At the age of just 22, Rohan Riches from Solihull in the UK – also known as Rohan on the Road – walked 3500km solo across Scandinavia to raise funds for cancer. This modest and heartwarming woman has no idea just how inspiring she is.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF. WHO IS ROHAN? AND WHAT IS ‘ROHAN ON THE ROAD’ ALL ABOUT?
“Growing up, my family always went camping in Cornwall or Devon (UK) so I always felt connected with nature and the outdoors. Hearing stories of my dad’s adventures in Britain really inspired me when I was in university to get out there in search of my own tales to tell.
In my first year, I told my family I wanted to go walking and camping alone for the summer and they encouraged me. I was quite shy growing up, often hiding behind my sister and following in her footsteps, but university brought out the adventurous explorer side of me.
So, I set off with 20-year-old equipment I had borrowed from my dad and I haven’t looked back since.
I returned home after my 10-day adventure absolutely enamoured with the idea of more outdoors breaks and was soon planning trips. Adding to my never-ending outdoors bucket list took over my life.
Rohan on the Road was born during this time. Studying a journalism degree, we were advised to keep a blog on something that interested us, so for me – the outdoors and travel was a natural choice.”
3500KM ACROSS SCANDINAVIA. THAT’S A LOOOONG WAY. WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM AND WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL?
“After I finished university in May 2017, I moved home to care for my mum post surgery (she had been diagnosed with skin cancer) and take on her duties caring for the family and looking after our two spaniel puppies.
I also started working in my local pub part-time to fund the travels and adventures I had planned, but after an emotionally exhausting summer and such massive changes to my lifestyle, I needed something different.
Travelling Scandinavia was something I’d wanted to do for years, and in my second year of uni I was tempted to drop out to attempt the trek. I’m glad I didn’t though as I doubt I would have succeeded. I wasn’t physically ready, let alone mentally ready.
I always knew the trek – which spanned the length of Norway, Sweden and Denmark – would be for charity and in aid of Melanoma UK. I’d done some fundraising for them already, including walking the Cotswold Way (a 100-mile trail between Bath Spa and Chipping Camden).
In typical English fashion, it was cold, rainy and windy, my blisters hurt and I just wanted to go home. So I rushed it, completing it in three days instead of six. I met my parents to finish the walk together and my feet actually gave in. I sat on a bench in tears, I could barely stand and both my boots and sandals caused me pain. I was limping for the next week. Yet despite all of that, the Scandinavia trek was already on my mind.
My overall goal is to raise £7,500 for the Melanoma UK whilst also raising awareness of melanoma skin cancer. I said before leaving that if my work meant one person having their moles checked out, then it would be worth it. And they did. I still have another £4,000 or so to raise now that I’m home but have made a note of every free campsite, coffee, cake etc I have received in order to make this donation when home (donate here to help Rohan reach her goal).
The charity has provided a world of support since my mum was diagnosed – in a way that my family would be unable to. We could say supportive things – like bringing mum a cuppa tea or being there in general – but we didn’t, and couldn’t, understand in the way that other melanoma patients could. Melanoma UK brought mum into that community.”
A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN 3500KM. TELL US SOME OF THE MEMORIES THAT STAND OUT.
“When I first reached Sweden, I struggled with my homesickness but one thing that helped me overcome this was the freedom I felt being able to freely wild camp and lake hop. Each day, that became a motivator for me. It was a way to refresh my soul and myself. I spent each afternoon swimming before I cooked over my campfire stove. There was no stress and the minimalist lifestyle and simple things truly relaxed me.
Norway was the country I was especially excited to explore, so – even with the drastic weather changes and having to battle storms and early snowfall – it will always hold a special place in my heart. I remember being in the Lofoten region and watching the first sunset after the midnight sun. I was camped out on a beach and had taken a nap in the afternoon/evening, after walking all morning, to make sure I was awake for the sunset. It was a mesmerising sight as the sun gently dipped below the horizon with dolphins dancing in the distance.
Another favourite memory was jumping off a replica Viking ship in Denmark. After all, how many people can say they jumped from a Viking ship into a fjord?!
There were, of course, some moments that I had to persevere through. I remember sleeping on a picnic bench in northern Norway when it was simply too wet to pitch my tent. I was unsettled at the time, worried I would end up rolling off the table and landing on the concrete floor, so I told myself it was like sleeping on a bunk bed with my tarp as a curtain wrapped around me to keep the harsh winds out.
There are so many incredible things that I am so thankful to have experienced. Even the bad times I look back on with a smile.”
WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY? HAVE THERE BEEN ANY UNEXPECTED CHALLENGES? OR THINGS THAT HAVE COME EASIER THAN EXPECTED?
“I think my personal motivation each day surprised me. I knew walking would get easier each day as I found my rhythm, but even when exhausted and walking in the blazing heat, on some days I was able to push myself an extra 10 miles with nothing but pure determination (and sometimes the promise of an ice cream on a hot day) to keep me going.
I think since being home, one of the things that has surprised me is how lost I feel.
I knew it would be strange returning home, and I’m sure that part of me feeling this way is down to injuries and being forced to rest after walking day-in and day-out for the past six months. I’m left second-guessing every choice each day and sometimes I’m just left sitting on my bed unsure of simple things to do. I didn’t know how I would feel being home, but I didn’t think it would be like this.”
