PETER VAN GEIT – a Belgian ultra runner, explorer, alpinist and minimalist who quit the corporate world and has settled in India to explore the Himalayas
Peter Van Geit is an ultra runner, explorer, alpinist and minimalist. Born in Belgium, settled in India. He quit the corporate world in 2017 and into full time travel & exploration now. He usually plans his ultra journeys covering several months and thousands of kilometres in the remote mountains. In 2018, he ran 2000K in the remote mountains of Northeast Vietnam. In summer 2019, he fast hiked the Indian Himalayas crossing 120 lesser-known high passes spanning 3500km and 150 thousand meters elevation gain. In winter 2019, he climbed 200 forts of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Sahyadris in 2 months.
Founder of the Chennai Trekking Club, a 40 thousand member volunteer-based non-profit community active in outdoors, sports, environment and social initiatives. His team was active in rescue and rehabilitation during the 2015 Chennai floods and the 2018 Gaja cyclone. They have built schools, toilets, homes and restored the lively hood of those affected during natural calamities.
Here is Peter Van Geit in a conversation with GOGO Magazine.
1) How did your journey as an athlete begin?
I think the seed was planted during childhood when my parents took me on long summer hikes to the Swiss alps. As a 10-year-old, I ran 10Ks through the Belgian countryside and swam in rivers and lakes near my home. In 1998 after finishing university I moved to India for work where I hiked for over a decade through South Indian jungles. A decade later I started running ultra trail marathons in the mountains: 100Ks and 100 milers non-stop running through day and night. From trail races, I transitioned to self-supported multi-stage runs through the Indian Himalayas over 800km. My love for natural water bodies got me into long-distance swimming in quarries and the open seas near my home in Chennai. In 2014 I completed an iron-distance triathlon completely self-supported. In recent years – after quitting my job – I got into “ultra journeys” – months-long journeys fast hiking over thousands of kilometres and lakhs of meters of elevation gain across hundreds of high passes in the Himalayas.
2) Why did you quit the corporate world?
After working 20 years in the corporate world I could not imagine sitting another 3 decades locked up in a cubicle. I earned lots of money, surrounded myself with materialistic wealth but my soul felt empty. After running thousands of kilometres in the Indian Himalayas I had experienced true bliss running free the mountains. I realized that life was short and I wanted to die with memories, not dreams! I quit my well paying job and routine city life and switched to a minimalist lifestyle in the mountains. I was now a free soul running in one tee and shorts for thousands of kilometres in the remotest corners of the Himalayas indulging in natural beauty untouched by the modern world and experiencing true humanity with mountain tribes and shepherds.
3) When and why did you decide to settle in India?
My Belgian company sent me over to India in 1998 to set up a software team. Little did I know at that time that this 1-year assignment would turn into a lifetime. India was a big step into the unknown to me, only seen in documentaries on the Discovery channel. I soon fell in love with the natural beauty and diversity of the Indian subcontinent as I travelled the lesser-known roads on my Royal Enfield bullet lightning 535cc. I explored 50 thousand kilometres on my bike in the first 2 years riding through the Western Ghats and Himalayas. Being brought up in Western Europe where society is more organized and developed, I loved the freedom and dynamic culture of India and its raw virgin nature. Life here was more intense, I felt more alive and decided to settle down in my newfound home.
4) Which has been your most memorable run?
One of my most memorable runs would have been an 800km ultra run from Shimla to Jammu through the Spiti and Pangi valleys in Himachal in 2016. Running through the beautiful Narkanda national park into the barren high altitude desert landscape of Spiti. The journey took me along the Sutlej and Spiti river valleys across the Kunzum La high pass into Lahaul. Running minimalist eating and sleeping in villages along the way, wherever the sun sets down. At the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers, I ran into the mesmerizing Pangi valley high above the Chenab river valley into Jammu & Kashmir. The overwhelming natural beauty and warm hospitality along the way are burned into memory forever.
5) Tell us about the Chennai Trekking Club.
After exploring the Indian subcontinent for a decade on wheels, I became passionate about hiking through the South Indian jungles on foot. In 2008 the Chennai Trekking Club was born, a non-profit volunteer-based organization that organized treks to beautiful, unexplored locations during all weekends of the year. Over the years the group diversified into a multitude of sports and outdoor activities: mountain biking, open water swimming, marathons, triathlons, tree plantations, environmental awareness through cleanup drives, etc. Over a decade we grew into one of the largest outdoor groups in India with 40 thousand members organizing hundreds of events throughout the year, changing the conservative culture of the South into an epicentre of physical activity and health. During recent calamities like the Chennai floods in 2015 and the Gaja cyclone in 2018, CTC was active with hundreds of volunteers in rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts.
6) Share your achievements with the magazine.
After quitting the corporate world in 2017 I ran 2000km (50 marathons non-stop) through the Northeast mountains of Vietnam. For the first time in my life, I felt like a free man not bound by time having to return to my cubicle in 2 weeks. The summer of 2018 was my first venture into the Himalayas where I climbed 43 high passes in 75 days, an achievement unheard of in the Indian hiking community. In 2019 I fast hiked 3500km across 120 passes in as many days (1 pass per day non-stop!) across the Western Himalayas with a total elevation gain of 160 thousand meters (equal to 18 times Mt Everest). In the Autumn of 2019, I climbed 200 historical forts in the Sahyadris of Maharashtra in the footsteps of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at a record pace of 2 months. Recently I did my first 3 months winter journey in Uttarakhand covering 110 high passes over 2000km through heavy snow. Each ultra journey takes weeks of planning work studying maps to finalize a months-long route through remote corners of the Himalayas.
7) How was life in quarantine?
Being passionate about the outdoors the 2020 lockdown came initially as a huge disappointment being locked up for months at home. Luckily I had the privilege to run daily along the beach and swim in the ocean. Soon I got into a new project to map the entire Western Indian Himalayas in detail. Researching and studying various map sources for months, myself and a few volunteers mapped tens of thousands of remote villages in the Himalayas essential for guidance, food ration and night stay. Looking at maps we digitized 50 thousand kilometres of remote trails and pathways across 2000 passes in the lesser-known regions of the Himalayas, sufficient to explore for an entire lifetime. My future mission is to explore and map these trails into Open Street Maps so anyone in the world can experience the overwhelming natural beauty of this part of the planet.
INSTAGRAM : @petervangeit
WEBSITE : www.ultrajourneys.org
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