One heck of a ride: Irish adventurers Maghnus Collins and David Burns trekked 16,000 km from Istanbul to Shanghai cycling 8500km, running 1000km and packrafting 6300km.
Maghnus Collins and David Burns set out on their long distance odyssey in March 2012 with a plan to cover the 16,000 km (8700 miles) between Istanbul and Shanghai by bike, foot and water. Their journey took them along the old Silk Road trade route between Europe and Asia, crossing over the Himalaya and rafting down one of the most iconic rivers in the world – the Yangtze. Along the way they helped raise nearly €25,000 ($33,450) for Self Help Africa, an organization dedicated to helping rural Africa gain economic strength.
They crossed five countries, three deserts and the Himalaya mountain range:
Stage 1 – Istanbul – Kathmandu
8500 km by bike from Istanbul to Kathmandu via Turkey, Iran, India and Nepal.
Stage 2 – Xining – Yangtze river (Source)
1000 km on foot over the Tibetan Plateau to the source of the Yangtze River.
Stage 3 – Yangtze river (Source-Sea)
6300 km by packraft from the source of the Yangtze to its mouth at Shanghai.
The seed for this adventure was planted in September 2008, when David Burns was 23 years of age. He was just embarking on a career in marketing, when he met Manghnus Collins, a law student who was recovering from an injury that saw his back broken in three places. Collins was planning his first major expedition at the time and it seemed they became kindred souls as Burns also longed to go on one great adventure.
Together, David and Maghnus planned to do a three-month cycle from Cape Town. This then turned into 11 months as they decided to go further, eventually deciding to do the entire length of Africa and cycle home to Ireland too. They were complete novices. That was the spark of their ever since evolving adventure packed lives.
In 2010 they entered and became the youngest finishers at the 250km 4Deserts Sahara race finishing both in the top 30.
Collins and Burns’ called their expedition Sand2Snow Adventures. The duo rode their bikes across the first stage, covering 8000 km (4970 miles) from Istanbul to Kathmandu through Turkey, Iran, India and Nepal. Visa issues forced them to change plans and abandon their planned cycle through Pakistan, with the lads opting to extend their time in India by cycling north from its southern-most tip and into the mountainous ranges of Nepal. They then proceeded on foot, running an additional 1000 km (621 miles) to the source of the Yangtze river in China. At one point they ran 25 marathons in 27 days across the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau. Finally, they finished up their journey by rafting more than 6300 km (3914 miles) down the Yangtze, ending on the overcrowded Bund in Shanghai. That was quite a contrast to earlier sections of the journey when they encountered no other living souls for days on end while on the river. At one section of the Yangtze they actually traveled for 17 straight days without seeing another person.
Many challenges were overcome: they lost their raft that included much of their gear, including Collins’ passport. While running through the Himalaya they also wore “appalling blisters” on their feet and after one particular run Collins was even pissing blood. In the end, they were even racing the clock, as their Chinese visas were set to expire in just a few days and it was important that they reach the finish line before they did.
David recalls the scariest moment on the trip:
“It was definitely the rapids when we were paddling the Yangtze. They were massive. We took a lot of swims. We had to make decisions at each rapid to either paddle or take the portage option. A portage of a rapid could take all day though. At every rapid my heart would be pounding. If it goes wrong you know it is going to be bad.”
David continues about the physical stress involved in such a monumental undertaking:
“At times the physical stress on your body is horrendous. You get used to cycling. At the start of the Asia trip, we had to cycle fast which was hard. We were dealing with the heat – it was 50°C – but we knew we had to get to the Yangtze river within a really tight window. At the start you are always a bit unfit and you are shedding weight so it is tough. We also found the run seriously tough. We had not run more than 20km before we went and we were doing a marathon a day for 26 days.”
Collins about the highlights of their trip:
“Perhaps, it was in the chance and brief meetings that the magic is best expressed. The countless pieces of fruit handed through car windows or offers of homes in which to stay, too many to feasibly accept. Maybe you would understand if you saw the faces. The indescribable but unwavering openness and welcome. When you couldn’t see the faces you still heard the shouts; ‘welcome to Tabriz’, ‘welcome Yazd’, ‘welcome in Iran’. It never felt forced or feigned. The welcome has substance and it’s consistency has been overwhelming.”
David Burns’s most current adventure is planning an event called The Race, a 24-hour, 260km adventure event in Donegal. For more on this, visit: www.therace.ie. For more on David Burns’s tales of adventure, visit: www.sand2snowadventures.com