In 1994, Jason Lewis set out to circumnavigate the globe using nothing but human power. When he was done, 13 years later in 2007, Lewis had swam, paddled, kayaked, walked, cycled and rollerbladed a staggering 46,505 miles. He became the first person to manage an antipodal circumnavigation powered purely by muscle (and grit).
In Mumbai to launch Johnnie Walker Blue Label’s Limited Edition Collection Trunk, Lewis spoke to Condé Nast Traveller about his epic journey.
Tell us how Expedition 360’s circumnavigation project came about?
It was not my idea. It was my friend Steve’s. When we were in university, we used to go off on these weekend trips like a two-or-three-day hike, without knowing what or where we were going to eat or sleep. And we just loved that idea of not knowing. So when he came to me with this circumnavigation idea, it sounded like an extension of those very trips we used to make.
Your journey was over 46,000 miles. What were the most memorable experiences? Chris Tipper (the boat builder) and I paddled to the Solomon Islands, a very wild and untouched corner of the earth just off the northeast coast of Australia. And we didn’t know about it, but a civil war had just broken out between Guadalcanal and Malaita. Everyone had gone. When we got there, they thought we were from the other island and they pointed guns at us, demanding to ask where we were and they tried to take our ‘motor’ away from us. They were shocked when I pulled out our pedal mechanism and said ‘this is all we’ve got.’ They couldn’t believe that we had just landed here in a human-powered craft. They were so impressed, they embraced us.
What was your first brush with India like? It was not good. I bicycled from Kathmandu to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, and was nearly robbed. South of Gorakhpur, I made the mistake of trying to camp and accepted help from two guys who initially appeared to be friendly. Then one of the guys tried to run away with my bag, but I chased him down. In the next town, however, I was put up in a gurudwara. It was a tumultuous day. From nearly being robbed to accepting the kindness of complete strangers.
Then, it took me three weeks to bicycle 1900 miles to Mumbai. By that time, I was smitten with India. It had gotten under my skin. And then, when I was leaving Mumbai, we were pedalling out past the boats at the Gateway of India and just after we passed Prong’s Lighthouse, our rudder hit something, a rock, reef or wreck that wasn’t on the charts, and it broke. So we came back. Thankfully, a shipwright at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club made us an entirely new rudder from teak by hand in just one day. I can honestly say that you would never get that anywhere else in the world.
This is super-super slow travel. In contrast, what does zipping across time zones feel like? As efficient and useful as air travel is, it is quite barbaric. I try and fly less, because it’s obviously quite hypocritical for me to fly around to talk about sustainable travel and my journey. It’s definitely a great way for me to get around and spread the word about sustainability, but at the same time, I know it impacts the planet. And I do feel that human-powered travel is a more natural and civilised way to travel. For instance, jet lag wasn’t a problem at all, because my body wasn’t trying to process large differences in time within a short span.
What is your travel-pet peeve? Sand. I remember when I was kayaking in Indonesia, I couldn’t do anything without sand being a part of everything I did. It gets in your sleeping bag, it gets in your food—it gets everywhere! I lost track of the number of times I had sand in my dinner. And after paddling and exerting all day, to find sand in the one meal you’re really looking forward to—probably your only meal of the day—to discover sand crunch between your teeth as you eat...that’s the worst.
Any general travel advice or tips? I think the most important thing for anyone looking for an adventure—or even just wanting to travel in general—is to do it. Just begin. Given how busy our lives are in this day and age, it’s so difficult to break away. There are always at least 10 reasons why we can’t just get up and go on a journey. But getting out of your comfort zone is good. It’s important to just start. Even if you don’t know how to go about it or you don’t have enough cash. I started my entire journey on £319.20. Now I look back and think to myself, “Where would I have been today if I hadn’t just gotten up and decided to do this?” Just go. Don’t have everything planned out or marked down. That’s no way to live, and that’s definitely no way to travel.