The ride of a lifetime

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WF chatted to explorer Laura Bingham about her incredible challenge

Adventurer Laura Bingham set out on a 6,500K ride across South America and got by with sheer perseverance, some tinned tuna and the kindness of strangers. We chatted to her about the ride of a lifetime.

What was your inspiration for this challenge? After I sailed across the Atlantic in 2014, having never sailed before, I received an incredible reaction from people who told me that I had inspired them. It then led me to think about what else I could do to inspire people. So I decided to cycle across South America, but take it one step further by doing it without money and to raise funds for an amazing charity called Operation South America.

How did you prepare? The most important thing is to prepare your mind. I love the phrase your body can take almost anything, it’s your mind you have to convince. But it’s important to practise beforehand with the weight – as cycling with weight makes a big difference.

What was most challenging? Travelling through the Andes in the rain really challenged me and I had to dig very deep for physical and mental strength. Finding food and shelter there was impossible.

How did you manage to persevere? Every day, I would just focus on getting to the end of that day and that’s how I dealt with it. Looking at the journey in its entirety was very daunting and frightening.

How did you get by without any money?  Through the kindness of strangers. I worked to thank people whenever I could, but some people wouldn’t let me and told me to save my energy for cycling. I found a lot of food on the side of the road too – like a box of 64 cans of tuna, which was pretty much my protein source for the majority of the trip!

You must have met some interesting people… I did, I met some amazing people with the kindest of hearts! I met a few travellers as well – like Darian from Columbia who had been living on his bike for seven years.

What was your biggest saviour? The knowledge that I had a house and money to come home to. It made me realise that even though I could understand what it was like for people to live without money, I could never understand how it felt to be permanently homeless.

What awareness are you hoping to raise? I am trying to raise money and awareness for Operation South America, a charity that gives young girls food and shelter.

Has this challenge changed your perspective on life? I’m still processing everything, but I’ve got a better understanding of how those who are less fortunate live. I look at homeless people now and have more compassion for them. Their life must be very hard. I want to continue to inspire people to explore not only the world, but themselves. I found inner strength in me that I never knew I had, sometimes you have to test yourself to see what you’re really made of.

It sounds like you’ve had an extraordinary life as an explorer so far, what’s been the highlight?  When I was sailing the Atlantic, a pod of dolphins started swimming next to the boat in the middle of the night. They stirred up all the bioluminescence and left trails of glowing matter through the sea. It was beautiful. Cycling through the Amazon was also amazing, I will never forget it!

We see you’re engaged to adventurer Ed Stafford. Are there any plans to do a challenge together? I would like to be a strong and independent explorer, so I have a few challenges I’d like to get under my belt first. Can’t have him steal my limelight, can I?

What’s next? Getting married! After that I’ve got another challenge in the pipeline – keep an eye of my social media to find out what that’s going to be…

Any advice for someone who would like to take on an extreme challenge? I will be honest, it’s tough, but that feeling of accomplishment at the end makes every tear worth it.

What was your prized possession? My Rab down jacket – it kept me warm and was a pillow all-in-one!

Life-saving snack? Bananas and maca powder.

Favourite song to cycle to?  Fight Song by Rachel Platten. That song got me through a lot of days.

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