Ash Dykes: the good, the bad and the ugly of Mission Yangtze

Water-to-Go ambassador, Ash Dykes, is continuing to make great progress on his current mission to trek the entire length of China’s Yangtze River. He has already passed the half-way mark and is encountering a new side of the Yangtze as he goes from very rural to more urban parts of this amazing river.

We wanted to get the thoughts of Ash after getting to the half-way point in his expedition and his observations so far. In particular, we were interested to hear about the food, the people and his observations of the Yangtze in general. It is clear that there has been a good, a bad and an ugly side of Mission Yangtze.

A lot of people in the UK and the western world are into their Chinese takeaways and have asked Ash whether or not the typical Chinese takeaway meals, are the same as the actual dishes in China. The quick answer would be “no, not really”. In China, it’s better, healthier and there is so much more choice, with the dishes being different in each province.

One of the first places Ash visited was Quinhai, a province in West China, which is one of if not the most wildest parts of Asia in general. There are a lot of locals still living the nomadic way of life, herding their yak and moving from place to place. There are a lot of mongols that Ash has come across, living with their families in nomadic tents and yurts. Up here at 4000 to 5000 metres above sea-level, they experience very extreme conditions. It is very wild and isolated. The temperature is below 0 most of the time, and in Winter it hits -30 degrees Celsius or more

So their food is very heavy and stodgy with a lot of calories to keep them energised. Qinghai Province (west China) which has more of a Tibetan food influence, is made up mainly of fats, proteins and dairy products. It’s heavy and stodgy food that is well needed for those kinds of environments, where there are harsh temperatures and it is at altitude. Ash had a lot of Yak meat, yoghurt, bread, milk, butter and tsampa (roasted flour, usually barley flour and sometimes also wheat flour. It is usually mixed with the salty Tibetan butter tea and great to actually carry with you on long hikes).

When Ash’s journey started to drop in altitude and he ventured into the Sichuan province, the food started to dramatically change. The climate was warmer, there were more plantations and vegetation, the food was far more diverse and a lot tastier, with herbs and spices added to the mix. Sichuan is famous for its spicy hotpots (originally from Chongqing) and the food here does have a kick.

Breaking into Yunnan, they have everything here with so many great dishes. They have all the vegetables, all the meats; and produce loads of meals, suited for all types of eaters. This has been Ash’s favourite cuisine of #MissionYangtze so far.

If you have been following Ash on social media, it is clear that there is an awful lot to experience and witness along the Yangtze river, much of which hasn’t been explored before. The Yangtze is officially the third longest river in the world. In fact, it is only a tad shorter than the Amazon or the Nile – only a couple of days extra walking to make up the difference according to Ash.

People assume that, because of the sheer size of it, the Yangtze is very heavily polluted but to say that, you would be very much mistaken. It perhaps is at the end of it and Ash will observe this at the end of his expedition. Ash has walked over 2000 miles so far and the river has been brown at times. But this is mainly because of the heavy storms they experience there; washing down dirt and clay off mountains in the water and turning it that colour. At the moment, Ash is happy to report that it is blue and very fresh, clean, clear.

“This is another shock. I thought I’d find polluted water – but the 2,000 miles of what I’ve done so far, has been quite fresh. It’s blue and there’s lots of wildlife. Now I’ve hit the halfway point and I’m starting to go north-east, towards Shanghai, I will start seeing a different river. I don’t look forward to seeing that. I took a last look at the Yangtze in all its health, nice and blue.”

Ash Dykes

So there is a lot of good work being done that Ash has seen and been told about by the locals. There is a lot of protection for aquatic life and endangered wildlife in particular. Ash only learned a few weeks ago that there is there is still the wild dolphin along with the Yangtze alligator that still habits there; that was originally written off as being extinct.

Ash has walked through the main Yangtze provinces of Yunan, Sichuan and Qinghai so far. Each province has its own different people, dialects, feuds, plantations and vegetation. Ash has experienced a different way of life in each of these provinces which has only furthered his knowledge of the Yangtze and China as a whole. But one thing has remained the same – the people and their manner. Wherever Ash has been, the locals have been so friendly and hospitable. He has been welcomed into the community and has been offered a place to stay and eat wherever he has been. The people always try their best to accommodate.

