People go on all kinds of extreme adventures for charity and some get more than they bargained for. Neil Hudson spoke to fundraisers prepared to go the extra mile.
When Chris Stanfield decided to walk 3,000km across Africa, including the Sahara Desert, he didn’t bargain on coming close to death or being arrested (twice) as a suspected terrorist.
But that’s just what happened to the former Leeds chef.
Chris’s African adventure began after he read a book about a maternity hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland, which was founded by a woman called Edna Adan. The story inspired him so much that he came up with an idea, to walk more than 3,000 miles from Cairo, Egypt, to the hospital.
The only problem was it meant crossing one of the most inhospitable, not to mention huge, deserts on the face of the planet – the Sahara.
In order to survive the extreme heat, Chris came up with an ingenious plan.
“I bought myself a camel,” explained the 25-year-old. “His real name was Charlie but I called him Falcor, after the Luck Dragon in the film The Neverending Story. There’s a background to that, because I’d already been travelling on my own across Europe about a year before and during part of that trip, I came to live on a camel farm called Castel Nou Rivierre Vass in the south of France for a while.
“I started out my journey with an American called David Adams and the idea was the camel would carry our food and water and David would film the whole thing for a documentary.”
But Chris’s plans hit a pretty major snag when he got to the Ethiopian border with Sudan.
“They refused to let the camel through, basically because camels are their main export and they didn’t want to have to be bothered with the paperwork. They also refused David entry because he was American. It meant I had to go on alone.
“I devised a cart on wheels to carry my water and food and I attached ropes to it so I could pull it.”
Undaunted, he set out with the cart instead of a camel and a miniature HD camcorder (as big as a matchbox) instead of a companion.
He had only been in the desert two days when he ran out of water.
“The first two days in the desert, I collapsed by the side of the road. The only problem with that was the ground was too hot to sit on so if I stopped I would just bake. My only option was to just keep on moving. I managed to stop a truck or two and get some water but they had a habit of keeping water in strange containers, so I drank water which tasted of petrol on more than one occasion.”
Having to beg for water from passing trucks in the middle of the world’s most notorious desert was a far cry from Chris’s life at home.
The former Leeds College of Art and Design student worked as a chef at Malmaison in Leeds for about a year and before that at Salvo’s, Headingley. His passion for travel, however, began much earlier.
Aged 18 and fresh out of college, he and a group of friends bought themselves round-the-world tickets, taking in the likes of Fiji, New Zealand and the US. The trip was the spark of something bigger.
Not long after returning home, Chris was bitten by the travel bug again and this time went off to Sardinia with nothing more than a tent and a modest amount of money in the bank.
“I just set off and thought I would see how far I could get. I ran out of money almost straight away and at times I had nothing at all, no money and no food. I had to go to restaurants and cafes and ask for food and most of the time they would give me something.
“But my health suffered, especially as I travelled up through Italy and the temperatures plummeted to below zero. I would wake up in the morning and have to chip the ice off the tent. Washing was also an issue.”
It was during this trip Chris stayed on a camel farm run by an English couple in the south of France and it was there he learned of the maternity hospital in Somaliland.
“That story moved me so much so I decided to undertake a walk while I was there. It is called the Camino de Santiago and it’s a 1,500 mile walk to the most northwesterly part of Spain. I completed it and raised about a thousand pounds but after I’d done it, I decided I wanted to do something a hundred times bigger and raise a hundred times more money.“
The seed which had been planted quickly grew into a tree he felt he just had to climb.
“That’s where the idea to walk to the hospital in Somaliland took shape. When I returned to the UK, it was to raise money so I could make the trip happen.
“My family have been so supportive of me the whole way through. They did have concerns in the beginning, concerns about me not coming back, and they even tried to talk me out of it at one point but when they knew my heart was set upon doing it, they backed me all the way. I could not have done it without them.”
And that includes his grandparents sending him money to buy a new pair of shoes when his fell apart.
