Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

A human-powered loop of the planet

Sarah Outen's incredible idea for an adventure – by land and sea

In 2009, 25-year-old Sarah Outen became the first woman and youngest person to row solo across the Indian Ocean, spending 124 days paddling from Australia to Mauritius.  Now, she tells WideWorld, she wants to make a human-powered loop of the planet

The big question

When someone asks me how long my next expedition will take, I either bite my lip or break into an ear-to-ear grin that even the Cheshire cat would envy. This question and my reply inspire a mixture of butterflies and a blaze of excitement in the pit of my stomach, every time it comes.

‘Two and a half years,’ I say, looking them in the eyes and watching the response.

Silence or a good-natured expletive bursts out as their facial muscles decide what to do. This is either a slow side-to-side headshake, a wry smile, a head-on-one-side look of misunderstanding or just wide-eyed surprise as they search my gaze to check if they heard me correctly.

London2London: Via the World

I have always loved human powered journeys in the wild and travelling across maps under my own steam – I find chasing simple goals in challenging environments very satisfying. For me, there is nothing quite like it.

It was while I was far out to sea alone in my little boat in 2009 that I first considered a human-powered loop of the planet. I was part way across the Indian Ocean, buzzing from the simplicity of life at sea, in awe of the scale and energy out there, and absorbed by the little trace I was making on my chart. I wondered what it would be like to cross a continent and combine it with more ocean time and in my head, the logical next step was the world: ‘London2London: Via the World’ was born.

Many expeditions happen far away from friends, family and the rest of the world, so it is important to me that I start and finish mine in London – making the start and end points as accessible as possible for people at home. It excites me too that travelling across land means I can meet people and discover cultures en-route – something not quite so easy to do on the ocean.

“I aim to get back in time for tea”

On April 1st 2011, I shall paddle under Tower Bridge and head downstream in my kayak towards France via the Channel and then on to the world. On the French coast I shall get on my bike and head East, cycling through Europe and across Asia to Lazarev, on the Russian East coast. From here, my next goal is Japan, via Sakhalin – using a kayak and a bike. I shall overwinter in Japan, giving talks and preparing for the next phase – a solo row across the North Pacific Ocean, which begins in Spring 2012 and will last between four and seven months. Landing in Vancouver, Canada I return to the bike for a trans-USA/Canada leg, bound for Nova Scotia where my rowing boat will be waiting. Then it’s time to row home across the North Atlantic back to the UK.

The final run home to London will be made with a combination of bike, kayak and rowing boat, and I’m aiming to paddle under Tower Bridge around September 2013, hopefully in time for tea. By then, I shall have clocked three continents on my bike, two oceans in my rowing boat and some challenging crossings in my kayak.

Getting ready

Outside of my speaking commitments, preparation for this expedition is all-consuming and my team and I are working to secure funding, implement logistics and media plans so that when April 1st arrives, I am ready to leave. Training is a mixture of the technical, the physical and the emotional and is taking me all over the place. To put it in perspective: I am writing this post from the States where I have come to visit my new weather router, Lee Bruce, and only last month I was paddling in Menorca with my support kayaker Justine Curgenven, having only just returned from a film and photography course. The next date in the training diary is Ireland over the New Year for a few hundred miles of cycling on my new bike, Hercules, and once I’m home it will be back to the gym to continue my strength and conditioning.

Sharing the journey

Life is best when shared and expeditions are no exception. It is one of my favourite aspects of making journeys – bringing back tales and experiences from places that many people won’t get to see and all from the unique perspective of a human-powered journey. So when I say this is a solo expedition, it is a bit of a misnomer – it will be shared from classrooms to boardrooms to living rooms, right around the planet.  In fact, from ‘London to London: Via the World’.

Sarah’s first book, A Dip in the Ocean, available from Amazon

Sarah’s website