In the midst of exams, life might feel like a bit of a challenge. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the exam period will last for two weeks at most, and that many generations before us have gone through a similar struggle. However, for gap year students Will Hsu and Charles Stevens – who are soon to undertake a 10,000km cycle along the Silk Road – all is not so simple; their challenge is expected to take them four months to complete, and they are two of the youngest people to have ever attempted the route.
Charles Stevens, who will study History at the University of St Andrews after completing his gap year, and his friend Will Hsu have decided to take on this challenge despite the fact that it is considered to be one of the most demanding cycle routes in the world. Their route will see them pass through nine countries, climb over 4,600m altitude and endure temperatures ranging from -10°C to 45°C. To put these figures into perspective, less people have cycled the Silk Road than climbed Mount Everest. When asked about why he decided to take up this particular challenge Charles Stevens told The Saint: “The Silk Road is like the Marathon des Sables or Everest of cycling so we thought if we wanted a challenge we should go big.” He added “I’ve been lucky to have already have travelled around South East Asia as per the typical gap year so I wanted to go somewhere new and off the beaten track and Central Asia definitely fits the bill.”
The pair hope to raise £25,000 for the A Child Unheard charity by completing the challenge, and are already more than half of the way towards reaching this target on their Just Giving page. A Child Unheard is a charity working to improve the lives of children in Africa by providing them with safe and caring environments in which they can learn, and the centres opened by the charity offer free education to young children. Mr Stevens told The Saint that this is a cause that is close to both his and Will’s hearts: “In September 2015 myself and Will spent a month in Ghana helping out in a community called Ayenyah. This followed a visit in 2013 – only we found that in 2015 part of the school was running out of funding. A Child Unheard agreed to take it over but needed financial support to make the project viable as it’s a very small charity. Having got to know the children well and with a real soft spot for the community we felt it important to support them.” If Mr Stevens and Mr Hsu reach their goal then the money will make a big difference in Ayenyah because, as Mr Stevens pointed out, “with £25,000 A Child Unheard will be able to secure the long term future of the school.” The trip was funded by Will and Charles, with the support of their parents, so any money donated to their Just Giving page will go directly to the charity.
In addition to raising money for such a good cause, Will and Charles were also driven to take up the challenge by a strong sense of wanderlust. Will Hsu told The Saint: “I wanted to experience places untouched by our all too familiar culture and discover countries with vast remote expanses which we just can’t get anymore in Europe.” Mr Stevens added “I think it will also be a real adventure; we will see places that very few people ever have, and it will be a once in a lifetime experience. There are villages that we will be visiting that haven’t seen foreigners for years if not decades.” The journey will certainly satisfy this desire to travel, as the planned route for the cycle goes through China, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.
Despite having planned a definite route, the pair are less certain about what they will learn from the experience. Will Hsu told The Saint: “On a trip like this, it’s impossible to know what will be gained from it. However, I know it will be a steep learning curve in everything from history and culture to bike mechanics and Russian. So it’s really this broad and diverse range of experiences, knowledge and life skills that I’m hoping to gain.” When asked what else he would like to gain from the challenge, Mr Stevens did admit that “tragically, like the usual gap year, a bad haircut and a serious tan” were indeed something that he was looking forward to.
Will and Charles will start cycling on 15 May and have a website, beijingtotehran.com, with links to social media, photos and blogs following their journey. Their fundraising page for A Child Unheard can be found on the Just Giving Website: justgiving.com/beijingtotehran.