Which Takes True Grit: Long-Haul Expeditions or a 9 to 5?

In keeping with my last post about the aftermath of long-haul journeys, here’s a snippet from my upcoming book, To the Brink, about expeditions and whether they’re just an elaborate excuse to avoid responsibilities back home.

True Grit: Travel versus a Sedentary Lifestyle?

The uniformed ticket inspector handed me back my stub. “This is not a valid ticket,” he announced.

“But I bought it only fifteen minutes ago.”

I was on the 17.10 from Paddington to Reading, sharing a packed commuter carriage with several hundred weary London commuters returning home. Three days previously, I’d arrived back at Greenwich after 13 years of circumnavigating the planet by human power. This was the fastest I’d gone in a long time.

The inspector looked at me like I was an imbecile. “It is a receipt, not a ticket.”

Examining the stub closer, I realized what must have happened. More than ten years had passed since I last bought a rail ticket from a self-service kiosk. Back then ticket machines produced only tickets. Now, they apparently spat out receipts as well. I’d left the ticket in the dispensing tray by mistake.

I explained my oversight, but the inspector remained unimpressed. The commuters around me kept their noses glued firmly to their BlackBerrys and evening papers, oblivious to my predicament. British indifference at its best.

Tapping the receipt, I said, “But this shows I bought a ticket for £18.20 at 16.52, less than twenty minutes ago.”

“It doesn’t indicate the route. You could be going anywhere.”

“Well, obviously I’m going where this train is going, from London to Reading.”

“There’s no way to prove that without a valid ticket.”

The ridiculousness of the conversation triggered a corresponding rise in my blood pressure. “Let me ask you something,” I said crisply. “How much is a single fare from Paddington to Reading at this time of day?”

“Eighteen pounds and twenty pence.”

I felt like I’d made a breakthrough. “Exactly! So, if that’s the amount on the receipt, and I’m currently on a journey between two stations that costs that exact amount, then don’t you think it more than likely that the route marked on the original ticket was from London to Reading?”

My reasoning, however, fell on deaf ears. “I need to see a valid ticket,” the inspector repeated mantra-like. “If you cannot produce a valid ticket, then you will have to pay the penalty fare of two full singles.”

After nearly a decade and a half of rather more formidable encounters in far-flung corners of the Earth, this pasty-faced toad had got the best of me in less than a minute. The prospect of having to pay triple for a legitimate mistake put me over the edge.

“I’m not paying,” I yelled at him. “I mean, really. Do you people ever think for yourselves? Is there actually a human being in there, or just a bunch of f***ing wires?”

I was thrown off at Slough, the next station, not far from where I used to work as a window cleaner before setting off around the world. The poetic justice wasn’t lost on me. I’d come full circle. Literally. Watching the train pull away, I caught sight of a woman sitting beside a window. She was smiling at me in sympathy, and in that moment something twigged. It’s not adventurers who are the bravest, most patient, tenacious, or levelheaded—as I had been described in media interviews since re-crossing the prime meridian. It’s people with conventional occupations the world over who endure the petty humiliations of modern life, indignities that frequently involve the inflexibility and discrimination of mass transit employees, many who appear to have undergone personality bypass operations. With grace and aplomb, these nine-to-fivers hold down a job, raise a family, put food on the table, save for their kids’ education, and ride the 17.10 from London to Reading five days a week. They don’t lose their temper and get flung off the train if the ticket inspector is an arse. As mature, sensible members of society, they’ve learned to pick their battles.

And then I wondered: Are long-haul expeditions really just an elaborate excuse to avoid responsibilities back home? Much harder to stay put and face real life. That takes true grit.

Adventurer Jason Lewis pedalling his boat Moksha on the River Thames


Stem Cell Treatment & High Mileage Expeditions

“What is it like transitioning from a multi-year expedition back to regular life?”

This has been a frequent question since completion of my thirteen-year circumnavigation, and I usually talk about the psychological implications of coming home: of reintegrating back into society, of refocusing from the primary motivation of making miles west, and reacquainting myself with family and old friends.

Pedal boat Moksha powered by adventurer Jason Lewis heading out in the Atlantic wilderness on the Expedition 360 human-powered circumnavigation

But another, perhaps more obvious, effect of long-haul travel is one of physical wear and tear. A few years ago I started experiencing severe pain in my right knee, affecting my ability to remain active. Even going for short hikes triggered inflammation. An x-ray revealed worn cartilage to be the issue, but only after my entire body was examined by a chiropractor did the root cause come to light: my left leg was three quarters of an inch shorter than the right, upshot of being hit by a car while crossing North America on rollerblades in 1995. Left undiagnosed for years, the anomaly in length had knocked my pelvis out of alignment and caused the cartilage in my right knee to wear unduly. I would need an artificial knee in five to ten years, according to the docs, way too early for someone in their mid-forties.

