Jason Lewis – Expedition 360

You know, just when I go off on one of my favourite hobby-horses – that in our homogenised, bland-ed- up, dumbed-down society there is no room for characters any more – Jason Lewis turns up and restores my faith in eccentricity. Not, of course, that this is the old-fashioned, nutty form of eccentricity – he doesn’t keep 58 cats in a council flat or invent flippers for injured penguins. This is a modern, highly-organised, website-savvy eccentricity – but none the less exciting for that.

I bet not many people remember the departure on the 12th July 1994. If I’m honest I can’t remember what I was doing myself, let-alone what probably elicited one of those “And finally…” type stories on the news. Two guys, Steve Smith and Jason Lewis, thought it would be fun to try to circumnavigate the earth using only human power. You know the sort of thing – biking, hiking, roller-skating, swimming, kayaking and, my favourite, pedalo-pedalling. I mean – one of those ridiculous little boats for kiddies you get in Greenwich Park – in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? That’s eccentric in my book.

Still at least there were two of them. They set out from Greenwich (where else should you set out from if you’re circumnavigating the globe?) and a BBC website photo shows them posing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower on the first leg of their journey. But Steve Smith only made it to Hawaii – he returned to write the obligatory book – while Lewis soldiered on alone. I doubt he expected the jaunt to last 13 years.

His main problem was cash. Explorers of the olden days relied on aristocratic family wealth or being sponsored by sovereigns who demanded they nab land for them in return. These days sponsors want a different kind of riches – advertising – and there ain’t much room for a poster on the side of a pedalo.

Although there’s an impressive lost of sponsors listed on his website, I suspect that they weren’t all queueing up to give him money to start with – especially when he was knocked off his rollerblades in Colorado by an 82 year-old drink driver and broke both legs. It got even less glamorous. He contracted malaria. Was attacked by crocs. Had to treat himself when he got septicaemia in the Pacific on his pedalo, though he did get to stop and eat Christmas dinner with some cable-layers in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Lewis often had to stop his trip for less fun reasons -to earn enough money to continue – mainly crap jobs, but occasionally more dinner-party-discussion-worthy stuff like working as an undertaker and a cowboy among other things along the way (and now – oh, boy is there a publishing deal to be had now…)

So – back to why this story’s on this blog. Jason Lewis finishes his mammoth tour on Saturday, welcomed back to Greenwich by clamouring crowds and the Duke of Gloucester. He’s probably going to miss out on a couple of Guinness World Records on technicalities but as a thoroughly modern eccentric, he can count on a healthy after-dinner speaking career to keep him afloat now he’s back on dry land…

I have tried in vain to find out the exact time of his arrival on Saturday morning. For the same (most annoying) reasons I won’t be able to make it to the Greenwich Market Consultation I won’t be waving my hat in the air to greet him, but if any of you folk go, do let me know what it was like…


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