It is now over a year since I returned home from Hong Kong after a 3000 mile walk across China. It was quite a journey! During the expedition Rob Lilwall and I filmed our experiences extensively with a view to ultimately creating a 4 part TV series for National Geographic Channels. I am now delighted to say that the show has aired in Asia, and will be available to buy on DVD in the rest of the world imminently!
If you would like information on how to see the show for yourself and when the exact release date will be, please fill in your details below and I'll send you an email with how you can view it.
I hope it's been worth the wait!
On Friday I safely returned from my joyous little adventure around the British Isles. In 19 days I cycled 750 miles on a folding bicycle, climbed the 'Six Peaks' (the highest mountain in each of the six major regions) and saw some of the most beautiful parts of our wonderful islands.
"A cloud gathers, the rain falls, men live; the cloud disperses without rain, and men and animals die. In the deserts of southern Arabia there is no rhythm of the seasons, no rise and fall of sap, but empty wastes where only the changing temperature marks the passage of the year. It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease...
No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match."
Wilfred Thesiger - Arabian Sands
“Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors...disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
After 1000 miles of desert trekking, Alastair Humphreys and myself have made it safely to the ludicrously glitzy, vertical city of Dubai. We emerged from the desert to finish at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world - a suitable antithesis to the rest of our journey.
Inevitably we are exhausted, but overall feeling rather good. Pulling a 250kg cart through searing desert heat for weeks on end without a break may not sound like a lot of fun, and in fact, it wasn't. But it was certainly rewarding, and gave us access to some of the most beautiful and desolate landscapes I've ever seen. I cannot imagine a better use of two months of my life.
Once we've eaten, drunk and rested to excess, I'll write up some more info and stories from our journey. Our main goal for this trek, aside from exploring the desert, was to shoot a film. We'll both be working hard on putting that together at the start of next year.
Meanwhile - Happy Christmas from Dubai!
I am (just about) ready for the off. My plane departs from London in a few hours.
Ahead of me is 6 weeks of beautiful desert, searing heat, crushing (or liberating) isolation and mile after mile of cathartic, energy-sapping, gut-busting cart pulling!
It's very unlikely that I'll have access to emails or a telephone during that time. I will be, for all intents and purposes, off the map (as Jack Bauer used to say in 24 - "I'm going dark.")
Unfortunately there will be no blogs during this time, although we may be able to post the occassional twitter message using a SPOT Connect satellite receiver.
This website will go quiet until Christmas, when I'll begin to share the story upon our return.
See you on the other side...Oman, here I come!
Meanwhile - check out this video below by the photographer George Steinmetz - this should give you a good idea of where Al and I will be...
Wilfred himself in 1947
It’s now just a few days until Alastair Humphreys and I set off to explore the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter desert, on foot. Al has written a great blog post explaining some of our motives and what we hope to achieve on this expedition. We will follow the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger – literally in that we hope to roughly retrace the route of his 1947 crossing of the Sands, and metaphorically in that we are seeking some of the same escape, fulfillment, joy and ascetic misery he was searching for in the largest sand desert on earth.
We won’t be blogging during the trek. Instead we’ll be filming the whole journey extensively, with our main aim being to make a great documentary at the end of it all. We’ll be tweeting using our SPOT tracking device to give some basic updates on our progress.
Our start point is Salalah, the second city of Oman. Having never been there I can’t comment on it too much, but it certainly seems a beautiful and relaxed place. With help and guidance from those much more experienced than us, Al and I have settled on a design for our desert cart. We’re using quite a simple but robust structure, and doubling up the wheels on each corner for increased surface area on the sand (to stop us sinking.) Onto the cart we will load jerry cans of water, bags of food and the rest of our personal equipment. Everything will have to be exceedingly minimalist, as it seems dragging a heavy cart through sand in 40 degree heat will be rather tiring.
We hope that the total weight will not be much more than 250kg, and we’ll tandem pull. Every two weeks or so we will resupply with water, but the food we carry from Salalah must last us until Dubai, our end point, 43 days later.
The challenges of this journey are probably rather clear. Heavy cart, deep sand, relentless heat. Potential for sandstorms. Infrequent, if not complete absence of, human contact. Spending 6 weeks walking just inches away from each other, with no escape. Long, hard days of trekking with monotonous scenery. A diet of dates and couscous. No (or heavily rationed) whisky supplies.
Clothing (not all of these items were carried all the time, that depended on the weather)
Berghaus kindly supplied us with the clothing for the expedition, which proved brilliantly warm in the winter and very comfortable. As the weather warmed, we gradually switched to warmer summer clothes.
Berghaus Tights (thin and thermal)
Berghaus Base Layers x 3
Berghaus Hiking Trousers
Berghaus Puffa Jacket
Berghaus Gloves (thin and thick)
Berghaus Gortex trousers
Berghaus Gortex top
Got any questions about what it's like walking from Mongolia to Hong Kong? Well, hopefully Rob and I can provide the answers below! If there's anything you think we need to add to this FAQ then just post your question at the bottom, and I'll get back to you as best I can.
What were your highlights from the expedition?
LEON: For me the highlight was the Gobi Desert. I’d only had a little desert experience before this, and never on foot. It was quite intimidating setting off into the vast void in Winter, especially as it was right at the start of our journey when we were still fresh, and far from ‘battle-hardened.’ To cross the Mongolian Gobi took 13 days, during which we pulled a trailer (called Molly Brown) laden with all our food and water for the duration. It was tough, and it was cold, but it was also beautiful. The expanse of the desert was immense and humbling, and the sunsets were otherworldly. Arriving at the border town of Zamyn-Uud after nearly two weeks was a real highpoint, and one of my fondest memories of the whole trip.
ROB: For me, it was to be immersed in the experience of walking through, and seeing at ground-level, the incredible landscapes of China –deserts, mountains, valleys, forests – it is stunning. Alongside that, I loved getting to know more of the Chinese people, who showed such kindness towards us.
And what were the low points?
LEON: I found the seemingly endless winter became a real struggle. The thought of trying to hold a camera steady as fingers became increasingly painful and then numb was not a pleasant one.
ROB: Walking down a road (usually very slowly and painfully) which both Leon and I thought would be ideal for cycling!
Did you ever think you might die?
Neither of us ever felt that we were going to die during this adventure! The cold weather gave a few worrying nights when we slept fitfully and just couldn’t get warm – frostbite was always a slight fear.
The biggest danger though was always traffic– if anything was going to really cause us problems on this walk, it was likely to be Chinese driving.
Finally, after After 195 days, 10 million steps and far too many instant noodles, Rob and I arrived safely back into Hong Kong on the 26th May, right on time! We are both exhausted, but delighted to have completed this journey, and so glad that we had the opportunity to attempt it.
There'll be plenty of updates and post-expedition reflections appearing on these pages (and on the dedicated website at www.walkinghomefrommongolia.com) in the coming days and weeks, but for now you can check out a photo montage of our walk below.
We hope you enjoy it, and we really want to say thanks to all of you who have followed our trip and supported us and Viva along the way. Cheers, everyone!