girls being genuinely worried for us much to Mr Grinhams delight. A German gave us food and advice, joking the only reason the nomads were so kind to us was because they thought we were crazy and did not want to piss us off. A chinese doctor gave us weird treatment that did far more harm than good but he meant well.

Therefore, in summary – “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

A quote from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley resinates with the Way of Genghis Khan in a uncanny manner. I would like to thank Mr Grinham for having the tenacity to sign up for such an adventure with limited previous experience. Despite serious leg, hand and back pain plus the scary experience of health defaults he kept with it. I am sure he will have his own story to tell on this blog soon enough. To him I would like to say a sincere thank you.

Pictures will be on soon.

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1 Month to Go. Nerves, Fear and Excitement.

Please share on social media (Facebook, twitter etc) to get the word out.

1 month from now I will start my epic journey to attempt to retrace Genghis Khans longest invasion route. I will cycle across some of the worlds most remote and interesting countries: Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

I am scared but also excited ahead lies the Mongolian steppe, Altai mountains, Pamir mountains and Karakum desert.

A large motivation comes from the thought of those who do not have such opportunities. The thought of raising money for Mary’s Meals, particularly the children they feed fortifies me for the challenges ahead. Please sponsor me to help this great cause feed over one million children worldwide (they currently feed 996, 926 children worldwide).

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/thewayofGenghisKhan

https://www.marysmeals.org.uk/

We are back: the next crazy challenge

After my experiences with prostitutes, drug dealers, madness and wild dog attacks I am back wanting more. This time intending to nearly double the distance cycled from Canterbury to Jerusalem to retrace Genghis Khans longest invasion route.

Like I said in my last blog, ‘The great Anti Climax’ I find myself missing the adventurous life. While Uni life is great fun, I have become a little bit bored of downing booze, naked streaks, and dressing up in crazy fancy dress costumes. (No matter what people say I will never be bored of pecs).

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Instead I aim dedicating all 3-4 months of my summer cycling hell for leather in order to hopefully cycle all 9000km of Genghis Khans longest invasion route from Mongolia to Georgia. Crossing some of the most varied and challenging terrain in the world including the Mongolian steppe, Russian taiga, Pamir Mountains some passes of which are above 4000m and the Karakum desert covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Not to mention following the boarder of Tajikistan / Afghanistan (One of the worst drug smuggling boaders in history: 92% of the Worlds Opium comes from Afghanistan) and the summer heat of Iran.

However here is some serious information:

The explorer Mark Beumont commented on our expedition: “The nomadic journey of Genghis Khan is legendary. William is taking on a thoroughly modern adventure by bicycle, but in the footsteps of one of the most famous invasions in history. I wish him tailwinds and open doors as he crosses central Asia, always remembering when things get tough that the best memories are made in the journey and not the destination.”

The explorer Alaistair Humphreys also commented: “This is an admirable journey with a great story, running through some of the most exciting and interesting regions on Earth. I wish William all the very best of luck with his fund-raising challenge.”

This trip aims to retrace Genghis Khans longest invasion route from Mongolia to Georgia by bicycle, one of the first of its kind made by two 19 year old students. We will cycle 9000km through Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. We aim to live the life of a nomad, by living the most simplistic lifestyle raising money for our chosen charity Mary’s Meals. The trip will be exploratory; we hope to prove the notion a modern nomadic life by a modern generation, being only 19 years of age. After such a trip we are hoping to inspire other young people to complete their own challenges. Mary’s Meals is a charity with a simple idea, they give children a meal at school, thus prevent starvation while achieving the education of children. I have supported this charity on numerous occasions and this trip aims to help with their aim of feeding over one million children.

I would like to thank Richard from Oxford Bike Works for sponsoring us some of the best touring bikes around. Please see his company link, you will be amazed: http://www.oxfordbikeworks.co.uk/

They make some of the best specialized and customized touring bikes around, it will be a privilege to ride their bikes and work with Richard.

I will undertaking this adventure with my very good friend Peter Moore who has in the past looked out for me on a few of the university escapades listed above. Team work, comradeship and positive thinking will be crucial if we are to succeed.

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The Great Anti Climax

“It has now all ended; the sleeping rough, chiseled calves, calloused arse, taking 8 hours of exercise a day, wearing the same clothes for two weeks straight, having an interesting topic for conversation, worrying about incline, gradient and road surfaces, eating like a horse, being able to eat a horse, not knowing the name of the town I’m in, forgetting the name of the person I’m spending the night with, eating oats to save money, living out of a bag and wondering why anyone would ever wear clothes that are not breathable and quick drying.

