One Steppe Ahead is the story of four journeys to Central Asia undertaken by Jamie and friend Matthew Traver in the course of a year. The Post Roads Expedition, the cornerstone and most demanding of the four projects, was originally inspired by Sir Charles Howard-Bury’s account of a horse ride through Kazakhstan in 1913.
After returning from a climbing expedition to southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, Matt and Jamie began to plan One Steppe Ahead and its related projects, mainly The Post Roads Expedition.
In total their projects ran for six and a half months across Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, between October 2012 to October 2013.
Tell us a bit about who you are and what projects you are currently involved with?
I’m an editor for Sidetracked magazine (online adventure travel) and have written my first book which focuses on the three years of my life that were dedicated to One Steppe Ahead. I’m also still planning and researching adventures to other parts of the world.
Can you remember much about your World Challenge Expedition to Kenya in 2005?
It is a lasting memory and my favourite part was climbing Mount Kenya (highest mountain in Kenya and the second-highest in Africa - 5,199m) – the landscape was amazing and worldly. The expedition was a very rewarding and informative experience, and one that I will always treasure.
What motivated you to take part?
I’d always enjoyed the outdoors whilst I was growing up and as a result was very adventurous. I saw the World Challenge presentation and it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience that I couldn’t let pass me by.
The idea of climbing a really big mountain was extremely appealing – I’d read a lot of mountaineering literature and the physical challenge enticed me as well. I’d done a lot of hill walking in the Lakes prior to departure to help me acclimatise.
What did you learn from the experience?
The key attribute I took away was definitely confidence. I was quite a shy, withdrawn student prior to going away but World Challenge and that close integration with other pupils kick-started a degree of assertion within me and I definitely came back a better rounded person.
Everything in life is a learning curve but World Challenge definitely put me on the path to wanting to find new adventures all over the world and do more interesting and engaging things with my life. It was the catalyst and perhaps if I hadn’t have gone to Kenya then my life may have panned out differently!
Would you recommend a World Challenge expedition to other students and why?
Absolutely. It’s a very informative experience and you can’t get that level of immersion in other cultural societies by going on a standard package holiday.
What inspired you to attempt the One Steppe Ahead journey? Sir Charles Howard-Bury?
It’s a long story! I returned from a climbing expedition to Kyrgyzstan in 2010 where I was writing about a team climbing new mountains in the region. I went to this range called ‘the mountains of heaven’ and remembered reading a book about Sir Charles Howard-Bury who had visited the same region in 1913 and trekked into the Tien Shan mountains of Central Asia.
He was a relatively unknown character but extremely interesting so I thought it sounded like a good idea at the time to retrace part of his journey 100 years to the very day, which was horse-riding across Kazakhstan to get to the very same mountain range – the Post Roads Expedition. It then just took myself and Matt (Traver) three years to plan it. But after 1,100 kilometres and 63 days and with three horses, we managed it on 6 August 2013!
What were the highlights of your projects?
Being in the middle of nowhere with little water and food where temperatures were rarely below 30 degrees Celsius was tough and a nightmare at times – but at one point I just popped onto my horse and galloped off into the setting sun. It sounds very cowboy-esque but it was a definite highlight and made me quickly realise why I was doing what I was!
Did the information surrounding fitness and preparedness you learned on your World Challenge expedition, stand you in good stead for your journeys?
World Challenge was my first expedition so a lot of things that I had to deal with in Kenya like logistics in a foreign country, interaction with the locals outside of tourist hotspots, first aid, budgeting, team work and fitness helped prepare me for The One Steppe Ahead journey.
Being physically fit helps you to deal with stressful situations on expedition, most of which occur when you’re tired after a long, hard day and are out of your comfort zone. So if you’re physically fit then you can tend to keep things in perspective a lot more and as a result enjoy yourself and have much more of a pleasant time in a foreign country.
What tips would you give to anyone thinking about undertaking a significant challenge?
Running has always helped me and is very rewarding. On a more practical level, think long and hard about what you are going to take in your backpack – if you don’t know if you need it; you don’t need it. Just take what you are told to take, not the kitchen sink!
What would your one bit of advice be?
I can’t remember where I read or heard the advice, but someone said that the best thing you can do to complete your journey is to simply book your place on it because then you’re committed. I have always done that and if I have an idea for an expedition then I immediately book my flights to the country and then there’s no going back!
What three things would you make sure you took with you on expedition?
My Leatherman (pocket multi-tools and knives) as I use that all the time, a good book (Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is a firm favourite!) and a needle and thread – something always breaks when you’re on expedition.
For more information visit: www.jamiebunchuk.com
Jamie Maddison, Stroud, Gloucestershire – Kenya 2005