Because you asked for it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, 12:00am


People who learn that I'm walking 5,000 kilometres from Mongolia to Hong Kong always have plenty to ask me. Here are the five most common questions.

1. Why go on these madcap adventures?

This is a huge question. In summary, I go on adventures for the same reasons as everyone else - because adventures are fun, they are a place of learning, and also a way of testing ourselves to the limit. In addition, I go on adventures to pay the bills.

2. Aren't you afraid?

Indeed, yes, I am regularly afraid when on adventures, but that's half the point of an adventure, isn't it? There are a couple of things I think about to deal with this fear.

First, I take only calculated risks. I work out what the main dangers are, sense-check that they are reasonable, and think hard about how to minimise them. I am also prepared to compromise if necessary. For example, while walking south through China this winter, I recently made the decision not to kayak down the semi-frozen Yellow River as originally planned, but instead to walk along it, as the risks of our kayaks being sunk or shredded by a sharp block of ice were just too great.

Second, I remind myself that often the fears may be in my head, and actually statistically very unlikely to happen. An example would be camping in the wild, which, to people unfamiliar with it, might seem scary or dangerous. When I first started wild camping in Europe, I was worried that I was accidentally pitching my tent in the field of an axe-murderer. Gradually, the more I camped, the less afraid I became of such dangers, as I realised that they are, in fact, completely negligible.

Nonetheless, I do regularly get afraid, and sometimes wimp out of taking risks. But just because we are afraid or bail sometimes is not a good reason not to go on an adventure. In fact, it is probably a good reason to go on one. It feels great to take on a fear and come out the other side intact, and the future suddenly feels full of possibility again. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: 'Do one thing every day that scares you.'

3. What does your family think?

My family have been amazingly supportive. They had taken me on camping holidays since I was young, and I did not go suddenly from there into completely crazy adventures. Rather, I started with small trips (a bike trip with a friend around Wales and Ireland), and then gradually grew to bigger trips (riding across Ethiopia), and then the even bigger adventures of cycling Siberia, walking Israel and the West Bank, and the latest: walking China. At times I have had to ask my family to trust my judgment about the places I am going - as I have more experience and also done more research than they. And to their credit, they have accepted my decisions, while on my part I have been prepared to make compromises and take fewer risks because of them.

4. Any advice about buying equipment?

I still think of my father's advice to me that when I buy an item of equipment, the first one I buy should be a cheap one, so I could learn how to use it and about what I really need. When I have worn out the first one, the second one I buy should be the very best I can afford, and it will last me a long time. So, for example, aged 18, I bought my first adult bicycle from a police auction in London for about HK$720. It carried me about 2,800 kilometres before falling apart. The next one I bought, a few years later, was about HK$4,800 - which was the best I could afford then. I ended up riding it over 55,000 kilometres across dozens of countries, and it still works today.

5. How do you afford it?

Depending on the type of adventure you are on, it need not cost a fortune. Once you are on the road - and especially if you are prepared to camp and eat simply - you can live very cheaply. In most countries you can live for less than HK$80 a day if you try.

Of course, it does start to get more expensive and complex if you are keen to document your trip with photos and video. On this expedition, my expedition partner, Leon McCarron, and I have an expensive camera, a laptop for backing up, and regularly have to replace little things that break. We are now on our third tripod and our ninth pair of sunglasses. However, if you are going on an adventure for its own sake, it can be economical as well as fun.

Rob Lilwall's previous expedition, Cycling Home From Siberia, became the subject of an acclaimed motivational talk, a book, and a National Geographic TV series. Every week in Health Post, he will write about the progress of his latest expedition, Walking Home From Mongolia, which is in support of the children's charity Viva.