Leon McCarron Follows The Road Headed West

The filmmaker and adventurer's thrilling memoir describes his bicycle road-trip across North America

With a bicycle, a loosely defined route and not much more besides, Leon McCarron’s 14,000-mile adventure across America to Hong Kong in 2010 makes for a riveting story.

Indeed, it has inspired his authorial debut, The Road Headed West, published this month and detailing his exploits across America to Mexico, in what formed the first five months of his epic 14-month trip.

'It’s a rite of passage journey about a clueless 23-year-old who graduates from university and decides to set off, not knowing what he’s getting himself into,' McCarron laughs. 'I learned so much, just riding across America, visiting places like Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountains.'

The many and varied characters that McCarron met along the way populate the book – people who invariably helped McCarron out with accommodation and other essentials during his epic journey.

'I was interested in finding interesting stories about people and places,' says the 28-year-old. 'That was why I wanted to go by bicycle. It’s a great way to interact with people and a country. I also kept a blog and posted online articles.

'That’s why I thought I wanted to write a book. There’s quite a large cast of characters in the book. I do tell as much of their story as I can. I hope that when people read it, they will enjoy it and also be able to think back on their own travel experiences.'

If the primary aim was to 'have an adventure and be able to tell the story to people in different forms' – McCarron also works a documentary filmmaker, and filmed his American exploits – then another aim of the expedition was to encourage people to get outdoors.

Now working as a motivational speaker, McCarron often talks at schools about the excitement to be had in exploring. With a filmmaker's eye, he soaked up the beautiful scenery wherever he went, although he admits there were negatives too, such as 'getting caught up in tornados and having to survive on a few pounds per day'.

'Having bears coming into my tent,' he adds. 'Even having one unfortunate encounter with a guy with a gun in mid-west America. It was a real kind of launch into the unknown. It was definitely a life-changing trip in a very positive way.'

For McCarron, at least, the age of austerity has paid off.  'When I left university,' he recalls, 'I was trying to find a job, we were in recession and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Going off on this journey helped me distil down what I was really passionate about and good at.

'I realised this idea of going on adventures myself and encouraging other people to live an adventurous lifestyle in a big or small way was something I wanted to do.'

Filming and blogged about his adventure is a system he has used during subsequent trips, including a folding bike trip around the British Isles to climb the Six Peaks and a six-month trek across China in 2012.

He also crossed 1,000 miles of the Empty Quarter Desert in 2012 and has just returned from a six-week expedition in Iran, following the longest river in the country (the Karun) from source to sea. Meanwhile, he is already looking ahead to his second book, which he hopes will incorporate some of these journeys.

But first there is his debut to think about. 'I’m really excited to launch The Road Headed West. I always wanted to tell stories, but I never thought I would be writing a book. I’m just really excited to be getting it out there and I hope people enjoy it.'

Leon McCarron signs copies of The Road Headed West at Common Grounds, Belfast at 7pm on July 23 and in Lost & Found, Coleraine at 6.30pm on July 26.