July 10, 2016
The Virgin Atlantic Adventurers were set up by Captain Chris Hall back in 2008 when he took a team of Cabin Crew and Pilots on a climb of Mount Fuji in Japan. Since then the movement has grown to cover challenges right around the world with over 1500 of our people and their family and friends taking part. The adventures are staff led and really challenge our people. They go way off the tourist trail and give everyone who takes part a really deep understanding of the people and cultures in the places we fly to. Lifetime friendships are formed and many describe the trips as life changing. The adventurers have also raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for Free the Children, our supported charity. Their motto? Have fun, do good. So if you ever see one of our people, exhausted, covered in mud but with the widest grin on their face, they are probably one of our adventurers. Helping Chris organise many of the more exotic challenges is Simon Foster of Grasshopper Adventures. Here’s his report on the latest trip which was a trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge in China:
Two years in the making, the opening run of Bike and Hike Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG for short) took place in May 2016 and saw 44 Virgin adventurers, family and friends flying half way round the world to remote Yunnan province in southwest China to cycle and trek through the world’s deepest gorge.
Here at Grasshopper, an adventure tour operator specialising in bike trips around Asia, we’ve arranged seven previous Virgin adventures, but this, the eighth, was the first inaugural adventure not to be accompanied by the man with the mission, Chris Hall, and whilst his presence was missed by all, it was equally a measure of the development of the relationship and Virgin’s commitment and determination that the trip went off without a hitch (well, barely …)
Cycle India, Trek China and India Rickshaw Ride are all tough acts to follow, but TLG was always going to be a cracker and aside from some bike issues (just getting 50 bikes up to the start point was a mission in itself), some folks feeling the altitude, a couple of minor falls, and a stomach bug, the whole adventure went off swimmingly, and from our perspective was a breeze to run – thank-you to each and every one of the tough 44 who made our lives easy. In fact, from our side the most stressful part of the trip was getting everyone through Lijiang’s magical maze of cobbled streets to dinner on the last night, and then more challengingly, getting back to the hotel and to the airport the next morning after a hefty helping of bai jiu, the local firewater ….
Maybe the riding was (a little J) more challenging than advertised, with nearly 3000m of climbing at altitudes between 2000 and 3700m above sea level, but this was easily compensated by the huge downhills (over 4000m of descent between the cycling and hiking) and the incredible scenery and people. Starting from a high pass at 3700m we cycled through Tibetan, Naxi and Yi villages, passing yaks, donkeys, goats and Buddhist gompas, gradually working our way down to the vast terraced landscapes of Baishuitai, whilst mighty Haba Shan (5396m) loomed in the background. On the final day of cycling the biggest downhill of the trip (22km!) gradually revealed the gaping chasm of Tiger Leaping Gorge itself, pressed between Haba Shan and the jagged peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (5596m). The next 2 days were spent hiking the high trail, perched three quarters of the way up this 4000m gorge, with spellbinding views at every turn.
As with all of the Virgin adventures, the physical challenge was given a real sense of purpose by its charitable context and all funds raised will be used to support the remote Yi Community of Aluo in Xide County in neighbouring Sichuan. In the capable hands of Free the Children, Virgin funding has already helped to build a new school in Aluo, and the donations raised from Bike and Hike Tiger Leaping Gorge will go to further improve life for the 5000+ people in the village.
Well done everybody.
Some quotes from people who took part:
“Whizzing downhill , spectacular views , wind-in-your-hair…………priceless.” – Simone
“Hills , hills , hills …..as always… a great trip.” Nicola
“The first day of trekking was awesome , magical & inspiring.” – Martin
“Everything about this trip was spectacular and at times I was torn between stopping to take photos and cycling downhill at top speed with a massive grin on my face (which I had the whole trip I might add).” – Toby
“Scenery,mountains,rivers,wildlife,meeting fantastic people,brilliant.” – Joanna
“This trip/adventure taught me a lot about China and the Chinese people. In many aspects it has been a revelation The real challenge, however ,is to raise awareness and money for Free The Children.” – Stephen
“It has surpassed anything I could have imagined. Though I feel the description of ‘mostly downhill bike-riding’ false , I can honestly say I have never felt such a sense of achievement. Every part of it truly was brilliant and I loved every second of it ….even the early wake-up calls and interesting toilet experiences !!! – Laura