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jason lewis

Adventure Saved me from Becoming an Aging, Balding Rocker

An Interview with Jason Lewis - #GrandAdventures

Jason Lewis is the first person to circumnavigate the Earth without using motors or sails: walking, cycling, and inline skating five continents, and kayaking, swimming, rowing, and pedalling a boat across the rivers, seas, and oceans. Taking thirteen years to complete, the 46,505-mile journey was hailed ‘œthe last great first for circumnavigation’. In other words, he’s worth listening to if you are interested in adventure yourself…

Alastair: Thank you for agreeing to talk to me. You must be a busy man as ever.

Jason: Not really at the moment, I’mm just trying to wade through this final book, get it edited and get it out the door. I’mm just so fed up with words and editing and sitting behind a computer. I’mm quite done with the whole writing process, I have to say.

Alastair: When this book is done, is that the end of Expedition360?

Jason: Basically, yeah. 20 years finally put to bed. It’s ridiculous.

Alastair: And does it feel like it’s time to do that and get on with what’s next?

Jason: It felt like it was time about 10 years ago, but writing for me is like pulling teeth, so it’s just taken me an inordinate amount of time to get the writing part of it done. And, you know, I’mm happy with it. When you’re doing essentially Indie publishing, it’s a real slog. But I am happy with the result and so I can put it to bed with a clean conscience and really glad in retrospect I didn’t go down what was originally an offer with a traditional publisher.

Alastair: Why is that?

Jason: I got an agent quite quickly because of the publicity that was generated [at the end of the trip] and they said, ‘œOh, this is great. We can definitely find a home for this.’ I guess what I didn’t realise then was the way publishing works or can work and so very quickly, it was sold for quite a lot of money, but the proviso was that they wanted it written in 9 weeks’¦

Alastair: Gosh.

Jason: ‘¦because they wanted it rushed out the door for Christmas.

Alastair: Aha.

Jason: So they said, ‘œOkay, we’re going to work with this co-writer,’ and I thought that would be good because I was actually quite intimidated by just the amount of material. How on Earth was I going to know what to put in a book and what to leave out? But I just got cut out of the loop almost immediately and so it became this sort of ghost-written nightmare. So I just walked away from the deal and then I went off and ended up in California and tried to write it myself. And so here I am, years later, almost at the end of that process. But it’s as though the physical journey almost prepared me for the real expedition, which was writing the damn thing, you know?

Alastair: Yes, it’s the real tip of the iceberg, the trip itself, isn’t it?

There are some people in adventure who will sell their grandmother to get on some frightful television show so they can just be an adventurer.

Jason: Well, for me it was. I find it agony trying to write a book 8 hours a day and all of the other adventurers I talk to find it pretty painful as well.
I think what I’mve realised is that you can go 2 ways. There are some people in adventure who will sell their grandmother to get on some frightful television show so they can just be an adventurer. And I can sort of see how you can go that route and, yeah, the sensible thing probably would have been to take the money; out there doing stuff on TV perhaps or doing other trips and keeping the momentum going. I think that commercially that makes sense from a career standpoint. But it depends on what you want really, doesn’t it? And that doesn’t really interest me if you end up with some shitty product that you can’t even bear to read yourself. Some people are happy with that. I couldn’t do that. I don’t know if you know Nick Crane?

Alastair: I don’t know him, but I know of him and I love his stories.

Jason: He’s been very sweet and nice over the years giving advice. I asked him, ‘œDo I take the advance money or do I commit publishing suicide and go off and self-exile for the next few years?’ And he said ‘œIf it was a ‘heart project’ then you need to write it yourself. If it was a commercial expedition, then you can probably let it go to somebody else.’
That pretty much gave me what I needed to know to make the right decision.

