A Castlerock adventurer and filmmaker has told his “rite-of-passage tale” of cycling across North America covering 6,000 miles in five months.
The Road Headed West by Leon McCarron is released next Monday and recounts what happened the former Ballyhackett PS and Dalriada pupil when he swapped a mundane nine-to-five existence for two wheels and the journey of a lifetime.
Terrified at the prospect of a life spent behind a desk, without challenge or adventure, Leon (27) took off to cross America on an overloaded bicycle packed with everything but common sense.
He cycled from New York to Seattle and then on to the Mexican border, facing tornados, swollen river crossings and one hungry black bear along the way.
But he also met kind strangers who offered their food, wisdom, hospitality and even the occasional local history lesson, and he learned what happens when you take a chance and follow the scent of adventure.
Fresh out of a Film Studies course at the University of Kent at 23, Leon said: “I decided that I wanted to make adventure films and entertain people though those stories.”
Previous cycling trips with friends across the UK and then to Germany for the World Cup in 2006 had given him an unquenchable thirst for the wide open road.
“Beforehand I was working with a production company in New York and took a video camera with me with the idea of making a film,” he says.
“America has a great history of road trips and being on a bicyle is a great way to travel. It really was a rite-of-passage journey, I was pretty much naïve and unprepared.
“There were a lot of small highlights in that I was taken in by a lot of people as cycled along. I’d be going through somewhere and people would stop me, ask me where I was going and say come and stay.
“But I guess the biggest highlight was seeing the Pacific Ocean having started off at the Atlantic Ocean.
“The experience was me learning on the fly, not really knowing what I was doing, winging it.”
Leon, who is Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, said he hopes his first book “will be a really enjoyable story, a page turner,”
He adds: “I really wrote it for me initially but in the end I wanted to share the stories of the journey.
“I hope that people will take away a spirit of adventure from it because in life I think it’s important to have a mindset to challenge yourself and have a desire to see more.”
In May 2012 Leon concluded a six-month, 3,000 mile expedition, walking the length of China, from the Gobi desert in Mongolia to South China Sea in Hong Kong. National Geographic produced a four-part TV series of his travels.
His other adventures have includes 14,000 miles solo and unsupported on a bicycle from New York to Hong Kong, a folding bike trip around the British Isles to climb the Six Peaks, and a human-powered descent of the longest river in Iran, the Karun.
“Walking China from north to south was my big break in terms of my film-making career and what I want to do. So I now plan about two major trips a year. Towards the end of this year I’m hoping to visit Palestine on the West Bank.”
Leon will be coming home to read excerpts from his book and hold a Q&A session at Lost and Found in Coleraine on Saturday, July 26 from 6.30pm. He hopes people will come and hear his story.
The Road Headed West is published by Summersdale on July 7.