Tropical doc cycles across six continents

On January 5th 2009 London doctor Steve Fabes embarked on a five year solo journey to cycle the length of six continents to raise money for Merlin, the frontline British medical aid agency.

The epic expedition will see Steve cycle through over 60 countries, travelling the length of each populated continent, and racking up 50,000 miles – a distance roughly equivalent to 80 times the length of Britain or twice around the world.

Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy says: “This is a hugely ambitious and inspirational challenge that will surely test Steve’s resolve and determination to the limit.”

In the process Steve aims to raise £50,000 for Merlin, the only specialist UK charity that responds worldwide with vital health care and medical relief for vulnerable people caught up in natural disasters, conflict, disease and health system collapse.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Steve. “I am absolutely petrified and excited in double measure. Knowing that the fundraising will make a huge difference to the work of Merlin spurs me on.”

Buses, trains, cars and planes will not figure in Steve’s journey; he will travel only by bicycle over land. When he reaches each continent’s extreme point he will board a boat towards the next leg of his journey. Steve’s cycling odyssey will take him across the Equator four times and subject him to everything from 50 degree heat in the Australian outback and Sahara Desert, where he will be forced to carry up to 16 litres of water on his bike, to bitter winds and unforgiving cold in Patagonia and northern Alaska inside the arctic circle.

Steve must also cross several mountain ranges, including The Alps, The Andes and The Himalayas, in order to complete the challenge. For the duration of these endeavours the expedition will be entirely unsupported: Steve will carry everything he needs on his bike as he travels up to 100 miles each day and wild camps by night.

Currently working at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Steve has a professional interest in Tropical Medicine. Alongside his fundraising commitment to Merlin, he will trace a route through regions affected by ‘The Neglected Tropical Diseases’ (NTDs) – 14 ancient, largely parasitic infections that occur almost exclusively in areas of poverty and disadvantage. The World Health Organisation estimates that these NTDs, which include leprosy and guinea-worm, affect as many as one billion people worldwide.

Bear Grylls, the youngest Briton to climb Mount Everest, praises Steve’s ambition: “an epic challenge and one that will touch many lives through the work of Merlin charity. God’s speed!”

Over the course of his journey, Steve will visit a number of remote hospitals and clinics to witness the impact of these infections firsthand, experiences that will subsequently be used to raise awareness about a group of infections that receive little exposure despite being both prevalent and widespread.

In the lead up to departure, scientists and physicians at King’s College and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals will be putting Steve through numerous physical and physiological investigations, including a biopsy of his quadriceps to gain insight into the impact that completing this challenge will have on his body. Steve will repeat these tests on his return in 2014 and the results from before and after his journey will be compared. This research will feed into campaigns aimed at helping promote the health benefits of cycling.

Steve has a proven track record in the field of ambitious bicycle expeditions: before commencing his medical degree in 2000, he cycled 6000 km along the length of Chile in five months aged just 19.

Adventurer and Everest mountaineer Neil Laughton says: “Cycling the 6 is an incredible challenge that will test the physique and spirit of one man beyond endurance, beyond the normal span of most extreme adventurous journeys and benefiting a great charity. Steve deserves our respect and support.”

Steve’s journey will be documented by video diary, written and audio blogs, and still photography.

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