York graduate Andrew Welch plans to break world records by circumnavigating the planet on a mountain bike, a journey which has been dubbed ‘Ride-Earth’. Leaving on June 17 with his childhood friend Tom Allen, he will travel east around the world.
When I met him on campus last Saturday, Welch explained his motivations. “We just want to have a brilliant adventure,” he said. “Also, it’s a sense of doing something different and finding an alternative lifestyle for a bit, not the daily grind of a nine-to-five…it’s a quest for knowledge, if you like, meeting lots of people and absorbing different cultures.”
Welch’s ambitious expedition has taken a year and a half to plan, requires £25,000 of sponsorship and will take a minimum of two years to complete. The pair will travel between 25 and 100 miles daily, depending on the track surfaces.
“We’ve been using Google Earth a lot, plotting a route and then exporting it onto a GPS, which you can then take with you,” Welch said.
“Mongolia is a bit of a detour but I’d really like to go there, and I’d like to get to Japan by summer 2008 because we’ll probably meet up with my martial arts tutor and do some training out there”.
The pair hope to break world records by completing the longest off-road around-the-world attempt. The film company Stringfilms has approached the duo with a proposal to make a feature film of their experience. “We were just going to film it for the sake of a record, then [Stringfilms] rang up out of the blue and said they were interested in filming it for us,” Welch said.
After graduating from the University of York in 2004, Welch spent a while undertaking a variety of entrepreneurial activities, from selling t-shirts with designs expressing empowering messages to web design.
Nevertheless, he soon realised he wanted to follow his passion for the outdoors and his love for mountain biking. This led him to work in Croatia, where he was a mountain-bike guide for four months on the Island of Korcula. This, he says, is what has inspired him to make this epic journey.
Describing himself as “a moth drawn to the light”, Welch first developed his interest in all things mountain bike when he was 15. His passioned furthered into an obsession during his time at York.
Whilst at University, Welch spent numerous weekends biking in the Yorkshire Dales or on trips to Scotland, Hamsterly Forest and other areas in the North of England with the University’s Mountain Biking Society or with friends. He remenisces fondly about “pedalling like a lunatic around campus with a group of other lunatics – this was the legendary mountain biking society!”
Mountain biking has enabled him to escape from the “clutches of linear living” and given him a vastly increased level of freedom, he said.
The World Wildlife Fund have endorsed Ride-Earth and have asked the pair to report back to the organisation about the effects of climate change around the world by interviewing local people along their journey.
Welch believes his interest in the environment is influenced by his family, who have a rural background. However, it was his secondary-school economics teacher, a man resolute in his belief that environmental issues would soon be at the centre of the global agenda, who inspired him to do a degree in Environment, Economics and Ecology.
Welch expressed grave concerns over the inability of the general public to take responsibility for their actions damaging the environment.
“There are more silly gas-guzzling cars on the road than ever before,” he said, “and a new coal power station is built every day in China. The Amazonian Rainforest will be gone by the year 2050 at the current rate of deforestation.”
With these concerns in mind, Welch plans to use Ride-Earth as a way to take action and inspire others to do the same. “We will be following the paths of others who have taken on similar adventures before us, while learning and developing ourselves and contributing to an important and worthwhile cause,” he said.
Having done a lot of research, Welch seems to be prepared for any possible mishap. Despite having been warned of dangers, including bears in Canada, the precautions against which are singing to keep them away and hanging all food up in a tree, his foremost worry for his two-year journey is the theft of his kitbag.
“I’m probably going to tie myself to it,” he said, laughing, “but I think we should get good hospitality and people will be friendly towards us. I don’t think we are much of a threat; we are just two guys on bikes,” he said.
The Ride-Earth pair will be raising money to support The Wilderness Foundation, a charity that preserves and promotes the few remaining areas of wilderness around the world.
They will also be working as ambassadors for Wheels4Life, an organisation that provides bicycles for people in developing countries who are in need of transportation, in addition to promoting a number of other environmental groups such as Project Carbon and YourSafePlanet.
The Proposed Route
Beginning at Harwich in the UK, the pair will cross over to Holland. Warming up in the Netherlands, they will then follow off-road religious pilgrimage routes through France and Spain, moving over to Switzerland and then Germany. Following the Danube through the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, they will then bike to Turkey and Iran, reaching India by the winter of 2007. Cyclying through the Himalayas, the following spring they will cross the continent via Mongolia and Japan. They will then island-hop down to Australia for the end of 2008, catching a trade ship to New Zealand where they will travel extensively off-road. They will ship over to South America and travel up the West coast, boating up to Panama and through Mexico, then take the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route through the United States of America to British Columbia, Canada, before heading East towards the Atlantic and home.
Follow the pair’s progress around the world at www.ride-earth.org.uk