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🗞 Tale of the riverbank

An epic walk through China

A young Welshman who’s been seeking out adventure since he was a teenager has just become the first person in recorded history to walk all the way along China’s mighty Yangtze river. He talked with people about nature along the way.

Ash Dykes loves exploring the world. He loves being outdoors and seeing the nature of its wild places. And he loves meeting people from many different cultures. He’s now in the news – and entered the history books – because he decided to follow his passions.

He has just become the first person ever known to have walked all 6,437 kilometres of the Yangtze – the longest river in China and the third longest in the world.

It is quite a story. There were bears. There were snakes. There were wolves. But most of all, said Ash when he reached the sea near Shanghai after almost a year on the trail, was the chance to talk to people along the way and to exchange ideas on nature and culture.

A famous bend of yangtze river in Yunnan Province, China, first curve of yangtze river , Lijiang
The Yangtze river; Shutterstock

 “I just love travel, love adventure, sharing stories, meeting new people,” he told BBC World Service radio just after completing his record-breaking journey.

Ash’s epic trip began last summer, more than 5,000 metres above sea level – higher than the highest mountain in Europe – in Tibet. There, he thought his biggest problem might be the freezing temperatures. But then he heard the wolves…

In another interview, published in the Scottish newspaper The National, he says he was followed for two days early in his walk by a pack of wolves. Local people told him those wolves had just killed someone else.

The journey took him about 8 million footsteps, Ash reckoned. It took him through mountains, gorges, forests, farms and towns, worrying at times about bears and snakes as well as the wolves.

[Ash’s top tip if you meet a bear? Blow a whistle! Bears don’t like being around people. And they don’t like being surprised. So make plenty of noise and warn the bears you’re coming. The folks at Yosemite National Park in America have this “scare-bear” advice: “MAKE A LOT OF NOISE!!!”]

Ash also talked with thousands of people along the way about the need to protect the environment, including the unique wildlife of China and its longest river.

Ash told ITV television in London that it took two years of “meticulous” – really detailed – preparation. But he can also trace the start of his journey back at least a decade – 10 years – longer. Then, he was just 17 and still in college in a small town in North Wales. He had very little money though he worked in his spare time as a waiter.

For Ash, the really important thing is always to think of projects in two ways: first, to really imagine what your final goal looks like, even if it seems impossibly hard and far away; and second, to set yourself little steps that you know you can do and that will help you toward your dream.

He decided that he wanted to see the world. So he set about figuring out how he could do that. First, he took exams to become a lifeguard – someone who watches at the beach or the swimming pool and can help people who get in difficulty in the water. He worked long hours, saving money by riding his bike to work through the wet Welsh winter. And when he was 19, he set off on his adventures.

Once, he found it hard to imagine completing his trek. But he could imagine walking for just another minute or so. And so that’s what he did. He set himself the goal of walking another 100 metres. Rested. Then did another 100 metres.

He describes some very dangerous and difficult moments, in jungles and deserts, when he thought he did not have the strength to continue.

That idea, of breaking your dreams down into little things that you can achieve, is a winner.

“These expeditions go to show that even if no one else can see it for you, it’s important that you see it for yourself,” says Ash. “No matter what dream, what vision you have, you’ve got to go after it no matter what.”

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