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
    ...    
     
    X

    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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora