Interview with world travellers: Charles Stevens, Will Hsu

Charles Stevens and Will Hsu are attempting to cycle the Silk Road since May 2016, aiming to be the two youngest people to ever complete it. Less people have cycled it that have climbed Everest. Charles and Will have entered a few days ago in Kyrgyzstan, they are roughly halfway after 5,400km, 57 days and 5 countries.

A magyar verzióhoz kattints ide.

Steep gravel uphill in Mongolia - Will Hsu (left), Charles Stevens (right)Steep gravel uphill in Mongolia - Will Hsu (left), Charles Stevens (right)

Barbara: My first question is about the route. Why did you choose the Silk Road?
Charles, Will: It is a place I always wanted to explore and it provides a great deal of variation along the over 10,000km route. It is a network shrouded in history and culture taking you through some of the most beautiful and unexplored places in the world.

Barbara: Were there other possible route options as well?
Charles, Will: We at first considered travelling from London to Hong Kong but within our time constraints we couldn’t do it before university s it requires eight months.  We were keen to do something across Asia so this aspect of the journey remained but we were keen to do Asia because of the Silk Road.

Barbara: How long did it take you to prepare for a big journey like this?
Charles, Will: We started considering it 18 months before. The biggest challenge at first was getting the support of our parents but when they finally came around to the idea we moved onto preparation and training which started around 6 months before.

Barbara: You are not carrying a lot of stuff. Where do you sleep? Do you have any support or are you doing it in total autonomy?
Charles, Will: As it is our first major tour we were keen to have some minimal support which we have so that is why we have minimal gear. We camp the vast majority of the time but the bulk of our luggage is transported for us. This means that we can do the trip in the time frame that we need to and cycle 100 mile days which wouldn’t be possible with 30kg of luggage.

Altai Mountains in Russia - Will (left), Charles (right)Altai Mountains in Russia - Will (left), Charles (right)Barbara: How safe do you consider this journey/ route? Did you have any issues until now? 
Charles, Will: Of course any journey carries its own inherent risks but we have minimized these with preparation and precautions taken along the way. One of the biggest problems we have found is the dogs but 99% of people are very friendly. We have experienced some very bad drivers from time to time but most of them have been considerate.  Water is an issue especially in the deserts where serious dehydration is a real possibility. Also, one night in Mongolia we got caught in a sandstorm where we had to evacuate or camp and find shelter in the near village because our tents were at risk of collapsing. It was the strongest wind we have both experienced; we think it was blowing at 60 or 70mph and we were picking sand out of our eyes and ears for the rest of the next day.

Barbara: You are just over half way, did you ever feel you would like to quit the tour?
Charles, Will: Of course we have both had moments where it is physically and psychologically very challenging. Riding 188km into a headwind in the middle of desert and not being able to stop because there is no shelter or shade was not fun. On the whole though we are both happy to endure the hardships as we are cycling for a cause which is very close to both of our hearts – the charity A Child Unheard and the children it helps to educate in Uganda and Ghana.

Barbara: What was the most interesting moment until now?
Charles, Will: It is very difficult to say without more hindsight or experiencing the rest of the trip but we had a day in Mongolia where the whole of the afternoon was through gently undulating hills on smooth gravel tracks with stunning views of the steppes speeding downhill at 30kph with a smile on our faces.

Barbara: What do you think, which part of the route will be the most challenging on your journey?
Charles, Will: So far Mongolia has been the toughest couple of weeks by a long way. We had brutal headwinds and soul destroying off roads in the middle of nowhere. At the moment we are in Kazakhstan and the road surfaces are much better but the headwinds are still there. Before the trip however we thought it would be the Pamirs but we haven’t got there yet so we will have to see. Charles suffers altitude sickness and passes out around 4200 metres, so considering we are going up to 4600 metres I may be pushing his bike for a while.

Barbara: You are using the Surly Disc Trucker and the Condor Heritage bikes after a few thousand km do you still think these bikes were a great choice? Would you change anything with your gear?
Charles, Will: For a trip with such variation it is very difficult to get the best of everything but on the whole we have both been very happy with both our bikes. Front suspension at time would have been nice, as long as you can lock it in but apart from that they have held up fantastically. We both have our own tents but it would have been nice to have a bigger tent as the Banshee 200 even for one person is a tight fit. Also, a solar charger could have been useful during the many days where we don’t have access to power but this is far from essential.

Barbara: We should not forget about the charity – it is very good of you to do this for charity but how did the idea come up in the first place? Why did you go to Ghana in 2015 for volunteering? Why Ghana?
Charles, Will: We volunteered with other friends in Ghana back in 2013 and really enjoyed our time helping at a local school. We went back in 2015 for a longer period but found out that the school was running short on funding, Getting to know the children personally and having a real soft spot for the place we wanted to raise the money to help secure the future of the school and education of the children there, which is what A Child Unheard is running. So far we have raised over £20,000 for the charity and any donations via our Just Giving page are greatly appreciated.

Barbara: What are the plans for the future? Will you go for another tour as long as this one?
Charles, Will: As soon as we return both of us are heading off to our respective universities but we would to do more trips in the future. Having a gap year however is a very unique opportunity to spend such a long time travelling within the boundaries of a conventional life but perhaps on a university holiday we could cycle another continent like Africa. Doing a trip this long and demanding is tough and having a cause and  reason to motivate you is very helpful.

Thank you Charles and Will! Wheel Nuts Cyclotouring wishes you a safe journey further and a lot of new adventures in your life! You can follow Charles’s and Will’s cycling adventures on the Beijing to Teheran website and on Instagram.

Thank you, greetings!

Barbara Domina Herczogné