September 16, 2007

TOUGH TRADE OFF:

Tim Cope: 'Civilisation feels like death to me': He has ridden 6,000 miles through some of the most remote, rugged places on earth. After three years, Tim Cope's journey in the footsteps of Genghis Khan is about to end... and he is already feeling claustrophobic (Independent, 16 September 2007)

This is a story so epic in scale and so close to the folk legends of middle Europe that it can only start in one way. Once upon a time... there was a young man who could never stay in one place for very long, because he yearned to keep travelling through the open countryside, under a big sky.

He learned to ride a horse and began to travel from the east to the west on a journey of almost ridiculous ambition: to cross the vast Eurasian Steppe, the plain stretching from the mountains of Mongolia to the pastures of Hungary, in the hoof-steps of the warrior emperor Genghis Khan. Without the rape and pillage though, obviously.

Tim Cope set off three years and three months ago. On Saturday the journey will come to an end at last, when he dismounts at the Opusztaszer National Park on the western edge of Genghis's former empire. Afterwards he will come to London, for a gathering at which some of the world's greatest adventurers will acclaim him as one of their kind.

"I don't know how I'll cope exactly," says the 28-year-old, who was baked by 54C sun in the deserts along the way and frozen by winter temperatures of -52C in the mountains. He appeared out of the heat haze and snow storm to astonish people living in the most remote places during the 10,000km (6,200-mile) ride and was often welcomed (but sometimes robbed). The lean, bearded stranger with the faraway look in his eye shared tiny yurt tents with large families, ate camel's head and goat's hoof, got food poisoning and fell in love, but always kept on moving. "This has become my way of life."

Out on the Steppe with only his three horses, a dog and the horizon for company, Cope would ride for four or five days without seeing anyone else. Under the stars, by the light of a fire, he wrote a blog on his laptop and sent home photographs of what he had seen.

The supporters and high-tech sponsors reading his website expected Cope to finish two years ago, but he was in no hurry. A series of arguments with border officials over the horses held him up for six months; his own tempo slowed too: living among people for whom rushing is "almost a sin", he learned to ride, eat, live and think like a nomad.

"I have changed so much," he says. The calmness in his voice is unsettling, but that comes from the nomads too, apparently. "They live out in the open in the toughest conditions I have ever seen, but they never complain. They just get on with it."


Electricity in exchange for the bitchy affluent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 16, 2007 8:41 AM
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