I have to confess that I am a little in awe of this podcast’s guest, and I don’t say that lightly. Between 1994 and 2007, Jason Lewis travelled over 45,000 miles under his own power to complete the first human-powered circumnavigation of the world. He used bicycles, rollerblades, kayaks, swimming, rowing, walking, and his trusty pedal-powered boat Moksha to travel though 37 countries in 5 continents, and across 2 oceans and one sea.

Jason and I have never actually met, although I have met two of his Moksha crewmates, and Jason and I had quite a bit of correspondence in the run-up to my landing in Tarawa in the middle of the Pacific, where he had also landed.

 

Who Are You Really?

Jason Lewis
Jason Lewis

“If you remove yourself from the day-to-day humdrum and all that surrounds you and supports the idea about who you think you are – what is left? Who are you really?” (Jason Lewis)

In an era when the word “epic” is overused to the point of meaninglessness, Jason Lewis re-calibrates the word as it relates to adventure. His 13-year odyssey is positively biblical in its scale.

And yet the impression I take away from Jason’s book and our conversation is that, for him, the most important journey was the inner one. It was not the number of miles, countries or continents that he covered, but the number of layers that he could strip away from our superficial perceptions of reality, in his quest to discover the essential truths beneath.

Physical hardship has long been sought out as a route to spiritual growth. When I read about Jason sleeping in a shed full of swans, or in parks, or under any kind of rudimentary shelter in between his voyages, it reminded me of the Indian sadhus. The Sanskrit terms sādhu (“good man”) and sādhvī (“good woman”) refer to renouncers who have chosen to live a life apart from or on the edges of society to focus on their own spiritual practice. Many of them are naked, bathe in cold water, meditate daily, and live an ascetic life, turning their backs on materialism. Remind you of anybody?!

I was inspired in my decision to row the Atlantic by a book called, “Cave in the Snow”, by Tenzin Palmo, originally Diane Perry from the East End of London, who converted to Buddhism and spent 12 years alone in a remote cave 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas. She grew her own food and slept in a traditional wooden meditation box, three feet square. Again, not so different from life on board a human-powered vessel.

Aboard the pedal-powered boat Moksha
Aboard the pedal-powered boat Moksha

What is it about the wilderness – maybe particularly the ocean, on this now-overcrowded planet – that is so seductive to the spiritual seeker?

Could it be that, back in an earlier era when we all lived in wilderness, we were on a daily basis connected with something larger than ourselves? That we understood that everything is interconnected and interdependent? And even now that we are mostly urbanised and materialised and “civilised”, we sometimes feel the urge to get back into the wilderness, to reconnect, to try and rediscover that part of ourselves that has got all covered up by the multiple veneers of our new reality?

“It is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being alone.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Moksha:  means emancipation, liberation or release. In eschatological sense, it connotes freedom from saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth. In epistemological and psychological sense, moksha connotes freedom, self-realization and self-knowledge. (Wikipedia)

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Show Notes

Pedalling back into London after 13 years
Pedalling back into London after 13 years

2:00 Jason and the school careers adviser: “How can you know what you really want to do until you really know who you are?”

4:00 Flying the coop: “My fear was blindly subscribing to the whims of an increasingly materialistic society, with its shallow mediocrity and hollow indulgences, offering no deeper meaning or purpose than the indiscriminate production and consumption of Stuff, the treadmill existence of human battery hens.”

6:00 The long and winding road to adventure (via window cleaning and a dodgy-sounding band)

7:00 Steve Smith and Jason Lewis – comrades in philosophy as well as adventure (Apology: I have no idea why I said Salcombe is in Cornwall. As any fool knows, it’s in Devon.)

9:00 Teamwork and spiritual enlightenment – are they compatible?

14:20 Solo or team? Jason has a uniquely broad experience of solo, various crewmates, same crewmate twice with very different outcomes. Three is NOT a crowd – actually the sweet spot.