Alastair: That’s a good way of looking at it ‘“ a heart project. I’mve been mulling this sort of thing over myself for years, in terms of what defines being ‘successful’ as an adventurer and finding the balance between a trip or a book or a film you’re really proud versus getting loads of money or getting famous. I think different people would differ about what counts as ‘successful’.
I’mve noticed myself that when I judge how I’mve done by the measure of fame and vanity and how other people perceive me, that’s when I start to get miserable about my life as an adventurer. So I try very much not to do that. I think I know the answer, but where are you on that spectrum?

Jason: Oh, I mean I’mve been through the whole gambit as far as feeling like a complete, total, utter failure. I was living out of my car for a while in California when I first turned down the publisher’s money. It was fairly grim. That was probably the lowest ebb. Plus you go through this sort of post-expedition slump anyway, which is inevitable especially if you’ve been away for a while and you’re trying to reintegrate back into ‘œcivilized society’.
But I’mm happy now with where I’mm at. I’mm just about scraping a living and that’s partly because we’re living fairly cheaply, frugally. I’mm making money from the sales of books and that’s a tremendously empowering feeling. Whereas before you know, it was always sending out begging letters and you’re only living on the good will of companies that give you kit or whatever. But you always feel like a bit of a moocher, a scrounger. But now I’mm actually selling something that I have produced and I’mm making a living from that. That is brilliant! So I’mve got this self-confidence back. And no one else has written it: I’mve written it myself. It’s not like thousands and thousands of pounds per month, but it’s enough for us to live off and so I feel good with myself.

Alastair: I’mm sure you do.

Jason: I look at how you’ve done it and you’ve done a tremendous job. I’mm not trying to blow smoke up your ass, but you’ve started off Indie [self-publishing] and now you’ve got your mainstream microadventures book and so you’ve done it.

Alastair: I actually really um’d and ah’d whether to go with a traditional or not. Getting an advance was not a relevant part in my decision process. What I really missed from self publishing was having a good editor. That was the main thing I wanted. The bonus, which I hadn’t anticipated to start with, was that they made a really beautiful book that was expensive to produce and would probably be beyond the realms of me self-publishing.
But I love the freedom of self-publishing so much that I really genuinely wavered quite a lot about whether to accept the publisher or go for it by myself.

Jason: Yeah, I wondered about that actually because the potential is wide these days. The thing is that you’ve done it on your own terms. They didn’t buy your book because you’d just done some stunt and they wanted to cash in on the publicity, which is what they wanted to do with me. I realised in retrospect, they didn’t care what the actual book read like. They just wanted the USP and they wanted to get it out for Christmas. But you’ve done it on your own terms, so I think that’s a really great thing that you’ve done. You must get so many emails from people saying, ‘œOh, I want to be an adventurer. What do I need to do to be successful?’’¦

Alastair: …how do you answer that question?

“Don’t do it unless you have a real appetite for being scared and depressed for a large period of time.” But actually, you just have to put your dues in.

Jason: Yeah, I mean I had one from a guy the other day, ‘œHow do you make a living from it? How do you do it?’ And you almost want to say, “Don’t do it unless you have a real appetite for being scared and depressed for a large period of time.” But actually, you just have to put your dues in. You know, you’ve paid your dues and now you’ve got a great book that’s out and a mainstream publisher and I think, you know, just utmost respect for the way you’ve played it.

Alastair: That’s very kind. One of the most popular blog posts on my blog is called ‘œNobody Should Blog on their First Expedition.’  The premise is that I believe your first expedition you should do just because you want to do it, because you love it. Go and do something crazy and amazing and, after that, perhaps, you might be able to start to make it your job. What do you think of that?

