Join Good People on a Proper Adventure

7 Quick Questions with Leon McCarron
February 11, 2020

Leon McCarron hiking in China | Photo: Leon McCarron

Leon McCarron is an adventurer, filmmaker and storyteller… as well as being just a pretty cool guy. It’s not everyone who can say that they create long distance hiking trails. Better still to help design the narrative journey that a hiker experiences as they pass through the trail. If that sounds cool, read our full-length feature interview with Leon McCarron.

Leon is the latest to take on the 7 Quick Questions for our new regular feature. It’s pretty self explanatory. We ask someone in the world of adventure seven quick questions. They give us their answers. So, without further ado…

What is your favourite adventure book?

Cover of The Marsh Arabs by Wilfred Thesiger

My favourite adventure book is probably The Marsh Arabs by Wilfred Thesiger or Arabian Sands, also by Wilfred Thesiger. Those were two of the adventure books I read earliest on and they’ve influenced the kind of journeys I like to take. Both are quite long and immersive and in unusual places.

What is your oldest piece of kit?

I still have some pannier bags for my bike from when I set off cycling in 2010, which was my first big adventure trip. Also, I’ve still got the hiking poles that I used when I walked across China in 2011, so yeah that’s eight years and almost ten years for those bits of kit.

Pretty good going! Do you still have that ridiculous trailer from when you cycled across North America?

Leon McCarron setting out on his first big cycle tour across North America | Photo: Leon McCarron

I no longer have the trailer (laughing). I left the trailer in the garage of a friend in California… and I guess maybe it’s still there. But I’m never going to retrieve it!

Recommend us an adventure podcast

That’s a good question… There have been some really interesting adventure podcasts, but there’s not an over abundance of them. Two I like: a friend of mine, Ash Bhardwaj, does a podcast for the Telegraph called Edgelands about his journey along the Iron Curtain, which I thought was a really innovative and interesting series. It’s kind of an expedition talk for a podcast, not particularly normal.

And I also listen to a podcast called Long Form which is lots of different long form journalists and writers… and some other people. Some of it’s sort of adventure related and some of it isn’t, but it’s about storytelling in different mediums, which I think is central to adventure. Each episode is an interview with each of these writers and they talk about their process and inspiration and everything else, every week. It can be a foreign correspondent one week, or next week an author who’s written about treasure hunting or someone political or whatever. It’s quite varied.

What is your favourite hiking trail in the world?

The Pacific Crest trail, with Mount Adams in background | Photo: Getty

The one that I would most like to do, which I haven’t done, is the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) in the US. It seems an obvious one, but I’d like to do it and I’d also like to do the New Zealand Trail (Te Araroa). New Zealand’s amazing and I’d love to walk the length of it.

I sometimes feel a little bit like I’ve missed out on some of the hiking trails that are a bit more normal. I would never change the way that I work or the places I work in. But, for example, I’ve never been to Russia, I’ve only ever been to India very briefly. There are big gaps in my travelling CV. So I’ve hiked hundreds of miles across but I’ve never done the most normal hiking trails. I’ve done the Camino de Santiago, but I’ve never done things like the PCT or the Appellation Trail or any of the other really big ones.

The reason why I first walked the Camino de Santiago was that I felt like I should understand what the global standard is for a hiking trail experience, in order to be able to comment about how trails are existing elsewhere in the world. I should know what the benchmark is.

In terms of ones I’ve done, probably the one that I have enjoyed most is the Jordan Trail. Jordan is such an amazing place and hiking in the Middle East is an exciting concept. I really enjoyed that.

Tell us about a time when an adventure went wrong, but that made it all the more memorable

I’ve got quite a lot of those stories… That was basically the first six years of my career! If I had to pick one, it would probably be the trip that I did in Iran 2014 with a chap called Tom Allen. Our idea was to follow the longest river in Iran from source to sea. We took pack rafts and we expected, well, we hoped to paddle most of it. But when we got to the start, it was far too cold and the river was too small and frozen. There wasn’t enough water to paddle. So then we had to walk for some 150 miles until the river was big enough to paddle, carrying all our stuff and the boats.

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Throwback to Iran, 2014, when Tom Allen and I tried to paddle the Karun river… – We started in the snowy Zagros mountains in winter and, if anything, managed to become even more clueless as the journey progressed. By the time this picture was taken, I’d capsized, lost my paddle, and been found by a friendly cab driver in the mountains who took pity on my plight. He drove me and Tom to a warehouse where we could get a replacement paddle which was steel and unwieldy, and didn’t disassemble into pieces like the fancy carbon one I’d lost. I didn’t care- we were back on course and, as long as I didn’t try and walk through doorways with my backpack on, all was well in the world. Our journey was a simple one: to try and see what happened if two foreigners bumbled their way through Iran on packrafts. What we found was great wilderness, raging rivers, roaring kindness and no shortage of surprises. – Pics by talented wandering packrafter @tom_r_allen #iran #karun #karunfilm #adventuretravel #paddling #packrafting

A post shared by Leon McCarron (@leonmccarron) on

 

Then, when the river was big enough, we paddled for 200 miles which was great, until we came across a series of dams. We couldn’t keep paddling. In the end, we made the journey but we only ended up paddling about 30% of it. The rest of it was a variety of other forms of transport. Ostensibly, that was a huge failure, but it actually turned out to be the best part of it. We got some bikes for part of it, we walked a lot of it and that kind of made it more dynamic. Afterwards it felt perfect. It’s just sometimes hard to let go of that initial idea of what it is that you want to do, to stop it from feeling like a dramatic failure. It took a while to come to terms with the fact that the alternative might actually be better.

Do you have a favourite saying?

I used to like quite a lot of those sort of quotes. I remember when I was in my late early twenties… or perhaps that’s my early mid twenties – I’m not sure! Back then, I liked that Howard Thurman quote about “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do that: because that’s what the world needs, people to come alive”. And at the time, that felt very prescriptive for me, very formative.

I also remember going to see Ranulph Fiennes speaking somewhere about one of his books and there was a line in it along the lines of “life’s too short for second class ambition” which also seemed quite… At different times they meant quite a lot to me and I guess maybe I should go back to them! Maybe I should go and find them again, but I probably haven’t looked at those or thought about those for a while, but they definitely meant a lot at a certain time.

They’re very much just go out there and do something sort of quotes. When I was sitting around wondering how I could do another trip or wondering how to get funding, or just wondering if I should be doing something more sensible, those words were big motivation.

Would you rather defend yourself against 50 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

This is Bernard, our horse-sized duck. Would you cross Bernard? | Photo: Getty

Definitely one horse sized duck. I just feel like it would be slow and I’d have a better chance. Whereas 50 of anything seems like too many foes.

Well we hope that got you in the mood for some adventure! Who would you like us to interview next? Share the article and tell us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Otherwise, send a carrier pigeon. We’ll keep the windows open.