A SCOT who left Edinburgh to embark on an epic two-year-long cycling journey in November is adjusting to his new life in Kosovo after the coronavirus pandemic trapped him there.

Starting in Vienna Mike Elm has been cycling unsupported across Europe and Asia, documenting stories of how individuals and businesses are responding to the climate emergency on the way.

The 32-year-old’s incredible New Story Ride project came after his partner Rosie Watson set off on a similar journey on foot last summer.

For the last few months the pair separately made their way through a number of countries, writing about the sustainable schemes they came across everywhere they went. But things changed last month when Europe became the epicentre of the coronavirus crisis.

Luckily, Elm and Watson had just met up in Kosovo after doing their own thing around Bosnia, Serbia and Montengro for a while. Initially, Elm says, the coronavirus just seemed like “something we should keep an eye on” – but things developed quickly. As the couple went off exploring different cities the country’s schools and universities began to close, sparking concern.

The National:

On his 60-euro-a-week budget, Elm had some interesting places to stay

While Elm was due to head to Albania in March, many of the borders around Kosovo began to shut – leaving the pair to realise they were stuck there.

Elm was staying in a hostel in Prizren – “a beautiful town” – when reality struck. He said: “From this hostel we go straight on to hills and nature. I told Rosie to come here instead of me going to Pristina. That day all of the public transport had suddenly been cancelled, so she managed to hitchhike to here. That’s been over a month now that we’ve not been able to move – so we’re kind of creating a little life in this limited space that we have.”

The cyclist, whose journey has so far involved wild camping, borrowed kit and a budget of 60 euros a week, says he feels prepared to deal with spending the foreseeable future in a foreign country given his journey so far.

Elm told The National: “I guess a lot of the New Story Ride has been about dealing with uncertainty and an ever-evolving reality – some skills I’ve picked up from that have been very helpful for this, in terms of not needing to focus too far ahead and dealing day by day or week by week. For me I’m finding it okay in terms of being relatively settled.”

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Elm and partner Watson have a beautiful view from their Prizren accommodation

He said meditation and yoga had been helpful in giving him focus, while being in one place had allowed him to contact his loved ones more frequently. Usually his demanding cycling schedule means he has to go off grid for long periods – so far he’s travelled 3045km by bike.

“It’s almost the same as being back home,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to go and see people anyway, whether you’re next door or 2000 miles away you’re pretty much the same distance.”

Elm acknowledged there was a point when he’d realised there may be an opportunity to get back to Scotland before a full lockdown, but he and Watson had decided against that as they were due to be away carrying out their projects for at least a year anyway. “We figured we may as well make the most of the situation we’re in to catch up with writing and catch up on planning and not get too hung up on what the future looks like for now and treat this as a pause on the journey’s we’re both on.”

Prior to setting off on his New Story Ride Elm had focused his career on tackling environmental issues, having been named one of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leaders, shortlisted for WWF Earth Hour Hero and more recently involved with Creative Carbon Scotland’s efforts to bring arts and creative skills to the climate emergency.

Elm’s blog has highlighted people, businesses and organisations on his travels whose work aims to meet those same aims of fighting climate change. He has documented sustainable fishing practices in Lastovo, Croatia’s first plastic-free island and Austria’s efforts to create a new food system among many other positive stories.

The National:

Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of Elm's favourite locations on the journey

For now social distancing measures aren’t interrupting his efforts – he has a huge backlog of tales left unwritten as he cycled those thousands of miles across Europe. And he hopes once the crisis subsides, he’ll have even more positive climate stories to share.

Elm said: “I think something this crisis has been important in showing is there are a whole lot of weird things that happen in what we used to call normal. There’s a lot of destructive tendencies on an individual and societal level that we can with this pause have a moment to reflect on and see how they maybe need to change.

“There’s lots of stories of where the pollution from cars and planes has dropped massively as they’ve been stalled – which opens up a conversation of what next. You hear people’s kids asking ‘when this crisis ends can I still cycle on the street’ and I really hope there’ll be a way for us as a civilisation to say yes because this crisis gives people a chance to reflect on what really matters and what gives their life value and maybe it’s not the same things they thought previously.”

For now Elm and Watson will stay in Kosovo maintaining their positive outlook and reflecting on the amazing generosity which has been shown to them throughout their journeys.

He said he had one stand-out moment which summed up his experience since November. He told The National: “As I came into Slovenia I was looking for a place to camp. I knocked on this person’s door and said can I camp in your garden perhaps or anywhere around this small village?

“She looked at me confused and went to talk to her partner and then they were like sure you can camp in our garden but wouldn’t you rather sleep inside? So they took me into their house, let me have a shower, fed me beautiful breakfast in the morning – the warmth and generosity was just so amazing to experience that from complete strangers.

“It’s challenged my own perceptions of how I would react – and I hope I would be as generous and open as some of the people I’ve encountered along the way.”

Keep up with Elm's journey here: https://newstoryride.wordpress.com/

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