Jason: I think that you can get too wound up with trying to get equipment, trying to get sponsorship, trying to get the thing paid for [Another adventurer discusses Don’t Bother With Sponsorship here]. I think the trick is to save up the money yourself, not to worry about what other people are going to think about what you’re doing. Like you said, do it for yourself. Find out what your real passion is and have the money up front so you don’t have to be grubbing. Because any time other people get involved and other companies get involved, it’s a distraction. If somebody’s put money in, then they’re going to want to mess around with your schedule. They’re going to want you in a certain city on a certain date for something and suddenly it messes up your itinerary. Even if people just give you a bit of equipment or food or whatever, then you have to be worried about getting photographs of you eating a Mars Bar on top of a mountain or something ridiculous and that can take away from your focus. So yeah, I think the main thing is to just immerse yourself in the experience of the outdoors. Because the other thing is technology. I don’t know what you found, but in the early 90s, technology wasn’t a factor and I remember crossing the Atlantic with just a sextant and no GPS, no sat phones and so you really out in the environment…

Alastair: That’s wonderful.

Jason: And then the digital age caught up and so now you almost have to have a connection to the Internet. You don’t have to, but it’s a way for you to then continue doing the journey and being able to fund it. And then suddenly you’re beholden to the technology and having to worry about charging batteries through solar panels and all the bazillion leads that you need and suddenly it becomes a whole different monster and you’re no longer really connected with your environment. You’re blogging about your environment, you’re not just enjoying it. If I was to give advice on a first trip adventure, I’md say, save up the money before you go and don’t think about making a career out of it and ideally, don’t take any gadgets, nothing that needs to be charged other than a camera maybe to take photographs. Just keep it massively simple.

Alastair: When I rowed the Atlantic, we had a GPS, which on our boat just looked like the sat nav in your car. You could almost just get in the boat, type in “Barbados” and set off. We could receive emails every single day, and I massively wish I could have done it when you just leave harbour and then it’s up to you until you get to the other side. I found it very hard to get into the experience and because I found the rowing very miserable and very hard. Being in contact with the outside world makes that even worse. I’mm sure I would have got to the cheerful phase of the trip a lot quicker otherwise.

Jason: On my first crossing, it was a real wilderness immersion experience for me, which, having left England’s cold wet island as a guy in his early-20’s year old wanting just to get away; it was what I needed. You go through that sort of 40 days and 40 nights experience and you do finally, genuinely forget about land. You stop missing everything about land, then you can actually make that shift to your universe being on the boat. I found that incredibly rewarding and quite lovely and very spiritual just being in the present, the here and now. And even the rowing, or for us it was pedaling, you know you just get into the present more of the moment and becomes almost a meditation, but you can’t do that when you have technology that is demanding you to be thinking about, like you said, writing a blog post. So you’re thinking about, oh, what am I going to write for this evening’s blog post, and of course nothing changes out there. So you’re really grasping at straws. I’mm glad I did that first crossing. The second crossing, the Pacific, was just a completely different animal in terms of the experience [because I had technology then].

Alastair: One thing that’s hard for people to realise, I now know, is that it is just normal people who go off and do adventures. You’re not born as some sort of adventure guy. You were born in Yorkshire, like all the best adventurers, but you became a window cleaner and played in a rock-and-roll cover band. Is that correct?

Adventure saved me from becoming an ageing, balding rocker grinding out covers in some shitty South London pub.

Jason: Adventure saved me from becoming an ageing, balding rocker grinding out covers in some shitty South London pub.

Alastair: And you were living in some sort of squat with all sorts of colourful characters. I think yours might be the only expedition book that I’mve read that, as well as chasing sponsorship in the usual way, also involved various people nicking stuff on your behalf. Is that a fair summary?

Jason: Including myself! I ended up in the clink [prison] in east London for trying to run out the door of the chandlery there with our shit bucket and a scrubbing brush, coming to the total of £4.20. I was rugby tackled by security guards at Woolworths. So yeah, we were just desperate.
But a trip like that is never going to take less than quite a large amount of money. So there was an element of arrogance setting out thinking that we could do it with really nothing at all. But then that’s how the thing got done, even though it took so much longer than we originally thought because we had to stop in towns on the way and raise money.

I ended up in the clink in for trying to run out the door of the chandlery with our shit bucket and a scrubbing brush.

