Dorset-born Jason Lewis was in his early 20s when he and university chum Steve Smith first dreamed up the idea to circumnavigate the globe by only human-powered means. After thirteen gruelling years Jason became the first person in the world to accomplish the feat, which he has documented in his book Expedition.
The journey, which Jason planned while working as a cleaner in West London, was originally estimated to take three to four years. “I figured if I didn’t do this now I’d never get the chance to do it again,” Jason recalls.
The pair spent two years fundraising and building a 26-foot human-powered boat that could hold enough supplies for 152 days and would take them across the Atlantic to America. “We didn’t really have time to get fit beforehand but we figured we could get fit as we went along,” he says.
The epic journey, which included walking, cycling, rollerblading, kayaking and pedalling a boat, was lined with bumps along the road. Jason came within days of dying before being diagnosed with septicaemia during a five month crossing of the Pacific Ocean. He was arrested and held as a spy on the Sudan-Egypt border. He suffered malaria, altitude sickness, and while rollerblading across North America he was struck in a hit-and-run by an 82 year-old drunk driver with cataracts who left him for dead in Colorado. Suffering two broken legs, he spent nine months recuperating and was at risk of having his left leg amputated. “That was the first point I thought I’d have to throw in the towel,” Jason admits. “The whole thing started off kind of gung-ho but then I realised this is potentially quite a dangerous thing we were doing. From that point on I took the whole thing more seriously and had more respect for the risks involved.”
When Steve decided to go home part-way through the trip, Jason continued the adventure solo. While kayaking off the Queensland coast in Australia he had a close encounter with a 15-foot crocodile. “I was about 50 metres from the shore and kind of felt something behind me. I looked around and could just see this pair of eyes staring at me. It was one of those hideous moments. I’ve never paddled so fast.” After reaching the shallows and thinking he was safe, Jason turned around to see the crocodile had followed him into the shore and was trying to take his kayak, a very necessary means in Jason’s travels and one that he couldn’t afford to lose. “I ran down to the beach and shooed it off with my paddle, we played tug of war and I managed to get the paddle free, smashed it over its head and eventually frightened it back into the water. Obviously I didn’t sleep a wink that night while I was camping.”
Jason Lewis will be talking more about his adventures and his new book as part of the Dulwich Festival, speaking at Old Library, Dulwich College, Dulwich Common, SE21 7LD on Monday May 13 at 7:30pm. Admission: £8 / £6 concession. http://www.dulwichfestival.co.uk/