Tomorrow I’ll be at university, I’ll party, I’ll have a shower, a cupboard and a bed. My life is now luxurious and normal, but again its boring and uninteresting. I now grow restless and dream about when I was happiest in that simple world  on bike and road.”P1050821 P1050823 P1050959 P1050974 P1050981

“Strength comes not from physical capacity, but from an indomitable spirit” – madness, heat, drug dealers and mountains!!!

P1050902 P1050919 P1050922 P1050955 P1050964 P1050977 P1050985 P1050987Sunny beach to Jerusalem.

Waking up having 4 hours sleep with a hangover, tooth ache and diarrhoea was not a good sign of things to come.

As I enter Turkey things only get worse, a storm soaks everything freezing my hands to the extent I can hardly use the breaks, a vicious headwind hampers my progress and I have no money (no ATMs) so for two days I can only eat oats and water. From my journal, “I will describe this as hellish … Hated every minute of it … Felt the feeling of fight or flight, the ironic thing is there is no were to flee home is 4000 km away.” My method of dealing with this was to shout out loud crazy things, I would shout at the wind to leave me alone. My mood at this point was rock bottom, I had no friend to console in and so for 8 hours of every day sat on my bike I was battling with negativity and loneliness.

What prevented myself form becoming mad was not only my inner desire to “crack on” and conquer the challenge but the people of Turkey. The central point of my journey has been marked by the kindness fellow humans have shown me, “people are people” no matter what nationality, race or belief they want to help. Like the Romani the Turkish people have a great sense of community, I only spent one night outside (my choice) as I was always invited in and fed. Although I quickly learnt not to mention I was going to Israel as they hate Israel.

Istanbul – the city of myth, beauty and drug dealers. After a day of wonderful sightseeing I fell in love with the city, the aya Sofia, blue mosque and local food. However, one Man tried to drag me into his cafe to sell me weed which was a bit funny. The realisation of crossing Europe had sunk in and I was prepared to cross into Asia.

Anatolia – 800 km crossing in under 6 days. To cross a country (800km) made up of mountains in 40 degree heat  in 6 days has brought me the closest I have ever been to complete exhaustion I was literally dead on my feet. I would describe cycling 12 hours a day for 6 days over horrible terrain as this, “Imagine one of the most toughest days of exercise you have done, times it by a week, then take away anything which makes you feel secure (English speaking people, team mates, a secure bed etc)”. Consequently, this does strange things to your body and mind, I lost feeling in some fingers, my legs twitched uncontrollably and my knees felt like they were going to pop out, while my mind was concentrated purely on the task – not once did I think about girls, booze or any other teenage thing or human thing, I was literally absorbed into the moment and it was liberating.

However, for all it’s hardship Turkey was my favourite country, I loved the culture and especially it’s people. Even now I miss sitting down sipping chi (Turkish tea) with the locals. Currently, I am sitting writing in a posh hotel in Jerusalem with mum snoring away after spending an awesome luxurious week in Cyprus and more snoring. However, I miss the challenges, I miss meeting new people and I miss my life on the bicycle. I am already planning new adventures (cycling or skiing across Norway, Sweden and Finland in winter -maybe). Throughout this journey people have asked why? strangely I still do not have an answer – George Mallory to me has come closest – before dying on Everest when asked Why? He Replied “because it there”. The biggest thing I have learnt completing this journey is that the question should not be why? but instead “Why not?”

Mafia, Romani, wild dogs and prostitutes – Belgrade to sunny beach!!!

P1050757 P1050762 P1050764 P1050776 P1050785 P1050808Warnings – everyone in Serbia warns me of the Romani (gypsies) and Bulgarian mafia. However, as I lie in my cheap 8 pound hotel I wonder if such people have actually experienced for themselves the things they warn about.

As I enter Romania I do the very thing people have told me not to do, mix with the Romani. My first night I ride straight into a Romani village and ask for a place to sleep. This Romani family takes me in and offers me a bed and food, as I sit eating their watermelon their livestock wonders through cows, horses and chickens drink and eat alongside us. The second night again a Romani family invites me in to celebrate the feast day of Mary. We sing, dance and drink, while they tell me tales and teach me about their beautiful culture. Their pride in their nomadic way of life is inspirational especially after finding out they had travelled over 3 years by horse and cart from Spain. I am saddened to hear that they settled in Romania because the rest of Europe sees them as a threat. My eyes have been opened to this kind and generous people – people base their warnings on rumours rather than experience, when I leave they say they respect me for travelling alone, with all my belongings and for being unassuming about them, this means a lot to me and has characterised my journey.