Alastair: You had this really audacious goal that was clearly beyond your own financial means and also beyond the means that you were likely able to raise from corporate sponsorship, given the sort or background and lack of experience you had, and probably the lack of suitable contacts you had at that time of your life. Why didn’t you just cycle to India? Something that you could do for a few hundred quid?

Jason: It wasn’t my idea. It was my mate’s ideas and, honestly, it was not something that I would have thought of myself to do. But he was bored at his desk job in Brussels and thought of this idea. Steve had noticed that people had rowed oceans, bicycled across continents and bicycled to India. But the “ah-ha” moment for him was realising that these trips had always typically ended at the end of a continent or the end of an ocean. And so, why not keep on going? When he presented this idea to me I had no previous experience of doing adventures, I had no passion for them. I had no ulterior motive to want to make a  living as an adventurer. But I was pretty sick of living in London. I remember that. And this idea, it was just so beautifully simple and it didn’t seem like it was another gimmick. It was like, “wow.” And you didn’t need to be an expert. You don’t need to be an expert climber or have hundred of hours of caving experience under your belt or yachting experience, whatever. Any idiot can get on a bike or get on a boat that’s powered by pedals and cross an ocean or cross a continent. So that simplicity also appealed to me. It was just a beautifully simple idea and theoretically anybody could do it. Those were the 2 things that really appealed to me.

Alastair: I like the idea of the simplicity. One thing that I find people struggle with when they want to do an adventure is that they know they can’t quite work out how to find a story that’s exciting and unique without being a gimmick. The best trips are the ones that you can explain in a sentence or two, that’s not too convoluted.

Jason: It’s is a bit of a cliché, but I know that when Steve thought of this idea he was in a café in Paris and he wrote it on the back of a cigarette packet, this idea of going around the world by human power, which ironically was just above the words from the cigarette manufacturer, ‘œDanger to your health.’ I wish he’d kept that cigarette packet.

Alastair: Oh, that would be wonderful. Shackleton doodled his plans on a scrap of paper at some dinner and whoever was sitting next to him kept that napkin. It’s a pretty cool thing to have! [pic here]

Jason: That’s cool. If you need a map bigger than that, it’s too complicated.

Alastair: Another of the major issues that stop people getting out the door is safety and I think that people have a lot of preconceptions about how dangerous the world is out there. What are your thoughts on that?

Jason: Well, like you, I’mve been through the Middle East and I’mve been through countries like Sudan, predominantly Muslim countries. I’mve been through places like Indonesia. And before you go to these countries, people are telling you these terrible nightmare scenarios where you’re going to be bundled into the back of a van and end up on YouTube with your head being cut off. Of course the truth is there are bad people everywhere and I think that you have a much greater chance of getting into trouble by going on a regular holiday to a tourist resort. I mean, it happens. You’re much safer doing your thing on a bike or travelling alone because as far as that kind of religious fundamentalist aspect, nobody wants to mess with you. I mean I never once felt threatened by anyone because of religion. I was robbed a couple of times. That has nothing to do with religion. In those Muslim countries, especially like Sudan which I know you went through, every 5 minutes somebody would be hauling you off into your house and stuffing you with tea and cakes. I never had to worry about where to sleep because people would be always offering you to sleep in their backyards, so it completely turned on my head the whole perception that we have in the West of travelling through supposedly dangerous countries. And it just reiterates the need to actually get off your ass and travel in the first place because unless you see it with your own eyes, unless you experience and meet people yourself, you will never know. So that is almost another reason to go: to educate yourself about how safe the world is.

Alastair: Absolutely. I was cycling around the world during the George Bush years. It was really interesting cycling through the Middle East and them all hating America. And I loved the Middle East for all the reasons you just mentioned. Then I got to America and so many people hating the Middle East. And I loved America. But what struck me was how similar those countries felt to me – this is huge generalization – but both cultures were pretty inward-looking and hadn’t really travelled much. They were proud, patriotic, flew their flags, were religious… And they were generous, kind, curious and welcoming. I just wanted to organise some sort of mass cultural exchange programme!

