Malaria, crocodile attacks, septicemia, altitude sickness, two broken legs and a pirate attack are just a few of the obstacles Jason Lewis faced on his adventure to circumnavigate the globe using only human power (no motors and no sails). Accomplishing this feat would be a world first, one of the last “world firsts” left to conquer in this modern age, and one which was supposed take 3 years but ended up taking 13. The Daily Mail has written of Jason Lewis ‘Arguably, the most remarkable adventurer in the world today.’
In 1994 Jason Lewis and his buddy Steve Smith set off from London on bikes and headed south through Europe to Lisbon, Portugal. From there they boarded their pedal powered boat known as Moksha and spent 111 days crossing the Atlantic Ocean until they reached Miami. Having encountered a near miss from a sea trawler and a close call with a Sea Monster (probably a whale) Jason and Steve were glad to have their feet firmly on the ground for some time.
From here Jason, having never skated before, decided to in-line skate the southern states of America but broke both his legs when he was hit from behind by a drunk driver. 9 months later he was back on his feet continuing to head west for San Francisco. Steve and Jason rejoined Moksha and started their journey across the Pacific Ocean heading for Hawaii. Steve left at this point leaving Jason to continue the remainder of the trip solo and Jason spent a further 73 days alone pedaling to a small island called Tarawa. It was just before reaching Tarawa that Jason reached his lowest point as he effectively pedaled on the spot for three weeks due to wind conditions and currents. Just before reaching Australia he stopped close to the Solomon islands but made a hasty retreat after finding out there was a military coup taking place.
After negotiating angry crocodiles in Australia he cycled 3,500m on an off-road odyssey through the Australian outback before kayaking through Singapore. Then began the arduous task of taking on the Himalayas by bike. Having only recently recovered from Malaria he had to battle altitude sickness as he navigated the high mountain passes. If this wasn’t enough Jason was forced to travel at night to avoid detection from various governments due to him being illegally in the country.
From India Jason took another voyage on Moksha to Africa where he was arrested on the Sudan, Egypt border by the Egyptian military for supposed espionage and threatened with 40 years in jail. After having negotiated his release he ventured north until he reached Europe where he cycled to France before jumping back into Moksha to cycle up the Themes in London in 2007, 13 years later. (To learn about his journey in more details click here)
Tired? We were… so we spoke to Jason to understand his motives, experiences and the challenges he faced along this quite unbelievable journey.
Being out there for so long, did the motives for the trip change?
The reasons did change over the years. It was while I was in Colorado, sitting in a hospital bed after being hit by a drunk driver and faced with possibly of losing my left leg and possibly not being able to continue the trip that I had to dig a little bit deeper answering questions like “ if I was able to keep my left leg why would I continue anyway?
Using adventure as a cause for education became one of the biggest motivators for continuing forwards. It was this when it became quite boring and tiresome that kept me focused.
When you first set off in 1994 you hadn’t done any fitness training? Why not?
Partly because we were so busy! From the letter writing to the sponsorship, there’s a bazillion details to cover especially if you’re going to sea. Also there was definitely an element of naivety there. How hard could it be to ride a bike, we will just get fit as we go!
Back then one of things that really appealed to me about the whole project was the fact you didn’t have to be an expert to do it. Anybody, theoretically, could do any sort of challenge, like a marathon as long as they just begin and have that self-belief. In fact if you go out and tell people, put your self at risk of being laughed at, it gives you an attitude of I’m going to f***ing well do this anyway!
What’s your favourite form of human power?
I think it had to be kayaking. It has the ideal balance between being able to make reasonable mileage each day but also allow you to get into wilderness environments and immerse yourself.
However biking offers such flexibility and versatility. If you want to go 100 miles down the road then you can but like wise if you want to go two miles off road you can also do that.
The roller blading was quite arduous to be honest but was a great way to meet people. It served as a great catalyst to get talking to people and share a hot meal at their table when I was travelling across the south of the US.
There are so many challenges going on, the physical challenge, the mental challenge, the getting the dream off the ground challenge… Is there any way you can prioritise what was the toughest challenge?
The fundraising was the hardest part. Raising the financial means to keep going was so difficult! After that it was the logistics when you land in a foreign country, trying to liaise and network to get things done was tricky.
I can’t deny that some of the physical aspects were incredibly tough like roller blading for the first two weeks, kayaking, mountain biking through Tibet was really tough. But those were always momentary. Over the larger scale of an expedition those things were minimum but the financial worries were constantly at the back of my head. This was the most exhausting thing.
In Australia I put the boat on a shopping display in the mall to try and get a bit of cash for a T-Shirt or having your name on the boat. When the shops started to close I used to sneak in to what was known as the ‘Rat Hole’ on Moksha, our boat and sleep.
You must be one of the most resourceful people in the world?
It was tricky going from a sea voyage for over 100 days and then unscrewing this very focused mind and to screw on your networking, resourceful head. This was one of the trickiest parts of the journey.
What made you see it through?
I can’t deny there was an element of once you invest a certain amount of time in a project you feel you have to see it through! But I also knew I had this question burning away in my head about sustainability and trying to understand what we have to do as a species to create a sustainable future on this planet.
By the end of the trip I had this question of what does an individual person have to do in their life to be part of the solution and not the problem.
Knowing what you know now would you do it again?
If I knew now what I knew then I probably wouldn’t because of what I went through but if I was the 26 year old me then I would do it. It was a voyage of self discovery…
It gives young people an opportunity to embark on a right of passage that allows them to really explore what they are fully capable of and I think that’s a very necessary part of human development!
What bit of advice could you offer someone taking on a challenge?
How do you start on a challenge? The problem is you will never be able to answer questions you might have like how am I going to get fit, how am I going to run 26miles. It’s never going to be a predictable slam dunk thing. The most important thing is that you commit, say I’m going to do this, tell ten of your friends, because as soon as you do this you will do it!
Once you put it out there as an idea things will happen! The universe somehow conspires to make that dream happen. It’s happened too many times in my life for it to be a coincidence.
You can look back in three weeks, a month a years time and say good gracious, look where I am today, look at all the things that happened, look at all the things I achieved. But if I hadn’t taken that initial leap of faith I would never have realised my challenge.
If you’re doing a challenge you sometimes need to take that leap of faith. It’s the not knowing that forces you to take that leap of faith!
So next time you find yourself suffering on a two hour bike ride or finding yourself getting a little fed up with the monotonous regime of a 6 month training plan spare a thought for Jason on the Atlantic 100 days into his voyage or cycling the Himalayas with no support or comfy bed to sleep in at the end. Jason Lewis must be considered as one of the most incredibly determined and mentally tough humans on the planet. But this was as much learnt on his journey as it was born in him. In his own words, “If I hadn’t taken that initial leap of faith I would never have realised my challenge.”. Isn’t it about time we all took our own little leap of faith?
Oh almost forgot….Jason, when you’re physically exhausted what food do you dream of?
Cake, lots of Cake!