Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Adventurer returns to tell tale

Leon McCarron wearing an icy beard in Shanxi, China
Leon McCarron spent six months walking from the Gobi desert in Mongolia to Hong Kong
Leon McCarron, from Co Londonderry is returning home to tell his tale

An adventurer who spent six months walking from the Gobi desert in Mongolia to Hong Kong is returning home to tell his tale.

Leon McCarron, 27, from Castlerock, Co Londonderry, braved temperatures of -30C (-22F) while pulling all his possessions on a trailer through some of the most inhospitable landscape on Earth.

He covered 3,000 miles (4,828km) in 2011 from the windswept wastelands of Outer Mongolia, with empty spaces the size of Germany, through central China's snowcapped mountains, to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

The former film student confessed to bouts of nerves but wanted to visit lesser-known parts of China.

"The idea terrifies me but I find these trips much more rewarding that if I stayed at home," he said.

"An adventurous mindset means choosing the option that seems more difficult but promises a greater reward.

"Easy and comfortable is easy and comfortable but ultimately a little dull and less fulfilling."

He is giving a talk to the Royal Geographical Society's Northern Ireland branch at Queen's University in Belfast tonight.

Mr McCarron will recall how he was out of a job after finishing studying and decided to take up the challenge of cycling from New York to Hong Kong.

O nce there, he met a fellow wanderer and they decided to travel to a settlement in Mongolia on the far edge of the Gobi desert and walk back to Hong Kong on the southern tip of China.

They followed the Great Wall down to the turbulent waters of the Yellow River and walked along it downstream to the legendary city of Xi An, before leaving the water for the mountains.

They reached Hong Kong in May last year.

A National Geographic commission for a programme provided funding but left little time for learning Mandarin or studying maps.

He said there was very little on the Mongolian side of the border.

"There were a few tracks and we met some nomads but it was very wild," Mr McCarron said.

"With the temperatures of -20C (-4F) to -30C (-22F) degrees at the worst of times that was the toughest part of the trip."

China was much more developed, with more roads and frequent settlements.

He said the slower pace of walking was quite a change from cycling, when he could cover 100 miles and move from one type of landscape to another quite quickly.

"I found it really mentally draining, there is no quick escape, more than anything it was just the monotony of walking."

Past expeditions he has undertaken include crossing 1,000 miles of the Empty Quarter desert in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

This year he conquered the six peaks of the British Isles using a folding bike.

The traveller said if he had graduated from university at a different time he might have taken a job in television - acknowledging it was quite lucky that no opportunities existed given his new career.

"I knew that I had to do something different... pitting myself against the world," he said.

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