Leon gets his shot
For the past five months, I have been walking home from Hong Kong to Mongolia with a young, professional adventure cameraman, Leon McCarron, who is filming the journey for a National Geographic television programme.
In this week's column, I ask Leon a few questions about his experiences during this gruelling journey through China.
What made you want to be an adventure cameraman?
I've always loved going on adventures and challenging myself. Another passion was being creative, and camerawork was an exciting outlet for this creativity. After finishing a degree in film studies, I was trying to decide what to do with my life, and I suddenly thought 'why not combine the two things I love into a career?' It seemed like a perfect fit to become an adventure cameraman.
What other big expeditions had you been on before Walking Home From Mongolia?
I try to live an adventurous lifestyle, and do at least one adventurous thing a month. When I lived in England, I used to pack my tent and take budget flights to Europe. On one of these trips in Poland, I was bitten by a rabid dog. In 2010, I went on a one-year bicycle trip around the world, starting in New York, and heading on across America, New Zealand, Australia and Southeast Asia, finishing in Hong Kong about a year ago. I had a few adventures with tornadoes, flooded rivers and robbers, but I loved it.
Why did you decide on this trip?
After cycling along the south coast of China last year, I really wanted to see more of this amazing country. I also knew that I wanted a change from cycling. It's a brilliant way to travel, but I wanted to see just one or two countries at a much slower pace. When I reached Hong Kong, Rob asked me to do Walking Home From Mongolia. This idea fit very well with my own thoughts and is an amazing career opportunity.
How has this journey differed from your expectations?
Ha, ha. Longer, harder, tougher. Filming in conditions of extreme cold (or more recently, heat) - on top of carrying a 25kg pack for 13 hours a day, through rugged terrain, six days a week - has been a challenge, to say the least.
In terms of my expectations of China, I knew enough to know it is a country where you have to expect the unexpected. So, in that regard, it has been as I imagined: China is a place of madness and wonder.
What were the highs?
The Gobi Desert. I think I have discovered a real passion for deserts. Also, the arrival of the first signs of spring after a long, hard winter - the first day not wearing gloves, the first bits of blossom, and seeing life breathing back into the world.
And the lows?
The relentless battering of winter. Around January, I had reached a point where I could not remember what it was like to not have numb hands when I was filming, and I knew I'd have to endure this for a couple more months.
The other difficult aspect has been the relentless toll of the journey on our bodies. We never seem to be totally free from exhaustion and minor injuries.
What is it like walking with Rob?
I first knew about Rob when I read his book, Cycling Home From Siberia, before I went cycling myself. I then managed to meet him a couple of times in London and New York, and he and his wife Christine invited me to come and stay with them when I reached Hong Kong on my bicycle. Then Rob told me about the expedition. We didn't actually know each other very well when we set off for Mongolia.
But over the months of walking, we have worked very well as a team. We both take life with a pinch of salt and keep a sense of the absurd about what we are doing, so we have found it pretty easy to get along.
I have always felt you find out how well you get on with someone during times of crisis and trial - and we have faced many on this expedition and have got through them all with our friendship intact.
At the same time, walking with anyone for this length of time can put pressure on any friendship, and so that has been difficult.
I should mention that on expeditions Rob is a smelly person. I did not believe feet could smell that bad. One thing I'm most looking forward to after this is over is not waking up to the smell of Rob's feet.
Rob Lilwall's previous expedition, Cycling Home From Siberia, became the subject of an acclaimed motivational talk, a book, and a National Geographic television series. Every week in Health Post, he will write about the progress of his new expedition, Walking Home From Mongolia, which is in support of the children's charity Viva. walkinghomefrommongolia.com