How I get through times of trouble

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2012, 12:00am


On any adventure you should always expect the unexpected so that you're not taken by surprise when the going gets tough - and failure becomes a possibility.

Recently, our Walking Home From Mongolia expedition has been getting tough. It's not only the regular routine of hiking through the extreme cold and never knowing where we are going to sleep each night, but I'm also struggling with a foot injury and mental exhaustion, and last week I received a message from England saying my dear grandmother had died (aged an amazing 106), so I am now really missing my family.

On Thursday, things were starting to look better again. My expedition partner, Leon McCarron, and I had a beautiful day's walk up a valley that had ridges strewn with ancient Ming dynasty watchtowers. We had lunch in a cool village which was hemmed in by a 15-metre-high mud wall. While the sun set, we put our tents up on some grass beside a frozen stream and felt pretty good.

But as we prepared to sleep, we both noticed that we were not feeling hungry, and a few minutes later we both fell ill with stomach upsets. It must have been the egg fried rice we had for lunch in the walled village. As a result, all night we were diving out of our tents into the frigid air and into the bushes.

I woke up the next morning feeling exhausted and nauseated. We were in the middle of nowhere, running out of water and slightly behind schedule. We had no choice but to keep walking.

The day's hike, although beautiful, was a struggle. I was feeling weak and ill, and as I thought about our problems I began to question whether we could actually pull off this expedition; that perhaps we should cut our losses and give up. But I know that would be a bad idea.

These are a few things I tell myself when I feel like giving up:

- How would I feel if I did? About six years ago, while dragging my bicycle through the mountains of Papua New Guinea on another expedition, the road became blocked by a flooded river. I retreated to the foot of the mountains, very much in the mood to give up. Then I thought about how I would feel if I did. The next week, the rivers subsided, I made it across - and I felt so happy.

- I think about what quitting does to me as a person. I know that if I give up in the midst of difficulty on an expedition, that will make me more prone to give up in the midst of other difficult but worthwhile things in life. And that is not the sort of person I want to become. As someone once said: 'I am now becoming who I will one day be.'

- Tough times don't last but tough people do and good times don't last, but good people do. Things will get better if I just keep going. 'The answer to all my problems is to walk another 10 kilometres,' I tell myself.

- Like Henry Ford, I must remember that 'nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs'. So, I should not think of the 3,500 kilometres to go, but of getting to the end of today. I should aim for our smaller goal of reaching the Yellow River by Lunar New Year. As Jesus said: 'Do not worry about tomorrow ... each day has enough trouble of its own.'

- I like to remember the notion that the tougher the job, the greater the challenge - to treat my problems like fun challenges that I should strive to overcome through hard work, praying like mad, some out-of-the-box thinking and taking a bit of pain.

- A big motivation for this trip is to raise money for the children's charity Viva. I know this journey is very much easier than the lives that many children in the world have to endure.

Thus, as I write this article in a little Chinese village house in the mountains of Shaanxi, I resolve that, by God's grace, I will keep going.

Rob Lilwall's previous expedition, Cycling Home From Siberia, became the subject of a motivational talk, a book, and a National Geographic TV series. Every week, he will write about the progress of Walking Home From Mongolia.