(By Correne Coetzer) Last year, Jelle Veyt told ExplorersWeb how he started living on the streets in Belgium at age 17. Three years later he chose to rise above his circumstances, got an education, and started to follow his passion for adventure. Today he is busy with the last preparations to climb Everest, without supplemental oxygen.
But to get to Kathmandu in Nepal, was a huge undertaking; cycling 13,000 km on his bicycle, surviving some of the harshest places on earth, even getting difficulties with finding food and water, and becoming very lonely.
Now he has only “a short distance” on the map to complete, but it will be the toughest, he told ExplorersWeb. Jelle shares why, and gives some insight about his journey from Belgium to Kathmandu, via the summit of Elbrus in Russia.
ExplorersWeb: Why do you say this “short distance”on the map will be the toughest?
Jelle: After covering 13,000 km by bicycle it’s just about 300 km to reach this goal. I’ll cycle further from Kathmandu to Phaplu, leave my bicycle there and continue trekking to Base Camp. That is the easy part, from then on the hardest part will start with an attempt to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen.
This distance on the map seems small but will take me 2 months. Although I’ve been training very hard for this mountain I expect (and secretly hope) it becoming one of the hardest physical things to do in my life, yet I feel ready to do this.
The last year I’ve been preparing and training like a pro to get myself as fit as possible for this mountain, still there are so many factors that influence success or not. I know that if I would fail, it wouldn’t be because of my preparation.
Explorersweb: What were the high points and low points on your journey so far?
Jelle: The first high point during my journey was cycling in Kyrgyzstan. After covering a couple of thousands of kilometres trough the steppe and desert I got really tired of the lack of water, food and no people to talk to. The first view of the Tian Shan Mountains was just amazing, it is such a beautiful country with lots of amazing and friendly people.
After the Tian Shan Mountain Range I came into a low point. Because of Chinese regulations and cycling trough Tibet, I had to cross the Taklimakan Desert. With the Kazakh Desert still fresh in my memory I wasn’t mentally prepared to do that. This wasn’t so bad in the end but after a while I started to get difficulties with finding food, water and becoming very lonely.
In China I didn’t have a lot of human contact, not just because of the language barrier but also mainly because of the different attitude of the people. They weren’t very open and pretty shy which resulted in mostly staring and laughing, but no conversations at all.
Then I cycled up the Tibetan plateau, which was physically extremely demanding. There were some times I wondered who just even thinks about taking a 100 kg bicycle up to more then 5000 m. This plateau is just a very windy place with little things to do and boredom strikes easily.
One of the best moments of this journey (and my life) was crossing the Himalayas. Every single day for more than 5 months I had been working very hard for that moment and then I finally was there. I was extremely happy getting out of the Tibetan plateau and descending down felt like a spring coming up after a long and very hard winter.
From then on it was a continuous feeling of happiness. Especially the arrival in the Shangrilahome (a home for street children I was raising money for) in Kathmandu, where more then 200 kids and adults were shouting and welcoming me was one of the best moments of my life. After this long journey meeting all those kids with such a great energy and enthusiasm is an unforgettable moment in one’s life.
Explorersweb: What weather did you experience?
Jelle: When cycling big distances you can experience any kind of weather, I cycled in temperatures ranging from 45°C to -25°C. Cycling in Ukraine was probably the hottest; I was constantly sweating for 24 hours a day. While cycling you’re warm and can’t find any shade, in the evening you pitch up the tent while everything takes more effort so you’re still too warm. Then the mosquito’s come and you hide in the tent still completely wet from the heat.
My timing was good though because the ride trough the steppe/desert of Kazakhstan wasn’t extremely hot, yet very dry.
When crossing the Taklimakan Desert in China, I landed up in a sandstorm that repeatedly blew me off my bicycle, luckily it was a sand desert so I got soft landing spots. I had nowhere to cover so I cycled on for a couple of hours with almost no visibility, repeatedly seeing cars crashed somewhere.
