There’s no need to travel the world to find adventures that improve your outlook

There’s no need to travel the world to find adventures that improve your outlook

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STEP by step I navigate across the second landslide in the dark. The road has long disappeared. All that is left is a steep slope with loose rocks, covered by patches of snow, which are now frozen. Crampons would be a good choice. In the absence of those I carefully balance my feet in the frozen footprints. Slowly but surely I move forward, one step at a time. The sun set a couple of hours ago. At almost 4000m the temperatures plummet straight afterwards, even in August. I hold my fully loaded bike firmly with my right arm. This is an unforgiving environment, there is no place for negative thoughts here. Focus is needed, and perseverance. My torch is flashing every now and then, a sign that the batteries are running low. I have a back-up light, but I would rather keep moving until I am in a safe place. Not too far away from me I can hear a huge amount of rocks thundering down the steep slopes. I put my headphones back in, press play and keep moving. My breath is slowly dispersing in front of me as I reach the end of the landslide, set my bike down and move on.

Adventures define our personalities. They teach us valuable lessons in life and give us lasting memories. They open doors; we enter on one side of the door and come out changed on the other side. Up in the enormous mountains of the Tian Shan moments are all that matter. In unpredictable and unknown territories there is no time to think what is next. The past is irrelevant. All that counts is the here and now, something we often lose sight of in “normal” life.

Extreme races like the Silk Road Mountain Race have become a stable ingredient of my life diet. Kyrgyzstan’s high mountains, its location at the southern edge of the former Soviet Empire and the people that call this, at times surreal, place their home, made it an unforgettable experience. In the mountains of Central Asia people embrace a basic nomadic existence, living in yurts and riding horses with grace and skill over those landscapes. Covered 80% by mountains, the country is desolate and raw, the perfect environment to stop and let my mind take me on a journey. A place to dream.

People and landscape make up for the moments when my body goes into turmoil. Diarrhoea, heat stroke and lack of appetite at high altitude helped me lose about 10% of my body weight. While I have been physically at the edge many times during the 13 days, seven hours and three minutes it took me to finish 1710km and 30,000m of ascent, this is a price worth paying for the mental benefits that adventures offer. A high level of self-control is needed, but often rewarded with a boost in self-confidence and a much clearer outlook on life.

While I wouldn’t want to miss those epic chapters in my life, I also thrive on the more local, accessible adventures back home. This is the reason why I founded Bikepacking Scotland, a website that offers a range of cycling routes and advice. Inspired by epic exploits like the Silk Road Mountain Race, crossing Tierra del Fuego or cycling around the world on a single-speed bike, it gives people a set of itineraries they can follow for their own adventures.

I would like to think of them as suggestions that mirror my adventures in Scotland. But I would rather see them as an idea, not a prescription to follow all the way.

When developing the Dunoon Dirt Dash route on the Cowal Peninsula this June I experienced a solitude similar to that in the mountains of the Tian Shan, without the carbon footprint to get there. Scotland still offers those places off the beaten track which require a good amount of determination to get to.

Pushing my bike up and down the steep hillside on an old Coffin Road towards the Bealach na Sreineon gave me a similar sense of achievement as pushing up a 4000m pass in the Kyrgyz mountains. Standing on the top of the pass put the effort into perspective.

It was the moment that counted when enjoying the exceptional views over Loch Striven.

And I was happy when I could shelter from the persistent rain on the next day at Benmore Gardens, not having to put too much thought to what I can and cannot eat as a vegetarian (which was not the case in Kyrgyzstan).

While expeditions like Kyrgyzstan require prior planning and financial commitment, my local adventures leave no room for excuses.

It is easy to jump on a train or catch a ferry to escape for a few days. Sometimes I simply cycle out of my front door with my belongings strapped on a bike.

No matter how big or small the adventure, they are what makes me happy. And I am sure I am not alone in this.

Markus Stitz will be speaking about the Silk Road Mountain Race and other bikepacking adventures on November 12, 9pm, at Summerhall in Edinburgh. More information and tickets are available at markusstitz.com/talks

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