Couple adjust to life in Covid-hit UK as pandemic pauses epic European journey

MORE than 10,000 miles into an epic cycling and running adventure across Europe, a Scots couple have been forced to return to the UK by the impact of Covid-19 on international borders. Mike Elm and Rosie Watson, from Edinburgh, embarked on their major journey last year with the aim of blogging about communities fighting against the climate crisis. The pair were undeterred by the coronavirus pandemic initially, staying positive despite ending up in Kosovo for several months as lockdowns hit countries all around them.

They continued their separate adventures through Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria when restrictions lifted, planning to cross the Black Sea on a cargo boat - but at the start of the month were hit with the disappointing realisation that they would need to take a break from the two-year journey which was meant to end in Mongolia. READ MORE: Coronavirus: Scots cyclist trapped in Kosovo adjusts to new life Watson, whose New Story Run project inspired Elm to cross the continent on his bike, recalls: "We were anticipating that everywhere was going to have quite a lot of lockdown and in every country we went through it was just getting worse.

The cases were rising everywhere." After months of cycling and running unsupported on a budget of 60 euros a week, the couple now face a major lifestyle change. For Elm, who has travelled more than 5600km after starting his journey in Vienna, the idea of giving up and coming home was "very tough".

"It took me a long time of coming to terms with the idea of stopping and coming back, having this interruption. But then I slowly came round to the idea that maybe there's some good potential for helping the trip when it returns, but also being involved in small projects while in Scotland." After constant intense physical activity - beginning in August and November 2019 for Watson and Elm respectively - the couple have been thrust into a two-week self-isolation period where moving around is tricky.

But Elm is looking on the bright side: "These two weeks have been restrictive, but I'm trying to keep active - doing yoga, then once I can move around a little bit more I'm hoping to get myself a bike and travel around by bike as much as possible to try and replicate the New Story Ride. "Whilst we're here we're going to try and earn some money for using along the way and trying to look at jobs that are a little more active and outdoorsy to have another way of embedding activity into our lives." Watson, too, sees the positives in having this unplanned time in the UK.

After suffering foot injuries during her 4800km journey the runner sees it as an opportunity to recover and plan for the next stage of the adventure, which she anticipates will kick off in about six months. Being stationary also means more time to write articles documenting the climate activism they were inspired by in eastern Europe. READ MORE: Scourge of 'dirty camping' and litter on wild Scotland revealed in countryside survey

One of those stories will focus on Tran, a town in Bulgaria where locals held a referendum - "always good to have a referendum when you can," Elm jokes - on a proposed goldmine. A decisive 97% of people there opposed the plans, and the area is instead being promoted as an eco-tourism destination for hikers and cyclists. Watson adds: "My focus shifted a little bit in the last few months into trying to get more stories that relate to inequality and trying to show the link between that and the climate crisis a little bit more."

One of her blog posts will look at a Bulgarian organisation which works with the LGBT community, Roma people and the Deaf community - trying to show "things can happen when you join together and collaborate". With another week of quarantine before the couple can fully adjust back into life here, they wonder how they will cope with pandemic restrictions which are brand new to them. "It'll be interesting to see how I feel once we're out of self-isolation - it feels like we're in an idyllic bubble at the moment.

But I think going into town will be strange and overwhelming having been out of the UK for so long," Watson says. Recalling her experience in eastern Europe, she goes on: "Pretty much everywhere you had to wear a mask if you go into a shop or anything, but they're very relaxed with social distancing. Everyone would shake your hand, people would give you a hug, if you go into a restaurant they're not trying to space you out very much.

"I'm more worried that I'm going to get shouted at because I'll forget - there was no social distancing."

Visit newstoryride.wordpress.com/the-new-story and newstoryrun.wordpress.com to learn more before they restart the adventure.

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