Monday, June 26, 2017
What could be tougher than cycling 6,000 miles along the Silk Road?

What could be tougher than cycling 6,000 miles along the Silk Road?

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Processed 21-09-16 - Week 38 - Charles Stevens and Will Hsu off road in Mongolia

Charles Stevens faced mines, deserts, freezing temperatures, exposure, dehydration – and was nearly killed – as he cycled 6,000 miles across Asia for charity.
But his worst ordeal may have been trying to sell perfume to shoppers near the King’s Road to fund the trip.
The 19-year-old from The Chase, Clapham, has become half of the youngest duo to cycle the Silk Road, from Beijing to Tehran.
He and school friend Will Hsu heard mines exploding in the hills above them, were very close to a car tumbling off the road; and had to cycle for hours through freezing winds.
And in order to fund the trip, he worked stacking shelves in Waitrose and selling lavender scent in a shop in Sloane Square.
After meeting the British Ambassador in Tehran at the end of the trip, he flew home and had just 24 hours to recover in England before having to head up to study history at St Andrew’s University.
But he was not sure whether it was being a perfume salesman or the physical ordeal of crossing a continent which he needed to recover from.
“It is the first and last time I will sell perfume,” he laughed. “There was a lot of ‘Hello, madam – would you like a bit of lavender?’
“The trip cost £12,000, so I had to work – and am very grateful for the contributions of family and friends.”
The car crash happened just three days from the end of the epic journey.
“We saw this sudden huge cloud of dust,” he recalled. “A car had gone off the road and turned on to its side. It was a write-off. We were glad to be there to help – he had just cuts and bruises. But if we had pedalled just 20 yards less far on that day, he could have killed us both.”
The explosions were mines left during the 1979 Soviet invasion on Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan.
“It was very beautiful but dangerous,” said Charles. “The US army were detonating old mines above us. That was worrying.
“There were lots of times we wondered what we had let ourselves in for. We would be cold, hungry and miserable and our legs couldn’t take it. All you can do then is count the yards and keep counting.
“We were spared the heat — 40 degrees which it can sometimes reach in the Gobi Desert. But sometimes we got so cold we could not change gears. But if you stop, you would get hypothermia.
“Our photos of the Gobi look stunning, but if we had a strong wind, it would reduce our speed from 15 miles an hour to six mph and double our day to 15 hours of cycling.
“When there were still 11 hours to go, say, sometimes we just wanted to sit down and cry. You can end up in a dark place.”
Dehydration was a constant risk.
“It was very hard to get enough water when the temperatures are up to 45 C,” he said.
“Mornings could be like waking up with a horrendous hangover but knowing you still had to cycle 75 miles that day.
“I have not drunk alcohol much since I came back – which is tough in your first weeks at university. There are tiny girls here drinking more than me. It is embarrassing.”
The duo started training eight months before the trip.
“It is quite hard to prepare for the sheer magnitude and variety of what we were going to have to do,” said the former Radley College pupil. “But we chose it because it was a challenge, covering big distances. Plus there was my interest in history.
“We spent a lot of time in the gym, and cycling in Richmond Park, plus doing London to Brighton – about 60 miles – or to Oxford, which is 75 miles.
“But there is no comparison with the actual journey, because of the weather factors which can make it much harder. Not many people have completed it, because it has the reputation of being the hardest, longest, hottest and coldest cycling challenge in the world.”
The trip raised £25,000 for A Child Unheard charity – which funds teaching, counselling, meals, learning materials, sporting and computer equipment for an orphanage in Ghana. Visit www.justgiving.com/ fundraising/BeijingtoTehran

Chief Reporter | Former news reporter on Daily Mail and Times, former editor in Edinburgh and Barnet. Sports editor and father for 15 years. Once made nine doormats for Harrods entrances. They lasted two years.

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What could be tougher than cycling 6,000 miles along the Silk Road?