On Friday I safely returned from my joyous little adventure around the British Isles. In 19 days I cycled 750 miles on a folding bicycle, climbed the 'Six Peaks' (the highest mountain in each of the six major regions) and saw some of the most beautiful parts of our wonderful islands.
This coming Sunday (12th May) I'll be talking about my walk across China at the London Eco Film Festival.
There's plenty of exciting things happening all day - the festival is split into themes, with a different screen for each (such as Conservation & Environment, Expeditions & Adventures etc.)
Highlights (I reckon) will be cameraman Doug Allan talking about his 30 years of wildlife filmmaking, and the screenings of Tom Allen's feature-length cycling odyssey 'Janapar', and Dave Cornthwaite's short, 'Swim 1000.'
I'll be speaking at 12.30pm, in Vibe Bar Screen 2 (Brick Lane.) Check out the full programme here, and come along to say Hi if you're free on Sunday!
What is achievable in the space of 10 weeks?
I'll cut straight to it - I've decided to enter a 100km (62.5miles) trail run at the start of May. This in itself is not particularly extreme. There are many, many people who can (and do) run this sort of distance with relative ease. I however, am not currently one of those people. In fact, in the last 3 years, I've rarely run further than 15km in one session. The last time I did any running with a purpose I had an Olympic Torch and a six-month beard to keep me company. By way of a somewhat feeble excuse, I can only offer that I have spent a lot of my last few years either cycling, trekking, or cart-pulling (or resting inbetween said exertions!)
All considered though, I now have quite a challenge ahead of me to get ready for this race. The idea of trying to run 100 kilometres in a single day (or rather, in 10-15 hours) is rather a terrifying one. But, as a strong believer that fear should never be given license to take hold of us, I have decided to cast aside doubts and commit to it.
“Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors...disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
After 1000 miles of desert trekking, Alastair Humphreys and myself have made it safely to the ludicrously glitzy, vertical city of Dubai. We emerged from the desert to finish at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world - a suitable antithesis to the rest of our journey.
Inevitably we are exhausted, but overall feeling rather good. Pulling a 250kg cart through searing desert heat for weeks on end without a break may not sound like a lot of fun, and in fact, it wasn't. But it was certainly rewarding, and gave us access to some of the most beautiful and desolate landscapes I've ever seen. I cannot imagine a better use of two months of my life.
Once we've eaten, drunk and rested to excess, I'll write up some more info and stories from our journey. Our main goal for this trek, aside from exploring the desert, was to shoot a film. We'll both be working hard on putting that together at the start of next year.
Meanwhile - Happy Christmas from Dubai!
I am (just about) ready for the off. My plane departs from London in a few hours.
Ahead of me is 6 weeks of beautiful desert, searing heat, crushing (or liberating) isolation and mile after mile of cathartic, energy-sapping, gut-busting cart pulling!
It's very unlikely that I'll have access to emails or a telephone during that time. I will be, for all intents and purposes, off the map (as Jack Bauer used to say in 24 - "I'm going dark.")
Unfortunately there will be no blogs during this time, although we may be able to post the occassional twitter message using a SPOT Connect satellite receiver.
This website will go quiet until Christmas, when I'll begin to share the story upon our return.
See you on the other side...Oman, here I come!
Meanwhile - check out this video below by the photographer George Steinmetz - this should give you a good idea of where Al and I will be...
Rucksacks: 2 x Osprey Argon 85 litre. Comfortable, large, and had a cool pouch on the back and side which we kept the video camera and tripod in. We also took the raincover for the summer which was excellent. The Osprey Hydraform Reservoir was great for keeping us hydrated, especially in the summer.
Tents: 2 x Hilleberg Soulo (we decided to carry one tent each to give ourselves personal space in the evenings.) These were superb in all weather. As the weather got warmer, we saved weight by switched to the Hillberg bivanorak which was just an incredible bit of kit – possibly our favourite of all!
Clothing (not all of these items were carried all the time, that depended on the weather)
Berghaus kindly supplied us with the clothing for the expedition, which proved brilliantly warm in the winter and very comfortable. As the weather warmed, we gradually switched to warmer summer clothes.
Berghaus Tights (thin and thermal)
Berghaus Base Layers x 3
Berghaus Hiking Trousers
Berghaus Puffa Jacket
Berghaus Gloves (thin and thick)
Berghaus Gortex trousers
Berghaus Gortex top
Got any questions about what it's like walking from Mongolia to Hong Kong? Well, hopefully Rob and I can provide the answers below! If there's anything you think we need to add to this FAQ then just post your question at the bottom, and I'll get back to you as best I can.
What were your highlights from the expedition?
LEON: For me the highlight was the Gobi Desert. I’d only had a little desert experience before this, and never on foot. It was quite intimidating setting off into the vast void in Winter, especially as it was right at the start of our journey when we were still fresh, and far from ‘battle-hardened.’ To cross the Mongolian Gobi took 13 days, during which we pulled a trailer (called Molly Brown) laden with all our food and water for the duration. It was tough, and it was cold, but it was also beautiful. The expanse of the desert was immense and humbling, and the sunsets were otherworldly. Arriving at the border town of Zamyn-Uud after nearly two weeks was a real highpoint, and one of my fondest memories of the whole trip.
ROB: For me, it was to be immersed in the experience of walking through, and seeing at ground-level, the incredible landscapes of China –deserts, mountains, valleys, forests – it is stunning. Alongside that, I loved getting to know more of the Chinese people, who showed such kindness towards us.
And what were the low points?
LEON: I found the seemingly endless winter became a real struggle. The thought of trying to hold a camera steady as fingers became increasingly painful and then numb was not a pleasant one.
ROB: Walking down a road (usually very slowly and painfully) which both Leon and I thought would be ideal for cycling!
Did you ever think you might die?
Neither of us ever felt that we were going to die during this adventure! The cold weather gave a few worrying nights when we slept fitfully and just couldn’t get warm – frostbite was always a slight fear.
The biggest danger though was always traffic– if anything was going to really cause us problems on this walk, it was likely to be Chinese driving.
Finally, after After 195 days, 10 million steps and far too many instant noodles, Rob and I arrived safely back into Hong Kong on the 26th May, right on time! We are both exhausted, but delighted to have completed this journey, and so glad that we had the opportunity to attempt it.
There'll be plenty of updates and post-expedition reflections appearing on these pages (and on the dedicated website at www.walkinghomefrommongolia.com) in the coming days and weeks, but for now you can check out a photo montage of our walk below.
We hope you enjoy it, and we really want to say thanks to all of you who have followed our trip and supported us and Viva along the way. Cheers, everyone!