Peter Van Geit is a founder of the Chennai Trekking Club, a 40-thousand-member volunteer-based culture active in outdoors, environment and social initiatives.
He is a minimalist, wilderness Explorer, ultra-runner, mountain biker and open water swimmer.
Watch his 2 mins video to get glimpses of her life journey so far.
Do read his full interview with Inspirational Beings team to know what his journey, what keeps him motivated during his low times, his mantra in life, what is her message to our readers and what are his future plans.
1) Please tell us about your childhood and personal background?
I was born in Belgium and raised on a small farm in a small town. Grew up in outdoors and was active in sports, soccer, running, cycling and ice skating. I remember going for long walks with my parents and running with my dogs. I always had a strong affinity towards nature and sports.
In my school years, my interest in Mathematics grew, and I became a gold medalist. I did my masters in computer science engineering in the renowned University of Ghent, worked for three years in Belgium and was then deputed to Chennai, India to start up a small software team there. Later I settled in India since 1998 and here I got the opportunity to explore the hills and mountains.
2) What is your inspiration behind creating Chennai Trekking club and the journey of crossing 40 k Mark?
After ten years in Chennai, I felt though it is beautiful, it also is quite dull town.
I used to ride around the country on my Royal Enfield. It was utterly a solo exploration on the new roads, later I started hiking with a few work friends, but many times when they changed job or places they couldn't join me on the adventure journey. Thus, I wanted to connect with like-minded people and get out, explore new areas, hike in the mountains. So, I created Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) by documenting a couple of recent trips with photos and write-ups and link for interested people to join. Within a few months, we were organizing treks with 20-30 new friends every single weekend. From trekking it evolved towards photography, biking, swimming, running, cycling, planting trees, social treks for less privileged, cleanup drives, organizing marathons and triathlons, till we ran out of weekends and started doing events 365 days a year. These hundreds of events every year impacted the lives of thousands of Chennaittes. Our focus on passion rather than commercial objective created a wonderful volunteer-based culture where members feel proud to be part of and represent the CTC.
3)Tell us more about CTC and its work
The CTC is a voluntary nonprofit organization whose members meet weekly for outdoor recreation, environmental education, and social responsibility activities. The club was established on 22 February 2008 by a small group of trekking enthusiasts in Chennai, India. It started as an informal group of several friends in the computer industry and quickly grew into a 40,000+ member organization that primarily facilitates trekking as an organized sport.
CTC mainly organizes 2-3 day weekend treks in and around South India. It also coordinates related activities such as short treks for less privileged people and walks for charity, nature-photography tours. CTC carries conservation initiatives, social trek, volunteers for making a difference for the less privileged, organizes marathon/triathlon for creating awareness among youth on sports and health
Tree Plantations and environmental awareness
CTC has planted and nurtured 14 thousand trees in and around Chennai in the past four years with a survival rate of 75%. CTC engages with communities, corporates and apartment complexes to implement waste segregation at source. Nochikuppam, a 600 family strong fishermen's hamlet near Marina, has gone zero-waste with our guidance.
Social Initiatives like rehabilitation of impacted communities
After the Chennai Floods. We provided relief to thousands of families, restored lost livelihood and restored damaged homes, orphanages, government schools. We set up a school cum tuition center in Pulicat catering to hundreds of children of backward hamlets. We worked in 20 villages and rebuilt 215 homes which helped to restore the livelihood of delta farmers
4) Any challenges you faced in the journey, and your learning's from those? Chennai is entirely local language driven, how you adapted and succeed?
Every challenge is a yearning for an optimist. Tougher the journey, the stronger we come out. I like to live a life beyond my comfort zone as it feels much more intense, much more real than living in a marble palace. Going out in the wild, surviving with minimal gears, stepping into the unknown, feeling adrenaline and fear is what makes us feel alive. Language has never been a problem in Chennai or the Himalayas or Vietnam. Humanity works with friendly faces and smiles and surpasses any language.
I think the same is true for CTC - we are driven by passion, we walk the talk, we jump into action rather than words, we lead from the front. That is what draws like-minded people to CTC and builds a healthy community. Adaptation and integration are natural when you follow your soul.
5) Your best and worst experiences in carrying the massive social mission through Chennai trekking club?
Nothing but good experiences during social work in Chennai. We started in 2010 with our annual Chennai Coastal Cleanup drive which received an overwhelming response from the public, NGOs and corporates joining in with thousands of volunteers removing 50 tons of garbage from 20km of Chennai beaches. It created massive awareness over the last decade among the city. Post Chennai Floods in Dec 2015 momentum grew further with weekly cleanup drives of the Adyar river which attracted a large number of volunteers. Jewel on the crown was the creation of a zero-waste model community near Marina beach where 600 families got into recycling and composting thereby eliminating tons of solid waste every month.
6) What keeps you going in tough times?
I get lots of positive energy from being close to nature and engaging in physical endurance. I clear my head and detox my body by going for a long run along the beach or in the mountains listening to the silence of the wind, the birds in the forest and the streams in the hills. A few weeks back, I ran 150 km from Chennai to Auroville through two days and one night feeling reborn.
In low times, it's essential to keep our mind positively distracted. We can create positivity by going to places or meeting people that radiate positive energy, so we forget about the things or people that pulled us down in a low. The mountains, long runs, forest, nature, remote villages with innocent people, burning calories, sweating it out, those are the things which reenergize me to get out of any low. I am not much of a talkative person - I get my high out of endurance activities close to nature that realize positive chemicals in my brain and body.
7)Your Mantra in life?
Collect memories, not things. Life is short; most people are obsessed with collecting materialistic things and surrounding them with comfort. Real life is to live a minimalist, travel to unknown places, meet wonderful people. I usually go for some 2-3 months run in the mountains, carrying my shelter along, discovering remote settlements, experiencing true humanity and hospitality which we lost in our cities and came back enriched with countless experiences.
8) What is Your message to society?
Don't get stuck in a vicious circle of modern society/economy –study whatever your parents want you to do, spend your entire life in a 5x5ft cubicle and commuting between your work and your 20 years EMI-ed flat, get married and kids and restart the cycle. There is much more to life than that. Let kids spend time in the outdoors, get dirty, don't waste life earning 100% and buying unnecessary things, learn to be happy with minimal things, save some money and quit your job and go on a long break to see the beautiful world, stay active and healthy, die with memories, not dreams.
7) What are your plans?
My current focus is more towards longer journeys - I am about to leave on a six month 2500km run across 100 passes in the Himalayas. Later this year I might go for a 1000km run somewhere in Southeast Asia. Having settled in life and scaled down to a minimalist lifestyle, the focus has shifted towards near full-time travel, exploring remote corners of the planet, untouched by human hand, waking up in a new place every sunrise, collecting wonderful experiences through encounters with true humanity along the way. The plan is to keep capturing these journeys in photos and videos and blogging to inspire more people in following my footsteps.
This story is supported by
Prathap Balageri, Coimbatore, India.