Equestrian to take Silk Road from U.K. to Japan

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

A young British woman is preparing to travel from London to Tokyo on horseback following ancient trading routes.

Becky Sampson, 24, will leave London at the start of August and plans to make her way through Europe, Central Asia and China before arriving in Japan in summer 2012.

The feat would span 15 countries and more than 15,000 km.

The experienced horsewoman is gearing up for a host of challenges on her epic journey, including deserts, mountains and all kinds of deadly wildlife.

But Sampson is confident she will be able to overcome such obstacles and arrive safely in Japan, where she plans to spend at least a year teaching English.

She decided to embark on the challenge because of her love of riding and interest in Silk Road trading routes, which connected East and West during ancient times.

The trip will fulfill an ambition that she has had ever since reading as a child about a man who rode around the world on horseback.

She will travel with a friend through Europe this year to the Czech Republic where she plans to spend the winter teaching. Next spring, her friend will return to Britain and Sampson plans to head to Turkey before riding to Iran, where she hopes to remain for the winter.

Spring 2010 will see her pass into the Central Asian states and she will spend the winter in Kyrgyzstan.

In spring 2011, Sampson plans to head to China and ride to Xian before traveling down to Shanghai, where she will arrive in the summer. After a stay in Shanghai, she will board a boat to Osaka.

From there, she will ride to Nara, one of the terminals of the ancient Silk Road, and then travel to Tokyo via Mie, Aichi, Shizuoka and Kanagawa prefectures. She aims to arrive in Tokyo in summer 2012.

Sampson will be able to ride her own horse, Bertie, all the way to Turkey, but from there she will have to hire horses in the various countries due to national restrictions and quarantine regulations.

Most of the way in Europe she will follow trails, but the further east she travels the less defined the route will be and she will have to rely more on maps and a compass.

She will camp at night most of the time, but in more hostile and remote regions she will rely on local guides and backup vehicles to carry supplies.

Winters will be spent working to raise money for the next stage of the expedition, which she will undertake in spring and summer months when the weather is better.

She believes the most challenging parts of her trip will be negotiating the Tian Shan mountain range between Kyrgyzstan and China, and the Taklimakan desert in China, which chillingly translates as “he who goes in does not come out,” according to Sampson. In the desert, she will swap a horse for a camel.

But it is not only the terrain that Sampson will have to worry about.

She says she will have to be wary of scorpions, bears and wolves on her trek, although the last just wanted to run alongside her during a previous horse trek in China.

Sampson has consulted with Britain’s Foreign Ministry regarding the route and is confident the trek can be completed in her time frame, although she does have some concerns about traveling in Iran and might have to change the route if there is any change in the political climate.

“There is absolutely no doubt I will complete it,” Sampson said. “Giving up five years of your life is a big commitment. It’s something I have always wanted to do. It has been my dream. I’m preparing for bad days . . . but there will also be some brilliant days.”

She says several people have ridden parts of the Silk Road before on a horse, but as far as she knows no one has completed a horse trek from London to Tokyo.

She is seeking sponsorship and will be raising money for charity SOS Children’s Villages, which aids underprivileged children across the world.

More information about Sampson’s trek can be found at www.expeditionequus.com