Leon McCarron is a Northern Irish adventurer, filmmaker, writer and motivational speaker.

He has cycled 14,000 miles from New York to Hong Kong, walked 3,000 miles across China, walked 1,000 miles through the Empty Quarter and then rode a folding bike around the UK, with smaller things in between.

Last month I attended the premier of the film about his trek through the Empty Quarter, an expedition which took place in 2012 in the company of our mutual friend Al Humphreys, an early guest on this podcast.


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The Requisite Amount of Misery for a Good Adventure

Leon McCarron
Leon McCarron

“Better to suffer in liberty than delight in captivity.(Mongolian proverb) 

“There’s a whole breed of adventurers these days who seem to survive on misery…. There is something wonderful about misery.” (Leon McCarron) 

While few adventurers would say that they actively enjoy suffering, it does seem to be a trademark of many adventures, to the extent that it may start to look like a prerequisite. Ranulph Fiennes, Shackleton, Franklin, Scott, Mallory…. all suffered, some terminally.

It is in the nature of adventure that it should be somewhat unpredictable, to be pushing a boundary, either personal or geographical or physical. And, as I have amply proved to myself, getting outside the comfort zone is, by definition, uncomfortable. You suffer.

I was delighted, in a schadenfreude kind of way, to hear that Leon had experienced the head-in-the-hands, why-am-I-doing-this kind of suffering that I also endured in my early days on the Atlantic.

Eventually I arrived at the realisation, as did Leon, that:

Suffering in the Empty Quarter (with Al Humphreys)
Suffering in the Empty Quarter (with Al Humphreys)

1. While suffering may not be inevitable, it is what makes adventure worthwhile. This allowed me to reconcile myself to being cheerfully miserable.

2. Putting your head in your hands only prolongs the agony. It’s perfectly feasible to be miserable while still making progress towards your goal. Best to get back on the saddle/rowing seat/road, and be miserable on the move.

3. The greater the suffering, the greater the sense of achievement. You’ll remember what you achieved, not how badly it hurt at the time. As Alastair Humphreys says, adventure is all about “selective amnesia and the rewards of retrospective pleasures”.

So I would argue that if it is all nicely packaged up and safe and discomfort-free, it’s a holiday, not an adventure. And while it may be much more enjoyable at the time, it’s not going to make such a good story in the pub afterwards.

“There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.” (Vaclav Havel)


Show Notes

0:45 This week’s recommendation for an audiobook from our sponsors Audible.com. Follow this link to our Adventure Podcast promotion. We recommend A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin.

3:45 Welcoming Leon McCarron

4:50 How did Leon get into adventure?

6:40 Cycling America 8:55 Investigating people’s passions

10:40 Sustainable transport

11:45 On misery and retrospective amnesia (since attributed to Al Humphreys)

12:50 Home – actual and spiritual

14:25 Global citizenship

15:00 Walking from Mongolia to Hong Kong

19:15 The kindness of strangers (again)

21:55 Gear talk – cart, or backpack?

24:50 Walking as therapy – or not?

27:00 Execrably slow modes of transport

29:15 Just….. Keep….. Going

30:35 Is adventure for everybody? YES! And “adventure” is all relative

32:30 Getting outside your comfort zone

33:55 Riding a folding bike around the British Isles

37:55 Bicycle-friendly cities

40:30 Into the Empty Quarter



With folding bicycle
Leon with folding bicycle

Leon’s website

Teaser for the Nat Geo TV series about the walk across China

Empty Quarter website

Empty Quarter trailer 

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