Our amazing Challenge Leader, Eleni, has led loads of our treks and cycles around the world and since chatting with her in early 2022, so much has happened that we’re back for more! In the past year, Eleni has cycled from Kilimanjaro to the Coast and trekked in the jungles of Borneo, scouting out our routes and safety-assessing our challenges.
In this interview, Eleni reveals what we do to make sure our challenges are always safe (and spectacular!) and what you can expect on two of our upcoming overseas adventures, Trek Borneo and Cycle Kilimanjaro to Coast. Read on for her top tips, training advice and what to look forward to.
What’s involved in a Dream Challenges “recce”?
When I get sent out on a Dream Challenges recce for the overseas challenges, the basic idea is to check over everything that has been pre-arranged by the Ground Handler (the local agent in the destination country).
I make sure the hotels meet our safety standards, that the areas available for us to use are suitable for our challenge briefings, group dinners, and generally fit for purpose for our groups. Of course, as Dream Challenges take us all over the world, the standards of accommodation and common practices in each country can vary wildly, but that’s just part of the challenge and adds to the experience!
I also record and risk-assess the routes, and this sometimes involves changing entire days that the Ground Handlers have planned, as it can be deemed unsafe, too challenging or not challenging enough! There are many other aspects to consider on the recce, like lunch stops and whether the restaurants can cater to our varied dietary requirements, bus access, emergency evacuation plans, luggage transfer, numbers of local crew, water supply, snack stops and even toilet availability!
How was your time assessing our trekking route in Borneo?
Hot and sweaty – whilst at times being surprisingly quite cold! Borneo is going to be one hell of a challenge and for me, quite different from many of the other challenges I have led.
What are the top three things you think participants will love about the challenge in Borneo?
The adventure! We really are getting off the beaten track, with our local challenge leader hacking through the tropical bushes and trees on a particular jungle trail just for us!
The scenery, hanging bridges, tropical rainforest, flowing streams and amazing views when we come out of the jungle all make for amazing vistas that are so different from what we are used to in Europe.
The camaraderie on this challenge, more than any I have worked on, will rely on teamwork and support, both with the crew and fellow participants. It will all lead to a tight knit group having an amazing, shared experience.
Do you have any training advice for people taking on our Borneo challenge?
Go out, get your boots on, find narrow, steep and muddy trails and practice your off-road training. This challenge is not about distance, but we’ll spend hours on our feet and need a bit of balance trekking on slippery, uneven terrain.
What’s the terrain and what kind of weather can we expect in Borneo?
HOT, WET, DRY, COLD! I experienced all weathers on the recce. The rainforest is, of course, humid, hot and sticky and tropical downpours in the afternoon are to be expected, but then surprisingly, at night it can be quite cold. I was very pleased to have my thin, but real, sleeping bag with me, not just a liner.
After completing the Kilimanjaro to Coast recce, could you summarise our cycling route in Tanzania?
Tanzania is an amazing country, full of happy vibrant people, and the ride from the base of Kilimanjaro to the Coast does not let them down. We will traverse the roads out of Moshi, the trails and tracks that spread across the country and pass remote villages, spotting wildlife as we make our way to the sea.
Most days, we will ride away from the tarmac roads and make our way across the country on dirt tracks that take us to some of the most remote areas in Tanzania. We pass through villages that may have never seen tourists before!
Did you see any animals when you were out there?
Actually, not many, a few monkeys of various species and a couple of dogs. But we were zooming along in a noisy vehicle whilst planning the recce. I believe out on the bikes, with reduced speed and noise, we’ll be more likely to see wildlife.
What are the highlights of the challenge?
The whole thing, the people, the country, the music, the food, all of it!
And what are the most challenging parts of the adventure?
The amount of off-road cycling. The tracks are good quality and are used as roads across the country, but it will be bumpy on the bum and tougher cycling purely due to the extra friction from the trail.
Top tips for people taking on our Kilimanjaro to Coast cycle?
Train off-road, bring padded bum shorts, a gel seat and maybe your own saddle.
Which other challenges are you taking on in the near future with Dream Challenges?
This autumn, I’m cycling in Sri Lanka and from Kilimanjaro to the Coast, trekking in Borneo and taking on both cycles in Kerala.
Early next year, I will be back in India for Mumbai to Goa, as well as Thailand for the Big Heart Bike Ride. I’m hoping to also return to some old favourites next year, including the Great Wall of China Trek and Cycle Vietnam to Cambodia, but that is yet to be decided.
What advice would you give to anyone who had concerns over their age or fitness level?
The challenges are for everyone. Obviously, train as much as you can, but on the challenge itself, it is NOT about completing every mile. It is about doing your best and enjoying yourself.
DC always send at least one UK doctor (two for larger groups) on a trip, should you have any health concerns and the support vehicles and staff are ALWAYS nearby should you need to take a break. The training, showing up and trying are what it is all about.
Which challenge are you most excited about?
I’m always excited by new overseas challenges and as the four this autumn are all new routes, I can’t wait to show the groups the amazing places we’ll be heading.
Each trip and destination are places I either LOVE or have been wanting to visit for a long time. I have never been to Thailand, so getting out for that recce and then experiencing it with a group is very exciting! I always knew my job was special and I feel like the luckiest person ever to have such a wonderful working life.
Covid has made me appreciate how much it means to me and how special the ability to travel the world while meeting some of the world’s greatest souls truly is.
Feeling inspired? Experience a Dream Challenge for yourself
If Eleni has inspired you, why not join her or one of our other awesome challenge leaders on a Dream Challenge? Trek through the mesmerising mountain vistas of the Himalayas, cycle in India and Egypt or even explore the Inca Trail and the Amazon Rainforest in Peru.
That’s just to name a few of our upcoming adventures. With the whole world to explore, we’ve got many more in store. Find your Dream Challenge here and prepare for the best experience of your life.