Good news, everybody - we've made it!
Thanks to 662 of you putting faith in our project, Tom and I have successfully crowdfunded the editing budget for our films from Iran and Patagonia. Not just that, we managed to hit 112% of the target!
The deadline was midnight on Monday, and we began work on Tuesday morning. There's no messing around with this - we have until just the end of May to create two feature-length films. The team of professionals that we're going to surround ourselves with are readying themselves (think of it like the Avengers, but with more sitting down in dark editing room and less crime fighting.) In short - it's all happening!
I'll keep you updated every step of the way via this blog and on social media. In the meantime, let me say again how immensely happy Tom and I are to be making these films, and how grateful we are to all of you for being a part of them. These really couldn't happen without you! So - thank you, and I can't wait to share more of the material with you.
In late September last year, I saw the chance to squeeze in one last big journey before 2014 drew to a close. Within a few weeks had I put together the logistics, roped in a couple of friends and we were off with barely time to catch our breath and question what was going on...just the way adventures should be!
Our destination was the Rio Santa Cruz, the last free-flowing glacial river in Patagonia. It begins life in Lago Argentino, at the foothills of the Andes in the west of Argentina, then winds and meanders its way across the country to the Atlantic Ocean. We hoped to begin there, at its terminus in the east, and follow it upstream to the source just as the first explorers had tried to do.
Our journey was inspired by the story of that first comprehensive European expedition along the river, undertaken by Captain FitzRoy in 1834. FitzRoy had been charged with charting the coastline of South America, and his crew included a very young and very impressionable Charles Darwin who fancied himself as a bit of a geologist and amateur explorer. Both FitzRoy and Darwin left detailed writings of their journey along the river which, unfortunately, ultimately ended in their failure to reach the source (though they came heartbreakingly close.) Together with Tom Allen (who I travelled to Iran with earlier in the year) and an Argentinian friend, Jose, we hoped to use these diaries to make a journey in the footsteps of FitzRoy and Darwin. Patagonia is a land than can only be truly traversed on horseback, so we prepared for the expedition by acquiring five horses which we hoped would carry us all the way to the Andes.
There was another reason for our trip, too - in February 2015, construction is due to begin on two dams, which will flood huge sections of the valley and change the ecosystem and landscape completely. Somewhat sadly, it seemed we would not just be following in the footsteps of the first explorers; we would perhaps simultaneously be the last explorers ever to see the Rio Santa Cruz before it changes forever.
Below are a few pictures to give a hint of the journey. Watch out for more writing, and news on the film, coming soon. Enjoy!
This week I'm giving away two copies of my new book, The Road Headed West.
To be in with a chance of winning simply share this blog post, or copy the text below into Twitter or Facebook.
". @leonmccarron is giving away 2 copies of #theroadheadedwest. RT or 'like' for a chance to win! http://www.leonmccarron.com/the-road-headed-west.html"
Today is the day!
As of this morning, my first book - The Road Headed West - is officially on sale. I am incredibly excited, and more than a little nervous to finally share it with the world. I wrote this book because I wanted to tell the story of my journey across North America, but I honestly never expected more than a handful of friends and family to have a chance read it. The idea of publishers, marketing, book launches - those were never in my thinking. I'm delighted and amazed that there's been so much interest since those early days, and that it has now made it to this stage.
I believe very strongly in the story - that it's entertaining, and paints a detailed picture of real, small-town America as I saw it - and I certainly hope it's enjoyed by most (if not all!) who read it. Thank you to all the readers of this blog and everyone who has encouraged and helped me along on this and other journeys. Adventure is something I'm passionate about - an idea worth spreading - and more than anything I hope this book gives a hint of the rewards that lie in wait should we choose life on the road, with all it's risks and unknowns and promises.
How you can buy the book (and get a free DVD)
Signed books are available here, and regular copies through Amazon and in all good bookstores.The book costs £9.99, plus postage to wherever you are based.
