Row, Ride and Paddle

British adventurer nears end of 4-year global odyssey

Sarah Outen
Sarah Outen has travelled more than 35,000 kilometres by boat and bike since 2011. Photo: Sarah Outen

Sarah Outen celebrates her 30th birthday on May 26, alone on the Atlantic Ocean, rowing her way home to London with Happy Socks.

Outen was 25 when she kayaked down the Thames to start her human powered odyssey around the world. Now, after more than four years and 35,000 kilometres of bikes and boats, camping and couch surfing, the Briton’s mission is almost accomplished. She hopes to dock Happy Socks (her oceangoing row boat stocked with dehydrated food and Mars bars) in England by the end of summer and fall back into her own bed in Cambridge.

Sarah Outen
Photo: Sarah Outen

“The No. 1 reaction people have is, “You’re crazy.” I’m happy doing what I’m doing. It feels worthwhile, purposeful,” she said in an interview during the wintry Canadian leg of her journey through the Yukon and the Prairies. “I feel satisfied, like I’m doing good things, putting good energy out there and I’m in control.”

Grieving the loss of her father, Outen rowed across the Indian Ocean from Australia to Mauritius. She discovered “the beauty and simplicity of the journey,” being with nature and wildlife and soon declared her intention to self-propel around the globe.

After paddling to France, Outen unveiled Hercules, her warhorse bicycle, and wheeled  solo through Europe to China, where a young stranger joined Outen for a 3,000 kilometre ride, becoming her translator.

Outen has overcome countless obstacles along her voyage, some physical, some mental and others meteorological. She was almost crushed by a freighter in a shipping channel and a massive Pacific storm near Japan forced a high-seas rescue in which she lost her boat. The ultimate journey was delayed, but not derailed, as she returned to England to secure a new boat and regroup from her near-death experience. Pushed far north of a planned landing in Vancouver on her five-month Pacific crossing, Outen ended up in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Switching to her sea kayak, she paddled many more kilometres south among the islands until she found land serviced by roads where she could ride her bike.

Sarah Outen
Photo: Sarah Outen

Through the dead of winter, she rode from Alaska to Cape Cod on the Atlantic Coast. Her coldest cycling day came in Fox Creek, Alta. where temperatures hit -25C.

“People often complain about their life, but we all have the power to change and make those choices about how we are going to live,” says Outen. “When you are the engine behind your travels, it is transcendent. On the bike and in the boat and kayak, you really experience everything around you, living and breathing the rhythms of the wild.”

Outen has been inspiring people in every city and village she has passed through, raising awareness for breast cancer screening and Wateraid, a charity that brings clean water to Third World countries.

“This is not a solo journey. Lots of people help make it happen,” she says. “We can get held back by just not having a go — being afraid of failure and thinking things are too hard. Have a go and see what happens.”