Entering Bulgaria. I am happy to leave the long drop toilets and having to bath from a bucket in people’s gardens, but I am sad to leave to Romani people, the kids highfiving me in the steet and being cheered by a village as I drag race a Horse and cart. Their kindness will always be remembered. I did not experience the Bulgarian mafia if it even exists but I did experience being chased by a pack of wild dogs for a couple of km having my legs nearly bitten off. This was so exciting, the adrenaline felt great and I have never been so alive. Replacing the mafia were the endless prostitutes standing in only their bra and pants shouting prices at me – quite amusing. However, this was not so funny when out clubbing with my host Jordan (met through couchsurfing). The night resulted in having a 60 year old prostitute trying to dance and seduce me while I had to make a hasty exit running away in fits of laughter. The night ended skinny dipping in the Black Sea with the two french girls who were also staying with him. (They unfortunately had boyfriends).

Such a night was a sign of what was to come at sunny beach – named the most HEDONISTIC place on earth it lived up to its reputation After endless climbs and cycling resulting in literally blood, sweat and tears I badly needed this break and a chance to let my hear down. This came in the form of two Scottish girls I met by the pool called Becca and rachael, they had this attitude to life which was just try everything. We had a massage, went on bumper arts and experienced sunny beaches renowned clubbing scene. A far cry from battling exhaustion, sometimes depression and a sense of loneliness occasionally felt from 8 hours of hard exercise day in day out.

Turkey awaited and I reflected on this incredible trip and how it has challenged and moulded me. I couldn’t wait for more it’s become a way of life which I dearly love.

Half Way There!!

I have arrived in Belgrade after many crazy and unexpected events. This stage is the half way mark of my epic journey, this seems daunting after cycling for a whole month but the weird, crazy and wonderful events keep this adventure so alive and exciting.

Since my last blog, in Vienna so many things have happened. I cycled through the rural heartland of Hungary where the people just stared at me like I was some alien. Contrary,  to Brits views of Hungary which is as this amazing and exciting place its really not. All the western tourists only visit Budapest which is the most awesome city. However, the countryside still resembles its soviet past.

Budapest – I love this place. After the most depressing stage of my journey which I named in a previous blog as ‘Character building’, Budapest was luxury. I even had the pleasant surprise of my parents visiting which was incredible and refreshing. To my mums horror though I was rearing to leave, having developed an addiction to cycling and the unexpected adventures linked to it.

One unexpected adventure occurred when as a typical idiot, I tried to cycle down the wrong road. A stranger and now friend named Damir Katusic introduced himself and offered to show me the way to Vukovar. This was the start of ‘a series of extraordinary events’.

Drinks, Drinks and more Drinks – Eastern European style. Damir introduced me to his friend named Aleksandar Susa. Aleksandar complained of drinking to much in Croatia, I commented that was a good thing compared the monotony of 8 hours cycling day in day out. They then suggested I stay in visit for a day after teaching me some of Vukovars history, Damir even producing a bullet wound in the leg a result of the terrible civil war when he was only 14. I then went back to Aleksandars house where we started the day with pear spirit shots. Not even weekend drinking at Downside and hosting parties could prepare me for this.

The series of extraordinary events included climbing the blown apart water tower, something which would be unimaginable to the health and safety obsessed people in Britain.  I visited a village which was wiped out in the war to the extent that people could not find where their houses were upon returning after the war – during which I met the village elder and the pear spirits still flowed. Aleksandar and his 11 year old son took me swimming and sunbathing to finish the most awesome day of the trip so far. In true style, we then went to party, and some how I ended up in a car with some young Serbs who took me to this night club where I met many young croatians / Serbians who live in England. This was when I learned of there love of fighting. 4 am everyone spilled out drunk and fists start flying- hilarious to watch.

It was sad to leave such friendly and kind people such as Aleksandar and his family. Contrary, to the Wests interpretation of Croatia and Serbia as this criminal heartland the people such as Aleksandar are some of the most hospitable I have ever met.

Cycling with only 4 hours sleep and a hangover was never going to be fun and I struggled to hold down my breakfast, knowing I needed those valuable calories. The last few days have been fantastic apart from my first crash leaving me with grazes and a bruised arse. My journey is calling and I am biting at the bit to get going again. Thank you to everyone for reading and for your support.