Seat of the soul

When you’re cycling 3,000 kilometres across strange new lands, your saddle transports you to incredible sights, cultures and experiences.

bike saddle

It can also drive you to absolute despair, causing physical and mental agony and some deep soul searching.

The region is a melting pot of different cultures that have collided; it was an amazingly rich experience"

Kamil McClelland

Medical students Kamil McClelland, Chris Holt and Robert Bennett know this all too well. In summer 2015 they undertook a journey along the historic Silk Road, supported by Imperial’s Exploration Board, which has been sending intrepid students on unique and daring expeditions for nearly 60 years.

In temperatures that threatened to rise above 50 degrees Celsius, the team faced punishing hill climbs laden with all their equipment and tents. “It was physically and mentally draining, particularly in the morning. To avoid the midday heat we got up at 4am to get in the miles, but you’re still exhausted from the previous day. That was very difficult,” said Chris. Still, they were rewarded for their efforts with some fantastic sights and experiences including visiting a remote 2,500-year-old Persian hill fort; opening a new English school in Kyrgyzstan, appearing on regional TV; and drinking zbek moonshine at a local ‘mafia’ wedding.

“On the very first day of cycling we encountered a goat herder and his family and tried to converse with our very limited Russian. At first we mistakenly thought he was telling us we were to be massacred, until it became clear he was inviting us to stay for dinner and shelter,” said Chris.

"There were great challenges too, including emergency trips to hospital for infected road rash and crash injuries, mechanical failures and the sheer frustration of getting lost."

Undeterred, they completed the ride in September: “Cycle touring is a great way to see the world and really interact with people from all walks of life,” said Kamil. “The region is a melting pot of different cultures that have collided; it was an amazingly rich experience.”

Listen to a podcast interview with Kamil, Chris and Robert.

Read more about adventurous Imperial expeditions in issue 41.