The dream on hold…

It’s been a little while since I posted on here. Since the euphoria of being awarded the Bill Wallace Grant died down I’ve been busy settling into a routine of firing proposals to various companies, sending out press releases, promoting the circumnavigation on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, talking to other explorers, and in between improving both my fitness and knowledge of long-distance cycling.

Results have been mixed. Most organisations have declined to participate and getting sponsors on board has not been straightforward. I was under no illusion that this wouldn’t be the case but I had hoped for a little more success.

But not all is doom and gloom. Many people I’ve spoken to report that they have secured funding for their expeditions after they’ve set off. In some ways it makes sense; sponsors know that they’ve got the real deal and that it’s worth their time and money to get involved. Obviously that doesn’t help people from low-income backgrounds but that’s how it seems to be.

Another opportunity has also come my way. I’ve been offered a job which doubles my current salary, and I’ve decided to take it. This will let me raise the money I need initially to set off and then I’ll be able to advertise for sponsorship sans South America.

This means the Cycling South America project is temporarily on hold. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be doing any work on it; on the contrary, I’ll still be researching potential sources of funding whether that be via private sponsorship or expedition awards. I’ve returned the money given to me by the John Muir Trust but I’ll look to reapply in future.

Similarly, I’ll continue to welcome any ideas, comments and feedback that you might have – you can contact me by clicking the relevant heading above. I’m also going to set up a small travel blog which will hopefully make for interesting reading, although as I’m still busy typing up the report for the recent trip to the Baltic States I undertook earlier this year as part of the Peter Kirk European Travel Scholarship it might take a little while to get off the ground. All I can say is watch this space!

And to all those people who’ve voiced their support over the last few months I’d like to say thank you, it really is appreciated. I’m already looking forward to returning to Cycling South America soon.

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The Bill Wallace Grant

Cycling South America has recently received a massive boost in the form of the prestigious Bill Wallace Grant, an annual award made by the John Muir Trust. The purpose of the award is “to give people the opportunity to seek out life-changing experiences in wild places of the world in ways which will benefit both the person and the wild places themselves” and I’m very happy to report that the trustees have decided that this expedition fits that description. As a destination CSA will now be joining the High Arctic, Borneo and Tanzania in the truly global roster of Grant recipients.

Bill Wallace played a hugely important role in the development of the John Muir Trust. He was adventurous, inspired others and made a huge personal contribution towards increasing awareness of the need to safeguard wild places – all attributes which I hope to emulate on this journey.

My thanks go to the Trust for both the belief and support in making this expedition a successful one. If you’re also thinking of doing something similar or have an interest in the conservation of wild places I’d strongly recommend visiting the John Muir Trust website because it’s well worth a look.

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The Outdoor Academy of Scandinavia

I’ve recently returned from a trip to the Swedish province of Jämtland as part of the Outdoor Academy of Scandinavia, a five-day course run by the Scandinavian Outdoor Group. Although I attended as a freelance writer the tour is primarily geared towards those working in the outdoors industry and offers training in the products marketed by SOG’s various members. It was extremely hard work but also hugely enjoyable; a write-up will be appearing on the Outdoors Magic website in due course and I’ll post an update here when it goes online.

Update 11/04/2012
The full article is now up and running on the OM website; you can read it here.

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The Peter Kirk European Scholarship

(This is another cross-post from Dystopia)

I’m extremely pleased and excited to have been awarded a Peter Kirk European Travel Scholarship. The scholarships – which were set up to commemorate the work of the late Sir Peter Kirk MP – include a grant of £1,500 to enable young people from the UK and Europe to conduct a research project in a country other than their own. They’re typically restricted to individuals between the ages of 18 and 26 but – fortunately for me – will occasionally consider oldies up to the age of 29 if they impress enough. I was even more fortunate in that I initially received a rejection but due to a cancellation from another candidate I got a last-minute interview slot and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

My successful proposal is titled 20 Years Later: the Soviet Legacy in the Baltic States”. I’ll be spending around two months later this year in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania exploring both the physical and emotional remains of the Soviet period in these most Western of former Socialist Republics, and examining whether its impact still has ramifications today.

It should be an extremely interesting and enjoyable study, at least from a personal perspective, and one that I would simply not be able to do without the help of the Peter Kirk Scholarship trustees. I’m very grateful for their interest in this project and I look forward to producing an insightful report when I return. Now to arrange some interviews..!

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24 hours in Transnistria – a summary

(This is a cross-post from Dystopia, my other blog)

I’ve recently returned from a brief trip to Transnistria, the result of a competition run by Wanderlust magazine I won back in the Summer.

