Tuffley man Jamie McDonald dodges gunfire on charity cycle | This is Gloucestershire

Posted: October 6, 2012 in Tajikistan

AS gunfire rained down on Jamie McDonald’s shelter deep in the mountainous Afghanistan border, his thoughts remained firmly set on his mission to help children at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.

Since January, the fearless Tuffley 25-year-old has dedicated his life to cycling from Bangkok to Gloucester in a bid to raise thousands for the hospital’s Pied Piper Appeal.

Snow-capped mountain passes and desolate barren landscapes have stood in his way. But the former tennis coach has brushed aside the hellish conditions and pushed on through the pain barrier to edge closer to his goal of reaching home.

Jamie was diagnosed with auto-immune deficiency at an early age and spent much of his first nine years in and out of hospital. He is desperate to repay that care to help others.

Jamie encountered his most serious obstacle yet when he unknowingly pedalled into the middle of a war zone on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

The war-torn region was always likely to cause him problems. He had little idea of how close he would come to losing his own life, alone on the road thousands of miles from family and friends.

Heavy fighting erupted in the Tajikistan city of Khorugh after central government forces confronted local commanders, with dozens of people reported dead in some of the worst violence in the former Soviet republic since its civil war ended in 1997.

Jamie, along with fellow travellers in his hostel were pinned down by rebel gunfire, some of which hit their building.

Speaking from a safe-house in the small town of Zanjan, 200 miles from Tehran, Jamie explained the horror that unfolded before him.

“I had been told that it would be easy to get a visa for Afghanistan,” he said. “But when I arrived at the border they said it was not possible but wouldn’t tell me why.”

“There were around 18 of us in the hostel at the time. None of us had any idea of the situation that we were about to experience.

“Normally, when I arrive in a village on my bike people are very friendly and welcoming. When I went out to a restaurant in Khorugh there was a strange atmosphere. It was very tense and there were a lot of men walking around wearing camouflage uniforms.

“People were looking at me as if to say – what the hell is he doing here?

“I went back to the hostel and that is when the shooting started. The gunfire got louder and seemed to be getting closer. Everyone staying at the hostel got together and we decided to keep our heads down until the fighting stopped. No one knew what was going on.

“It was terrifying. I had cycled so far without any kind of conflict so had no idea how to react and had to trust instinct.

“The closest the bullets got were within five metres of where we were hiding out. Twelve hours later the heavy artillery moved in and that is when the situation got even more serious as the Tajikistan army began shelling the area.

via Tuffley man Jamie McDonald dodges gunfire on charity cycle | This is Gloucestershire.

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