David covers Asia on his own steam

David Burns and Maghnus Collins
David Burns and Maghnus Collins

HE is lucky to be home in one piece.

After around 10 months spent travelling across an entire continent by foot, bicycle, kayak and raft, Coleraine man David Burns has now returned home safe to his parents and girlfriend.

During parts of the trip, the 28-year-old said he and travelling partner Maghnus Collins ran the equivalent of a marathon daily for over a month, before tackling the river rapids of the upper Yangtze – a feat that is rarely attempted because it has claimed the lives of many adventurers before.

And that is just a small portion of the trip.

They finally completed the trip on January 16, when they arrived into the metropolis of Shanghai.

They flew back into Dublin on Sunday, from where David drove up to Coleraine.

His first meal upon getting back into the country? Bangers and mash.

“I’d planned that one for a long time,” said David.

The whole effort has been to raise around £40,000 for the charity Self Help Africa, and they are now roughly at the £30,000 mark.

Speaking yesterday, he said: “It’s 10 months to the day nearly, pretty much (since we set off).

“It’s only just sinking in now. It’s a nice relaxing feeling to know you’ve finished.

“It’s during the thing that you get excitement – and real highs and lows. And when you finish it’s just a relief – relief and disbelief.

“It’s just hard to think we’d actually got it done.

“It’s been in our minds so long and just seemed impossible a lot of the time.”

A map of the trip is below – showing the men starting off on bikes from Istanbul to Pakistan before heading north through India into the Himalayas, then to inland China, where they ran to the mouth of the mighty Yangtze river in the Tibetan plateau.

Now David is home, he has no immediate plans to undertake another such adventure.

He had only seen his girlfriend for three weeks since setting off from Ulster in March last year, when she came out to Kathmandu in Nepal for a visit.

Now he is home, he said: “I wouldn’t think I’d be allowed off on another one too soon.”

The hardest part of the trip was the roughly 1,000km (more than 620 miles) run, largely uphill, from Xining to the mouth of the river.

“At that time of year, July and August, it’s quite a beautiful area.

“People would come past and get out of their cars, clapping us. We just looked so odd, I suppose – Westerners running with backpacks and water, and clearly in pain a lot of the time.

“That was the most physically demanding part.”

They had to stop for one day en route, according to David, “just because our bodies were falling apart”.

Maghnus, from Limerick, became ill on that leg, but had to keep going regardless.

When the pair reached the river, it was the most dangerous of all. Although David brushed off suggestions that he was lucky to be alive, he also said: “In the 1980s a few teams attempted it. One American team and three Chinese teams. It’d be less than 20 people who have ever been on the upper stretches of the Yangtze.”

At a rough guess, he estimated that about a quarter of those had died.

The men had capsized about 20 times. They had to remember not to panic, find calm patches in the water and swim to shore.

Sometimes, though, David said he just had to go through rapids on his back.

Did he ever feel like giving up?

“Obviously there’s days when it doesn’t feel bad and it all comes quite easily, “ he said.

“But then there’s an equal number of days it’s quite horrendous, and you have to go through those mental barriers the whole day.

“So many of the countries we travel are so remote and people have so much less than we do.

“Even though we’re in a horrible situation, our situation relatively is fantastic. It’s just the hand of luck, being born in Ireland – we’re so lucky. We talk about it an awful lot. It helps you to keep going and puts our pain into perspective a little bit.”

To donate to the charity, go to www.sand2snowadventures.com