Back in the arms of love

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am


It's been about two weeks since we arrived home in Hong Kong after walking 5,000 kilometres back from Mongolia. In our final week, my cameraman Leon McCarron and I were in Guangzhou, walking through the heavily industrialised region of Dongguan.

Manufacturing towns were piled so thickly on top of one another that our route consisted of one seemingly unending muddle of twisted roads and sprawling factory complexes. Our smartphone map struggled to keep up with this rapidly changing layout.

It sometimes led us down roads that no longer existed or ended at the gates of a new development.

The days were hot, and we enjoyed the early morning and evening the most, although the evenings included the challenge of walking down streets full of young factory workers going home.

We finally staggered into Shenzhen, and down our last mainland street to the Lo Wu border post. As I walked into Hong Kong, the immigration official narrowed her eyes at my thick beard, unsure whether I was the same person as in my passport photo. But I didn't mind. I was just happy to be crossing the border.

The next day we started walking home through Tai Po, and then over the beautiful Wilson Trail, where monkeys lounged around in the middle of the path. We finally reached the end of Nathan Road.

It was a Friday night, and the street was thick with shoppers, couples out on dates, and people heading home from work.

We had to be careful not to knock anyone over with our heavy rucksacks, as the crowds ploughed past each other in a hurry.

After two hours, we reached the Star Ferry clock tower, and I climbed onto the viewing platform to see Hong Kong's epic skyline towering around us.

I had arranged to meet my wife, Christine, here. I wandered around nervously in search of her for a few minutes before spotting her sitting on the waterfront. I was back in her arms again, at last.

The next day, our friend Tobi gave us a ride back to Lantau on his junk. At Discovery Bay, a group of 80 friends joined me for the final walk back to my home village of Mui Wo.

Since being back, I have enjoyed simply being with Christine again. I also appreciate not having to get up at dawn and walk for 13 hours with a heavy rucksack.

Looking back on the journey, it all feels like a dream, as if it was not me who was doing it.

I ask the same question that I asked myself many times during the long walk home: was it a good use of six months of my life?

Walking across snowy deserts, through rugged mountains, down frozen river valleys, past sub-tropical hills and through hundreds of villages, towns and cities - what was the point?

This is partly the way I make a living. My job entails writing, motivational speaking and television shows. I suppose that justifies doing it.

Also, we have so far raised almost HK$400,000 for the children's charity Viva, an organisation my wife and I are very passionate about.

But was it worth the risks? Well, it was not a particularly dangerous expedition. At least not compared to others I have undertaken in Papua New Guinea, the West Bank and in Afghanistan.

It was, however, a very hard slog that was full of discomfort.

But I think some hardship is not such a bad thing once in a while, as doing strenuous things helps us appreciate our home comforts.

It is good to treat life like an adventure. As my friend Todd says, life is not a dress rehearsal.

So I think we need to live as best we can, according to our deepest beliefs and values. Life is not about being as comfortable as possible.

The winner in life is not the person who dies with the biggest bank balance. As the writer Don Miller says, we should live and make our decisions as if we are characters in an epic story.

I was very pleased that my goal for the expedition was to walk home, rather than reach some unknown place on the map.

The thought of finally returning home was a deep source of motivation for me each day. I reflected on home as I walked, passing by other people's homes in China, where I was often welcomed and looked after.

I believe that 'home' is not just the place where I can live safely and comfortably. It is more than simply the place where my belongings are.

More than anything, it is the place where I am with my wife. And it is the place where I am among a community of friends.

Rob Lilwall is a writer, motivational speaker, and TV adventurer based in Hong Kong. This is the final article of a six-month series in Health Post that followed the progress of his Walking Home From Mongolia expedition.

His journey was made in support of the children's charity Viva. National Geographic is now producing a television series about the journey. Details are at