As an added incentive, for anyone who buys from this site or from Amazon, I am offering a FREE copy of my film Into The Empty Quarter to anyone who buys online this week, Monday to Friday. Just forward me your e-receipt (to this address) and let me know whether you'd like a DVD* or HD digital download of the film.
I'm also giving having a few 'launch' events in various parts of the UK (including Canterbury, Bristol, London and Belfast. For details and dates of those, read more here.
* If you choose a DVD, I'm asking you to pay the postage, which for the UK is less than £1
Why you should buy the book (aside from the free DVD)
The major theme is that of a rite-of-passage journey - the adventure that happens to a naive 23-year old when he leaves behind everything he knows and sets off to learn about himself and the world at bicycle-speed.
It shows the transformations that happen, both to me and to the land around me. The book shows North America as I found it - a picture-portrait of a spot in time and space when I pedalled through. Others passing by just before or after me may have had an entirely different experience, but The Road Headed West is the story of what I found there, for better or worse. The book shows the diversity of the USA - the landscapes, yes, but even more so the people. There are a host of incredible characters in this story who I feel so lucky to have met, and even luckier to be able to include them in my book.
Finally, of course, the book is about adventure. It is about taking risks, mostly calculated ones, and showing what happens. This is a story set with the backdrop of a bicycle journey, but there are all sorts of other adventures that pop up at various points. When you do something unusual, like decide to spend 6 months riding a bicycle around America, then it's probably unsurprising that strange and wonderful things happen.
I suppose in a way it is also a book about bicycles. The bike is the catalyst for almost everything in this story - it is the vehicle that powers me westward, and it is the icebreaker in all of the conversations. It became my home, and the most reliable friend I had.
Overall, The Road Headed West is a collection of experiences, and a call-to-arms to embrace adventure in life - to buy the ticket, and take the ride.
One more thing...
At the back of my book, I've included my kit list, for those interested, and I've also written a 'How-to' section for travelling by bicycle. Touring on two wheels is a way of life I love, and pleasantly it's also a very simple one. I think though that this is not always clear to non-cyclists - certainly the idea of setting off with only a bicycle for company can be a daunting one. That's why I've added this section in the back - to dispel fears and debunk myths, and share the knowledge I learned the hard way about how to go from total novice to seasoned pro on the road.
Some sneak peaks
A year and a half has now passed since Al Humphreys and I walked 1000 miles through the Empty Quarter desert, and it's just over six months since we were finally able to screen the film for the first time at the wonderful Royal Geographical Society. How time flies.
We made that film, on one level, to chart our journey and to improve our skills as filmmakers, but mostly we made it to show the beauty and simplicity of adventure. Al and I are both passionate about encouraging everyone to escape into the wilds as often as possible, and making a film that we could share with a wide audience was a great platform for that message.
We also found, pleasantly, that we really loved travelling in Oman and the U.A.E. The landscapes were stunning, of course, but it was the people we met that made this trip memorable. Oil workers, truck drivers and government officials stopped to chat with us in the sands, some even treating us to ridiculously great gifts of watermelons, Pepsis and even ice-cream (in the desert!) A secondary aim of this project quickly became showing that positive, friendly side of the Middle East, and doing our bit in redressing the majorly negative media coverage the region often receives from the West.
We've been really chuffed with the positive reception to our film. It's played in quite a few festivals already, and sold well on DVD and download. For a bit of fun (and perhaps a bit of self-indulgent ego-building...) Al and I recently began to create a map of all the countries our film had been shown in. Rather annoyingly, it seems that the movie is now much more well-travelled than I am!
The map below shows the places where Into The Empty Quarter has been seen. It occurred to us that it would be really fun to try and get it seen in every country on the planet (next stop, world domination?) Aside from giving us a good story at dinner parties, the real reason for this is to spread those same messages that inspired us to create this film in the first place - that adventure is simple and wonderful and accessible, and that the Middle East is not a place to be feared (rather one to be enjoyed and appreciated by all.)
