Ben Shillington is going on a bike tour – a very long bike tour. In fact, his mountain bike trip will cover 11,000 kilometres from Istanbul, Turkey to Beijing, China.
His love of adventure has taken him to Europe, Nepal, Australia, across North America and to other corners of the world. This week, it’s taking him to Turkey. He will be leading 16 cyclists (four others will connect with the group for part of the trip) through mountains, deserts and along the seas during the four-month expedition. The group will travel through countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The trip is one of four offered by Tour d’Afrique.
“It’s a small company that runs multi-day mountain bike expeditions around the world,” says Shillington. “This trip is called the Silk Route and follows one of the ancient silk trade routes.”
The company also offers a Cairo to Cape Town African excursion, a trip from Paris to Istanbul and a South American trip from Rio to Quito. Shillington says people can follow the expeditions online at www.dafrique.com. He learned of the company through a biking magazine. He sent in a resumé, had a telephone interview and a two-hour personal interview; he was hired in April as a tour leader and mechanic.
“This will be the biggest trip that I’ve guided,” he says. “Even though I’m 26, I’m still the youngest on the trip.” Most of the participants are in their mid-thirties.
The cyclists bring their own mountain or touring bike and a helmet. They are also encouraged to bring spare parts, personal effects (prescriptions, first aid), a tent and sleeping bag and layers of clothing appropriate for temperatures ranging from -15C to +35C. They are each allowed only two 90-litre duffle bags on the trip. The cyclists had to apply for several visas and the company helped out with the paperwork. They’ve been told to carry U.S. currency in smaller bills and photocopies of their personal papers.
Usually, the tour will consist of six days riding and one day off for the duration of the trek. Seventy-five per cent of the time, the cyclists will be camping. One of the campsites is next to the Great Wall of China.
A support van carrying food, some camping equipment and other gear, will travel with the group. Every evening, the next day’s route is mapped out and given to the cyclists. In the morning the bikers head out, riding in groups or alone. They all meet up at a marked destination point. Depending on the region, the cyclists could cover 95-160 kilometres daily, but the average is 120 kilometres.
Safety is paramount to the group. “There are lots of hurdles to get across the borders,” Shillington says. “We want to keep the group as safe as we can.” Police escorts have been arranged through some cities.
When he goes on a trek, Shillington says he is pushing his body and his mind.
“It takes you to a different level – it’s a confidence builder,” he says. “I come back with more knowledge and wisdom. You get taken out of your comfort zone, you get your eyes opened. You realize what things in life are important.”
He says he is always ready for another trip. “While I’m on one trip, I’m already planning the next one,” he says. There are still many places in the world he wants to see, but he rates a trip to Antarctic as top on his list. “I’m living my dream,” he says. “And I’m thankful for that every day.”
We at xtremesport4u.com laud this pioneering spirit and wish Ben and his team the very best of luck – let us hope the wind is at his back and he has a successful tour. Further I would like to thank Heather Kendall of Barry’s Bay Weekly for bringing my attention to this story.