18:15 The importance of laughter – and a top tip for frightening away pirates

20:00 The wonders of being weird – bizarre forms of transport bring out the best in strangers

21:30 Paddling vs pedalling, with an honourable mention of Peter Bird

26:50 Bringing mindfulness back to dry land

28:05 Dicing with death

31:00 DON’T LEAVE THE BOAT!!!

32:00 Becoming a sea creature

33:00 Do explorers explore in order to prove themselves? “If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery.” (Apsley Cherry-Garrard)

36:00 What do we have to show for 46 years of life? Not much stuff, but lots of experiences.

37:00 Since the adventure – on writing, money/worth, adventure, and integrity

41:00 Staying in touch (and NO! I did not really think that this Jason Lewis was this Jason Lewis)

 

Links

jason lewis dark waters
The (fantastic) book

The circumnavigation website – tons of great stuff here

The book – Dark Waters (The Expedition Trilogy, Book 1): True Story of the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Earth (Volume 1)
– recommended!!

Trailer for the upcoming film

A great interview in Outdoor magazine

 

10 Comments

  • My two favourite adventurers, together. I can’t wait to listen to this (downloading the mp3 here is an epic in itself). Tekeraoi to both of you from Tarawa.

    • Yayyy! David, great to hear from you!!

      I loved this chat with Jason. We didn’t get the chance to chat about Kiribati a great deal, as we had so much ground to cover – quite literally. But Jason is a fascinating guy and I hope you’ll enjoy it – and that you eventually manage to download it!
      No signs of broadband arriving in Tarawa any time soon, then?!

  • Jason has completed an impressive and excellent adventure. I look forward to reading his book(s).

    I was surprised at your title and am disappointed that Jason feels the need to claim the first human-powered circumnavigation given that was completed by Colin Angus (www.angusadventures.com) more than a year before Jason completed his.

    To make sure I hadn’t misunderstood something, I googled “angus adventures” and clicked on “cirircumnavigating the world . . . ” and in their article clicked on “human powered circumnavigation of the globe” for more detail. This last includes accepted definitions of “circumnavigation” and a short discussion of Jason’s claim.

    I like your (and Jason’s?) emphasis on knowing oneself and spiritual development . . . and this further contributes to my confusion about why Jason feels the need to make a false claim. His achievement stands on its own. There is no need for the claim.

    • Argh. It all got very contentious at the time, I believe. The problem (as far as I know) was that when Colin Angus (who I very much hope to get on the show soon – lovely guy) asked the Guinness Book of Records whether his intended route qualified as a circumnavigation, they said yes. It was only later that they added the stipulation about having to pass through two antipodal points for it to qualify. So he was understandably miffed that his epic journey didn’t count.

      • I hope you’ll get Collin on. He and his wife, Julie and their son, Leif are very nice folks. If you do, I hope it won’t be about this “controversy”, but about Collin and his adventures and environmental concerns!
        Collin’s statements on his website don’t sound “miffed” to me. He mostly just talks about definitions of circumnavigation and notes what happened. He does attribute Jason’s point of view to “sour grapes”, which seems equivalent to you saying that “he was understandably miffed that his epic journey didn’t count.”
        And who determines what counts? The people at the Guiness Book of Records get to decide what they include in their book, after the fact, decide on a different definition doesn’t makeAnd who really cares anyway?
        It seems to me that Collin’s circumnavigation “counts”, regardless of what the people at the Guinness Book of Records might say about it.
        Jason may be first to human power circumnavigate including the antipodes (though that seems questionable to me – exactly through antipodes? with 50 miles of? or?) and including crossing the equator, but Collin is the first to circumnavigate.

        • Sure, Scot. I’ve stayed with Colin and Julie when they were living in Comox, when Leif was merely a bump. I have the greatest respect for both Colin and Jason – their adventures and their values – and debates about records are really outside the remit of the Adventure Podcast.

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