So here's what we're going to do. If you have a friend in any of the countries where our film has NOT been seen yet (the grey spaces on the map - hover the mouse over them to see the name if your geography isn't great!) then send me their email address and I'll send them a free film as a small gift from Al and I. That way, hopefully, everyone is a winner.
So where are your most exotically based friends? Or perhaps you're currently somewhere very exciting yourself? Or maybe there's someone you know that has been exiled somewhere grim and far-flung...in any case, get in touch! Either comment on this post or send me an email and I'll get a free copy of the film sent out straight away.
For the last 5 weeks I've been in Iran, attempting to follow the river Karun (the longest in the country) from source to sea.
Tom and I found all sorts of exciting, wild and madcap adventures in the mountains and plains of Southwest Iran. I'm very excited to share them with you in the coming weeks and months.
For now, here are a few very early pictures (the captions along the bottom will help orientate the images as a photo essay if you watch through from start to end.)
I'm also very hopeful that we'll be able to create a film of our story, so if you're keen to be updated on that then please pop your email address in the box below and I'll make sure you know when there's something to watch (no spam, I promise!)
Finally, I'm also very excited to let you know that after many years of pretending to write a book, I've eventually actually written a book! It tells the story of my very first (and still favourite) journey - cycling across America. The book will be published this summer, and as with the Iran film, there'll be more news to follow soon.
Enjoy the pictures!
With thanks to:
At the end of 2012 I went to Oman to pull a cart full of instant noodles through the largest sand desert in the world. That trip was very silly (and tremendous fun!), and one of the main things I took away from it was how much I enjoyed the region. Oman and the UAE were fantastic places, I discovered, full of great people. The Omanis and Emiratis looked after us well, when we saw them, but it was expat oil workers from other parts of the Middle East and Indian subcontinent that we encountered most frequently. Pakistanis brought us curry from their truck, Syrians gave us cake and Saudis offered to kill a camel and throw a celebratory party for us. Yemenis stopped to have a quick chat and wish us well, and Bahrainis gave gifts of more Pepsi than we could carry. It was my first visit to the Arabian peninsula and, aside from a brief holiday to Cairo one time, it was my first journey to the Middle East proper.
Happy 2014, all!
It promises to be an exciting year of adventure for me, and I hope for you too. One of my aims for this year is to share my film Into The Empty Quarter with as many people as possible (don't know what I'm talking about? Watch a trailer here.) A great way to do this is via film festivals, and Alastair and I will be entering as many as we can throughout the year.
I'm delighted to tell you that we already have our first acceptance! It's a good one too: Into The Empty Quarter will be playing at theSheffield Adventure Film Festival - one of the most respected events on this circuit - on the weekend of 4-6 April 2014.
Al and I have made (what seems to us) to be a pretty comprehensive list of our other favourite festivals. But we may have missed some. In the comments section here, or by sending me an email, please can you tell me what your favourite film festivals are - adventure, mountain, documentary or regular - I'm happy to hear them all!
For the record, along with the major players in the adventure film festival world (Banff and Kendal) I also love the sound of MountainFilm in Telluride, 5 Point Film and the inimitable Adventure Travel Film Festival.
AFI DOCS in Washington DC and Sheffield Doc Fest round out my choices for general documentary events.
Back in October I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxBelfast - a wonderful event with the theme of 'ideas worth spreading.' TEDx events are a bringing together of great minds and innovation, so I felt somewhat fraudulent to be sharing my stories of half-baked adventures...
Below is my talk on the topic of 'How to become an adventurer.' Be sure to also check out some of the other speakers from the event - there are some wonderful talks.
This time three years ago, I was cycling the Desert Road in New Zealand, en route to Wellington with 7000 miles of pedalling on the clock (and, unbeknown to me, another 7000 to go before I would make it home.)