Take a trip around the world with Jason Lewis
“Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.”
— Samuel Johnson
This around-the-world adventure launches with rakish English explorer Jason Lewis fending off a 15-foot saltwater crocodile in Australia. Armed with only a kayak paddle, Lewis lashes at the snapping beast, determined to preserve both his supplies and his life — really one and the same.
While exotic exploits are part of the pleasure of “Dark Waters (The Expedition Trilogy, Book 1): True Story of the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Earth,” Lewis’ trials are relatable to all of his species, regardless of their domain.
First off, though, some explanation about his amazing feat: He circled the globe under his own power. He used no sail and no motor. To travel only human-powered required riding a bike through Europe, peddling a custom-made boat across oceans, and even Roller-Blading the 4,000-mile girth of the United States.
Like many good ideas, the trip was hatched during a well-lubricated, bravado discussion at 2 a.m. among friends. Over copious bottles of Kronenbourg 1664, Lewis’ college chum, Steve Smith, laid out the trip, which was his idea. “It’s incredible, isn’t it? How no one’s thought of it?”
Lewis writes that by 1992, most of the big firsts in expedition had been done: reaching the South Pole, summiting Everest, walking on the moon. “It was slim pickings with the exception of the deep oceans and outer space. Nearly every square inch of the planet’s surface had been trampled upon, sailed across, flown, or driven over.”
But the human-powered circumnavigation record was still up for grabs. So strong was the pull to do something new and daring that Smith quit his job as an environmental scientist, and Lewis ended his dual endeavors: owner of a rag-tag window-washing business and singer in a London rock band.
They threw themselves full-time into raising money, plotting courses, gathering supplies and securing sponsors for the trip they estimated would take three years.
Ultimately, it would take 13.
Buoyed by the labor and expertise of friends, family loans, some sponsors and the donation of 4,000 Mars bars and 250 six-years-out-of-date British Army MRE rations, two years later the cobbled-together expedition commenced, albeit short of funds to complete the journey. The adjusted goal became to reach Miami and hope the United States, with its upstart spirit of adventure, would be more amenable to sponsorship to fund the entire trip. They would figure it out as they went.
The improbability of two 20-somethings with scant resources and marginal outdoors experience circling the globe pales in comparison to the fact the books — there are three in a sequential series — became huge successes as the product of an independent publishing company.
For that reason, Lewis and his publisher, Tammie Stevens of Billyfish Books, spoke last weekend at the national convention of the Independent Book Publishers Association in San Francisco to an audience hungry to figure out how they, too, could capture that kind of publishing-success lightning in a bottle.
Lewis was in-person as funny and self-effacing as he is in his writing. One stand-out scene from the first book involves him Roller-Blading, with his long hair and earrings, bare-shirted, with duct tape across his nipples to deter sunburn, in a pair of 75-cent thrift shop red-and-white women’s culottes, a loose-fitting necessity after a very personal attack by fire ants while camping near the side of the road.
This, by the way, was in the Deep South. He was a magnet for bullying. Throughout his travels he also was a magnet for kindness, being on the receiving end of the occasional place to sleep, a meal, a few dollars and some kind words of encouragement — all necessary to his trip’s completion.
Colorado’s contribution to the expedition is a mixed bag. A drunken 82-year-old driver with cataracts tragically and famously plowed into Lewis outside Pueblo. The driver left the scene and Lewis with two broken legs. When stopped a mile later, the man claimed he hit a deer, though in his wife’s lap was Lewis’ knapsack, deposited during the collision.
It took nine months for Lewis to convalesce, which he did as a guest of his physician. By wheelchair, he visited classrooms, encouraging students to never give up on their dreams. It was for him a point of refocusing.
Along the way, Lewis and Smith eventually parted ways, and Lewis persevered solo. He was in his element alone, particularly at sea. He described his excruciating attempt at overcoming “the doldrums,” a counter-current that kept him literally peddling in place for 73 days. At times like these, Lewis said the journey was more mental than physical.
“Sometimes it’s all we can do to just maintain,” he told the assembled independent publishers. “If we keep peddling, keep going, circumstances may change in our favor.”
All three books in “The Expedition” series can be ordered at Grand Valley Books, Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Billyfishbooks.com. They also are available as e-books.