“They wired me some money because the ones I had been wearing I had to tie together with bits of string. In the end I bought a pair of Merrell walking boots and they lasted me the whole way, I still have them now. I tried to get sponsorship from Merrell but didn’t get anywhere, which is a shame because it’s a great advert for their boots. I’m still open to offers.”
But surviving the Sahara was not the most challenging part of Chris’s epic journey, as he explained.
“There were worse bits than the Sahara. I remember once I was half way up a mountain in Ethiopia, at something like 14,000ft and I was making ready to camp for the night – there were these huge pipes under the road which were meant to take flood water and I was going into one of those, I had the cart tied around my waist and I basically slipped and the cart dragged me down the mountain and I almost went over the edge.”
But an even worse experience was to come and it’s one he recalls with mixed feelings.
“When I was going through Sudan I was basically arrested as a suspected terrorist and thrown in a police cell for two days. I had to beg to go to the toilet and when they finally brought me food it was spaghetti in a carrier bag.”
Chris survived it all and, undaunted, he is planning more trips. Find out more at www.stanfields-somaliland.com
Training for desert challenge
Charity trekker Geoff Major is no stranger to strange climes – he’s already walked to the North Pole and in October will attempt to trek 100km across the Sahara.
The Leeds businessman will attempt a five-day hike across the notorious desert, braving temperatures of up to 35°C.
In order to train for the event, the 51-year-old has been taking an exercise bike into a sauna at de Vere, Oulton Hallin, Rothwell.
Geoff, who raised more than £13,000 trekking to the North Pole, will begin his first training walk this Sunday.
He said: “The hardest thing will be replicating the heat as the Sahara is going to be much drier and potentially so much more energy sapping.”
Geoff and his fellow fundraisers will ﬂy out to Morocco later this year before being transferred to a drop off point in the desert the following day.
In 2010 Geoff raised more than £3,500 for the duchenne Muscular dystrophy Trust after cycling 350km across Cuba.
Find out more at: www.charitychallenge.com/expedition1.html?id=1703
From suits to cycles, charity challenges are a ritual for masons
Chris Oldfield, 49, is a director of Dust Control Systems based in Dewsbury and is also a freemason.
Together with fellow freemason Rod Dyer, 50, he is going to attempt a gruelling cycle ride across southern South Africa.
The married father-of-two said: “It’s certainly a bit different than sitting behind a desk all day.
“The ride itself is 400km over five days, it doesn’t sound too bad until you factor in the heat and the fact it’s 50 miles a day.
“We are both looking forward to it, on the one hand because it’s something different and it’s a challenge and on the other hand because we will be raising money for charity.”
Chris has been a freemason since 1997 and is a member of the Mirfield Lodge.
He added: “Raising money for charity is almost second nature. If we can do something to help someone else less fortunate than ourselves, then we are happy to do it.”
Chris has already taken part in several cycle rides in the UK, including a coast to coast and Scarborough to Mirfield ride.
They plan to raise at least £7,000 for Regain, the UK-based charity for sports tetraplegics.
However, the dynamic duo will be paying around £1,600 from their own pockets to cover travel and living expenses.
The pair will set out on their journey in November, braving temperatures which regularly soar above 30 degree Centigrade.
Starting in Capetown, they will ride between 49 and 56 miles a day, ending on the fifth day at Arniston, Cape Agulhas, which overlooks both the Indian and Atlantic oceans.
Chris added: “We’ve done a few cycle rides together already, so we’re up for the challenge. I think Rod’s words were something like, ‘What can we do next to put ourselves in mortal danger?’
“We are going to have to be super fit to complete it and we have a lot of hard work ahead organising events to raise money.
“Please dig deep and donate now.”
Rod, who is also a freemason at the Mirfield Lodge, said: “I’ve done a fair number of cycle challenges in the past but this one will be quite hard, not least because of the temperatures and the terrain - it’s not all on the flat.
“Plus there’s the fact that you are doing it day in, day out for five days in a row, so there’s no chance to rest in there.
“I like a challenge, as does Chris, and if we can raise some money at the same time, all the better.”
Their ‘Just Giving’ web extension is ‘rodandchrisrideforregain’.