Jason: Just on that note, what I found was how well-informed a lot of these countries were. You would roll up in a country where you might think, “Oh, they could give me real hell here,” especially places like India or the Middle East or Syria, you know. But I found that they could make the distinction between, “Oh, yeah, you’re from Britain, we don’t like your foreign policy, and we certainly don’t like the foreign policy of America, but we know that’s not you, so we don’t have a problem with you, we just have a problem with the government of your country.” I thought that was quite refreshing.

Alastair: Another thing that people struggle over is whether to travel solo or in a pair, and I know you did both on your trip, so what would be a brief summary of the pros and cons of that?

Jason: Travelling alone is wonderful because you can do exactly what you want. You can be thoroughly selfish. If you want to ride your bike five miles and then stop and take the rest of the day off, you can. You can do exactly what you want to do, and so, in that sense, it’s very liberating. Whereas travelling with another person, you always have to compromise, really, which is fine. Compromise is OK, but when you might have different interests, that can be hard. I’mve travelled alone for long periods, and I think I’mve come to the conclusion that actually, I’mm not very good on my own. I prefer to be at least with one other person. Three is the ideal number, I think, because you get to share the experience. When you’re on your own, it can become quite morbid, it’s a little too indulgent, I think. After about a month of being alone, you have no real way to appreciate, perhaps, what you’re seeing, what you’re experiencing, because you don’t have another mirror near to you to reflect some of what you may be taking for granted.

I’mm not very good on my own. I prefer to be at least with one other person. Three is the ideal number, I think, because you get to share the experience.

Alastair: On my bike trip I was alone for a lot of the time, but sometimes a friend would fly out to join me for a couple of weeks. This would be a friend who, before we left, we were basically identical people. To see how they responded to being perhaps in the Developing World helped me measure how I had changed by comparing myself to somebody who hadn’t changed. I really quite liked that because that was the only way I could really tell that I was changing.

Jason: Right, right. My friend Chris, who built the boat that we used, came out to Indonesia, and we paddled kayaks up Indonesia for six months. I remember at the end of the six months, he said very articulately – much better than I’mm going to be able to right now – he said, “You know, when you go away from home, and you travel, it puts your life back home in focus.” It gives you an appreciation of what you have back home, which maybe you didn’t understand before. I know certainly that was the case for me. I totally took for granted my background and my education, and it’s only been through this trip that I’mve really got a great appreciation for that, plus actually, you know, just being brought up in a country which is pretty amazing.

Another thing Chris said before he left, he said six months is about right. If felt that if he was gone any longer than six months, he would lose all of the connections with home. That was quite poignant, because I realised then that when I finished my multi-year trip, like yours, it might be hard. Your image of home has pretty much stayed frozen in your mind…

Alastair: Yeah.

Jason: …but of course, life moves on. And people move on, and they live their lives, and all my friends have grown up and have kids, and I felt that I didn’t have really much in common with people any more. You’ve been away for too long in some ways. So it just seems like six months is a really good time period, so you really get away. A month is OK, but you probably don’t really step outside of your cultural consciousness, your ways and all of the routines that you’re used to, the ruts that you’re in. You don’t really have a chance to really divorce yourself from that sort of sense of being English, perhaps. And that’s all what we’re tied to, isn’t it? That in some ways we are all tied to our geography, and that’s what keeps us behaving as we do, believing the things that we do, all the memetics that make up being English. That was what I wanted to get away from, and I did, but the problem is that once you step out of it properly, it’s actually quite hard to step back in again, and so it’s quite hard to re-connect, to re-assimilate one’s self. I think in six months, you probably get a pretty good balance between those two.

