A ONE man trek across Mongolia and China on foot may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for one County Waterford man the trip proved to be the adventure of a lifetime.
Chris Griffin from Faha, Kilmacthomas travelled on foot and unassisted from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia to Beijing in China via the Gobi desert.
The intrepid adventurer completed his trip in 69 days during the summer of 2015 – covering a total distance of 1,527km.
Chris carried food, water and equipment with him on a homemade aluminium cart and endured temperatures which varied from -5 to 38 degrees Celsius.
After moving from Ireland to New Zealand five years ago, Chris fell in love with outdoor activities.
His trips around New Zealand’s North Island ignited a sense of adventure so he decided to set himself a major test.
“I was coming to a turning point in life,” he explained during a visit to his native Faha for Christmas.
Chris was intrigued by a recurring dream which he experienced.
“The dream kept coming back again and again,” he said.
“I was walking along a desert like land where there were round white tents with people standing outside them. One of my friends told me to Google Mongolia. ”
The round white tents which Chris had dreamed about transpired to be Mongolian yurts.
“I had never seen a yurt before so I don’t know where the vision came from,” he said.
Mongolia ticked all the boxes for the adventure seeker who wanted a holiday but also wanted to experience something very different.
“I wanted to test myself both physically and mentally and to push myself way past my comfort zone,” he said.
Chris decided to buy a tent, build a cart and head off solo on a long walk from the Mongolian capital to the Chinese capital.
“It would be the furthest distance I had travelled on foot and the longest time ever spent alone,” he explained.
“I hoped to prove to myself that I could overcome any challenge while relying on my own initiative, and therefore inspire myself and others. The intention was to learn to accept and enjoy my own company and thus not fear being alone.”
Chris spent many months doing extensive research on the type of cart he would build and what gear to carry with him.
“The cart was something which was put together out of a scrap yard with two old mountain bike tyres and wood. I also went to a bicycle repair shop and got bits and pieces from them,” he said.
The cart was designed so that it could be folded up and transported easily.
“The finished product was made from aluminium and weighed about 25 kgs so it was substantially heavier than a normal bike. I was told that there were lots of lightning storms in Mongolia so I went for aluminium as it doesn’t attract lightening as much as steel,” he explained.
So, what was the reaction of friends and family when he informed them of his plans?
“They all thought I was mad! But they knew that if I got something into my head I wouldn’t let it go. Everyone was very encouraging, especially when I put the plan forward,” said Chris.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go on an ego trip where I would put myself at risk and put somebody else at risk rescuing me. I didn’t want friends and family worrying, so I assured them I had everything covered. Going off on adventures is great fun and there’s always going to be some element of risk. But it’s selfish if you go off and leave everyone worrying.”
Chris left Wellington on May 18th and from the very beginning of his expedition he received help and support.
“People were very curious and supportive,” he said.
“I got everything sorted while at a hostel in Ulaanbaator and the Mongolian people were really friendly. I had huge support even at that early stage.”
After leaving Ulaanbaator, Chris entered very rural areas where, at some stages, the only visible sign of life was a yurt in the distance.
Chris travelled 750km through Mongolia and roughly the same distance when he crossed the border into China.
Hail, rain and extreme heat were features of his time in Mongolian, while terrifying lightning storms, high heat and humidity greeted him in China.
“In parts of China the roads got busier, but I took the scenic route into the more rural areas. I entered some villages where the people hadn’t seen a white person before and I got a few terrified looks,” he explained.
Chris carried a ‘Magic Letter’ with him throughout his journey.
“This was a letter saying who I was, where I was from, what I was doing, and it was translated into Chinese and Mongolian. If I couldn’t converse, the ‘Magic Letter’ would come out,” he explained.
Throughout his expedition, Chris carried a SPOT GPS tracking device with him which was his main source of contact with the outside world.
“Once turned on, it sent out a signal every hour and anyone who wanted to could see where I was,” he explained.
This provided reassurance for his family and friends, including his parents John Joe and Aileen back home in Faha.
After 69 days, Chris felt many emotions when he finally arrived in Beijing.
“I set out to have an adventure and do something on my own. I wanted to see if I was ok with being on my own but I was never really on my own because of the amount of people I met,” he said.
“I left with a new appreciation of the kindness of strangers and that has given me a new faith in humanity. I was welcomed by people even though they weren’t sure who I was.”
So, does Chris have any plans for future expeditions?!
“I keep an eye on what other adventurers are up to. Every so often I hear something and think ‘that sounds interesting’ and all you need is that spark of inspiration. I wasn’t super fit and I hadn’t done anything like that before, but with some planning and the right frame of mind you can go off and do anything! At the moment, I’m thinking of maybe cycling across China or going back to Mongolia and travelling in the other direction.”
However, Chris says his immediate plan is to go back to New Zealand and enjoy some sunshine!
Check out details of his adventure at http://theslowway.weebly.com/