In March 1999, Alexandra and three university friends set off from Merv in Turkmenistan to ride horses and camels all the way through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to Xian, the ancient Silk Road capital of China. It took the girls nine months to travel 5,000 miles over desert, steppe and mountains.
They experienced some of the most extreme weather conditions in the world; the Taklamakan (meaning ‘he who enters never leaves’) is the least hospitable desert in the world and traversing the southern edge in July and August, when temperatures reach 50C, meant they were forced to rise each day at 4am to avoid the midday heat. In the Tien Shan (‘Celestial’) Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, temperatures on the contrary dipped to minus 10 and the girls rode and camped in deep snow.The team spent a year and a half prior to the expedition gathering sponsorship, organising logistics and raising publicity. The team leader, Sophia Cunningham, won a grant from the Royal Geographical Society. On their return Alexandra secured a contract from Profile Books to write a book on the expedition; ‘The Last Secrets of the Silk Road’, which was published in the UK, Holland and the USA.