An afternoon with Ash Dykes

Flicking through the recent posts of the Chongqing British expatriate Wechat group for anything of interest, I came across an advertisement for a public speech from a young Welsh adventurer, at a bookshop I had never visited on the picturesque south bank of the Yangtze river.

Since most of the family were going away for the weekend, it seemed a decent way to spend an otherwise uneventful Sunday afternoon.

Fast forward to 2pm February 24th.

The original half an hour’s drive turned into an hour. The traffic off the ringroad crawled a few kilometres until we saw the culprit. A yellow taxi was stationed in the middle of an already narrow T junction, with a back tire strewn to the side, and the driver yelling into his mobile phone.

Our destination was Jingdian Bookstore 精典书店. Searching on Baidu Maps, it informed me the nearest public carpark was a short 400 metre walk away, so we headed on to the Dongyuan1891 Mall.

What goes around comes around. I was surprised when we entered the carpark lift and my daughter pointed out the bookstore was on the second floor. We came out of the lift, and low and behold, there it was!

The wall was fully see-through glass panels, and we walked through the narrow entrance to find a bright, attractive and pristine bookstore with a public seating gallery replete with a stage. The coridoor branched off into different rooms with their own genre of books. A cafe where the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans wavered through the air was towards the end, with seating arranged both inside, and along the windows offering a view straight over the Yangtze and Jiefangbei peninsula. A spacious meeting room with a ten metre long table was by the cafe bar, and stairs also led down somewhere I regret to inform I didn’t explore.

I took my seat at the top and watched a video trailer introducing the new Bear Grylls himself, and we waited.

He took to the stage with a young interpreter, and they sat to the side to an almost packed audience. He proceeded to speak of his main feats to date for over an hour, then took questions from the army of keen onlookers. Finally, he did a signing session for those who had bought his book ‘Challenge the Impossible挑战不可能’ that afternoon.

Here is a general rundown what I heard while it’s still fresh in my memory.

Ash Dykes grew up in Northern Wales, and was always the sporty type from an early age. Instead of attending university, he trained and worked up to 240 hours a month earning money to fund an adventure to Asia.

Since his budget was very tight, he and a friend bought a pair of simple bicycles for almost no money at all, and against all admonishments, cycled them across Cambodia into Northern Vietnam, then all the way down the eastern seabord to its southernmost point.

Almost broke, he travelled to Thailand and spent the next two years as a SCUBA instructor, even participating in diving competitions to earn money to subsidise the rent. As time went by, he felt ever more restless, and set his heart on completing a adventure, something which had never been accomplished before.

That’s where he set his sights on Mongolia. Despite being told repeatedly it was not possible, and that a former navy marine had tried three times previously but ended up being evacuated, he decided to walk the 1500 mile distance from the westernmost Mongolian city of ? to the easternmost of ?. This journey took him through the frigid Altai Mountain range, across the blazing Gobi desert, and finally up the Mongolian Steppes.

The trek was completely unassisted, and he walked the distance carring a 120 kilogram cartload of his own food, water and camping gear. He told how he had to ration his water in the desert, and would drag the cart 200 metres a time before resting five minutes underneath to escape the scorching sun. He eventually found a settlement where he could stock up on water in one the least populated areas of the world.

His second feat was walking the entire length of Madagascar, from the southermost to northernmost tips. Along the way, he had to hack for hundreds of miles through hostile jungle, battling against venomous spiders the size of his hand. The route also included climbing the eight highest peaks, almost all of them over 2000 metres in elevation.

Maromokotro is the highest peak in Madagascar at 2876 metres, and is only accessible by trekking for days through remote wild countryside to reach. There is a local tradition that demands respect is shown by releasing a white chicken at the summit, and doing so will bless the climber’s onward journey. Wishing to adhere by this, Ash carried a white chicken he named Gertrude in his backpack for a sizeable part of his trek, and did in fact release it on top of the mountain.

Now, Ash is in the middle of walking the entire length of the Yangtze river, from its very source to the point it meets the East China Sea. We saw photos of him at 5100 metres above sea level in Qinghai Province, where the river first emerges from a spring.

Many travel companions fell to the wayside for fear of the elements and wildlife, others due to mountain sickness and lack of preparation. The wilderness threw in the extra threats of wild bears, wolves and fearsome Tibetan Mastiffs, several of which attacked him on the way down. He also spoke of the amazing kindness of the locals he encountered, welcoming into their homes to warm up and eat a hearty meal. The local police dragged him back to quarters out of fear for his safety, only relenting when they learnt of his amazing exploits.

He reached Chongqing five days ago, and has been busy hosting public events such the one I went to today. Chongqing marks the relatively easier stage of his challenge, as the Yangtze no longer makes such sharp turns over small geographical areas.

As an after-thought, I decided to purchase his book and let him sign a copy for the readers of my blog, Chongqinglife.

On the way out, we tucked into some Vietnamese Pho noodles, and drove north up Nanbin Lu, taking in the gorgeous lights of Jiefangbei shining across the by now huge Yangtze river. As Ash quipped, the source is the only place where you can hop across this giant river in a single step.

En route, we picked up the rest of the family at Chongqing North Railway Station, perhaps the most counter-intuitive piece of architecture in the entire world, which I will definitely cover in a future post.

Anyway, enough of the anecdotes.

Nanbin Lu南滨路, the south bank Yangtze river road is a stunning and fun location to take in the night view from by the river, and I suggest you try coming here from Jiefangbei on the cable car, a photo of which the bookstore was close enough to photograph.

Jingdian Bookstore精典书店 was a fantastic venue, and I’d recommend a read in the cafe by the window, enjoying the river and peninsula over an afternoon, or whenever. I certainly will be going there again.

Photo album

Below are photos I took of Jingdian Bookstore and the river road. The outdoor ones I downloaded from Ash’s personal Weibo and Wechat accounts. I hope you find them as amazing as I do.

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