18 January 2021
Year 11 girls at Portsmouth High School celebrated the end of their spring online assessment period with a virtual ‘Aspire Day’ which, this year, included a virtual presentation from British adventurer and writer, Charlie Walker.
Aged just 22, Charlie set out on a bicycle journey that was to span 4 years and cover more than 40,000 miles through 60 countries. It was his first long journey. He was young and naive; powered by curiosity and a lust for life. Challenges on the road included crossing the Sahara twice, pedalling illegally through Tibet in winter, and battling with mosquitos and churned mud roads in a Central African monsoon. Yet, the biggest surprise was the kindness of strangers he encountered. Along the way Charlie was invited into mud huts, mosques and monasteries, lonely yurts and lavish embassies. His epic journey took him across the Tibetan plateau, Mongolian steppe, Congolese jungle and Arctic tundra, travelling over 50,000 miles by bicycle, foot, horse, raft, ski and dugout canoe.
When asked by his parents how long he would be away for he worked out, on a basic map, using his thumb as a gauge on how many miles he could cycle in a month;
‘Four years,’ he replied. ‘I wanted to keep life simple and stripped down. It wasn’t until I reached Singapore that I was daunted by the ambitious task that I’d undertaken.’
When embarking on this seemingly endless task, Charlie never believed he would finish. However, as the odyssey unfolded and confidence grew, the idea of completion gradually shifted from impossible to inevitable.
In the afternoon, the girls were tasked to work in groups to plan their own epic journey which they then presented back to the rest of their tutor groups.
The winning teams were awarded a £10 Amazon voucher each after they designed intrepid, exciting and well-planned expeditions inspired by the morning’s presentation.
‘You need to have three things,’ Charlie told the girls. ‘Positivity, passion and self-confidence. Make your own mistakes; giving up was simply not an option.’
The girls asked many questions from how did he communicate if he wasn’t familiar with the language to how did he deal with loneliness.
‘I found it really hard being on my own. I’m generally a sociable person,’ said Charlie. I found being on my own one of the hardest things.’ ‘The fermented horse milk and fried spiders legs were amongst the most difficult to eat.’
Emma Corti, 16, said:
‘I found Charlie’s talk was so inspirational and gave me lots of ideas for future travels in places I would never have thought of.’
Sofia Syed, 15, added:
‘His stories were so interesting and showed a lot about the similarities and differences in life across the world.’
Mrs Wood, Head of Year 11, added: ‘during lockdown our pupils’ worlds have shrunk dramatically as they stay safely at home. After two weeks of intense work, following a taxing period of revision and uncertainty, I really wanted to give them the opportunity to revisit the great outdoors (albeit through the power of technology for the time being) and consider the opportunities and excitements that await them in the future. The pandemic has forced us to reconsider many things which we may have taken for granted a year ago, like, for example, the freedom to travel. Charlie’s presentation was so inspiring and has certainly helped spark the flame of adventure for our Year 11s.’