Veteran adventurer and Kent graduate, Leon McCarron, opened this year’s series of open lectures at the University of Kent with a dynamic tale of guns, tornadoes and opportunity.
Leon McCarron was just weeks into his trip when he was held at gunpoint. His only route of escape was towards a tornado.
The Northern Irish adventurer had barely started what was to become a 14,000 mile journey from New York to Hong Kong when he was offered a bed for the night in the American Midwest.
He was later told how all non-Americans should be shot and shown into a shed lined with hundreds of guns.
Speaking at the University of Kent tonight, he recalled: “He then cocked [the gun] and pointed it at my head. It took about three days to sink in […] I was physically shaking on my bike.”
The Kent alumnus then attempted to escape by road but was chased towards an oncoming tornado, forcing him to run blindly through farmland.
He eventually found refuge in the basement of an elderly couple.
Surprisingly, Leon is still confident of the good of strangers, insisting he recounts the tale to highlight his positive experiences.
He said: “I am a firm believer that 99 per cent of the world’s population are good and are there to look after each other.”
“There are nutters out there, but with a bit of common sense [it’s fine]. This was the only negative experience I’ve had.”
McCarron has travelled over 17,000 miles by both foot and bike, recording his adventures in film and print.
He has cycled from New York to Hong Kong alone, walked from Mongolia to Hong Kong and is currently planning a trek through Oman.
However, speaking at this year’s first open lecture, he denied that adventure had been a lifelong ambition.
He explained: “This is what I do with my life now, it’s a real vocation and it happened really organically – I didn’t want to be an adventurer.”
“I didn’t know what to do with my life when I left school. I picked film as I thought that would be an easy three years of watching movies and cheap cinema tickets.”
It was more than a year after graduating that McCarron decided to combine his love of bikes and camera in adventure.
He has since battled temperatures as low as -50, been arrested more than 15 times and lasted 16 days without a wash.
Reflecting on his experiences, he said: “The world really is an exciting place. There’s something really liberating about being on a bike and experiencing the world for myself.
He added: “Opportunities come in lots of forms; it’s so easy to say no because of real change or security but embrace opportunity and embrace change”.
“You never feel more alive than when you are about to fall off a cliff in China.”
Pictures from leonmccarron.com