about me

Why “The Ride”

The Ride. I guess it’s the only thing I can call it for now.

Inspired by Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright’s antics in their Sufferfest videos… I began thinking of how I could do a pretty low budget, low impact, “old fashioned” adventure.

I really just wanted to have a challenge that is wildly out of my depth, a challenge also accepted by great friend who can share in the suffering. All the while documenting the kind of pain that will later be fondly remembered, alongside the genuine camaraderie and humour that comes with a friendship tackling an epic together.

Slowly my plan evolved, from motorcycles back to England, to riding bicycles to Kathmandu via Lhasa (so much trouble with entering and crossing Tibet as a foreigner…) to finally riding my custom bamboo bike from Chengdu, China to Sydney, Australia solo. Solo isn’t ideal, but I’m not backing out for anything!

In beginning to really think hard about the trip, I thought what does riding my bike for a few months and several thousand kilometres actually do for me? It can’t just be all about me! So I will be inviting the crazy people I know for legs or if someone can come from start to finish, they can. Yet, I wasn’t done thinking. Now, importantly, I feel that not giving back in some small way would be a crime. Whether highlighting any issues with health, environment, or supporting sustainable tourism. This trip is sustainable trip, using a handmade bamboo bike and bringing money into the local communities buying goods and sharing their lives to a wider audience, which may highlight any issues we can help with.

As these thoughts blossomed, development of the documentary started processing in my mind. You can’t just film aimlessly for weeks and put it together. It’ll be absolute shit.

So a new challenge arose, what would the purpose be of filming my trip, if it’s just me riding a bike week after week? So again I had to search for a better reason than just me, my experiences and development will still be a large part of the story, but it has to appeal more widely. Too much thought was going into the creation of a story to tell with the documentary, and it was obvious the whole time: How to have an adventure and deal the challenges faced while doing it with a whole lot of cultural education.

Showing people the process before undertaking something, that you don’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money, that a lot of planning still goes into simple ideas, and the fact the adventure comes from just pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Combine with these ideas with my own personal story, my self-development alongside my friends who will (hopefully) join me for legs or the whole tour… and also the fun interactions and dramas that come from remote challenges in other cultures… That’s where you get your entertainment!

My goal with the documentary is to help show others what little is required besides some effort and a little confidence (I’m still not so confident in my cycling stamina), share experiences, and to educate viewers on the human issues, cultures and places I cross. In addition, I will share the sights that only are found in Nat Geo… Drone shots, action shots and pieces to camera. And even live streams are possible with a little phone data and a drone!

My goal with the trip is to challenge myself completely, be completely out of my depth from start to finish and then also to see what it takes to complete this trip. Along the way I want to explore other people’s reasons for trips like this, through conversation with friends accompanying me or with other souls that are making similar trips! See if maybe I can develop a philosophy for myself about life and fulfillment.

Now maybe, these reasons aren’t strong enough for some people to accept as for why I want to do something like I’m doing. But it’s what I want to do, and being able to find a deeper meaning and purpose to a challenge like this, to me, is better than “Because I want to”. I’m still figuring it out for myself, but that’s all part of the adventure.

In a few months, when I’ve planned more thoroughly, you can expect a better description and pitch with a link to a kickstarter page. I reckon I’ll just need enough to cover the millions of SD cards and paying someone to edit for me. But it will be a visually beautiful documentary considering where the trip will take me and my current vision.

 

Few shots from other adventures… Italy and a lot of China.

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About Me

About me

Finally.

My unnecessary quote comes to you from Henry David Thoreau:

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”

Well, this is probably the wrong time to do an “About Me” … but I have never been interested in doing things how they should be done (at best “kinda” or in Chinese, chabuduo “close enough”)… Oh well! Let’s continue.

I was born and raised for the most part in the United States of America… I wanted to full name it, because it has been rather naughty lately. The latter half of my life in England having lived in London, Essex and Man(couchCREWEcough)chester… I will always identify as an American, however, I do prefer the lifestyle and social outlook of the life in Europe.

At 14 I moved to London and my life was forever changed. CLICHÉ ALERT! I went to a high school, which had academic standards beyond what I was accustomed to and was nearly kicked out a few times for poor grades. My friends were from all over the world, either very wealthy or parents in government. I was not. I hadn’t lived in a place were public transport wasn’t called “Mum” and “Dad”… I was surrounded by very intelligent, successful people, who could do anything they wanted. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. This would cause me endless issues in confidence and expectations of myself throughout my teens and early 20s.

Through these experiences I became driven for success, enthusiastic for travel and learning, and very jealous. Though, I had not yet discovered how to channel all of these things positively they were my strengths.

