British adventurer Sarah Outen poses for a portait in front one of her boat named Happy Socks during April 2013.
Two paddles, two peddles, and 24,000 miles.
That’s the charge 28-year-old Sarah Outen has given herself. The adventurer and athlete is in the middle of the immense challenge of traversing the globe using only human power, biking and rowing her way around the entire world, starting in London, and ending at the British capital three and a half years later.
Called London2London, the quest has taken her across 7,500 nautical miles, across three continents, and through several near-death experiences.
Speaking with the Daily News, Outen said that she’s simply pursuing a passion. “I love being out in the wild,” she said. “But out in the ocean, there’s lots of frightening moments.” In September, the endurance athlete became the first woman to row from Japan to Alaska, taking 150 days to complete the unfathomable task. There are palpable sacrifices to this nomadic lifestyle. For instance, Outen spent her 28th birthday alone at sea. “But I had balloons and a birthday banner. There’s a lot of wildlife, fish, dolphins, turtles, and sharks,” she said.
British adventurer Sarah Outen arrives in Adak, Alaska on her boat named “Happy Socks” September 2013.
Outen has many of the details of her global trek obsessively plotted out — routes, distances, miles per day, and goals for where she should be at what time. She hopes to make it back to London by 2015, where she plans to marry her fiancée, Lucy.
But there are plenty of things that cannot be penciled in her calendar.
While rowing across the Indian Ocean in 2009 in a small custom-made boat, Outen nearly ran out of fresh water to drink. Her purification system relied on solar power, and sky above the endless swathe of blue was cloudy and overcast. She thankfully had a reserve of emergency drinking water stashed away, but it was a close call.
Similarly, typhoons prove a deadly challenge, and gale-force winds could easily overturn her small 21-ft rowboat, affectionately called “Happy Socks.”
Courtesy of Sarah Outen
Outen on her bike, Hercules, laden with supplies.
Her boat, kayak, “Nelson,” and bicycle, appropriately named “Hercules,” are the only things keeping her from being stranded in some of the most remote places in the world. That means there can be no room for error.
“Happy Socks” is the most complex of the vessels, with built-in solar panels, Kevlar-reinforced design, and a slew of other safety measures. The boat has a self-righting design that helps Outen get upright if a wave tosses the boat on its side, as well as parachute anchors that help her not drift off course during inclement weather.
The onboard desalination unit purifies up to six-and-a-half gallons of ocean water per hour, using solar power to convert undrinkable, salty ocean water into palatable freshwater. Aft of the deck is a small space used for supply storage and a sleeping space that Outen describes as “cozy.” It also serves as her kitchen and office.
“The idea is you take everything, you’re self-sufficient,” she said.
Courtesy of Sarah Outen
Outen rows in front of London’s Tower Bridge at the beginning of the London2London: Via the World expedition. She won’t see the Tower Bridge again until her journey is complete in 2015.
“Hercules” allows her to carry all the supplies she needs over the front and back tires, and features a carbon bike chain and a custom-built frame. It will take her all the way from Vancouver to the East Coast.
Many of the roads are desolate, and while she has satellite communication, help can be hours or even days away.
But for Outen, fear isn’t to be … feared. “I think fear is really healthy,” she said. “It keeps you safe, it keeps you alert. I think you’ve got to start worrying when you stop being scared of stuff.”
British adventurer Sarah Outen, uses only human power to complete a continuous loop of the world.
One of the end results of putting extremely taxing demands on the mind and body, Outen said, is mental. “It’s a big mind game. I’ve been working with a psychotherapist since 2009. Before I leave, we talk about goal-setting, things that have been difficult before, and keeping things in perspective.”
Outen’s saving grace when adrift at sea was focusing on the good that happened during that particular day. It could be something as extraordinary as seeing a whale breech, or as mundane as, “Thank goodness, today’s over. This won’t last forever.”
Some good for Outen comes in the form of her fiancée, who she proposed to — twice — over satellite phone.
“She just got very impatient, she was in the middle of a storm, and it was a surprise,” Lucy told The News. Another call, and they were officially engaged. “I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she beamed.
Courtesy of Sara Houten
‘Happy Socks’ is a custom-made rowboat that has seen British adventuerer Sarah Outen across vast oceans.
She said she’s fully supportive of Outen’s marathon travels.
The journey isn’t for Outen alone. “I wanted to make this journey more than just my journey, and figured I could use it as a fundraising expedition,” Outen continued. Each charity holds a special meaning for her, from CoppaFeel, a breast cancer organization founded by a friend with stage four cancer, or WaterAid, a company devoted to improving access to safe, clean drinking water.
Her travels have taken her across the European continent by way of Poland, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, through the inhospitable Gobi Desert, and up through northern China to the Japanese peninsula. Throughout these travels, she’s been greeted by friendly faces and those hoping to give encouragement and well-wishes.
“People have been intrigued — and kind — where the language barrier is an issue,” she said. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response.”
Courtesy of Sara Houten
British adventurer Sarah Outen’s boating equipment.
Outen has always harbored a passion for the outside world and nature. Much of her childhood was spent outside, and she began kayaking around age 12. When she went away to university at Oxford, she joined the rowing team.
An injury kept her from going through with an Army commission, and so instead, Outen looked into ocean rowing. The first trip across the Indian Ocean was dedicated to her father, who had recently passed away.
“I wanted to do it in his memory,” Outen said of the 2009 journey.
So what’s next for the road warrior? Come next spring (Alaskan winters are notoriously brutal, let alone for a single biker), Outen will return to Alaska, biking near Anchorage, and head cross-country through Alaska, Canada, and the top of the States.
Courtesy of Sara Houten
British adventurer Sarah Outen’s biking equipment, dubbed ‘Hercules.’
“My goal is to get to the East Coast by 2014, then back across the North Atlantic,” she said. Then, a well-earned rest and a long-awaited wedding.
“I don’t ever want to go away from Lucy this long ever again,” the athlete added.
In the meantime, Outen harbors dreams of turning her travels into a book, and hopes to teach others about ethically-minded outdoor pursuits. “I want to be teaching others, fusing education, adventure, and young people,” she said.
Outen had one final piece of advice: “The magic happens only if you’re open to it.”