Living her dream: Adventure cyclist Julie Gildred

Cyclist Julie Gildred will begin an bicycle circumnavigation of the Indian peninsula that will benefit challenged athletes of the world.
On January 21, when most of us will still be struggling to stick to our New Year's fitness resolutions, San Diego-based adventure cyclist Julie Gildred will begin an unsupported bicycle circumnavigation of the Indian peninsula.

Pedaling a modified Specialized Rockhopper from Chennai (formerly Madras) to Goa, and traveling with little more than passport and panniers, she will cover over 1,300 miles in approximately 30 days.

Her ride -- dubbed Challenge India -- will benefit challenged athletes of the world. These individuals with physical disabilities seek to participate in sports and live an active life, but need occasional help. Julie's Challenge India project will raise money, resources and awareness to the needs of these individuals. India was selected as the venue because of the extreme conditions and obstacles it will present.

"I want to do something that requires me to commit every ounce of myself and, perhaps, will give me a glimpse of the mental and physical obstacles challenged athletes must face every day," said Gildred.

Julie is no stranger to epic bicycle rides. In 2003 she embarked on a solo ride that spanned the north-south length of Vietnam. However, after reaching Saigon, she decided to continue on -- Forrest Gump style -- through Cambodia, Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma); then on to Morocco, Spain, France and Italy. Still not done, she returned to Asia and pedaled through Nepal, Tibet and finally New Zealand. This 13-country, 12,000 km around-the-world trip established her as one of the world's preeminent ultra-distance female cyclists.

Daily life on the road revolves around fulfilling basic needs: food, water and sleep. Gildred spends much of her time reading maps, perfecting her pantomime routines and, of course, cycling. Depending on the weather, she tries to log six hours per day on her bike.

After arriving at her daily destination, Julie usually spends another hour "shopping" for a place to sleep. The quality of accommodations differs greatly around the world and her standards adjust accordingly.

"I used to think it was important to have a shower and bathroom," laughed Gildred. "Now I'm happy with a bed and clean sheets. Even dinner and a beer are sometimes a bonus. It's all about needs and priorities!"

A former corporate attorney, Gildred practiced law in San Diego for 12 years. Her career required that she travel to many developing countries, including India. These experiences made a strong impact, but it wasn't until she took a bike vacation across Spain that she worked up the courage to quit her job as a successful lawyer and pursue her true passion: international cycling.

Now the proprietor of Ride Strong Bike Tours, Gildred organizes and leads trips throughout Europe and Asia for small groups of endurance cyclists. Although best known for programs that accompany stages of the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia bike races, Gildred prides herself on creating totally customized trips in virtually any corner of the world. For example, in 2007 she is offering a unique mountain biking program to Nepal and Tibet that includes a stop at the mountaineers' base camp at the foot of Mt. Everest.

In between organizing and guiding trips for her clients, Gildred finds time to pursue philanthropic adventures like next year's Challenge India ride.

Although Gildred is financing the expenses of her journey entirely on her own, she is accepting donations in connection with Challenge India that will directly benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation. All donations are tax deductible and donors will have access to regular blogs detailing the adventures of her journey. Click here if you'd like to make a contribution.

"I get the most satisfaction out of inspiring others to live an active lifestyle and overcome whatever obstacles or fears they have in making changes in their lives. I'm living my dream, and so can anyone," states Gildred. "It just takes a small leap of faith."

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