A life on the (deserted) open road

Adventurer Leon McCarron tells us what he takes for granted, both at home and on his epic expeditions


When I was 22 I set off from New York City on a bicycle, and headed west across the continent. I’d grown tired of how easy and predictable my life had become and I’d begun to despise all the things that I felt were constraining me – house, job, social commitments, routine. I wanted a challenge, and I set off to find it on the open road.

A few years down the line and I now make a living from traveling the world, sharing stories. I’m less single-minded than I was back then and, ironically, the main discovery I’ve made from adventure is that I’m actually a big fan of ‘home’. All the things that first sent me off are also the things that draw me back each time.

Shortly after finishing that first cycling journey, I began a 3,000-mile walk across China. Life was uncomplicated – wake, walk, find somewhere to sleep. It was liberating; each day a new unknown. Before long, however, it was those very aspects that I had sought out that became challenging. I forgot to savour the freedom that comes with travelling on foot.

On days when my feet hurt and blisters burst, I ignored the beauty of the scenery around me – the frozen Yellow River, the crumbling Great Wall, the limestone karsts of Guilin. I took for granted my ability to walk a marathon each day with a 30kg backpack, and the simplicity of having a tangible and rewarding goal to aim for each day.

The same happens on every trip. In the Empty Quarter desert, it wasn’t until I got home that I fully appreciated the space and thinking time that such an empty space provides. In Iran, kayaking down the remote River Karun, I undervalued my high-quality equipment (until I capsized, that is, at which point I became a big fan of my LifeVest). In Argentina I became so used to the hospitality of locals that I almost began to expect strangers to take in both me and my horse for the night.

I’ve found, repeatedly, that the things I value the most in life are often things I take for granted – both at home, and on my expeditions. My solution? To juggle both – to use one way of living to remind me of the beauty of the other. To embrace routine and uncertainty, community and isolation, complexity and simplicity. Quite simply, to embrace adventure.

About Leon

Specialising in long-distance, human-powered expeditions, Leon McCarron has accomplished an impressive collection of feats, including crossing 1,000 miles of the Empty Quarter desert and completing a 3,000-mile walk from the Gobi desert in Mongolia to the South China Sea in Hong Kong.

He’s also made a solo 14,000-mile bike trip from New York to Hong Kong, a human-powered descent of Iran’s longest river, the Karun, and crossed Argentine Patagonia on horseback. You can find out more about him at

Published: 28 September 2015

Information correct at time of publication.

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