Tyred and emotional after epic cycle ride

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IT’S a feat of endurance cycling that’s impossible to soft pedal.

After four years working in the exotic surroundings of Thailand one determined cyclist elected to take the long road home – by bike.

And on Saturday, having travelled 11,000km through 11 countries on two wheels. Abi Wingate returned to her native city of Edinburgh, crossing the line seven months after it all began.

In the course of the epic adventure – that took her across China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Europe – the 33-year-old survived a harsh Eastern winter, baying packs of wolves and a potentially catastrophic brake failure 16,000ft up a Chinese mountain range.

She undertook the titantic road trip in a bid to raise awareness for suicide prevention charities after a close friend took their own life.

Ms Wingate, from Stockbridge, who has herself suffered depression in the past, has amassed more than £10,000 in fundraising to be donated to the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

Recuperating in her parents’ home in West Lothian, she revealed the greatest challenges of her gruelling expedition.

“Almost the whole of China was the most difficult part,” she said. “The language, the roads, the pollution and being treated like an alien had landed from outer space by almost everyone who laid eyes on me was tough to get used to.

“I don’t think many people in rural China have ever seen a woman in lycra cycling through villages.

“The very high altitudes were another challenge. At one point we were cycling at 16,000ft with an inaccurate map when the road completely disintegrated and turned into a track with big boulders to navigate. It was snowing, freezing, the sun was setting and suddenly my cycling partner’s brakes failed and I had to leap off my bike and stop her hurtling down the hill.

“We had to pull off at the side of the road and put up our tent there. We didn’t know where we were because of the dark and we were suffering from altitude sickness, insomnia and anxiety.”

In Kazakhstan, Abi had to rely on the kindness of strangers to allow her to pitch up next to restaurants following warnings about bloodthirsty wolf packs roaming the terrain.

“They told us not to camp out or we would die,” she laughs.

She also had to decline the kind culinary offer a pig’s penis – a delicacy in parts of China.

“The most difficult part was that you never knew what was going to happen,” she said. “It never goes the way you expect because there’s so many variables: the road disintegrates, their construction, your maps are wrong, the weather closes in, your bike breaks down, you can’t find food, it’s a constant battle and nothing is as it seems.”

In the course of her expedition she suffered a slew of injuries including a broken finger, trapped nerve and tendonitis in both knees.

But she said nothing would derail her ambition to get home by bike.

And she added: When I was coming to the end I had really mixed emotions. I couldn’t wait to be home and have the comforts of western food and being able to speak the language but I was thinking how much I was going to miss this trip where every day is amazing.

“But ultimately I just wanted to see the people I love.”

To donate, visit www.cycle instead.com

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com