News / Asia

Q&A with Rob Lilwall: Walking Home from Mongolia

The ability of humans to overcome obstacles and achieve great goals is nothing short of marvelous. An innate nomadic drive and curiosity has taken men across continents, oceans and even to the moon and back.

Adventurer and motivational speaker Rob Lilwall has followed that spirit in an amazingly long bicycle ride and his latest trek, a 5,000 kilometer hike through China which became a book titled Walking Home from Mongolia. Lilwall tells VOA’s Jim Stevenson, in excerpts from their conversation, that his school classmates would likely never have guessed he would become such a long-distance traveler.

Q&A with Rob Lilwall: Walking Home from Mongolia
Q&A with Rob Lilwall: Walking Home from Mongoliai
|| 0:00:00

LILWALL: As I was growing up, I was never the toughest person at school, never part of the top sports teams, and I used to get frightened of things very easily. But I think if we – if there’s a good challenge that we want to do [and] maybe find a friend or two to do it -- if we start small and build it up, I think we can get really surprised at what we are able to pull off in the end.

STEVENSON: How did you figure out where you were going to walk from, and how did you decide to walk this long distance to begin with?

LILWALL: The origins of this expedition is kind of a, bit of a long story, but to cut it short, I had decided that I wanted to go and explore the world on my bicycle. Instead of setting off from England and cycling off to the rest of the world, I thought it would be more fun to go as far away from home as possible and then cycle back. I started thinking I wanted to do another expedition, this time I wanted to walk instead of cycle, and I thought ‘I like the idea of trying to get home.’ So this time I was going to fly to Mongolia and then go home [now Hong Kong] from there.

STEVENSON: You must have had some incredible scenery along the way that you could only have seen by hiking this.

LILWALL: I think China is just extraordinary in its variation. If you go from North to South, you’ve got the Gobi Desert in the North. We were walking across it in winter, so it’s just this kind of epic, bleak, white, flat emptiness. Then you continue down, it gets a bit more hilly. We crossed the Great Wall, and then we actually followed the Great Wall for about a week, just through the mountains of Shanxi province. Then we got down to the Yellow River, completely frozen over, and just an incredibly kind of massive canyon that you’re walking through. The summer started to arrive, and as we entered southern China, you’re suddenly in this much more tropical climate of bamboos and forests and much more limestone mountains. So we did encounter this incredible diversity of landscape. It’s amazing how in just a couple of days of walking, you encounter totally different types of China.

STEVENSON: You made the trip with filmmaker Leon McCarron, who was able to record this visually. Did you ever feel the two of you were in any sort of precarious situation along the way, or had some security fears as you’re just basically going alone through this?

LILWALL: We did face dangers along the way. About a week into the walk the winter had started to arrive, the temperature had dropped from minus ten to almost minus 30, and one night, we put up our tent in the middle of this empty valley in the Gobi Desert. Everything was quite calm when we went to sleep. The next morning we woke up, and this massive wind, a kind of storm [was] blowing through. All our water had frozen, and we were running out of food a bit, so we had to keep moving. We had to get up, take the tent down in the storm, and everything almost blew away, which is a major danger if you lose your tent or something like that in the desert, and it’s a real danger to get frost bite. There’s this funny video of us just dancing because that’s the only way we could warm up.

Other situations which are dangerous, things like sometimes the paths we ended up walking along were pretty precarious with huge hundred-foot drop-downs into gullies or rivers. The traffic, I think, is actually one of your number one dangers if you’re spending much time on a road. It only takes one driver to be not concentrating for a couple of seconds and that’s the end.

STEVENSON: You must have a thousand wonderful memories from this, but what are some of the things that really stand out the most in your mind from your journey?

LILWALL: There are different types of highlights. The Great Wall that we saw was not full of tourists; this was out in the middle of nowhere with literally nobody on it for hundreds of miles, so that was a great, great privilege and experience.

I think the other side of the highlights was the people we met. Whether it was coming across some nomads who would invite us to stay, or once we got into mainland China, I remember one night we were all walking down a railway through the desert, and we got to this little, kind of signal house. And these guys – we knocked on the door and walked in – they almost kind of fell over themselves because they couldn’t believe these two strange foreigners were appearing, and then they just became so hospitable and invited us, and fed us, and looked after us. You feel like you made these really good friends who you’ll never see again, but it was a really special experience I hope for them as much as for us.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs