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Riding the Silk Road

Rossland's Dr. Brenda Trenholme to speak about five-month ride at Whistler Public Library
ROCKY ROAD Dr. Brenda Trenholme completed the Silk Road by bike last year, and will present about her experience at the Whistler Public Library on June 6. Photo submitted

Cycling along the Silk Road was, contrary to its name, not a smooth ride for Dr. Brenda Trenholme.

The now-65-year-old Rossland resident completed the 13,000-kilometre journey from Beijing to Istanbul over the course of five months last year, traversing through the Gobi Desert, western Siberia and across the Pamir Mountains. She'll be in town to speak all about it at the Whistler Public Library on June 6 at 2:30 p.m. Admission is by donation to the Kenya Education Empowerment Fund (KEEF).

As a lifelong cyclist, Trenholme had done mostly solo trips before doing a 12,000-km transcontinental African tour from Cairo to Cape Town, travelling with the TDA Global Cycling group for safety and security reasons.

"I'd wanted to see the interior of Asia. I'd explored some of its fringes but had never been to the middle of it," she said.

Even going with a group, there's plenty of advance work, such as organizing 10 visas and making travel arrangements. Trenholme said that once she's on her bike, all she's responsible for is riding.

'It's just such a relief to get on that bicycle and leave it all behind, considering that it's a hedonistic experience to have your meals made for you and your luggage carried," she said.

The trip was a grind, with only a handful of days off every month. When riding, the group would average 135 km per day, though it would be less than 100 when riding rocky, technical terrain and push 200 on flatter roads in good condition.

"We travelled through 10 countries and we went from capital city to capital city, usually. Otherwise, we were in very remote places," Trenholme said. "We'd ride for, usually, five to seven days and then have a day off. During the days of riding, we were camping in very remote camp spots ... On our rest days, we would usually be in a hotel if there was one around and there would usually be water and electricity so we could get cleaned up and charge our electronics."

Roughly 40 per cent of the journey was done off-road, as conditions varied greatly. Some of the toughest features, Trenholme explained, were deep sand and gravel.

"It's really high, remote and jagged and very steep (in Tajikistan, where it's poorly maintained)," she said. "In Kazakhstan, we had road, but they were in such bad condition that it was better to have not been on the road. They were so full of potholes that it was just like riding a jackhammer, bouncing and jumping all over the place."

As for the weather, there was only one day of rain in the 150-plus-day trip, though when it rained, it poured. Temperatures ranged from 0 to 47 C, with the ride through Turkmenistan never having conditions cooler than 40 C.

"You drink a lot of water, 12 or 13 litres a day," Trenholme said.

Along the way, Trenholme said Siberia was a pleasant surprise, considering the image just saying the region's name can conjure up. Russia, like many of the countries she passed through on the journey, has a bad rap because of its government, but is home to beauty in both its people and landscape.

"It was lush alpine, much like B.C. It's like B.C. on steroids, with beautiful infrastructure, great roads," she said.

"I felt as safe there as I did in North America," she added, citing the residents' "openness and friendliness."

The group was a mix of 14 international riders in their 30s through 60s from France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, U.S., Canada and Australia that signed up, though only 11 finished. Some riders, primarily younger ones, joined for different sections along the way, Trenholme said.

Trenholme is currently completing a bike tour of B.C. in support of KEEF, which provides scholarships to gifted but underprivileged students to help pay for high school education. Trenholme stressed that KEEF volunteers cover their own costs when doing work for the organization to allow for as much of the non-profit's income to go directly to the cause as possible.

Her journey began in the Nelson area on May 21 and will wrap on June 13 in Pemberton.

"After I rode in Africa, it was just such an amazingly rich experience that I thought I should give back in some way," she said.

Trenholme already stopped in Pemberton, but is eager to return to the Sea to Sky.

"It's not very challenging compared to the Silk Road ride. People were saying 'Wow, you cycled that road from Lillooet to Pemberton?'" she recalled. "I said 'Yeah, that was a fantastic ride. It's the best ride I've had in North America. It was a dream compared to the winds and the roads and elevation that we were up against in other places.'"

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