Thoughts while nearing the finish line – Charlie Walker reminisces on his epic triathlon

Back in July, we introduced you to the extraordinary exploits of new ashmei Adventure ambassador, Charlie Walker. Three months on, Charlie is on the final stretch of his epic triathlon adventure – and has taken a break to recount a few of the highlights.

With only two weeks remaining, and almost 5,000 miles of skiing, kayaking and cycling behind me, I’m starting to look back at some of the highlights of this adventure. It’s been a wild eight months full of excitement, beauty, danger, challenge and culture. The vast wildernesses have awed, and the shocking extremes of climate have humbled.

Inevitably a trip of this length involves stretches of monotony; battles with boredom while repetitively placing one foot in front of the other for weeks on end. Yet, casting my mind back, it’s the positives that spring forth, and a handful of moments in particular.

About six weeks into our skiing, my expedition partner and I experienced the strongest storm of both our lives. We were in Arctic Siberian winter and roughly a hundred miles from the nearest settlement. The winds rose overnight and by morning we were confined to an increasingly flattened tent with worryingly low temperatures. Finally, a tent pole snapped and we spent the following twelve hours bracing against the wind-buffeted tent wall, increasingly numb and unable to eat, sleep or go to the toilet. Before sunrise the gale abated and the morning was the freshest and clearest we’d had in days. The sky flared first red, then pink, through orange, and into a gold that shimmered off the wind-sculpted sastrugi that had formed on the ice as far as the eye could see. Battered, stiff and unrested, we fixed the tent, loaded up our sleds, and skied happily onwards across the peerless landscape of the Ural mountains.

With only two weeks of Kazakh visa remaining to cover the final 500 miles of the Ural river, our days in the Kayak were long and punishing. With aching backs from repetitive strain, sunburn and exhaustion from the 40+?C temperatures, and little distraction along the sparsely inhabited riverbanks, we heaved at the paddles for ten or more hours a day. However, each evening we’d stop once our allotted distance was covered and pitch the tent on the first sandbank. Venomous snakes would vacate the beach on our arrival and we’d walk a little way upstream. While the setting sun gilded the riverbank, we’d plunge into the river and float blissfully down to our campsite, the warm water caressing our twisted muscles. This nightly routine was more than worth the daily grind.

We were cycling through the high Caucasus when autumn started to show its amber and ochre tints on the trees. We were in Georgia, near the Russian border, and took on a short but punishing climb up a rutted track. The gradients were steep enough to often accidentally wheelie a couple of metres. Our heavily laden panniers pulled us backward while the unladed front wheel bounced on the uneven terrain. After a couple of hours we topped the 400m ascent and were rewarded with a yawning mountainscape as backdrop to the 13th century Gergeti monastery we’d come to see. We camped nearby and ate dinner with a bottle of Georgian white cooled in a nearby spring. That night we felt the cold, a glorious relief after months of scorching desert and steppe.

Reading those paragraphs back, I notice that these transcendent moments are all instances of bliss and peace made richer by some recent hardship. But I suppose that is the very yin and the yang of expeditions. The hilltop is all the sweeter for the struggle of the climb.

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