About a year ago, I found myself once again lying in bed, my bandaged leg propped up on a wall of pillows. It was my second ACL reconstruction in two years, and it meant another painful recovery and year or more of rehab. I had also recently lost my job, my business, my homestead, and my life partner. I was not feeling “well.”
In times like these, the sanest thing you can do is pretend to be somewhere else! So I spent a large part of my convalescence escaping into stories of other peoples' adventures. I read book after book about people cycling and running and climbing and rowing all over the world. For short periods of time, I got to be there on those adventures.
One of the books I read was called Dare to Do by Sarah Outen. The story itself was incredible — at the age of 25, Sarah dreamed up a quest to bike, row, and kayak a single unbroken line around the world. She organized a team of sponsors, navigators, and assistants to craft the logistics, media, and funding for the project. And then she just launched herself out there. She stepped out her door and set off to circumnavigate the globe! She planned no pauses; she chose the most demanding routes. The writing in Dare to Do was raw. It had a rough quality to it that seemed to embody the difficulty of the journey itself. Things got tough, and complicated, out there on the road.
As I went through months of physical therapy and slow gains in rebuilding my life, I often thought about Sarah's story. There was just something so gritty about it. Any single section of that trip would have been difficult. But to put them all together like that — biking across Asia, rowing the Pacific, kayaking the Aleutians, biking Canada in the dead of winter, rowing the Atlantic — is just grueling. I kept thinking about this and wondering, why? What motivated this person to take this kind of leap and then keep going, and going, and going?
This spring, Sarah released a film called Home which documents the story of her four-and-a-half-year, human-powered circumnavigation. The film starts off with her smiling and waving at the camera as she kayaks away from London towards France. She is flanked by professional kayaker Justine Curgenven, who will paddle and film with Sarah during sections of the trip. It's an exciting, momentous launch.
In France, Sarah hops on her bike Hercules to pedal over 10,000 miles across Europe and Asia. In China, she meets a young man named Gao, who promptly buys a bike and rides with her 3,000 miles to Beijing. At first, Sarah is afraid Gao will be too slow and “die in the Gobi desert.” But as their trip unfolds, he becomes a vital source of friendship and camaraderie. When they eventually part ways, Sarah is left with herself again and a long journey onward. The days are difficult, dusty, often uncomfortable, and Sarah rushes to reach the coast of Japan before waters start to freeze. The straight line of a journey that she imagined in her head slowly becomes more and more tangled in the reality of the road.
As Sarah continues onward via pedal and paddle, some things go right and other things go wrong. She experiences the joy of freedom, the kindness of strangers, and the awesome beauty of nature. She also faces dangerous storms, freezing temperatures, health problems, and the boundlessness of sustained solitude. Her straight line begins to fragment, and as it does, it becomes harder and harder to find her way home.
After four and a half years, Sarah completes her journey by paddling back up the Thames to London. There are more smiles; this is another momentous moment. But it's a different type of moment than before. This is a person who has gone a very long way out and is still finding her way back.
At the end of the film, Sarah is asked why she embarked on such an arduous journey and why she continued all the way through. Her answer sums up the spirit of the undertaking in a way that is both simple and complex: “For the adventure,” she says.
Home is a chronicle of an extraordinary journey across fantastic landscapes. But at its heart, it's also a story about coming of age and growing into yourself. It's about the idealism and imagination that power you outward to discover yourself in the great unknown. And it's about the reality of experience that drives you inward to find yourself as the person you've always been.
Home was produced by Jen Randall and Sarah Outen. It was released in October 2019 and became available for international download on Vimeo in March 2020.
The film has won a number of awards: Best Film Award in Exploration and Adventure from BANFF Mountain and Book Festival; Adventure and Exploration Award from Kendal Mountain Festival; Best Sport and Adventure Film award from Bilbao Mendi Film Festival; Female Empowerment of the Year Award from the Nordic Adventure Film Festival; Epic Adventurer Award from Feminista Film Festival; Audience Choice Award from Shextreme Film Festival.
1. What was your favorite part of cycling around the world?
The people I met. The stories I heard. The wild landscapes and wildlife. The freedom and simplicity of life on the road.
2. What was the first big lesson you learned while cycling?
It was more a reminder of something I already knew — that I needed less in my panniers than I had started out with. It’s a beautiful realization to come back to — the idea of needing very little to survive.
3. What do you miss about being on the road?
Movement and being a part of a changing landscape. Meeting people. The simplicity. The surprises.
4. What do you love about being in one place?
I love feeling a part of a local community who need each other. I love growing a garden, putting down roots and growing food. Being in one place long enough to watch and know the changing seasons and growth and cycle of life. And I love having donkeys!
5. What is the most important advice you would give someone who is starting their own epic journey?
Be bold. Be brave. Be curious. But also be kind and soft to yourself. Be open to plans changing. Don’t go too fast — there is such beauty and potential in slowness and pausing, too.
6. When you listen to your own story, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of learning to ask for help and to not be afraid to be open about my vulnerabilities and PTSD. The journey that has taken me on has been so important and healing on many levels and for different reasons.
7. What projects are you excited about now?
So much to be excited for … I am training as a psychotherapist and so loving that journey of learning and exploring. I am about to start writing a children’s book, and I am about to start beekeeping, too. Alongside that I am converting our VW into a camper and building a pond in the garden.
8. What advice do you have for people about how to manage solitude?
Be soft to yourself. It can be tough. It can be beautiful and expansive, too. Stay connected with yourself, the universe, and other beings — humans or otherwise. Remember that you don’t need to be with people to be with them. Connect in your imagination, through songs and words, through letters and tech.
9. Who do you think will connect most with Home?
I feel there are threads of connection for everyone … be it dreamers or travelers, or those facing other challenges. Those feeling alone or feeling like they are struggling. We have won lots of awards for our film, and I am proud of that, but what I am most humbled by and proud of is hearing what it has meant to others to be alongside my journey of struggle. People have told me they feel a bit braver or like they can hold on. Or it has encouraged them to ask for help or to rest. It has inspired some journeys, too, and that’s exciting.