Lilwall and the Great Wall

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Ying Lo talks to adventurer and author Rob Lilwall about how he made it through a 5000km trek across China

When it comes to heading home, British-born and Hong Kong-based adventurer and author Rob Lilwall clearly prefers the road less travelled. On November 14, 2011, Lilwall took a flight to Sainshand, a Gobi Desert town in Mongolia, and began to walk home. Literally – across desert, mountains and frozen tundra on a 5,000km trek that would ultimately take seven months to complete. The expedition was carried out with cameraman Leon McCarron, who filmed the journey for a National Geographic TV series that aired in September.

Why walk when you could take the bus? Lilwall says: “When you’re human-powered, you really experience the environment you’re in. In a bus, you fly so quickly from one place to the other; you can’t really encounter people. The travel in between requires less effort and, as a result, you don’t have the same experience.” According to Lilwall, there was only one rule: walk every single step of the way… that is, unless the police or border guards stop you from walking.

This rule had to be slightly revised after a few unsuccessful attempts at skirting restricted military zones, which had ended up with Chinese police throwing the 36-year-old in jail more than once. But even that didn’t stop Lilwall, who recalls: “They had this letter they made us read, which was like, ‘foreigner – you are trespassing. Do everything you are told’. We acted cheerful, kind and very enthusiastic about China and everything. After a while, the policemen started to relax and realised we were just a couple of silly white guys.”  

Before embarking on his global escapades, Lilwell was a fairly typical guy, having worked jobs as a door-to-door salesman in the US and as a high-school geography teacher – before deciding to take some time off to travel. And travel he did. Lilwall’s first mammoth expedition happened a few years back, when he embarked on a 50,000km journey through 28 countries, starting in the Siberian city of Magadan and ending up in London. The three-year expedition saw the adventurer camping in jungles, withstanding -40°C weather and even saving a princess from a tower guarded by dragons.

Okay, we lied about the last part about the dragons – but he did meet his future wife, Christine Liu; they married in 2009 and moved to Hong Kong, where they have been living since. Lilwall documented his whole journey on video, and National Geographic later turned his footage into the TV series Cycling Home from Siberia, after which he also published a book bearing the same title.

Lilwall’s latest book, Walking Home from Mongolia, is set to hit Hong Kong on December 2. It chronicles comedic run-ins, police interrogations, partying with nomads, encounters with cave dwellers and casual brushes with villagers in China. Catch Lilwall at Grappa’s Cellar for the book launch event, where he is set to share some funny stories, sign books and provide some inspirational anecdotes, as he’s a motivational speaker for TEDx and other events around Asia.

Walking Home from Mongolia Book Launch with Rob Lilwall Grappa’s Cellar, Mon Dec 2, 6:30pm. Tickets: free; roblilwall.com.
 

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