Alastair: It’s interesting that you gave me that number of 6 months, because I was going to ask you about that. One thing I’mve been trying to figure out for this project, really, is what is the ideal kind of length, because I definitely think that you need to go for a “big trip”, but what is big? At some point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in, whereby extending your trip doesn’t give you more  benefits. I certainly noticed that on my bike trip, when I started to get to the phase of thinking, “I’mve stayed with lots of exotic tribes before, I don’t need more. I’mve seen lots of sunsets, and this one isn’t as good as that one back in Mozambique”
I’mve actually been wondering about an idea which you also mentioned earlier, that 40 days and 40 nights in the wild is quite a good starting point. But when I walked across India, that was about 40 days and 40 nights, and that definitely wasn’t long enough to let go of life. So, yeah, I like your six months figure.

Jason: I found that perhaps the most damaging part of long term travel was getting sick of the process of meeting someone, knowing that you’re going to have to say goodbye in a few days or a few weeks, and almost, it’s so contrary to the human condition, where we’re very social animals, and we need community. You know, the idea of being a nomad, I think, is actually a misnomer, you know. I think being a nomad within a group of people is probably the way real nomads live.I don’t think you meet too many nomads who are on their own, who are actually mentally healthy.

Alastair: Yeah. That’s interesting. I’mve found, on my trips, that you get deeper, quicker with people. Relationships and intimacy, – not romantic, but intimate – come much quicker and much deeper. And then saying goodbye, I found that exhausting, right away through my trip around the world. I’md wave goodbye to new friends. They’d tell me how inspiring I was, how amazing my life was. And I’md cycle off up  the road welling with loneliness and my eyes burning with tears. The highs are high and the lows are low.
This is totally irrelevant now, to the interview; it’s just my own curiosity. But after going on a really long trip, does the rest of your life then struggle to live up to it?

Jason: Yeah, of course. That’s the problem, isn’t it? You hear it, read about it all the time, people who come off long trips, and feel there’s something missing, so they feel the need to go off and do another trip, which I think is also dangerous. This is why actually, ironically, it was a great thing that I turned down the ghost-written book and I ended up writing the story myself. Because in the process of going back through my journals, all of the video footage, I’mve managed to get my head around why I set off in the first place, and more importantly perhaps, why I kept going, and how my reasons for travelling changed over the years. When I first finished the trip, I had no idea what I was doing, my head was scrambled, and I was just sort of like flailing like one of those cartoon characters who has gone off the edge of a cliff, and his legs are still spinning.

If I had gone off and done another trip very quickly, as is the immediate reaction, I would have learnt nothing, and I wouldn’t have been able to really make sense of the last one I had done. So I’mm really glad that the writing process has been very cathartic for me. To be able to put all the demons to bed, but also to understand really,  who I am more as a person. I think I learned more about myself through the writing process than I did actually on the trip itself.

If I was to do another trip, and I am interested in doing other short, why I would do those trips? I’mm just not interested in going off and doing another gratuitous trip for the sake of it, because I have to, because I’mm an adventurer, so called. I mean, it becomes ridiculous, these serial adventurers, and you know deep down, that they feel they have to do it because that’s their career, you know?

When I first finished the trip, I had no idea what I was doing, my head was scrambled, and I was just sort of like flailing like one of those cartoon characters who has gone off the edge of a cliff, and his legs are still spinning.

Alastair: But if it is your career, at some point you have either go off and do more trips, or live off past glories, or go get another job. Every time I have to talk about cycling around the world, I want to poke myself in the eye, but I realise I’mm like Chesney Hawkes, you just have to stand up and sing out your hit. When you decide that it’s your job, the relationship with the adventure changes a bit.

For someone who is reading this blog, thinking, “Wow, that’s cool! I, too, am a window cleaner and a shit guitarist. I, too, am this person, but too scared to actually get out the door.” What do you know now that you wish you had known back then, or what would you have done differently?