The coldest temperatures I experienced were in Tibet. It got to at least -25°C at night and sometimes encountered cycling temperatures of -20°C. The cold wasn’t such a problem there, it is actually very easy to adapt to that. The problem is that Tibet is a huge desert with headwinds every day that exhausts you completely. I had some days cycling 14 hours barely making 150 km that day, the strong headwinds managed to reduce my maximum speed to 14 km/h downhill.
Explorersweb: Interesting countries you cycled through. How did you experience the different nations along the way?
Jelle: The best country I cycled trough is definitely Kyrgyzstan. The amazing scenery, undiscovered places and friendly people make this a must for the mountain/outdoors adventurer.
What I particularly like about cycling is that it’s not going too fast so you can have a good interaction with your environment. This means I got to know the countries I cycled trough pretty well and not just their major cities. I never experienced a cultural shock since you’re going slowly enough to get used of every country’s cultures. Entering China was a bit of a shock though; it’s a pretty big difference with all surrounding countries.
Never I encountered big problems with people on the road; most people have lots of respect for travellers who do it on a different way.
Explorersweb: How did your gear and clothes work on the journey? What was the best? What did you miss?
Jelle: Surprisingly, almost everything survived the trip. The first big thing that broke was my rear wheel and trailer. All at the same time and just across the Kazakh border where I could stay for a week in some people’s home. Some Dutch guys were coming to this city and they brought a solid wheel for me from Europe so I was extremely lucky.
Some of the best things I brought were my socks and shirts from Icebreaker. Some of my Belgian friends gave me a set of that before I left on this journey. These are completely worn out by now but did an amazing job keeping me cool, warm and odour free. There were some times I wasn’t able to wash myself for a long time but with these I could feel clean at least, although it’s probably good there weren’t people around then.
I loved my down gear on this journey, from sleeping bag to my mittens. When I started the journey it was really warm and I got to use these things after 4 months of carrying them along, except from the time I was climbing Elbrus. Once I needed to use them I immediately forgot about the effort of carrying this the whole time. Many times I was cycling in complete mountaineering outfit (except for my harness), which probably was a pretty funny sight for most people crossing my path.
In the end, I actually needed everything I took with me except my rope. A friend was planning to join me for Mt. Elbrus, but 2 weeks before I arrived he had to cancel, therefore I climbed it solo. Because it’s not a difficult mountain I didn’t take a rope for myself up the mountain but I kept on carrying it on my bicycle.
The first 2 months I never used music to cycle with but from then on I got into more boring and desolate parts where music helped me a lot to keep up the spirit. My brother gave me his IPod with some of his own music on it. This gave me some emotional moments when suddenly hearing his voice in the middle of the desert.
Explorersweb: How did your life on the street, your survival skills helped you this far in your adventure journey?
Jelle: I think the most important factor in this is the mental aspect, when you feel everything is turned against you; it’s necessary to quickly change these thoughts and keep on going (that was my mantra once in a while: don’t give up, keep on going).
So in that way I’m hardened for tough situations and will keep my head up for almost anything. I discovered that I’m a really stubborn person when I’m trying to achieve a goal, which really helps in journeys like this.
In a more practical way I could use lot of skills from the street into this trip. Especially things like how to save water, to keep warm and efficient in cold environments, and having inspiration to fix things with reduced possibilities.
On March 30 Jelle will continue his journey. From Kathmandu he will cycle to Phaphlu, leave his bicycle there and continue to Everest Base Camp by foot. 15 days later he’ll arrive in BC and will start the climb Everest.
Jelle is still trying to bring awareness and raise money for the Shangrila Home. After arriving and spending more and more time there he decided to keep dedicated to this beautiful project, he says to ExWeb.
2013 Best of ExplorersWeb
ExWeb interview with Jelle Veyt, from a street kid to an adventurer
Jelle Veyt’s pages:
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