However, it hasn’t always been easy when the people have tried to show their kindness. This ‘kindness’ has often ended up with Ash being detained and questioned by the police! Ash has gone to such wild places that they don’t know what to do so they just end up calling the police. The police have often rocked up at 2/3 am – not to cause harm but to question him as they are worried for his safety. Ash is aware that they might not have seen a westerner before and this has been part of the confusion. The policed have taken him in but always let him go eventually. Ash has just taken it in his stride and accepted that it has just a part of mission.

One of the main aspects of Ash’s expedition was to experience the people and the different cultures along the Yangtze. Ash has been surprised at the sheer number of communities and people that live along and depend on the Yangtze. There are at least 111 cities along the Yangtze, that Ash is aware of, that have a population higher than New Zealand which is staggering. With it being so long at 4000 miles, the Yangtze caters for everyone so you find a diverse range of people that live along there.

The first half of his journey has taken him through China’s ‘wild west’, exposing him to the elements and vistas of jaw-dropping beauty. Now he’s preparing to tackle the urbanised east, where human development dominates and cities are interspersed with paddy fields.

“The first half [of this trip] was always anticipated to be the most difficult. It’s sensitive being so close to Tibet and it’s so remote and wild. The terrain was tricky, temperatures dropped below minus 20C, there were snow blizzards and there was a threat from bears and wolves.”

Ash Dykes

The mission got off to a fairly rocky start – complications with permits, visas and his support team have pushed the challenge back by a few weeks. “On the way up the mountain I lost my videographers through a combination of altitude sickness and the extreme cold,” says Dykes. “Then, my local guide was doubled over and I checked on him, his nose was bleeding and he was struggling for breath. He’s a local Tibetan, who lives in a village at about 3,500 metres [11,500 feet] [above sea level], but even he had to turn back.” This was a big wake-up call for Ash and everyone following the expedition to realise the sheer danger and harsh conditions that is encompassed with this mission.

Despite this, Ash has carried on like the true Welsh warrior that he is and was delighted to reach the half-way mark after so many setbacks and difficulties. However, Ash will be facing a different set of challenges as he starts to travel through the more urban parts of the Yangtze. Ash still has another 2000 miles of adventuring through Chinese terrain where he will encounter fresh challenges and amazing experiences along the way. Ash is prepared for what is to come over the next several months.

“There will be different challenges – maybe snakes and spiders. I can’t go trampling on someone’s land so I’ll have to go around and that’s going to be more annoying and irritating than anything else. The river is a lot deeper, so the tributaries are wider and there’ll be more detours. The river is just under 4,000 miles but this will end up being more than a 4,000 mile trek.”

Ash Dykes

Whilst the many changes in scenery, people and food; there is one thing that remains the same on his journey that is always there – his Water-to-Go bottle. He has carried his trusted Water-to-Go for the duration of this mission and his 2 previous world firsts across Mongolia and Madagascar to keep him healthy and hydrated with safe clean drinking water.

There have been many points along this mission where he has been desperate for water and has simply filled his Water-to-Go bottle with water straight from the Yangtze itself and the 3-in-1 technology filter has allowed him to drink it straight away.

His Water-to-Go bottle has been an essential item on all of his travels to provide him with safe, drinking water wherever he is. Not only does it help him save money, but it also helps him to save weight and save the planet by not needing to purchase single-use plastic bottles that we find so often polluting our rivers and oceans.

A major part of Ash’s expedition is to travel responsibly and sustainably, and the Water-to-Go bottle allows him to do this. Ash has been explaining this to the people he meets on his journey and is trying to help them become more sustainable as a community. Water-to-Go is the ideal alternative to single-use plastic bottles and we are delighted that Ash is promoting this message on his biggest expedition yet.

Overall, Ash is pleased with how his expedition is going and everything that he is learning about the Yangtze. He is looking forward to the next chapter and will look to keep us all updated with his progress.

Keep track of Ash on his live tracker

So make sure you keep up with Ash on social media as he continues his expedition and experiences the beauties of the Yangtze and China in general.

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