Sarah Outen: Around the world on two boats and a bike

Story highlights

Sarah Outen is attempting to travel around the world from London

She plans to only use a rowing boat, a bike and a kayak

Outen is currently eight months into a two-and-a-half-year expedition

Honshu, Japan CNN  — 

I am attempting to journey from London to London via the world, using just a rowing boat, a bike and a kayak. I write from Japan – where I am eight months and 11000 miles in to this 2.5 year expedition, having cycled and kayaked all the way here.

The next phase is a solo row across the North Pacific Ocean. I set out from the east coast of Japan in the spring, bound for the North America and Canada, where I hope to arrive some five or six months later. From the coast I will pick up my bike once more and cycle across the continent to the edge of the Atlantic, ready for the final row home to the UK.

I am doing it out of curiosity, for the challenge and for the perspective of traveling so slowly across landscapes and so close to nature. The idea came about during my solo row across the Indian Ocean in 2009 – I loved tracing the line across a vast swathe of blue and feeling like I was a part of the ocean.

I wanted to spend more time at sea and I wanted to experience the people and green parts of our globe too. One of my aims is to share the journey as I go – via my website and live links with schools. It has been wonderful to link up live into school groups over the satellite phone and answer their questions on the project – such an exciting thing for both of us, I think.

Besides getting to the start of the project (logistically, financially, emotionally it was huge), the greatest challenge has been the five week journey from the edge of Russia to the top of Japan’s main island, Honshu. I was tired and under pressure from various angles – weather, visas expiring and kit failures. The sudden change from biking solo for months on end to kayaking with my camerawoman for the first time in months was exhausting for mind and body.

Language has been a challenge on the way too – it can often lead to some fun games trying to understand people!

British adventurer on 20,000-mile trek
03:00 - Source: CNN

Then there is the management of everything off the bike or out of the boat too – my team, inputting into the logistics, planning ahead or raising more funding. If only it was all as simple as riding a bike or paddling a boat.

The best story from the journey so far has been that of Gao – a young Chinese guy who joined me on my cycle across his country after meeting me in a petrol station. He had never cycled more than 10 km and didn’t even own a bike. 35 days later we pedaled into Beijing together after the most extraordinary adventures- through desert, over mountains and meeting some interesting characters along the way. We both grew in those 4000 km – it was wonderful.

Another highlight for me was sitting just off the beach on Sakhalin, watching a brown bear feeding along the tide lines. It was one of the most profound moments watching wildlife I have ever had.

The scariest moment, besides all the near misses on the road with trucks and traffic, was the day I nearly peed on a snake. I turned to walk out of the bushes and a snake jumped clear off the ground on the attack. I squealed and ran. There were so many snakes in Kazakhstan – I love to see them when I know they are there but those surprising encounters made my pulse race!

The most poignant and moving story so far is that of Japan’s Tohoku coast – much of it destroyed by the major earthquake and ensuing tsunami of March this year. I am heading up there to volunteer for a week shortly. The clean up operation there will take many years and there will be lingering scars forever.

Logistically it is a massive project – the complexity of getting kit and people all over the world to match up with my various stages, and often in remote countries has been challenging, to say the least. My team and I are learning all the time and I for one am looking forward to the ocean and the simplicity of it. If something breaks I have to deal with it, whereas on land life can get quite complicated at times, because of borders, needing to find food and shelter, people etc.

Training before I came away was mostly focused on strength and conditioning so that my body was as prepared as possible for the trials of the journey. It worked to an extent but I am still undergoing recovery physio to fix some of the issues I racked up over the first phase of the journey. I also undertook some bike journeys and made my first big crossing by kayak. I am now focused on training for the ocean ahead and getting all the systems in place to make it as successful as possible.

It has been an incredible journey so far, often defined by the people I have met and our reactions to each other. I am excited about the phases ahead, though keen to have some down time over the Christmas period too. It has been a huge effort to get this far and I am grateful for all those who have helped me do so.