Skipping all the over-sharing and needless paragraphs of self-discovery, the result is the guy writing this now. Sublimely confident, self-motivated, self-disciplined, unreasonably positive and irrepressibly happy. I’ve discovered that you make everything yourself, someway, somehow… If you want it enough, you figure it out and it doesn’t have to be fast. I’m still years away from reaching my dreams, but I do now have a path. It only took me to 26 to realise what made me happy and how I might achieve it. Some people aren’t so lucky, look around, many people don’t really know still!

So now I travel. Not enough, I’d say, but way more than most. I used to travel to just tick things off a list! Believe it or not, just to say I had been there. I didn’t have a reason. Then I discovered skateboarding and I got pretty good too. So I wanted to visit the best spots in Europe. As I got older still, I rediscovered my passion for nature and that is what still drives my exploration. I want to go and experience these wild places, test myself in them through climbing or paddling… Pantheism, the belief that reality is akin to divinity… That is why I go. I have to understand the world you see, but I have to do it myself. In some other part, I don’t feel like I yet have home, I have yet to be someplace I could call my forever home.

Boring you now, I’m sorry. Let’s talk about dreams. I want to live my life playing and having fun. And now I’ve discovered exactly how I want to live my life.

Before leaving the UK I was doing some work with TV producers, doing some big shows too. But I would be pigeonholed. Red Bull TV. However, inside I want to be Attenborough. I want to share and encourage education and learning. So to stand a shot, I need my masters. So with gentle persuasion, I could apply palaeontology (my childhood passion) with my degree at two universities in England.

Fast forward to: an opportunity to work a lucrative job in China came before me, I saw it as a chance to increase my life skills and learn an important language. So now I’m here, almost two years on, learning Chinese and saving money, and using the overly high salary to explore Asia.

The next step is taking advantage of the Australian working holiday (after 2 big adventures; 3 weeks on a horse in Mongolia, followed by a bicycle commute from China to Sydney)… Afterwards, I will hopefully attend either Edinburgh University or Bristol to read my MSc in Vertebrate Palaeontology while working on my presenter career in various societies and clubs and attending castings in London… The end goal is to be a lecturer who gets to write and make interesting and exciting programmes for TV. And in my free time have some adventures. Oh and speak Chinese. God damn it I will!

The only advice I’ll offer in my blog, well, life advice:

I think it’s critical to success and happiness to ever at most have a rough plan. Don’t fill it with details, because you’ll never be able to break from the script. You’ll be too focused on the next thing. Just do what you want, when you want or can… Or at least that’s my feelings. I’m not here to tell you how to win at life, just it’s working for me!

Chinese New Year… Pt2

I had a hunch we weren’t in too much trouble, but we still opened the tent door as quietly as possible to get a better look. The light had been coming from directly in front of us, which would have meant we could be seen dead easily. However, besides the path, which we were next to, in front of us was a steep hill where a tall brick wall lay to keep people out of the very scary Scooby-Doo-like factory. Relieved that we weren’t going to have to move, or deal with any late night language barriers we got back into our sleeping bags and got back to sleep.

I was aware of Ruth getting up and getting out of the tent, but was soon dozing again, as it was very late still.

“KEITH! KEITH! THERE’S A DOG!” Ruth shouted, at the same time I was being scared that she was about to be savaged outside the tent, her voice clearly scared the dog who replied with a flurry of barks and yips that were growing ever fainter. This was the ideal result as I was mostly undressed, completely dazed and half tripped out of the tent as Ruth returned. I certainly couldn’t have fought a vicious man-eater to the death.

Officially waking up to day 2 was just as hard as day 1. My little fitness tracker started vibrating and I sleepily told it to “fuck off mate”. Slow to start again due to the night-time shenanigans, we did start. Me as the groggy grump and Ruth with the sore legs. Honestly, I was so happy Ruth constantly turned down my offers to help with food, so I used the breakfast time to pack up and organise camp a bit.

Finally packed and ready to go at about 10am we started walking down the bumpy train back to the road leading to Pengshan. Arriving in town we made friends with a woman who led us to a quieter path to Meishan. This road though, blessedly empty of traffic, was also the longest and most boring section of the entire trip! It was about 50 out of the day’s 60km covered.

Meishan was pretty nice and relaxed, but to find a safe camping spot we’d have to keep going and get outside the city limits. We started passing through a smaller town with several lingongyuan (tree parks) and decided to pull up at a bus stop across from what seemed the best location. Many tall mounds of earth, away from the road and lights, it would be perfect for stealth camping.

One problem though: Grandpa. As we sat at the bust stop next to his little workshop, we prepared our meal and waited for it to become darker so we could get stealthy. Grandpa, however, seemed to know something and stood outside watching us. He crossed the road and walked through the trees to a small house in the distance then back… But he was always watching. To score our campsite, we had to outwit gramps.

