Q, Who is Jon Beardmore?
Jon – I’m an adventurous chap who recently completed a 30,000 mile solo overland vehicle expedition across Central Asia. Now I’m producing a book, a documentary and engaged in public speaking about the journey. I’m a person who loves travelling, exploring and meeting new people. I’m on a mission to see the world with my own eyes and in my own indomitable way. I like to say yes to adventure.
Q, What was that changing point in your life that helped you to decide to ditch the busy life of London to take on an overland journey to Asia and back?
Jon – While I was travelling around South America backpacking in 2010 I had a epiphany on a bus in Patagonia. I realised that what I’m passionate about is travel, adventure and exploration. I promised myself there and then that I would continue to live a life full of adventure (and not fall back into the rat race in London).
Q, And can you recall what was going through your mind that first moment you put your truck into first gear as you said goodbye to London and hello world?
Jon – I was wondering if I would ever make it to Dover let alone across Asia (A broken water pump the week before I left nearly fried the engine). It was nerve racking and exhilarating at the same time. Getting to the start line was probably the biggest challenge and was hugely satisfying to just reach that point.
Q, What made you choose a Toyota Landcruiser to take on this journey over all the other possible trucks available?
Jon – It was the recommended truck for Central Asia. All my research on forums (i.e HUBB) and from talking to the experts pointed to a Land Cruiser being the best option. They were right.
Q, How much time did you spend on planning and preparation for this journey and did any visa issues ever occur?
Jon – I spent 18 months preparing though the last 6 months was the real crazy time. I had to get a second British passport so I could leave it in London with a Visa agency. You have to apply for a Pakistan visa from your home country. Because my visa would have run out before I reached Pakistan I had to apply while I was on the road in China. Hence the need for a second passport. The logistics were huge. I needed 8 visas in my passport before I left just so I could get as far as South East Asia. The process took 2.5 months and I only got my passport back 2 days before departure. I had a tight deadline heading east due to an visa restrictions and an immovable deadline to enter China.
Q, A journey into the unknown can sometimes place things in your path that will change the course of the journey for the better or even the worse. Did you ever have any moments along your route that made you question the possibility of seeing another day and how often did danger cross your path?
Jon – I never really felt in any danger. Pakistan was the area of most concern because I had to travel through Baluchistan with police escorts all the time but I had no safety issues. Afghanistan was as quiet as anywhere when I drove up the Wahkan Corridor. The closest call was in probably in China when we passed through a valley that was hit with massive landslides as we passed through. We escaped the danger by just a few hours. Unfortunately the weather caused one casualty in our group with a motorcyclist falling off his bike. He suffered a compound fracture of his right hip. It was the end of his trip. It wasn’t to the next day when we watched the news that we heard about villages and bridges we crossed being washed away. It was one of the biggest storms China had experienced in 30 years.
Q, You had the pleasure of spending the night on the Great Wall of China, are there any more unforgettable highlights of the journey?
Jon – The highlights were endless. Playing a game of cricket with 27 kids at the top of the Wahkan corridor in Afghanistan, Making a Bollywoood dance video in Delhi, Getting drunk with the Tajik Govt legal team on their team building weekend in northern Tajikstan, being treated like the guest of honour at the Uzbekistan engagement party and driving along the spectacular Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan but to name a few. The real privilege was meeting all the amazing people. For me it’s always about the people.
Q, If you were to recommend a destination that you visited on this journey that we might not know about where would you send us and why?
Jon – Sarhad-e-Broghil, Afghanistan at the top of the Wahkan Valley. A spectacular valley that is surrounded by Pamir and Hindu Kush mountain ranges and the borders of Tajikistan, China and Pakistan. It is the last village that you can drive up to at the most north eastern point of Afghanistan. The Wahki people are very friendly and welcoming, and live in a part of the world blessed with stunning scenery.
Q, Was there ever a country that you had doubts about entering due to safety concerns?
