Kate Leeming, real tennis pro: Five places that made me


Cycling through Siberia with Greg Yeoman in 1993 was an opportunity to explore the "new Russia", emerging from 70 years of communist rule. Holed up in a tiny village in Siberia waiting for a new back wheel to arrive from Moscow, we befriended two local policemen who took us on the back of their motorbikes through a region where Stalin once came to hunt sable. We sped along overgrown tracks and past a concentration camp before stopping high on a granite ledge to spot bears fishing in the icy stream below. We picked wild bilberries to make tea and picnicked on rose petal jam and other homemade specialties. Our conversations were an exchange of ideals and values that, in theory, could have ended the Cold War and solved many of the problems of the "new Russia". 


Crossing four deserts and almost 1000 sand dunes, my journey along Western Australia's Canning Stock Route, halfway into my 25,000-kilometre cycle expedition through Australia, proved to be a life-defining experience. It was an incredibly spiritual but challenging adventure. Cycling through the starkly beautiful but unforgiving desert in extreme heat demanded that I dig deeper than ever before, forcing me to find a new level of resolve that has helped me through several challenges since.


I rode the final 800 of my 22,000-kilometre cycle across the African continent, under the protection of the Puntland government, trying to avoid the attention of Al-Shabaab extremists and pirates.  I cycled undercover on unmarked tracks, with 11 soldiers and two bulletproof vehicles in tow. Endless thoughts raced through my mind. My emotions swung between elation, at being so close to the end of my journey, to major anxiety about exposing my sister, cameraman and the soldiers escorting me to the many dangers in this troubled region. 


During my African expedition, I diverted 700 kilometres into south-east Mauritania to visit the ancient oasis town of Oualata on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Civilisation dates back around 4000 years. Here I had an audience with the learned religious leader, who was in charge of teaching traditional Islamic law, languages, ancient history and literature. The Sheikh explained that in his society, constant study, from childhood to old age, is considered desirable, and that "lifelong learning brings dignity" – words that had a profound effect on me.


This year, I became the first person to cycle across Northeast Greenland. The last day took me to Kap Tobin, the most southerly tip of Liverpool Land. It was like cycling to the end of the earth. Around the cape, turbulent ocean currents were constantly shifting the icebergs and causing ice blocks to collide or scrape past one another. Occasionally a chunk would sheer off and flip over to reveal its aquamarine underbelly. Although the seascape was constantly in motion, the atmosphere was tranquil and the icy waters perfectly clear.

Kate Leeming has cycled the width of Africa, pedalled 25,000 kilometres around Australia and was the first woman to cycle unsupported across "new" Russia. She plans to cycle across Antarctica to raise funds for poverty-related issues.

Kate Leeming will lead a World Expeditions cycle adventure from Marrakech across the High Atlas Mountains to the edge of the Sahara in May 2017.  See www.worldexpeditions.com