In March 2011 Leon McCarron completed a 14,000 mile solo and unsupported bicycle ride from New York to Hong Kong. The route took Leon across the northern states of the USA, up to Vancouver, then back down the west coast to California. Next it was top to tip of New Zealand, before riding up Australia’s East Coast. As if that wasn’t enough, the journey continued through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and China through to Hong Kong. The encore saw Leon cycle from Paris to London! Dubbed the “Cycling Reporter” expedition, one of the main aims of this journey was make a video documentary about the people that Leon met along the way, focussing one people with a true passion for life.
Bicycles are just the best mode of transport going. They keep you fit, they’re good for the environment, they’re easy to fix and maintain, and they’re a whole load of fun to ride!…Travelling by bicycle allows me to fully experience the environment I’m passing through, and makes it very easy to interact with the communities I will encounter – in fact, using this mode of transport I think it would be impossible to ignore them! Leon McCarron.
Before taking on “The Cycling Reporter” expedition, Leon McCarron kicked off his cycling career with two shorter adventures, “Short Way Round” and “Short Way Round 2”. Inspired by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman’s Long Way Round, these journeys set the scene for Leon’s future ambitions. Starting out from his home in Northern Ireland, Short Way Round began when Leon and two friends cycled to Dublin. After taking the ferry to North Wales, they proceeded up the English north west coast before eventually arriving at Stranraer in Scotland, returning to Belfast on the ferry. Leon prepared for Short Way Round by buying a bike one week before hand.
Short Way Round 2 was a cycling trip to the world cup in Germany. After missing a flight from Belfast to London, Leon and his friend David were forced to change their proposed route, adding 300 miles to their journey. Cycling through France, Belgium and Holland, initial distrust by the locals invariably gave way to kindness and unforgettable memories of a 50 year old Belgian man bearing his belly. It was only when they arrived in Germany that they thought a farmer was going to shoot them, although it turned out that he was offering them a place to camp and a bowl of cherries!
Walking Home from Mongolia
Leon’s next expedition will be a 3,500 mile journey from Mongolia to Hong Kong. Along with fellow adventurer, Rob Lilwall, they will be travelling by foot and portable kayak, shooting a TV series for National Geographic in the process. Starting in Ulaan Baator, the pair will hike south through the Gobi Desert before crossing into China. They will follow the Great Wall until they reach the famous Yellow River. Unpacking their packrafts, they will paddle 800 miles downstream to Xi An city. Back on foot they will cross the Nanling Mountains before finally reaching Hong Kong. Starting in November 2011, the pair estimate that the journey will take five months, finishing in March 2012. This expedition will also be raising money for Children’s charity Viva.
Leon McCarron Interview
We asked Leon McCarron to tell us about his adventuring background and about the Walk Home from Mongolia.
CheapTents: What inspired you to take on epic adventures?
Leon McCarron: I think it’s avery natural thing for people to be inquisitive about the world around them, and I’ve always just wanted to get out and explore my surroundings as often and as much as I can. I’m incredibly lucky that I’m able now to combine this with my profession to give me an excuse to see exciting parts of the world! Explorers like Ernest Shackleton are my role model – he is a fantastic example of a person to aspire to, especially mentally and strategically.
CheapTents: What has been the highlight of your previous cycling expeditions?
Leon McCarron: Waking up on Christmas day in a rice field in Cambodia was pretty special; I expected to feel a little lonely and isolated, but in fact I felt invigorated and alive. I think it’s really important for us to stray outside our comfort zones as often as possible, and so being able to do that every day (there was no option!) on a cycling expedition is really liberating.
CheapTents: What is you biggest weakness?
Leon McCarron: I have lots! To narrow it down to one…I sometimes find I’m pushing to hard to reach a goal or target, and I’m missing the experience along the way – this is actually the best part, and I have to remind myself of this.
CheapTents: Why are you walking / paddling over 3,500 km across Mongolia and China?
Leon McCarron: Why not? Mongolia fascinates me, China fascinates me, walking fascinates me…and so on. The original idea was Rob’s and I bought into it 100%. All of the elements are just very exciting.
CheapTents: How many pairs of boots do you think you’ll need?
Leon McCarron: Well we currently have 2 pairs each, so hopefully not more than that!
CheapTents: What training and preparation are you doing?
Leon McCarron: Lots of hiking, and increasing amounts of time in the water. I got great advice from the manager of my gym, a guy called Graham. He said ‘mountain goats don’t play tennis’ – meaning why train for a hiking/paddling expedition by going running or doing lots of weight training – training like for like is the best method.
CheapTents: What aspect of the expedition are you most looking forward to?
Leon McCarron: The Gobi desert, right at the start, will be a highlight for me. As a kid I was obsessed with dinosaurs, and all the books I read mentioned that the bones were usually found in Mongolia. So ever since that I’ve wanted to go there. It’s also such a bleak yet brilliant landscape. I can’t wait.
CheapTents: What part of the adventure do you expect to find most challenging?
Leon McCarron: Walking and paddling will be much harder than cycling I think. The first couple of weeks will probably hurt, and be a real barrier to break through.
CheapTents: Have you any previous experience of long distance kayaking?
Leon McCarron: Nope!
CheapTents: What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
Leon McCarron: I’m just a big fan of kit that works, really. I’ve never been big into having the latest model of this or that when it comes to outdoor stuff, but I do really like gear that’s good at what it’s meant to do – no frills. We have some great quality stuff for this from some really wonderful sponsors, which is always a pleasure to use.
CheapTents: Any people or sponsors that you’d like thank?
Leon McCarron: There’s a lot of people and sponsors without whom this trip really wouldn’t happen. To all of them, we’re extremely grateful. However, rather than reproduce all of their names on here, it’s easiest if I just direct you to the page on our website where we list them all – http://walkinghomefrommongolia.com/site/Partners.html
CheapTents: Anything else you would like to say?
Leon McCarron: Just to say that we hope everyone can enjoy following us on this journey – we hope to make it as interactive and fun as possible, so keep an eye on our website – there should be live map tracking, social media updates, blogs, vlogs, photos and anything else we can think of. Thanks!
CheapTents: Thank you, Leon, for answering our questions. Good luck with your Walk Home from Mongolia!
Update: Leon and Rob have now completed their expedition, which you can read about in our Walk Home from Mongolia Interview!
If you enjoyed this interview, why not read some of our interviews with other adventurers?