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Elevation Challenge 2015 – The Journeyy not the Destination

2 December 2015: posted by BigChange

There are those of us who believe that our abilities change over time. That challenges are opportunities to overcome and grow, rather than the limit of our abilities; and that success comes as a result of trying, failing, and trying again.

When we came up with the idea of The Elevation Challenge, it seemed like a distant dream. A dream that at the beginning, I don’t think anyone really believed in – including us. I mean, two people who had never seriously cycled before, saying that they were going to cycle 5,000 kilometres all the way to Russia – it was a tough sell!

When we spoke to our friends and family about the idea, they looked at us in disbelief or simply laughed.  They were supportive and positive in the ways that friends are, but there was quite a lot of “it’s probably not going to happen.’’

But we didn’t let this, or our inexperience, hold us back.


Finding the support we needed

One of the initial hurdles for us to cross was raising the sponsorship money we needed to make the expedition a reality. At the start we were getting turned down by a lot of sponsors, and at times it was demotivating.

A few weeks in, we had a conversation and said the only way people are going to believe in us and support the expedition financially, is if we believe in ourselves first. We had to feel confident that our plan was something we could and would achieve. That was a turning point for us, after which we didn’t really doubt that we were going to do it.

And sure enough, soon after we’d made that change, we secured a major sponsorship from an incredible organisation that really got us off the ground. That was the first place where our growth mindset became apparent, when believing that we were actually capable made the challenge a reality.

With our plans in place, we set off from Holland to cycle 5,000km across Europe to Russia. When we got there, we would attempt to summit Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.


“Cycling through searing heat and climbing in snowstorms”

We faced many challenges throughout the expedition. From navigating through thirteen different countries, to cycling through searing heat and climbing in snowstorms, we constantly had to adapt to new situations. But we knew that it was going to be a challenging trip, so we continued to push ourselves and move forward, even if we did feel a bit tired and defeated. A big part of having a growth mindset is perceiving a challenge as an opportunity to grow and improve – we kept that in mind along our journey.

The toughest moment of the cycle arose when we came up against the The D100 highway, which rolls along a 300 km stretch of peaks and valleys into Istanbul. Each and every single one of those 300km was accompanied by a cruel, relentless headwind that took us to the outer limit of our ability to persevere. When the wind is that strong, sometimes it’s an achievement just to stand still. We rolled into the city at about 1am, tired, but further along in our journey nonetheless.


Letting go of expectations

We also found that sometimes, even after trying your best, you have to come to terms with the fact you won’t always succeed. One of most difficult parts of the expedition occurred when, after cycling 5000 km and climbing up to 5450m, we were faced with a weather situation that forced us to abandon our summit attempt.

The weather was atrocious: a storm had moved in and visibility was less than ten metres. Very high wind speeds, horizontal snowfall and a temperature of around -30C were compounded by the risk of the storm becoming electrical.

It was disorientating and a little bit scary. We were relying totally on our guides to keep us safe. We were gutted, but we accepted their advice that we needed to descend, and on the way down Erin got altitude sickness. Had we carried on higher up the mountain this could have been extremely dangerous and required a complex rescue operation in severe weather.


We were devastated not to make it to the summit. But the challenge was more than just getting to the top of the mountain. We climbed higher than we ever had before, and pushed ourselves further than we ever had before. By the end, we came to realise that the journey itself mattered a lot more than the end goal.

Now, we know that when climbing our personal mountains, it’s not about what we can achieve, but the effort we have the opportunity to put in. What we learnt during The Elevation Challenge is that we can always go higher and push ourselves harder.

Read more about Ben and Erin’s Elevation Challenge.

Blog post written by Erin Duffy.