Jason Lewis went round the world under human power alone. That’s no motors, and no sails. And that’s not easy. Expedition 360’s three-year journey actually took him 13 years, and in that time he notched up the record for the first ever pedal-boat to complete an east-west Atlantic crossing (from Portugal to Miami) and had a near miss with a whale. He crossed mainland USA using in-line skates and a bike, and then pedaled his boat to Australia. So who better to guide us through the practicalities of planning a worldwide expedition? Pens and paper at the ready!
Find a unique idea
“People had rowed across oceans, cycled across continents. But no one had gone every step of the way by human power,” reveals Lewis. “So it was about finding something unique. It was a simple, pure idea, that begged to be done.”
But you don’t need to think so big. “Most expeditions involve going off for a few months to climb a mountain or cross an ice cap before returning to cash in on the publicity and plan and raise money for the next adventure. Expedition 360 was 16 of these major expeditions rolled into one.”
Plan. Plan. Plan!
Plan. Meticulously. Lewis says neither he nor fellow traveller Steve Smith knew what they were getting into at the beginning. “I suppose the combination of our naivety of just how much time and effort it takes to complete a true circumnavigation, the immense cost involved (nearly £300,000) and the unforeseeable accidents and mishaps have added up to it being such a monstrous project.”
You din’t need to be an ‘expert’
Anyone can do it. Really. Lewis and Smith went to university together and shared a love of doing ‘mad things’ and playing practical jokes. Neither had a background in adventure or exploration – or even outward-bound stuff. The most Lewis had done was a three-day hike in the Chilterns. “It was like two idiots abroad when we first set out,” he says. Smith was an environmental scientist and travelling round the world under human power was his dream. “It didn’t involve fossil fuels, so it had a message in there,” Lewis says.
You’re never too old
Lewis was 26 years old when he left London for the 13-year trip. “We wanted to do something fairly significant before getting tied down with mortgages and families,” he says. Aged 39, he was still on his monumental expedition. And come on, Ranulph Fiennes has just climbed Everest at the ripe old age of 65.
Finding money is hard
“It is so hard to find backing,” Lewis says. “Marketing managers just looked at our proposal and couldn’t get over the fact it was going to last three years (little did they know it would actually last 13). They were looking for short, snappy three-to-four month projects. We were just too risky, with no track record.
“We never did get any sponsorship in the end. We borrowed £24,000 from our parents, paid some friends who were boat builders and got our boat. Moksha was the first boat they built and the design was perfect; it would have cost double if we’d gone to a commercial boat yard. Today you can go on an ocean rowing website and buy a boat for about £15,000.”
Look for donations
“We got lucky with food – which was donated by the British Army,” Lewis says. “Plus a lot of companies donated equipment for the boat such as the Epirb, compasses, etc. – in return for a sticker on the side of the boat.
“We were filming the journey for Discovery Europe as well so it was pretty easy to get product. TV is the key. We didn’t need much clothing, and the bikes were donated.”
Raise money on route
“We spent five months in America doing talks and selling t-shirts – a theme we repeated throughout the journey. For every hour of actual travelling there was about three hours on the ground trying to find funding,” Lewis says.
“We’d give a talk about our expedition for free, then sell merchandise afterwards. And that model pretty much worked every time. Our pedal boat, Moksha, was the perfect fundraising prop too – we’d take it to boat shows and public events and people could get in and see the barnacles – so it would come alive for them when we told them about our encounters with sharks.”
“You really have to have a charity aspect to your expedition – particularly if you’re from the UK,” Lewis says. “If you don’t have an outreach component, you’re labelled as very selfish.”
Lewis and Smith worked with teachers to develop a curriculum based on their adventure – practical stuff about carbon footprints, with kids doing exercises in classrooms while they did similar experiments on the pedal boat. The children would then compare the data. “Then for the last third of the trip, when we saw kids in these schools in East Timor in Indonesia had nothing, that’s when the fundraising aspect really kicked in. We realised what these guys needed was hard cash to get decent medicine.”
Be very careful
“For me, the first major ‘what the hell have I done’ moment was getting run over in Colorado. I was in hospital for three weeks with two broken legs and out of action for nine months. My left leg was sufficiently shattered for me to have to consider having it amputated. I remember lying by the side of the road after it had happened thinking: ‘Oh shit – this isn’t a lark any more.’
“I suddenly realised it was a lot more serious than I gave it credit and a lot more dangerous.”
Be prepared for setbacks
“I was on my own after Steve had left, pedalling off a little island called Parua. I got caught in a band of water that flows the wrong way – East – whereas everything else was going West.
“For two and a half weeks I was pedalling against this current – 13 hours on, then waking up after just a few hours sleep, and realising I was back where I started. It was super demoralising. I’d also developed blood poisoning from a pathogen in the seawater and I was getting sick and delirious. I was kneeling on the bottom of Moksha, crying, thinking ‘This was the most fucking stupid idea!’
“Luckily a dermatologist in Colorado had been reading my web reports and realised I wasn’t well from my writing. She diagnosed me with an infection she thought was from the sea water – I had antibiotics on board for my legs and this possibly saved my life.”
So, the golden rule when embarking on an expedition: It pays to stay in touch.
For more information, visit www.expedition360.com