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The pull of human-power

Suited up to the nines, Jason Lewis lounges in the speaker’s preparation room at Hyderabad International Convention Centre before his talk at Harvard Model United Nations (HMUN) World Leadership Forum. The look is a drastic 180° from the pictures usually disseminated by the media of the explorer and motivational speaker, where he’s decked out in adventure gear.

Getting started

Jason is a Guinness World Record holder, being the first person to circumnavigate the world in just 16 legs across a time stretch of 13 years — while using just human power. Despite being well-travelled, Jason shares he had not had any prerequisite knowledge prior of adventure-based travelling. “I was talked into this journey by Steve Smith, my old college pal. The human-power concept came about when he was with the OECD in Brussels at the time and he was disillusioned with his job; he wanted to make a statement to the world of ‘what can you do without fossil fuels?’ We needed something where you didn’t need to be an expert. Theoretically, the human-power thing was doable and I thought ‘this idea is so simple, why hasn’t anyone done this before?’I’ve read where people had rode oceans and bicycled here and there, but not a continuous journey.” The timing for the expedition was perfect for Jason; he was residing in London with a business contract-cleaning hotels and playing in bands.

The journey began in 1994 when Jason and Steve kicked off from London. Over the course of the expedition, he’d endured malaria, septicaemia, a hit-and-run by a drunk driver in Colorado and a crocodile attack in Australia. He finally crossed the proverbial finish line in 2007, and the footage was compiled into a feature documentary by Kenny Brown, aptly titled The Expedition. Jason confides that coming home was a bit of a let-down after 13 years of constant ups and downs. “I didn’t expect to have dedicated such a large portion of my life to this journey. See, it’s not like climbing Everest and coming home in a couple of months. Your memory of home remains fixed, and when you come home obviously you’ve seen life goes on. I got the sense of being a stranger in my own land; I felt more at home in other places than in the UK. There was a sense of relief, completion and peace of having finished this journey but then it was superseded by this sense of my legs still spinning while attempting to assimilate back into society, like a cartoon character running off a cliff.”

It’s remarkable just how many parallels you can draw from Jason’s learnings from his travels; the idea of having no expectations is intrinsically valuable as it helps one adapt much easier to unexpected occurrences, “The most important thing, when you’re out in the desert or the sea or the mountains or around lots of people, is to not be too fixed— and that’s the key to survival. It’s not about conquering the elements or making a record, it’s about… working with nature and with the environments through which you’re passing, really listening to what’s going on around you.” This organic and on-the-move approach has been largely successful for Jason in his day-to-day life as a motivational speaker.

Looking back, Jason wishes he were more of a team player, “My relationship with Steve was quite strained at times. I was more interested in my own journey and my own spiritual aspiration especially on the first ocean crossing in the Atlantic, when I was trying to find enlightenment through meditation in order to reach a higher truth. I realise I wasn’t a better friend to him. He had a very difficult crossing and I wasn’t there for him.” Jason also acknowledges that as humans, we are not designed to spend that much time so closely with another human being.

Beyond borders

The HMUN Conference, according to Jason, largely helps young people think out of the box and develop more of a world view. This passion for Jason has shifted to the creation of Micro Earths, an organisation that engenders the core values of global sustainability, be it waste management, food or energy. “Micro Earths is the culmination of my takeaways of the expedition and to now try and apply that to something more relevant to the issues we are facing today. One of the problems with sustainability is that there’s a feel-good branding attached to it, which has been overused and lost its meaning. So many companies want the positive aspect of sustainability; nobody wants to be thumped over the head with the do’s and don’t’s. If it’s going to be meaningful, people will have to deal with transparency and the ugly side of it. Data collection is so important, and on that note you can’t manage what you can’t measure. We’ve been banging on about it for three decades so there’s a danger of becoming disillusioned with it.”

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 6:47:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/jason-lewis-human-power-13-year-expedition-micro-earths-sustainability/article19501446.ece

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