Royal Warrant

Two World Firsts With One Home Workout

Imagine trekking alone through the pitiless heat of the Gobi desert, hauling a trailer weighing as much as Anthony Joshua – it almost killed Ash Dykes, but he credits a gruelling home workout with saving his life

True determination is a rare quality. Men are not often truly defeated by the failure of our flesh, but the frailty of our minds. Exiting your comfort zone is the only way to pressure test your will, but our comfortable lives resist this, so it takes a bold mindset to turn home into hell.

By the time he was 26 Ash Dykes had achieved two world firsts. Titans of exploration, such as Robert Scott, would have approved of Dyke’s achievements of being the first to walk alone across the whole of Mongolia, for 15,000 miles, and the first to trek the length of Madagascar, through dense jungle while summiting eight of its highest peaks during cyclone season.

More than the expeditions themselves, ‘Golden Age’ explorers would have been impressed by Dyke’s commitment to preparation, using the whatever items were to hand to build next-level physical fitness, as well as the kind of mental fortitude that draws the line between survival and surrendering to the elements.

While training for his first expedition, this extreme athlete could not afford a gym membership. So, using nothing more than home equipment including a sledgehammer and tractor tyre, a pull-up bar, and a weighted backpack, Dykes built his phenomenal fitness in his parents garage and garden, using all-weather three-hour circuits, combined with endless runs and cycle rides.

Now, he is setting out to achieve another world first – trekking the 4,000-mile length of the Yangtze river is going to take at least a year and all the determination Dykes can muster...

It was like pulling a concrete block through hell – I realised that I could easily die out here

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Q: Why did you do home workouts to prepare for your first proper expedition, a solo trek across Mongolia?
A:
‘When I returned to Old Colwyn – from traveling in Thailand – I had £200 to my name so I couldn’t afford a gym membership, but I knew I would be man hauling a mild steel trailer, weighing as much as a baby elephant, across a whole country of five thousand miles, through some of the world’s harshest terrain.’

‘I would be outside early in the morning, in the dead of winter, in the rain and the wind flipping a tractor tyre, and beating it with a sledgehammer I had bought from my local hardware store. I designed a three-hour circuit that I knew would build up my inner core strength as well as durability, strength, coordination, flexibility and balance, and I’d train six days a week.’

Q: So you weren’t tempted to find a more comfortable way to train?
A:
‘The more you put yourself in uncomfortable situations then, inevitably, the more comfortable you will become. I knew I wouldn't have a choice in Mongolia, at 3000m and -10°C in the Altai Mountains, or in 40°C heat crossing the Gobi desert for five weeks. I had my worries and I thought the only way to eliminate not being able to push on in these extreme environments was to train very hard – the more I trained the stronger and tougher I would become.’

Q: How did you stay motivated and fuel your determination to stick with the workouts?
A:
‘I’m into calisthenics so I would see someone doing something and think: “That looks interesting, how hard can it be?” I’d then fail dramatically at it and say to myself: “Right, I want to put the training in place to master that skill.” Things like the one-handed pull-up and the muscle-up, which I can now do. That would inspire me to get out and train.’

Q: Did your gruelling fitness regime paid dividends out in the wilderness?
A:
‘Yes, crossing the Gobi Desert solo and unsupported for five weeks, I was dehydrated, delirious and suffering from heat exhaustion. My head was spinning and I was seeing things that were not there; it almost felt like there was someone else there with me at times. I was in pain and the sun would just not let up, there was just no escape. It was like pulling a concrete block through hell. I found myself taking 50-minute rests under the trailer and I realised if I kept doing this this I wouldn’t get to the next settlement’s water and shelter for seven days, by which point it would be too late. I had to make it within four days or die out in the Gobi.’

‘It was the bottom of all bottoms because it’s not only your mind, it’s your body that’s exhausted so everything is against you. The training saved me because I have always pushed myself extremely hard, whether fighting in a Muay Thai bout in the heat of Thailand or flipping tractor tyres in the winter rain of Wales.’

Q: You’re setting off to attempt the first ever trek of the entire 6,437km length of the Yangtze River – is there a stretch that looks particularly tough?
A:
‘It’s the highest source of any major river at over 5,000m so I will start high on the plain in sub-zero temperatures and then go down into sub-tropical ones. But there is a V-shaped valley that blocks access to the river for about 300-400km. The Chinese seem worried about it and it’s the deepest part of the Yangtze – it’s narrow, fast-flowing and super-dangerous with sheer cliff faces and no path to follow. I will have to try to scramble up the cliff faces and traverse the ridges. No one has found a route through before, but I’ll deal with that when I get there!’

You can find out more about Ash Dykes’s one-year mission to trek the length of the Yangtze at www.ashdykes.com/yangtze