Jason: It’s a really hard question, and I’mm not going to tell you what you need to hear, because it’s actually impossible. I don’t think I would have changed anything.

Alastair: Well, that’s also an answer.

Jason: I don’t think you want to know too much about what you’re getting into. That would be one piece of advice. You know, maps are decent, maps are quite handy things, but I remember the first day out of London getting completely lost in South London, because we had all these maps of the Atlantic and the Pacific, and all of these charts, but we actually didn’t have an “A to Z” map to get us out of London. So that in itself was a good start to this journey, getting lost in South London. But that sort of put us on the right foot, not actually having a map that first couple of days.

Alastair: But I think that is a useful thing for people to know, that people who set off on big adventures don’t know everything, they haven’t got everything in place, and that’s OK.

Jason: Right, absolutely key. Unless you are entering into a really extreme environment, like Ben going to the South Pole, where you need to know exactly how much food you’re going to need for every day, and it does need to be very structured. Unless you’re doing that, then you want to have enough structure, and enough of an idea that it’s not a complete disaster. You probably want to have a passport with you, which I actually forgot as well, but I managed to get all the way to America without a passport. So, yeah, you definitely want to take your passport.

Alastair: Great advice. Jason Lewis advises: make sure you take your passport.

Jason: Take your passport.

Alastair: I think my conclusion from all of these interviews is you just need to somehow get the balls to get out the front door. How do you do that? If you’re someone, say, who’s got a pretty decent job, a pretty decent life, but a bit bored and just wants to go shake stuff up a bit, how do you summon up the nerve to begin?

I think the main thing is to tell your mates that you’re going to do it.

Jason: Well, I think the main thing is to tell your mates that you’re going to do it. And, specifically, mates that are going to give you a really hard time if you don’t actually go, and they’ll be giving you a lot of shit if you bottle out. The whole motivational thing is to commit; commit to something. But what does that really mean? Like if you just commit within yourself, you’ll find a hundred different reasons why you shouldn’t actually do it. But if you air it publicly, with people whose opinions you actually respect, and you’re perhaps kind of intimidated by, then you’re more likely to more actually follow through with it. And also, you will never have everything ready. That’s the thing.

You will never have all of your gear ready, you’ll never have all of the right visa stamps in your passport, you probably won’t have all the money that you need, either. But you do have to set a date, and then be as ready as you can. Set a date, tell everyone at the pub that that’s the date that you’re going, and then you just get as ready as you can, and then you just head off. I know it’s a cliché, but the main thing is just to begin.

Alastair: Clichés are clichés for a reason, aren’t they? And I think virtually everyone I’mve spoken to on this has talked about the need to tell someone who’s, as you’ve just said, or to block off dates in your diary that are non-negotiable, and quite a good thing I think is to just buy your plane ticket to wherever it is you’re going.

Alastair: My final question to you, then, is, well, actually, two. One is on a bike, how far could you cycle for £1000, pedalling away from England.

Jason: I think we gave ourselves a budget of £5 a day, or something like that.

Alastair: How far could you get in 200 days then?

Jason: Well, that’s the thing, bicycles are such amazing things, aren’t they? I mean, you could do at least 80 miles a day, probably a hundred. What is the mathematics on that? 20,000 miles, extraordinary.

Alastair: Anywhere on the planet is 20,000 miles away.

Jason: The other bit of advice though is that, yeah, you can get 20,000 miles, but typically people try and put too much into a schedule. It just ends up being this forced march, a slog, and it’s doesn’t matter if you don’t do 20,000 miles. Actually 10,000 miles, and getting to meet people, spend the night with people that you meet who are really nice, that’s actually half of the whole experience. Don’t be too ambitious with your itinerary. And keep loads of flexibility in your itinerary. I think it’s really important.