Together we cleaned and packed away our cooking stuff, still under grandpa’s watchful eye, and prepared to set off. It was now very dark so we used our mighty strategic brains, turned on our bike lights and started riding down the road until we were far enough away, turned off our lights, and crossed the road and returned. Grandpa was fooled! We hurriedly rushed into the park and laid out the tent. Our tent, a Vaude Hogan Area, was super quick to set up and with an olive flysheet we blended in pretty amazingly. Suddenly, we heard shutter doors closing and saw the flashlight of grandpa coming over the road through the park! We dived to the ground like some super lame special forces commandos and let him pass. Great success! We finished up and like the night before- asleep by 10.

“Keith!” Ruth’s anxious voice woke me up, along with her CPR skills, “There’s a motorcycle outside and I don’t know what he’s doing.”

For the third time I was “awake” trying to process what was happening and what was likely TO happen. We decided to wait it out, our valuables were with us and our bikes were locked together very securely. In the end, the bike moved on and there was no further drama.

Day three was another early planned start, the only successful one, however we did not leave until late still. As we set off, we were discussing our plans for that evening. We would be reaching the first city on the trip, Leshan, and had to decide if we would find a place outside the city or stay in a hotel for the evening. I suggested that it was best to get the hotel, so at lunch I booked one that was cheap and when we arrived we were really (I think) pleased with everything. We had our first showers, rinsed our gear and went out for a restaurant meal! After just snacking on some seriously greasy food, we got back and got into our nice comfy beds.

When we first got into the city, crossing over a bridge, Ruth was starting to have a few issues with her bike. We stopped to check the map, realising we had missed our turn suddenly Ruth’s bike was done with us. The chain kept popping off if she went below 4th gear, very challenging when we were surrounded by hills!

After an evening in the city we headed out at our now standard 10am after having, possibly, the worst free breakfast I’ve ever had.

This was by far the most frustrating and tiring days. Up, up, up. All day we just were working up a steady gradient, passing through many similar roadside towns. People were obviously surprised and excited to see foreigners. Some were a little over enthusiastic, so much so, that Ruth left a store because she felt uncomfortable.

As we left one town I saw a little ball of fluff as we pedalled past. I pulled up for a snack break and to check on the little puppy. He was a little scared but decided that Ruth’s bike would be the best shelter and protection. I was looking at him and we gave him a bit of food. As we left I was really sad to be leaving this pup, if I could’ve safely taken him with me on the bike I’d now have a little white fluff monster.

As the day got later it was feeling harder and harder to push on. It was also starting to feel like finding a comfortable/safe place to camp would be impossible. It was really late by the time we found a place it wasn’t ideal but it also was the best we’d find before the sunset and the roads got dangerous. It was directly across from a family home, on a busy road and amongst a patch of bamboo. Besides all these things there were a huge amount of small ditches and hard earth everywhere so it was a challenge to pitch the tent. Handily, the bamboo had shed a lot of husks that we were able to use to level out and soften up sections of the ground!

The evening passed by a little uncomfortably with many people passing in and out of the house across from us. Followed by the late night passing of lorry after lorry, the road vibrated both physically and audibly. Sleep was fleeting and it was morning all too early. Achy bones ached as we sat eating breakfast. We blankly went through the routine of packing up camp and began our climb up the hills. We really were struggling, the kilometres passed slowly… one… two… four…Suddenly, down, down, down! The freezing wind whipped through my clothes as I had layered myself for being hot from climbing! 16km we rushed downhill.

Oh man, it was so worth it! All that climbing the previous day, being able to cruise down winding mountain roads, completely validated the pain. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain and hurriedly I threw on my jacket to keep myself from dying. As I did this Ruth was checking our location to be sure those 16km hadn’t been in vain!

Relieved we weren’t lost, we began to pedal slowly trying to find a nice spot to stop for our lunch. We finally found one, more or less in someone’s drive, and settled into the routine of cooking.

The following road was about 120km to Zigong, our next big city. No turns, not a bit of interest along the route. As we passed through the roadside towns, hearing “Wai guo ren” called our behind us, we could smile because these folks were so puzzled as to why foreigners were coming through. I got pleasure in shouting out to people in Chinese, which also got a lot of laughs either because of my joke or they were so surprised this white fella was speaking their language!

Ruth and I shouted back and forth in the wind over our plan for camping that night. In the end we decided from 4.30 we’d start looking for the perfect spot! AND! Would you guess what? By 5pm we were setting up our camp in a small bamboo forest and finding the joy in stealth camping again. Relaxing on our camp mats, reading books and drinking hot chocolates… it was amazing.