The Epic Journeys of David Burns & Maghnus Collins


David Burns and Magnus Collins set off on their Silk Roads to Shanghai expedition
David Burns and Maghnus Collins set off on their 14,000 km expedition across Asia for “Self Help Africa”.

Boy, once the adventure bug bites, it really bites some people. Enter two Irishmen, David Burns and Maghnus Collins, mates from college who at age 23 decided to undertake a great adventure before settling into the workaday world.

The idea, hatched on a whim, was to bicycle home to Ireland from Cape Town, South Africa. It was a journey of eleven months and 17,500 km. That was in 2009 and – if you can believe it – wasn’t even their most ambitious project.

Map of the 14,000 km route taken by David Burns and Maghnus Collins
Map of the 14,000 km route taken by David Burns and Maghnus Collins.

Just weeks ago, on January 17th David and Maghnus completed their epic “Silk Roads to Shanghai” journey, from Istanbul to Shanghai, biking, running, and kayaking some 14,000 km across the heart (and Himalayas) of Asia.

I WISH I had had my cameras along for this one, guys. But I doubt I’d have been able to keep up. After bicycling 8,500 km across 3 deserts and most of India to Nepal (stage 1) our boys ran another 1,000 km (40 per day) across the Tibetan plateau into China (stage 2) before embarking on a 3rd and final stage, kayaking some 6,500 km down the Yangtze River to Shanghai. Woof!

Magnus Collins on the Yangtze River, China 2012.
Magnus Collins on the Yangtze River, China 2012.

Apparently, the Yangtze in northern China is so remote, they went 17 days without seeing another human. Bears awaited them on the river banks, birds of prey took the occasional swoop at them and some of the rapids were so wild they weren’t sure they had ever been run by man before. At one point Maghnus lost his kayak with all his provisions and pursued it for 3 days before losing it over a falls after a desperate, last ditch swim to catch it.

The fact that these two men scraped by on the equivalent of £2.50 per day, while delivering more than £33,500 in donations to Self Help Africa makes them even more heroic in my book. (As its name implies, the charity’s mission is to empower rural Africa to achieve economic independence). Between all their adventures, David and Maghnus have delivered £80,000 to the charity so far, a remarkable gift from two simple guys with bikes and kayaks.

Yet beyond the feat itself, I find myself particularly moved by this blog post by Maghnus. He wrote it just shy of finishing their journey, on a day when – as anyone who has traveled can tell you – you begin to grasp for meaning and perspective before re-entering the world as you know it.

Maghnus writes:

David Burns climbs into the Himalayas.
David Burns climbs into the Himalayas during their 8,000 km bike leg from Turkey.

silk roads to shanghai
Just one of the thousands of gracious hosts on their silk road to Shanghai.

The question of “why” remains, quietly persistent. And so, three years after first asking myself the question at a similar stage of an expedition I find myself again asking why? Then, as now, I cannot see past six simple words I heard somewhere on the roads, lanes and tracks of Africa, the Middle East and Europe; Not things, but men and women. The value and worth of this journey if any exist, exist only because of people. They exist in the help of friends and family who saw some themselves or valued us enough to back our judgement.  They are substantiated by the truly worthwhile and priceless works of a charity who’s creed belies the term. They reside in mothers who encouraged us to continue when every shred of their being wanted us to stop. They can be seen in fathers who made a mockery of the term ‘unsupported’ expedition. Hopefully some can be seen in the eyes of children who saw us passing and maybe saw a few new possibilities themselves. More still lies in the deeds of countless strangers who paused to share a wave or a roof. Why do I do this? Because of the people.

* * *

It’s a great blog and I highly recommend diving into it. Most of us will never undertake a journey of this magnitude and there are pearls of wisdom there to be gleaned.

There is also a charity ball honoring their return this month in Dublin. As usual, proceeds will go to Self Help Africa. I’m sure it will be an amazing bash and one hell of an occasion for story telling, so if you are anywhere close – get there!

sand2snow ball
The Sand 2 Snow Ball will be held February 15, 2013 in Dublin.

Here’s your invite!


Tickets available through their facebook page.

For those wanting to dig still deeper into this one, a 7 part video series documenting the journey is viewable on Vimeo, on their Sand2Snow Adventures Channel.

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