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Taking on the Inca Challenge
Alpaca in the Andes
Alpaca in the wild Andes mountain range...
Last updated: 16 January 2005 1437 GMT
line Cotswold-based reporter Paul Bull is planning to tackle one of the world's toughest events in South America next year...
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Inca Challenge

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The 32-year-old will be taking part in the Inca Challenge, a testing 1,000 kilometre mountain bike race through the Andes mountain range, in September 2005, to raise money for charity.

The Andes in South America

The three-week event has been set up by the Cirencester-based Venture Challenge group, which is also behind the internationally-renowned Polar Challenge race to the North Pole.

Teams of four will start out at the summit of a 6,000 metre volcano - Cerro Uturunco - in the Bolivian Andes, towing up to 25kg of equipment in suspension trailers.

The race will cross the Altipano semi-desert and the world's largest dried salt lake, Salar de Uyuni, before crossing into Chile for a final downhill dash across the Atacama Desert to the Pacific coast.

Paul, who's a reporter for the Wiltshire & Gloucestershire Standard newspaper, aims to raise money for the Cirencester Hospital Scanner Appeal and Cancer Research.

One long journey

We caught up with Paul in January 2005 for a quick chat about his impending Inca Challenge...

How long has it been since you last rode a bike?

"I haven't actually been on a bike properly since my teens. I used to be a very keen biker back in my teens but it's mainly been football and quite a lot of time in the pub since then, I've got to be honest."

How did you come across this challenge in the first place?

"I was quite heavily involved with Polar Team which is made up of Tony Martin - a gentleman from Cirencester [who's] a former army commando - and Richard Dunwoody, the champion jockey. I handled the PR for them when they took part in a race to the North Pole. When Tony got back he formed up a partnership with the winning team. They formed Polar Challenge, which is a race to the North Pole, and from there they formed a number of different challenges and Inca Challenge is one of those."

Did you actually look at it when you first saw it and say 'that's for me'?

"I suppose you get to a stage in your life where you go to work, go and have a pint in the pub, probably play a bit of football - I actually felt I wanted to do something with my life that could make a difference. I had a chat with Tony and asked him how feasible it would be for your average Joe Bloggs in the street like me to do something [like this]. He recommended the Inca Challenge and I've been really focused on it since."

You're going to be doing a gruelling 1,000km mountain bike race. For somebody who hasn't been on their bike since their teens that's quite a challenge.

"It is a challenge but it's certainly one that I'm relishing. The point about Inca Challenge is, yes it's a tough event but as long as you are a proficient cyclist and you've got a generally decent level of fitness then you can do it."

Do you know who the rest of your four man team will be yet?

"I've been back to my hometown to recruit a childhood friend of mine - Gareth Richards. Gaz is going to be doing it with us. I've had a good bit of news the other week with Mack McKinnon, a personal trainer from Cirencester, agreeing to do this. Mack is a pretty tough character, he'll give us a kick if we need it!

We're also looking for a fourth member. We did have somebody lined up but they can't make it due to other commitments. We have had some expressions of interest but it would be nice to get a female member [for the team]."

You're raising money for charity with this challenge. Are you allowed to pick the charity that the money goes to?

"Yeah, that's the whole point of it really. My team-mates have said that they want to do it for charity as well. Whether they'll share the same charity as me I don't know. I'm personally doing it, on a local angle, for the Cirencester Hospital Scanner Appeal and nationally for Cancer Research."

So how about the training then?

Paul trains in a gym

"I made the decision to do this event a week before my 32nd birthday in November [2004]. I've been training now for seven weeks. I started on my birthday, I thought I'd make that a point. I've got to say a big thank you to my local gym, who've really put me through my paces over the past weeks."

How long do you think it will take you to get fit for the challenge?

"Well, the work has already started and I certainly feel a lot better for it. I've definitely seen a difference already but things really hot up from the end of January."

Is it just gym training or are you out on the bike too?

"It's been gym training so far although I was out cross-country training on Christmas Day morning and I did the same on New Year's morning as well so no rest there! At the moment it's mainly gym work, trying to get the fitness levels up, lose a bit of weight and tone up a bit. The bike stuff starts at the end of January."

And what about the sort of terrain you'll be crossing? What do you expect to face there?

"Obviously the main obstacle will be the altitude. We start off at about 6,000 metres above sea level at the top of a semi-active volcano. The whole of the first six hundred kilometres of the race is above 4,000 metres so that's enough to contend with. We'll also be towing behind us, individually, 25kg packs with all our supplies in them as well. It's going to be pretty gruelling but there's lots of other aspects to the race too - we'll be crossing over the Altiplano semi-desert. We'll also be taking in the Salar de Uyuni which is the largest dried salt lake. Then it's all downhill from there, across the Atacama desert in Chile and make for the Pacific Coast where we're going to have a great big party on the beach which I'm really looking forward to. The scenery should be spectacular."

What about the accommodation?

"In the middle of the Andes? [laughs] There's no five star hotels so it will be pretty much under the stars. Obviously we'll have the camping equipment and everything to go along but again I'm looking forward to it.

And the weather? Have you got any idea what you'll face out there in the Andes?

"Well, it's the Andes again isn't it! The guys who are organising it - Tony and the team - will obviously be able to give us a good understanding of what's happening there. I suppose with it being the Andes it's going to be quite unpredictable. My understanding is that there are going to be different aspects of it with it being mountainous, there are going to be bits where it's quite cold but you'll also have other parts where it'll be scorching hot."


The Inca Challenge is in aid of charity and if you want more information, contact Paul at:

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