Sunday, June 19, 2011

Endurance rider crosses Asia in Olympics quest

* by Rachael Misstear, Wales On Sunday
* Jun 19 2011

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She's slept inches way from scorpions and snakes, fended off attacks from wild stallions and broken her ribs and collarbone – all as part of an epic 10,000-mile journey on horseback.

But for 62-year-old West Wales pony breeder Megan Lewis her four-year challenge to ride from the Beijing Olympics to the start of the 2012 Games in London is fulfilling a lifelong dream.

The mum of three and – aptly – a former head of geography, has already packed a lot into her journey through life.

Now she is combining her lust for adventure and her experience of endurance riding with a bid to raise funds for her husband, Iestyn Thomas’s, charity Schoolchildren for Children.

Currently resting at her farm in Pumpsaint, Carmarthenshire, she has just completed her crossing over the Ural river bridge in Atyrau, Kazakhstan, to officially enter Europe.

Riding her horse Zorbee, she was accompanied by her cousin Rowena Gulland on her horse Bolashak.

Megan started her epic trek in October 2008 from the end of the Great Wall of China where it reaches the sea at Shanhaiguan on the Chinese coast.

In spite of encountering many setbacks and challenges, she has now covered 5,000 miles across the deserts, mountains and steppes of Asia.

In China she suffered a three-month delay recovering from a fall from her horse but such setbacks were not going to hold Megan back from her dream.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this and because I was brought up in the Far East, I’ve always had an interest in Asia.

“My husband has been fully supportive from the very beginning, as has the rest of my family. My children think I am completely mad, but are not surprised,” said Megan.

She said the worst moment of her journey came when she had the accident just nine days after starting out from the Chinese capital.

“I fell off my horse in northern Hebei, breaking my collarbone and six ribs and puncturing a lung. After a seven-hour drive back to Beijing, an operation to pin back my collarbone, and three months’ recuperation in the UK, I returned to resume the ride at the beginning of August.”

Megan is riding 20 to 30 miles a day on her trip across Asia and Europe and is in the saddle for between six and eight hours. Her journey, dubbed the Long Horse Ride, is designed to promote good relations between Britain and China.

Megan is carrying a message of goodwill from Beijing to London for delivery in the Olympic year.

On May 29, she completed the crossing of Kazakhstan and has returned home for a few weeks to organise the next leg across Russia and the Ukraine.

Despite the feat of endurance and frightening encounters with local wildlife, she says the journey is a great adventure and is very enjoyable.

“Coming through the Steppes, Rowena and I camped at night and when we gathered up our tents we found several scorpions underneath and I had been a little blase about leaving my boots outside. We’ve had a few encounters with deadly snakes but mainly they stay out of your way.

“My horse Zorbee wasn’t keen on camels and got a little bit nervous about them. While I was travelling alone I was approached by a wild stallion who wanted to investigate and that was a hairy experience but I’m used to horses so wasn’t too fazed.”

She added: “The most thrilling part for me was finding a gorge I had read about in a book called the Gobi Desert by missionaries Mildred Cable and Eva and Francesca French.

“They had described how they travelled by moonlight through the Tian Shan gorge.

“It took about nine hours but I followed their steps and it was like living a dream.”

Megan aims to reach the London Olympic equestrian venue at Greenwich Park in June next year.

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