A 23-year-old man from Berkhamsted is sharing his experiences after completing a remarkable circumnavigation of the globe on a motorbike - passing through 30 countries, travelling some 35,000 miles and breaking a world record as the youngest person ever to do so.
Jack Groves always knew travelling through some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain was going to be dangerous and he certainly had his share of scary moments including one or two scrapes on his Royal Enfield Himalayan bike.
He admitted, “almost all of the incidents I had were of my own making.”
The worst was crashing into the back of someone at 30mph in Turkmenistan.
It was 'quite a big crash' which weakened the frame as two weeks later Jack went over a bump in the road in Tibet which cracked the frame.
He described it as a 'stunning place but the worst place anything could happen'.
This was because there was no Enfield representation in China.
In the end, Jack rang Royal Enfield and they said if he could get to Chiang Mai in Thailand, they’d be able to help. He did and Royal Enfield were very helpful, paying for everything.
Jack has a degree in military history from King’s College, London, and he felt that came in very useful during his trip.
He said: “There was a moment in Tajikistan where I had dinner in a restaurant and four blokes (Tajiks) approached me in a car park afterwards in the dark and proceeded to interrogate me on what I knew about the Koran, the prophet Mohammed and effectively testing the waters to see who I was and what I knew about this.
“The thing in the back of my mind was that many Uzbeks and Tajiks crossed the southern border into Afghanistan and fought first as Mujahedeen then as al-Qaeda. That coupled with a group of western cyclists who were run over and beheaded by ISIS inspired militants in 2018.
"It happened on the same road I was on so I was understandably wary!”
In the end, he answered their questions to their satisfaction, told them he was going round the corner to a friend’s house and they let him go.
Of course, Jack had no friend round the corner but instead drove into the night, pulled up at a banked lay-by about 4kms from the Afghan border and turned off the lights to see if anyone was following. They weren’t, so he set up tent.
He said: “I had a fairly nervous night. You could hear what sounded like cats or wolves in the hills calling and knowing that Afghanistan was just down the road!”
China was tough as well. Even before Jack left England, he’d had to book fake tickets, flights and itinerary in order to get his Chinese VISA.
The authorities would not have allowed him in the country had he said he was going to Xinjiang or Tibet.
His view of China was that 'it’s a very interesting place but a very oppressive place.'
He said: "I went in expecting it to be difficult but you don’t realise how valuable the concept of freedom of speech and the freedoms that we enjoy in the west are until they are stripped away from you.”
In terms of highs and lows, Jack described the famous Pamir Highway in Central Asia as 'probably the best five days I’d had on the bike.'
The most difficult geographically, were 'the deserts of Central Asia, the altitude of China, the heat of Australia and South America was tough too', Jack highlighting the ferocious gale force Patagonian winds.
So why embark upon such a trip fraught with isolation and danger?
Before he left, Jack said his answer would have been: “Because I was restless, had that young man’s sense of invincibility, sense of why can’t I do it? In ten year’s time, when I look back, I don’t want to look back and regret not doing something and taking the conventional path.”
However, on his return, he feels 'a lot more melancholic about what it all means and how it’s changed my perspective on life.'
A close friend had died, aged 21, just over six months before he departed for foreign shores.
Jack said: "When someone dies at 21, you do start to ask existential questions about what is life all about, not to take things for granted. Youth is the most precious and high energy time in your life.”
As for Jack’s overriding view of his travels and the people he met, he felt 'it was very humbling. Lots of the trappings of life that we have here, when you contrast that to someone who quite literally lives in a Yurt hut burning Yak dung for the heat on some high plain in Kyrgzystan and they just have nothing.'
He added: “It’s a completely simple existence and yet the face they have is complete joy to welcome a stranger to share stories. I was more of a minimalist before I left but I am absolutely a minimalist now.”
Throughout his journey, Jack kept his family and friends up-to-date via Instagram. What he didn’t share until a year after he left England on 11 July 2019 was that two and a half hours after leaving Berkhamsted, he went over the handlebars at 75mph on the M2 in Kent and had to receive medical treatment.
Jack said his grandfather told him a while back, “Jack, you’re a chancer.”