YOU’RE PRETTY HONEST ON YOUR BLOG. DO YOU THINK THE ADVENTURE WORLD NEEDS TO BE MORE RAW, MORE REAL?
“I think it is definitely important to be real and honest across social media. I joked to people in my local pub that there would be videos of me crying on the hard days on my feed and although I haven’t uploaded any crying videos, I like to think I’ve been open.
I’m sure there are times when I haven’t posted my true feelings, and things I’ve written about in my journal contradict my social media postings (partly because I don’t want to worry my family who is reading them), but I think regardless of the number of followers, readers, listeners – whatever medium of media we use, as influencers, we have a responsibility to be honest and authentic.
Starting my journey, I had been reading blogs and browsing Instagram and felt disappointed by my own experiences as I compared them to things I saw online rather than revelling in what was happening in the moment.
Going on adventures, whether it is a weekend thing, couple of weeks or 6+ months, not everything is going to go smoothly, so why try to kid ourselves? Instead, I think we should embrace the errors, our mistakes and the less than perfect moments as these are what make our adventures unique.”
WHAT KEPT YOU MOTIVATED ON THOSE TOUGH DAYS?
“My family was definitely a strong motivator. Mum would always text how proud she is of me or tell me how my Nan had been telling more people. Knowing how proud and inspired my family was kept me going. On especially tough days, as sad and disappointing as it now sounds, the motivation of going home helped. When I wasn’t tired I could tell myself that if I could hit an extra five miles that day then I would make it back to my family sooner. And then there was the motivation of ice cream at the end of a long day. Ice cream always works!”
HOW IN-DEPTH WAS YOUR PLANNING? HOW HAVE YOU PLANNED YOUR ROUTE? ANY MUST-HAVE GEAR YOU’D RECOMMEND?
“My planning was terrible. I only started packing two or three days before leaving and I didn’t have any definite route set apart from the first campsite on the first night. The night before I left (and this feels like so long ago now) I highlighted a potential route on my Denmark maps and nearly cried to my dad because I felt so intimidated and unsure about the idea of a 3,000-mile solo trek.
Along the way, due to weather at two extreme ends of the spectrum – forest fires in Sweden, to early snow in Norway (and yet some people still claim climate change isn’t real) – I made several route changes. So, I think you just have to take each week as it comes.
I’m glad that I didn’t over plan and instead decided to go by local recommendations, as this has led to the experiences I’ve had. I’ll stand by the quote that over planning kills adventure.
Something I definitely couldn’t have done without though was my Satmap GPS (one of my sponsors along with Craghoppers and Rohan clothing). I have the Active 20 system with the adventure maps for Scandinavia. Though the trails were well marked, sometimes multiple trails would intertwine so it helped that I could double check my route, rather than walking an extra five miles when I didn’t need to.”
IN ONE OF YOUR BLOGS, YOU MENTION FEELING LIKE YOU’D FAILED AFTER YOU HITCHED A (SMALL) SECTION. WHY DID YOU FEEL LIKE THAT?
“I think I felt like I had failed as I had only just started my journey. I thought I should have been stronger than I was, when in reality I was only a week or so into my journey and not as mentally strong as I am now. The obstacles I can overcome now far surpasses the things I struggled with before.
Realistically though, it made sense to occasionally hitch a ride or take a bus when it was a choice between walking or safety. And of course the vast size of Sweden and Norway, there is no way I would have been able to see the things or walk the trails I did if I hadn’t hitched a ride to different areas.
Since the start of my trek I hitched several rides and soon realised it’s not the end of the world – it’s not like I count these journeys in my miles walked! Sometimes it was a necessity to hitch a ride, especially in Norway when there were so many tunnels to cross with walking sometimes prohibited. I think it is also important for me to consider that I wouldn’t have met some of the kind people I did without these rides.”
ANY ADVICE FOR BUDDING ADVENTURERS THAT WANT TO GET OUT AND GET THEIR BOOTS DIRTY?
“I think there is a lot I could say, some I’m probably not qualified or experienced enough to say and some I am probably just repeating from others. But at the end of the day I think it is important to remember:
- Don’t talk yourself out of it
- If you’re feeling nervous then do some research; read blogs online, watch youtube videos or read books to prepare yourself
- Make sure you are well equipped
- It’s okay to make alternative plans if the conditions aren’t there
- Don’t be put off by mistakes
- Know your limits but say yes when the opportunity presents itself
“The most dangerous thing in life is not taking the adventure,” Brian Blessed.
I’d also like to remind people that you don’t need the newest, flashiest equipment to appreciate the outdoors and what nature can bring you. My (read: dad’s) Macpac microlight tent weighs the same as many new tents today and has lasted 25 years.
Yes, cheaper gear is often heavier, but if you’re just starting out and heading out on weekend adventures, it is manageable. I’ve seen discussions online about hiking and the outdoors being elitist and sure, for the big trips and fancy expeditions they can be expensive but to hike Britain, some of the European long-distance footpaths or to simply enjoy being outdoors, it doesn’t have to be.”
Help Rohan reach her goal. Donate to Melanoma UK, follow her on Facebook and most importantly, go and get your skin checked. Let us know what you think in the comments below or reach out on Facebook or Instagram.