Q&A with Leon McCarron

The Road Headed West

Leon McCarron is an adventurer whose epic journey on two wheels across North America is told in a new Summersdale book, The Road Headed West. We asked him a few questions to find out what gets his pedals spinning…

What made you decide to take off on your bike across America in the first place?

Quite simply, I felt the need for a big challenge in life – something to really test myself. I wanted to see more of the world and to be able to explore with freedom, and it seemed going on adventure was the only sensible (!) solution. I chose a bicycle because I couldn’t afford a motorbike – and also because it’s such a flexible way to travel – and I began in America because I love the road-trip travel writing of authors like Kerouac and Steinbeck. In reality though, I could have started anywhere, and used any method of transport. The important thing was just that I did something to challenge myself, and I need to do it as soon as possible before I got too comfortable and lost my motivation.

How did you know where to sleep at night? Was this ever a major challenge?

I had no planned nights of accommodation once I left New York City. I either slept in my tent in forests or on hills or behind hedges alongside the road, or I was taken in by strangers and given a sofa or spare room. At the start of the trip I found wild camping quite a stressful process, but it doesn’t take long to get used to the routine of finding a good spot.

What was your most amazing experience cycling across the US?

The most consistently amazing experience was the kindness of strangers. So many people took me in just minutes after we met by the roadside. In terms of a single experience, it has to be seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I came out of the redwood forest and onto a bluff high about the sea, where the sea stretched out to the horizon beyond me. Knowing that I’d crossed the continent by human power to get there made it all the more sweet.

What was the biggest obstacle you encountered?

Almost certainly the biggest obstacle was my own mind. I was young, inexperienced and naïve, and therefore I spent a lot of time (especially early on) being cautious and afraid. One of the greatest things about this trip was learning that, for the most part, the world is a good and kind place, and choosing adventure in life is an extremely worthwhile thing to do.

The Road Headed West

Do you think that travelling by bike allows a more intimate experience of travelling?

Absolutely – all human-powered travel does. Cycling is unique, however, because it is relatively easy. After a few weeks of pedalling one becomes very fit, and the bicycle does a lot of the work for the rider. This combination of speed and intimacy makes it a wonderful way to become immersed in a country and culture.

What advice would you give to someone who was considering taking off on their first cycling adventure?

Get a bicycle (any will do); get a bag to strap on the bag (any will do). Okay – you’re ready! It really is incredibly simple. Don’t worry about planning complex routes or having all of the best kit. Get the bare essentials and go for it. You’ll learn everything else you need en route, and unless you’re heading off to remote corners of the earth, you’ll be able to pick up along the way any other bits of kits that you feel you need.

Living in London as you do, how do you find cycling in the city? And what would you do to improve cycling safety if you could?

I love cycling in London – it’s very well set up for bicycles for the most part. The problem is just the volume of traffic. In an ideal world I’d like to see it become more like Portland, Oregon, with a lot more dedicated bike paths, but for now I think the first step is an increased awareness about cycling safety on the part of both motorists and cyclists.

Do you have any future adventures planned?

Of course! I’m cycling a section of the Rhine this summer, and in October I’m planning to do some long-distance walking in the UK. My next big adventure will be in December – more details to be revealed on www.leonmccarron.com very soon…