A little over a year ago, I was having a chat with a small group of friends who all made a living – one way or another – from adventure.
We’d been having these irregular meetings for a couple of years. Ideally they took place down the pub, but often – the lifestyle of the nomadic self-unemployed adventurer being what it is – they’d be conducted via Skype or somesuch technology, all dialling in from a constantly changing series of locations worldwide.
The reason for these group chats was to soundboard new ideas, figure out if they had the potential to become anything more than fleeting whimsies, and then to hold each other accountable for following through with them.
On this occasion I put two such ideas to the group for mirth and demolition.
The first was to try and create a long-distance hiking & mountain-biking route the length of the Caucasus Mountains.
The second was to create an annual grant that would allow a young person from the UK to go on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure by bicycle.
Much to my dismay, it was the opinion of all present that I could – and should – try to do both of these things.
So I tried.
And now, a year later, it would appear that I’ve succeeded – if you’ll excuse the pun – in putting all of those wheels in motion.
The Transcaucasian Trail, as it has become known, is fast becoming a reality. The core team now extends to 13 people from 8 nations, not to mention the dozens of part-time volunteers who’ve contributed their time and energy so far. Since April I’ve been leading a full-time expedition – supported by the Royal Geographical Society with the Land Rover Bursary – to explore and map possible routes for the trail in Georgia and Armenia; this enormous undertaking is the reason the blog has been quiet this year.
But more the more immediate news is that Jess Hargreaves – the recipient of the ‘Janapar Grant’ I set up and launched earlier this year – sets off today on what I have little doubt will be a once-in-a-lifetime bicycle journey.
I wrote on the grant website that my aim was to support the practice of open-minded exploration for its own sake, for it is this approach that I’ve always felt offers the greatest potential for personal growth through the experience of life on the road.
And when Jess’s first written dispatch landed in my inbox for publication a few days ago, I knew that we’d made a good choice. You can read her pre-departure thoughts right here.
Beyond the one successful recipient – who benefitted from equipment donated by Oxford Bike Works, Carradice, Polaris, and Porterlight Bikes – we made the last-minute decision to extend the mentorship component of the grant to all of the shortlisted individuals. The result is that several other applicants have already hit the road under their own initiative – which, if I’m honest, was my underlying hope all along. And I’d like to thank the mentors – Al, Emily, Tim and Leon – for volunteering their time to help these young people get out exploring.
Jess has a long and bumpy road ahead of her, of which today’s ride is only the beginning. And I look forward to hearing – just occasionally, for the journey is the reward, right? – all about how her adventure pans out.
Her future despatches will be published through the Janapar Grant website, as well as through the TomsBikeTrip.com Facebook page.
But today, let’s just all wish Jess Hargreaves – 2016’s Janapar Grant recipient – all the very best for her journey, wherever the winds of travel may take her. Safe roads & tailwinds!