Alastair: I look back on my trip now, and I never regret the times I stayed a few days longer, I never regret the crazy detours I did up over some stupid mountain pass because it looked cool. I never regret that. But I do slightly regret the times that I just thought, “Sod it. I’mm just going to ride 3000 miles down this road just to kill some miles.” I think that’s really good advice. The very last question, then if I gave you a £1000 for an adventure, what would you go do?

Jason: I would ride my bike through Central America to Uruguay. This sounds pretty presumptuous of me, but I’md like to meet the president of Uruguay. He’s my hero. I don’t have typical heroes; growing up I never read Scott Shackleton or any of these guys. But he is the president of this small South American country, but he lives very simply on a farm, and he drives this old beaten up VW beetle, doesn’t want to have anything to do with the presidential palace that he’s supposed to be living in, and the limousines that are provided him, and he was the only leader in a recent world conference to stand up and talk about sustainability, and how countries and governments should be trying to really meet sustainability targets on carbon emission reduction, etc. So, it would be cool to ride a bike down to Uruguay, travel through the Darien gap, and yeah, just see if I can meet this guy and shake his hand.

Alastair: Brilliant.

Read Jason’s books here, and follow him on Twitter.

My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.

I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!

I would also be really thankful if you could share this link on social media with all your friends – It honestly would help me far more than you realise.

Thank you so much!

Grand Adventures Cover


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  1. Hi Alastair,
    Thanks for this interview. Steve’s book about his and Jason’s adventure was the only I had read along with Joshua Slocum’s before heading to Africa, so having him share some thoughts here means a lot. I was in Africa for 14 months on the back of a motorbike ridden by my boyfriend, times relishing the intimacy and being able to share the experience, times being frustrated that we were joined at the hip. What was going on, the ups and down and all the other bits, registered differently for each of us. We as well found that it was much harder to be back in Europe than sleeping in a rotten tent for 420 days, or digging our bike out of the mud of the Congo. Then we did what Jason said one shouldn’t: left again. This time I was riding my own motorbike, almost certainly towards my demise as I had barely learned how to ride. Made it to Mongolia, then back. Jason is spot on when he says that you need some time off the experience to allow for the lessons to unwind and sediment, and it’s a much more mentally demanding process than the trip itself, isn’t it? Still, I find it hard to regret any single decision.
    Cheers again, been following your journeys for a long time. Been thinking about submitting some cycling microadventures from China & Oman. Would that sound interesting?
    All the best,

    Ana & John from Romania

  2. Great interview guys (and I don’t normally read interviews but this had me hooked!)

    Your comments about going indie are spot on as well, Jason. I love being being indie because it fits my life choice of freedom – I don’t have to ask for anyone’s permission, I do things on my timeline, I don’t have to wait for approvals. I do use freelance editors (of which there are many, Al!) and pro designers but I run my own business, my way. This is also the reason I don’t think I would do a Kickstarter, because in the same way, you are beholden to those people who funded you. It curtails the freedom to change your mind.
    I’ve bought the first book in the trilogy – thanks for sharing!

  3. You’ve been killing it with your posts recently Alastair! Great interview.

  4. Erden Eruc Posted

    Thank you for this lengthy interview.

  5. James Chapman Posted

    Great conversation – particularly loved the bit about summoning up the nerve to just do it. Reminded me of a great little poem/quote I came across the other day.

    Start Before You’re Ready
    Don’t prepare. Begin.
    Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation: it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account.
    The enemy is resistance.
    The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reason why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.
    Start before you’re ready.

  6. Thanks Jason and Alistair. I’ve recently been persuading myself that I’m not capable of my 9 week trek across Scotland, planned for next spring. You’ve both just convinced me to shut my brain up and to change my thinking. Things look more exciting again!

  7. Fantastic story. Imagine still having to do interviews about something you started 2 decades ago!

    Just read the first two books of Jason’s trilogy back to back and absolutely loved them, by the way – highly recommended.

  8. The first 2 books of Jason Lewis’ trilogy are so good. Can’t wait for the third. Al, great interview. You are getting better and better.



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