Leon McCarron’s excellent adventures
The 29-year-old professional adventurer from Co Derry is only getting started
Leon McCarron with Alastair Humphreys in the film ‘Into the Empty Quarter’
Leon McCarron: ‘East to west made sense because that’s the way the pioneers went’
For a man who has cycled across Australia, the US and southeast Asia, Leon McCarron is remarkably unassuming. When he embarked on the five-month, 6,000-mile journey, whose first leg is documented in his forthcoming travel book, The Road Headed West, he insists he was “as clueless as they come” about arduous foreign travel, never mind the finer points of bicycles.
A native of Castlerock, Co Derry, McCarron’s childhood was spent surrounded by the rugged beauty of Ireland’s north coast.
After graduating from the University of Kent in 2008 with a degree in film studies, he was gripped by the desire to leave the cosy environs of academia and pedal in a different direction.
“I think a lot of people have this wanderlust, this need to go and do something a bit crazy, to challenge themselves in some way,” he says. Nobody should be bound by narrow horizons, he says, while arguing that you don’t have to journey to the ends of the Earth to stretch yourself, mentally and physically.
“Cycling across America is not for everyone,” he says. “But I would really advise people to go off and do what they are passionate about. It’s not necessarily a big journey, a big physical endeavour. It’s just taking a risk; doing something different.”
Inspired by the writing of Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck, men who captured the essence of the American heartland, McCarron was drawn to the majestic expanse that is the American west.
“East to west made sense because that’s the way the pioneers went,” he says. “There’s something appealing about rediscovering a country as it had once been discovered.”
Despite his determination, however, and despite spending several years playing around with the idea of a pilgrimage into the unknown and saving his money along the way, he found it hard to take the plunge and set off. A six-month relocation to New York helped him to make the transition.
“Honestly, by far the bravest thing I ever did was actually starting this, because once I’d started it was very hard to get out of it,” he says.
As McCarron made his ponderous progress across the US and into Mexico, his trusty if overburdened bicycle became his entire world: a crutch, both physical and metaphorical.
He cycled as far as Hong Kong via New Zealand. Despite the hardships of that first journey, his prevailing feeling on completing the route was not one of accomplishment. “Essentially I was feeling relieved,” he says.
The 28-year-old professional adventurer, who describes himself as “a storyteller”, has not rested on his laurels since reaching Hong Kong. His 3,000-mile walk across China was filmed by National Geographic and released as a four-part series.
And in 2012, he crossed 1,000 miles of the Arabian Desert with his fellow traveller Alastair Humphreys, and documented the trip, releasing it as an independent film, Into the Empty Quarter.
He is now based in London, where he is editing the footage of his trek along Iran’s 450-mile long Karun river, from source to sea, for a new documentary.
The heft of these epic exploits gives McCarron additional work as a motivational speaker. He is witty and urbane, and modest enough to make his feats seem quite normal. But audiences are impressed by the strength of his will and his willingness and ability to live near the extremes of human endeavour.
“I’m a low-adrenalin adventurer,” he says, distinguishing himself from television’s own action enthusiast Bear Grylls. “And I’m a lot less rich.”
The Road Headed West is published by Summersdale. Follow Leon McCarron on Twitter @leonmccarron