The case for stem cell treatment - original compound fracture of adventurer Jason Lewis's left leg after being run over by a car in Colorado, leading for worn knee cartilage

Compound fracture to left leg. September 1995

Then I heard about stem cell treatment. Stem cells are cells in the human body capable of self-renewal and differentiation; in other words, that can morph themselves into specialized cells, such as cartilage, and multiply to produce more cells of the same. Supplying the body the means to essentially heal itself sounded an immensely attractive alternative to major surgery, so when the opportunity for stem cell treatment came up in December of last year at the Orthopedic Stem Cell Institute in Loveland, Colorado, I signed up. In this video clip, the surgeon, Doctor Pettine, draws around 80 millilitres of bone marrow from my iliac crest, spins it down in a centrifuge, and then re-injects the stem cell concentrate into the right knee joint. The whole process took less than 45 minutes and I was conscious throughout.

Six months on, my knee is almost pain-free, and I’ve been able to reclaim much of my former mobility. A week ago I took a 15-mile hike in the mountains, unthinkable a year ago, and the next morning, instead of being crippled, I felt no ill effects at all. So, if you’re one of those high mileage explorer-types or athletes with worn out hips and knees, or someone simply having to consider surgery because of advancing age, you might want to look into stem cell treatment. In a few years we’ll be seeing it used to treat a whole variety of conditions, from baldness to blindness to Alzheimer’s.

In other news, The Expedition trilogy recently won the Da Vinci Eye Award for best cover art – congratulations to Tammie from BillyFish Books for her insightful design idea. For those left hanging at the end of The Seed Buried Deep (I know, again, sorry), you’ll be put out of your misery November of this year when the third and final part of the series, To the Brink, is published. Thank you all for being so patient with what has become a marathon project much like the expedition itself. I sometimes wonder if the physical journey wasn’t just an exercise for the much more onerous task of writing about it.

Da Vinci Eye Award for best cover art by Tammie Stevens of BillyFish Books for The Expedition trilogy by adventurer Jason Lewis

Adventure books: The Seed Buried Deep published

If you haven’t already got your hands on a copy, the second part of The Expedition adventure book series is now available in print and ebook formats in the UK and rest of the world.

Adventure books: The Seed Buried Deep by Jason Lewis

Book cover for The Seed Buried Deep by Jason Lewis

Those left hanging at the end of Dark Waters will find out what happens when you’re run down on an isolated stretch of American highway by the Worshipful Master of the local Masonic Lodge. Does he stop and call for an ambulance? Does he keep driving, later claiming that he thought he’d hit a deer (even though your rucksack has gone through the windshield and is sitting in his wife’s lap), leaving a working-class Hispanic guy to step up to the plate? As The Seed Buried Deep reveals, truth can be stranger than fiction.

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BillyFish Books wins Benjamin Franklin Award

June 8, 2013. BillyFish Books wins best first book (nonfiction) for The Expedition, Dark Waters: True Story of the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Earth, presented by Howard Fisher at the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) gala in New York last week.

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Dark Waters wins Eric Hoffer Award for Books


May 6, 2013. BillyFish Books editor Tammie Stevens and I are delighted to announce that Dark Waters, first in The Expedition trilogy chronicling the first human-powered circumnavigation of the Earth, has won the First Horizon Award for the current Eric Hoffer Award season.

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The Expedition book 1, Dark Waters, published in the UK and Rest of the World

After some distribution hiccups, I’m thrilled to announce UK and worldwide publication of Dark Waters, first in The Expedition trilogy chronicling the first human-powered circumnavigation of the Earth.


UK best price £7:32 with Amazon.co.uk, Blackwell’s or Waterstones. Australia: Bookworld, Angus and Roberston.

Ebook version available for Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Google Play, Kobo. Get signed copies direct from the publisher.

DESCRIPTION: He survived a terrifying crocodile attack off Australia’s Queensland coast, blood poisoning in the middle of the Pacific, malaria in Indonesia and China, and acute mountain sickness in the Himalayas. He was hit by a car and left for dead with two broken legs in Colorado, and incarcerated for espionage on the Sudan-Egypt border.

The first in a thrilling adventure trilogy, Dark Waters charts one of the longest, most gruelling, yet uplifting and at times irreverently funny journeys in history, circling the world using just the power of the human body, hailed by the London Sunday Times as “The last great first for circumnavigation.”

But it was more than just a physical challenge. Prompted by what scientists have dubbed the “perfect storm” as the global population soars to 8.3 billion by 2030, adventurer Jason Lewis used the expedition to reach out to thousands of schoolchildren, calling attention to our interconnectedness and shared responsibility of an inhabitable Earth for future generations.

The second book in the series, The Seed Buried Deep, will be available soon. Apologies for the delay in publication.

Special thanks for bringing this story to the written page go to Kenny Brown (photos), Tammie Stevens (editor), Rob Antonishen (maps), and Anthony DiMatteo (editing).

Dark Waters finalist for ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year Awards


March 11, 2013—ForeWord Reviews is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2012 Book of the Year Awards. The finalists were selected from 1300 entries covering 62 categories of books from independent and academic presses. These books represent some of the best books produced by small publishing houses in 2012. For a full list of the finalists, searchable by genre, visit:botya.forewordreviews.com/finalists/2012/. Continue reading

Outside Magazine Q&A

It’s not often the media allows you to scratch below the surface of an expedition. Normally they just want the facts, best and worst moments, quarrels between team members – the usual tabloid drama. This time I got to delve a little deeper, revealing, amongst other things, regret for not valuing time with my late father. He tried introducing me to the wilderness, but as an immature teenager with authority issues I didn’t care.

My loss. My Perfect Adventure >>

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