“Dare to Do” : Cross the World With Sarah Outen
On April 1, 2011, 24-year-old Sarah Outen set out from London to circle the world without the help of any motorized transport. She would spend the next 4.5 years biking, rowing, walking and paddling 25,000 miles across the globe with a few bouts of planning and rest in between. Sarah shared her journey in her book, “Dare to Do: Taking on the planet by bike and boat.”
The trip wasn’t about breaking records. Sarah wanted to learn about the history and people of every area she traveled through by reading maps, translating their languages and talking to individuals from many countries and backgrounds.
“For me, all adventures are created equal and it is about spirit more than form, about what it does to you rather than how long you go for or how hard other people think it was,” she wrote.
“Dare to Do” is not full of rambling diary entries. It’s more a series of observations as Sarah writes about moments that stand out to her in each country, including what food and drink the people prefer, and what they do for fun. She also shares some mishaps that occur, like when her bike Hercules needed a spoke welded in the Syr Darya river basin in Kazakhstan. She consistently shares tales of wonderful people offering assistance no matter the country, like construction workers filling her water tank and moms offering showers and laundry.
The journey started with a kayak named Nelson as Sarah paddled away from London en route to France via the Thames and English Channel. With her was Justine Curgenven, an established kayaker and dear friend who would soon help Sarah gain confidence on the water and join her on several stretches of the trip. When the duo reached France, Sarah took to her bike named Hercules and pedaled more than 10,000 miles alone before reaching Eastern Russia.
Sarah loves that bikes are Democratic – there’s one for everyone – and that it’s much easier to talk to people and feel a part of the cultures you’re passing through while on two wheels.
One of the major themes of “Dare to Do” is people. This is not a book about the author, but of the individuals and stories she encountered.
Along the way in China, a young man named Gao approached Sarah at a snack counter where she was enjoying the AC during a biking section of the trip. He hears her story and says how he is proud of her. He shares that he’d like to commit to a long journey too one day. Within 24 hours he has a bike and gear and cycles along with Sarah as they head toward Beijing.
The duo is together for 35 days and becomes an impressive team even with Gao’s minimal riding experience. Sarah teaches him bike maintenance and they sing songs as they ride. Gao provides insight into Chinese culture as he translates along their route.
As she reaches the Gobi Desert solo, Sarah writes, “Sometimes I felt like I was half desert, half human.” She and Hercules hid in any shade they could find, sometimes napping in smelly, dust-filled culverts under dirt roads.
Everywhere she went people wanted to meet Sarah and ask questions. They wanted to ride her bike around the block. Some even touched her biceps in wonder. “People just wanted to see and feel what was going on,” she wrote after a particularly interesting encounter as people invaded her personal space by peering inside her tent at 6 a.m.
“My reason for always answering the curious was that you never know what it might inspire,” she shared.
On her longest day in Russia, Sarah pedaled 170 miles over the course of 19 hours to get to her next check-in point. She passed the time by talking to loved ones in her head, reciting poems and repeating old Oxford rowing cheers.
Next was the crossing of the Pacific, an 800-mile journey. She rowed a boat named Gulliver that would return to upright position on its own in the event of a capsize so long as it was weighted right and water sealed.
After 25 days on the water, Sarah was hit by Tropical Storm Mawar. The boat repeatedly capsized and righted itself, jumbling her and her belongings about the cabin for hours on end. Everything was wet from cracks and leaks and it was difficult for Sarah to eat as using the bathroom was nearly impossible.
For several days the boat flipped and righted as Sarah texted her support crew “ok” every hour on the hour. She was forced to make the decision to abandon ship. Gulliver was leaking extensively and missing important parts like a safety rail and communications antennae. The Japanese Coast Guard rescued Sarah and some choice belongings but Gulliver was left to the sea. As the guard said goodbye when they disembarked in Japan the crew shared that they hoped Sarah continued her expedition.
Sarah’s morale took a major hit after the intense storm and having to leave her beloved boat behind. Back in England for a break and regrouping, she was diagnosed with depression and PTSD from being traumatized by living in non-stop life-or-death-alert mode through three days of constant flipping with nearly no sleep, water or food. With the help of her fiance Lucy (who she proposed to via satellite phone from Gulliver’s cabin weeks ago) and other loved ones, Sarah decided to continue the journey by rowing from Choshi, Japan to Canada.
This time, Sarah crewed a sister-boat to Gulliver named Happy Socks. She rowed for 150 days, spending her 26th birthday in the Pacific. This was not even the halfway point but constant stormy weather and currents that negated any progress she made led to a change in plans. Sarah would now kayak through the Aleutian Islands of Alaska with Justine Curgenven after some much-needed recuperation at home.
Sarah’s extensive time spent in wet boat cabins had given her a serious case of pneumonia and allergies. She had “the lung capacity of a grape” and had to spend 6 months planning the next leg of the journey with her newly limited breathing.
Sarah and Justine set off in the spring of 2014 from Adak Island (where Sarah landed in 2013 with Happy Socks) to Homer, AK, over 1,500 miles. They island-hopped between large open water sections and small channels, fighting wind and waves the entire time.
The women crossed 50 miles of open water one day, a major challenge for novice kayaker Sarah. She wrote, “People ask how I keep going in tough conditions and on that day, like many others, the main motivator is that you have no choice, that if you don’t keep going then you are a goner.”
Next, Sarah and Hercules spent seven months pedaling across North America during one of the worst winters in decades. Sarah stayed with friends and camped along the way, changing many flat tires and surviving through intense snow and wind. She had as many interesting cultural experiences while crossing the U.S. as she did in much more foreign countries with totally different languages. Sarah interacted with many concerned people who worried about her winter crossing and offered food, shelter and warmth just about everywhere she went.
Sarah biked into Cape Cod, Massachusetts, completing her 3,400-mile North American leg and then spent several weeks there before starting her third row – crossing the North Atlantic Ocean. She was reunited with Happy Socks and many supplies that would get her through the next four months of solo rowing. Just 1,000 km away from London Sarah had to abandon ship again, this time due to bad weather from Hurricane Joaquin.
Happy Socks was left to the Atlantic and Sarah returned home to London. To make up for those last miles, she pedaled her bike from Falmouth, England to Oxford. This time she was not alone. Loved ones and supporters from all sections of her journey traveled to greet and ride with Sarah along her final stretch.
To complete her mission, entitled: “London2London: via the world,” Sarah returned to the cockpit of her trusty kayak and paddled under Tower Bridge on November 3rd, 2015 where she greeted a crowd of fans, friends and family.
Throughout the trip and today when Sarah gives talks about her journey, people frequently tell the adventurer they could never do what she did. She replies, “The most enduring muscle of all is attitude. If you want to get there, you will.”
All photos courtesy of Sarah Outen. You can see more images from her journey on Flickr.