In my spare time, I like to follow other travelers online. When I got into travel blogging, I naturally started to find other people who did the same thing, many of whom were living out truly exceptional stories of adventure. I discovered Sarah Outen in 2015 as she was on the final leg of her 25,000 mile expedition around the Northern Hemisphere. Starting and ending in London, she embarked on a 4.5 year human powered journey around the world by bicycle, rowboat, and sea kayak. She published Dare to Do, a compelling memoir of her global expedition.
Last Christmas, I planned to take a train from Chicago to my family’s farmhouse in Virginia. My parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I told them that I wanted a new tire pump and a copy of Sarah’s book. But I didn’t want to wait until Christmas to read it, and asked my dad to send it to Chicago instead. Unsure if it would get to my apartment in time, I tracked the shipment from the UK to my doorstep down to the minutes. It arrived with hours to spare. Soon, I was riding a Virginia bound Amtrak into the evening. I sat in the train car, reading the first pages of her story as she set forth from the London Tower Bridge amidst the cheers of old friends and new fans.
She paddled her kayak across the English Channel with the support of renowned sea kayaker Justine Curgenven, and got to the coast of France where she cycled east on her touring bike, Hercules. I sat in the dining car somewhere in northern Indiana, eating a microwaved pizza and drinking Budweiser. The train rumbled and whistled into the night as Sarah recounted her trek across Europe. The pages flew by. I couldn’t put the book down. As she cycled through Ukraine, western Russia and Kazakhstan, the kindness of people became a prevalent theme in her journey. Many times, she was invited by village families for tea, dinner, vodka, a place to stay, and a fun evening of stories.
In China, she met a young gellow named Gao ya Guang, who was so inspired by her quest that he offered to cycle with her across the country to Beijing. Crazy as it was, they toured the hostile, remote Gobi Desert, forging an unbreakable bond of friendship. Travel does this. It connects you with people in ways that you would never expect to happen.
Somewhere in eastern Asia she was at her wits end with a busted up bike, and I started dozing uncomfortably in and out of sleep in the train car. Trying to sleep in coach all night, usually next to a stranger, is the price to pay for traveling on a budget. I sat up at 3am, too tired to read and too awake to sleep. The dining car finally opened at 7 that morning. I drank more coffee than I needed to and opened Sarah’s book again. Outside, the mountains of West Virginia went by. She just made it to Japan. Here, Sarah embarked on the first of two rowing attempts across the Atlantic, the first of which was cut short a couple hundred miles out by the Tropical Storm Mawar. She recounted the violent storm as its gales relentlessly gave her boat a thrashing. It survived, but was too damaged to safely go on – she called in the coast guard and returned home.
After a year of recovery, training, and outfitting her new boat Happy Socks, Sarah once again left Japan, this time rowing northeast to the Aleutian Islands. She was alone at sea for 148 days, but finally made it to the remote Aleutian village of Adak, Alaska, incidentally becoming the first woman to do so. Here, she reunited with Justine. They island hopped the Aleutian chain for months, kayaking the treacherous, volatile weather systems of the Bering Sea.
She got to mainland Alaska at the end of the summer and cycled across the same highways that I’m familiar with, making the local news as she passed through the Anchorage area. I laughed when she ranted about the Caribou Creek Gorge. I’ve been over that canyon three times, and it’s an absolute bastard to cycle over.
In the Yukon, she met Iohan Georgiev, a nomadic cyclist who I’ve followed online for two years. He had just got out of Alaska on an epic expedition to Argentina and caught up with her on the Alcan Highway at minute 44 of this video. This was the first time I had heard of her story. I was amazed at the scale of her trip, and followed her online ever since. But little did I know at the time the hell that she went through to get there.
They parted ways at the Haines Junction. Iohan went south to the ocean and Sarah continued east. She had to get to the east coast by next spring, and fought her way across the plains of Canada with her fiancée Lucy, in 30 below weather to make it in time.
Back at home it was Christmas Day at the farm. My mom was fixing a turkey dinner and Christmas music echoed throughout the house. I sat in my old room, reading Sarah’s memory of her ride through the states. She got to the Appalachians of Pennsylvania just in time for the spring thaw.
At last, she reached the pier at Cape Cod, reuniting with Happy Socks for the final voyage home. That summer, I followed her story as she tweeted her location and status report each day. The open sea was wildly unpredictable, but to her, she said it is where she truly feels content. I can understand that. To the outdoor traveler, there are places in the world where we honestly feel more connected than anywhere in our normal lives. To me, the mountain country of the great north is where I am truly at peace. And to others, it is the open ocean. Though immeasurable and likely dangerous, we want more than anything to be back out there.
Dare to Do is an inspiring tale of human potential. It is a personable, honest story of human kindness, friendship, courage, heartbreak, and adventure. It is evident in her pages that Sarah’s quest is just as much of a journey inward as it is a traveler’s tale. And until I get the chance to do it myself, I will have to see the world vicariously through her words. I encourage you to do the same. Read her book. Be inspired. Get out there and explore.