"Just because no one’s found a way to do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done."
Adventure and travel always fascinated me but where I come from it never seemed realistic to be able to go just off and travel. I had a very normal upbringing in a small town in North Wales, so travel always seemed like a luxury.
At college, my mates spoke about what they were going to do next and I realised I didn’t have the slightest clue! That’s when the idea of travelling really took hold. I wanted to learn about different cultures and traditions but also develop and test myself in all new scenarios and situations. I worked to save up some money and eventually at 19, I had enough to start my Asian adventure.
Together with a friend, we set off for China for our first wild adventure. We did a trek on the Great Wall, met loads of people from all over the world and ate loads of gruesome things – all very touristy – before making our way into South East Asia. It was one day in Cambodia while we were sitting on a river bank moaning that we’d blown our budget, that a frail old lady cycled past us on a screechy old bicycle. We decided then and there to get off the beaten track and set a new adventure to cycle to Vietnam. Within an hour, we’d bought two of the cheapest bicycles we could find, found string on the side of the road to strap our rucksacks down, and we set off to cycle the 1100 miles to Hanoi. It was unplanned and quite reckless with no breaks or gears or suspension, but we thought, whether we succeed or fail, we’ve got to try, and it was an amazing first trip.
That was the catalyst. As much as I had always been drawn to the idea of adventure and travel, it was that Vietnam cycle that made me realise my niche, my passion, and I didn’t want to stop. So, I didn’t.
Mongolia had always stood out as a mysterious place in the heart of Asia. I’d spent some time on the tourist route in Thailand working as a master scuba diving instructor and hadn’t come across anyone who’d said they’d been or planned on going. I was curious about the environment and culture and began to form ideas for my next adventure. After months of research it was clear that no one had completed a crossing of the country on foot, and I wanted to be the first.
I only had about £200 to my name but I’d just managed to find enough sponsorship to give the expedition the green light and I set off. I anticipated the journey would take 100 days, pulling my 120kg trailer over 1500 miles through the Altai mountains, Gobi Desert and Mongolian Steppe. After 78 days, I became the first person to complete a solo and unsupported trek across Mongolia, which opened a lot of opportunities for me: a short documentary was featured on BBC Earth and it prompted a UK theatre tour, but most importantly, it created the brand that has allowed me to continue doing what I’m absolutely passionate about. That inspired my next adventure to be the first person to walk across the length of Madagascar, summiting the eight highest mountains along the way, covering 1600 miles in 155 days.
And now, here I am getting ready for my third world-record adventure; to walk the entire length of the Yangtze River. I’d always been fascinated by China: it was the first place I travelled to and I remember thinking when I left that I’d be back to do something big. And this will be my biggest challenge yet.
The plan is to follow the 4000-mile river course, which is the third largest in the world, longest in Asia and the highest source of any major river in the world. In July, I’ll start in the glacial meltwaters in the Tibetan plateau and trek from high-altitude sub-zero temperatures in the mountains to tropical environments and forested areas as it flows east to its mouth in the East China Sea. No one’s ever attempted it before and it will take at least one year to complete.
I believe the more you experience things the more you’ll learn about yourself, and the more challenging each environment is the more you’ll learn about your physical limits, which you can then apply to the next scenario. But I don’t like to just look at any of these expeditions as one guy and his adventures; I like to look at the bigger picture and raise awareness for global warming and local biodiversity preservation where I can.
If I continue to do this and create awareness for good causes, then it ticks all the boxes for me. There’s a lot of hardship that goes with it, don’t get me wrong – heat exposure nearly killed me in Mongolia, and in Madagascar I contracted a deadly strain of malaria – but it all makes it even more rewarding in the end. As Indira Ghandi said, “Nothing worth it was ever easy”.
Ash Dykes / Extreme Adventurer
Citizens of Sport don’t stand by, they Rise Up.
Question: Have you defied convention to follow your passion? Tell us about it!