It’s probably fair to say that a lot of people have never heard of Transnistria; indeed, it’s difficult to even find a definitive spelling of the place, with Transdniestr or Transdniestria just some of the versions commonly found in print. Without a doubt it must rank as one of the most obscure countries in Europe – and even that description is up for debate…

Transnistria – or the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, as it’s known locally – is an internationally unrecognised country forming a narrow strip of land between the Dniester River and Ukraine. Created in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early 1990s, tensions between the mainly Russian-speaking Transnistrians and Moldova – of which the PMR is considered an integral part by most international observers – broke out into a bitter civil war that witnessed around a thousand killed. A de facto state of independence has been maintained ever since, with the presence of the Russian army all but guaranteeing the current status quo.

It’s also a place that, to put it mildly, has suffered something of an image problem over the last two decades. Weapons smuggling and human trafficking as well as human rights abuses are all accusations regularly directed at the authorities in the capital Tiraspol. So it was obvious that I was going to have to check the place out.

To get to Transnistria on the cheap I would need to take advantage of cheap flights, and I duly did so by travelling to Bucharest with budget outfit Blue Air. From the Romanian capital it was then a matter of an overnight bus to Chişinău in neighbouring Moldova and then a shared ‘maxitaxi’ – what we’d call a minibus – to Tiraspol.

Aside from the self-evident attraction of visiting a place that sees few visitors, another of Transnistria’s claims to fame is the retention of communist symbols and monuments that have long been consigned to the scrap heap in other areas of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries, a little like Belarus (a country I visited back in 2008).

During my time in Transnistria I met up with Mila Selezneva, a local student and trainee journalist with Dnestr TV; she had heard about my impending trip to the region and was keen to talk about  the media and life in general back in the UK. After a chat over a coffee we travelled to the station’s studio housed in an apartment block in the neighbouring city of Bendery, and there we had an impromptu talk (with Mila translating) to the rest of the team in front of the cameras – you can see a brief clip here.

Mila also introduced me to Aleksei Buchkov, current president of the Student Community of Transnistria and all-round political activist. Between the three of us we had some interesting chats about Transnistria’s current political status, identity issues and what it means to be Transnistrian – and Russian at the same time. It was with some sadness when it came to saying goodbye the following day.

Mila and Aleksei were both very keen that I should return to Transnistria, and I’d very much like to take them up on their offer; 24 hours isn’t nearly long enough to understand this place and why it stubbornly decides to go it alone. I also had the privilege of meeting two very mature and intelligent young people, and the opportunity to explore more of their country – as well as socialise with good friends – is one that’s simply too good to pass up.

In the meantime I’ll attempt to write this trip up in a more readable fashion, and also upload the bulk of the pictures that don’t feature here already; I’ll post an update when the time comes…!

Update 11/02/2012
I’ve finally uploaded some of the pictures from the trip here. In case you’re unfamiliar with Panoramio, it’s a website which features uploaded photographs on Google Earth, which is a nice way to guarantee that at least a few people should see them.

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2012 – an update…

Well it’s finally 2012, which means it’s the year of the London Olympics, the queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations, and – if the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar is to be believed – the, er, end of the world. Assuming the year doesn’t conclude in suitably apocalyptic fashion I also hope to commence my journey around South America and set a world first in the process.

So it seems appropriate to provide an update of progress so far on the expedition…

As predicted this is proving to be the hardest aspect of the expedition. From local bikeshop to multinational corporation, it would seem that the current economic climate has decimated budgets across the business spectrum. Many have pointed out that they already contribute to charitable causes or – in the case of a select few – already offer sponsorship to professional teams and athletes. The vast majority of those who have come back with a negative have still very kindly wished me success in my future endeavours; a full list can be found here.

But not all the news has been bad. I’ve had several pledges of support from several organisations, namely 4Sevens, ipadio, Schwalbe and Specialized Water Bottles. All will play their own part in getting me around South America and I really look forward to putting their products through their paces and – dare I say it – giving them some fantastic publicity at the same time!

There are a surprising number of bursaries and other competitions offering funding for adventurous expeditions, although it goes without saying that these are extremely competitive. I sadly failed to win the Berghaus Adventure Challenge but being shortlisted  was still a great experience, and in the coming year I’ll be submitting applications to  the Bill Wallace Grant, the GORE-TEX® Shipton/Tilman Grant, the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, and the Royal Geographical Society’s Journey of a Lifetime. I’ve also recently been awarded a Peter Kirk European Travel Scholarship and although this isn’t directly connected to Cycling South America it’ll still help to spread news of the journey further afield.

So far the training schedule is running along smoothly. I’m clocking up the miles on the bicycle, the hills of West Yorkshire providing an enjoyable and picturesque backdrop to the more serious business of building up stamina. I’m also practicing my maintenance skills and am planning to undertake a course in the near future, the same applying to Spanish.

That pretty much rounds up a busy four months. The next big date is the 14th January, when I’ll be heading to The Outdoors Show in London to hand out booklets and generally tout for business; other than that, more of the same..!

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2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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