A FORMER Belfast Media Group paperboy who quit his job to take on the journey of a lifetime through South America says that over halfway through his trip he’s glad to have taken a leap into the unknown.
Chris Baird from Glengormley has spent the last seven months cycling the length of the Andes mountain range with two friends in aid of charity and already the friends have almost doubled their target figure of £25,000.
Chris, who was working in London as a lawyer, says it was a desire to travel that made him and his pals take the momentous decision.
“We originally wanted to cycle the length of west Africa, but after months of research we couldn't get comfortable with it from a safety perspective – nightmares of being held hostage by Boko Haram kept us awake at night,” he said.
“Still hungry to take on the challenge of cycling a continent, we decided on South America because we knew it would still be a huge task – scaling the Andes from start to finish is no mean feat. We were also intrigued by the diversity of the geography of South America, from the salt flats of Bolivia to the Patagonian forest, we knew we wouldn't be short of incredible views.”
Getting ready for the year-long challenge took time but it still didn’t quite prepare them for actually hitting the road.
“We did a lot of preparation to try to hit the ground running, but as Mike Tyson famously said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, which is pretty much what happened to us. We landed in Cusco at 3,400m above sea level and we hadn't completely realised how much of an affect being at that altitude would have on your body, especially when you're trying to cycle 60 miles a day.
“Tom got sick as early as day two, never really recovered, and ended up staying overnight in a local Peruvian hospital – not exactly a dream start. After that, we had to manage our expectations and learn very quickly what our bodies were actually capable of.
“Since those dark days, we've learnt a lot and made the experience more comfortable for ourselves. Seven months in, we jump on the bikes now without thinking and our legs just seem to spin.”
A year taking on such a gruelling challenge would test anyone’s patience but Chris says they’re still close.
“We were at university together for three years and then lived with each other in London for four years, so we know each other pretty well.
“We never really argue, we're all like-minded which helps – and if you do need your own space, it's easy to find it on the bike.
“I would say that when we lost one of our two tents in southern Chile we were definitely a little too close for comfort when we had to wild camp.”
It’s a long way from the world of corporate law.
“I was a corporate solicitor at the law firm Slaughter and May. I was incredibly lucky to work there and it was a terrific experience but when the opportunity came to take on the cycling challenge and raise a significant amount of money for a charity that works to help people with dementia, a disease which has had a terrible impact on my family, I couldn't really say no.”
So did lugging a North Belfast News paperboy bag up and down the hills of Glengormley help prepare him for the challenge?
“Luckily the houses on the Hightown Road aren't too far away from each other so I didn't have to cycle too far! I delivered the North Belfast News for four years from age 12 to 16 and I honestly thought it was great. We weren't poor growing up, but we certainly weren't loaded, so for me to be able to make my own and not badger my parents for pocket money was great. It's clichéd, but it also instilled a high degree of work ethic within me and, from a first principles perspective, taught me a bit about business – as soon as school finished on a Friday I would be straight out on the road with my paper bag, constantly thinking about how I could get more customers– and tips!”
Chris’s mum Suzanne says she and Chris’s dad are very proud of what he has achieved.
“We are incredibly proud of him, he’s far exceeded our own goals,” she said. “It’s fantastic that he’s raising the profiles of the charities and that taking part in the adventure is helping others.”
For more info or to donate to Chris’s chosen charities visit www.cusco2cusco.com