A load of logistics
I'm usually the sort of person who goes on holiday without even knowing where I might be staying on my first night (before I got married, at least). However, for my 5,000-kilometre winter walk from Mongolia to Hong Kong, in addition to getting physically fit, there have been all sorts of other bits of planning. To be honest, I sometimes think the actual expedition is going to be easy compared with these protracted negotiations and preparations.
First, there has been the acquiring of gear. In the past, I have often been on long cycling expeditions, where it is actually easy to load huge weights into your panniers, and apart from being slowed down a bit, there is not that much extra physical strain. However, this time we are walking, so my expedition partner and I will need to carry everything on our backs, which will be incredibly wearisome.
An experienced adventure journalist and Everest summiteer recently advised me that when it comes to packing we should 'halve what is in [our] backpacks ... and then halve it again' and then we would have the right amount of things.
This is excellent advice, but hard to follow, as even when we only have the essentials, we still have so much. What would you take with you if you had to carry everything on your back for six months?
Our list basically consists of essential clothes and camping gear. It will be winter, with temperatures around minus 20 degrees Celsius, so we need a decent tent, sleeping bag and stove, as well as lots of warm Berghaus clothes.
We are also taking some gadgets with us to stay in touch with and document our journey - cameras, phones and a lightweight laptop. We'll need a first aid kit (especially for those blisters), music to listen to by day, and a Kindle for reading at night. These may not seem essential, but keeping our morale up is as crucial as keeping our bodies going.
Furthermore, for much of the journey, we will also be carrying inflatable kayaks, which we will use to paddle down rivers (the Yellow and the Pearl).
So all this, plus food and water supplies, will amount to about 20kg - no more, we hope - and organising this list has also taken a lot of time.
A big part of our preparation has involved researching our route. Half of this has been logistical research - finding out about the weather conditions, border crossings, terrain, places to resupply with food and water. The other half has involved learning more about the history - ancient and modern - that has happened along our route.
For example, two days into our journey we will walk through a pilgrimage site in the Gobi Desert where a great Mongol saint is buried; two months in, we will encounter China's longest road tunnel (the second longest in the world), though we still don't know whether we'll be able to sneak through it rather than climb over the mountain through which the tunnel runs.
Finally, I have been trying to learn Putonghua. I was working on Cantonese (my wife's mother tongue) until about six months ago, but for this trip I have had to switch, and have been busy trying to learn through a mixture of book study and listening to the excellent ChinesePod mp3s, which I can do as I go on my training hikes in the Lantau hills.
So it has been an incredibly exhausting four months of preparation, and I have sometimes felt like a plate spinner - trying to work on many tasks at the same time and hoping they don't all come crashing down. If just one goes wrong, the whole expedition could fail.
But then I have to remind myself that as long as we are fit to walk, can find a place to sleep every night, and our batteries don't run out, we should be fine. As Livingstone once said, 'I will go anywhere, as long as it is forwards'.
I have tried to prepare mentally - bracing myself for months of adrenaline and exhaustion, and missing my wife, Christine. It is now only a week until we depart, and I think we are ready, or at least ready enough. And in a way, it will be a relief to actually start this huge thing.
Rob Lilwall's previous expedition, Cycling Home From Siberia, became the subject of a television series, a book and many motivational talks. Every week in Health Post, he will write about the progress of his new expedition, Walking Home From Mongolia, which supports the children's charity Viva. www.walkinghomefrommongolia.com.