Jon – Pakistan was the place with the greatest uncertainly. However I made some great contacts before I arrived and while I was in the country. Everybody wanted to help me enjoy Pakistan safely so I was passed from contact to contact as I travelled across the country. In my experience most situations highlighted on the FCO website are overblown and need to be taken with a grain of salt. Pakistan however was the one place I put a lot of time and effort into creating a support network. This network meant I stayed with friends pretty much everywhere and they saved the day whenever I had an issue. The story that springs to mind was the day my brakes failed on the Baluchistan border. It was the one place I didn’t want anything to happen. One phone later and a friend of a friend showed up with his mechanic and own armed escorts. I was put up in the local hotel while my car was fixed. The following day I was on my way with security escorts to guide me along my way. Amazing hospitality.
Q, Over 25,000 miles were covered in your trusty Toyota Landcruiser with many strangers joining you in the spare seats of your truck, reflecting back is there one particular person who stands out over everyone else who has left an impact on you?
Jon – One day I was driving along the M41 towards Murgab in eastern Tajikistan. It is known as the Pamir Highway on the roof of the world. I was literally the only vehicle for miles and miles. There was nothing but barren brown dusty hilltops around me and snowcapped mountains in the distance. As I was driving along one of the many long straights I saw a lone figure standing by the side of the road. I stopped and was met by a Krgyz Tribesman who was after a ride. The ride was one of the most entertaining of the journey. He didn’t speak any english and I didn’t speak his language. That didn’t stop us having the most amazing conversation as we drove. It just goes to show you don’t need a common language to be able to communicate. (Here is a link to the video of our encounter here:http://youtu.be/3Wj26cG6pu4)
Q, Hitchhikers probably popped up from time to time, but if you could have a celebrity hitchhiker for 24 hours who would it be and where would you go?
Jon – Danny Wallace (The Yes Man). We’d hit the town in Buenos Aires and say YES to everything.
Q, Riding through such a variety of terrains would have opened up your eyes to things that many of us have never seen but can you recall the strangest encounter that you had during this journey?
Jon – My visit to the Darvasa Gas Craters in central Turkmenistan was memorable. There is a hole in the ground approx 50 metres in diameter and 30 metres deep. Natural gas burns from the hole constantly. The hole itself is in the middle of desert. The Soviets blew a hole in the ground in the 1960’s when they were looking for natural gas reserves and then did nothing further. I wasn’t expecting much from the visit as it sounded like a tourist trap. However the location is so isolated the views go for miles around. The sunset and sunrise were both spectacular. What added to the uniqueness of the visit was running into four locals on a lads weekend. Two fathers/brothers and their sons. They invited my to join them and share their sheep and vodka for the evening. We spent the night sharing stories (via my guide) and sleeping under the stars on their carpet. It was totally unexpected and magical.
Q, I still personally believe that the USA is one of the most dangerous places I’ve travelled. In 2009 I went on a very long journey around the US in my trusty rusty Toyota 4Runner. Finding safe places to park up for the evening was sometimes difficult. One particular night I parked my 4Runner up in car lot full of for-sale cars so locals didn’t see me sleeping in the back. Did you ever park up in any interesting places to blend in and hide from public sight?
Jon – There were plenty of nights in car parks in China because there were no camping sites. Whether camping in the Gobi desert, beside rivers and lakes, or behind some trees near the Ukraine / Russia border I never felt the need to hide for security reasons. People were curious and I never felt in any danger. The one night I camped at a truck stop in India brought me a fan club of 30 curious locals. They do tend to get in your personal space a little but that is just the way it is in India.
Q, If you were to take on a new journey and with a different vehicle where would you go and what would your mode of transport be? [Sadly you can’t use your Toyota]
Jon – I met a lot of bicycle or motorbike travellers on my journey. Either of those would be fun though the physical challenge of a bicycle journey would take some mental preparation. I still have a dream to do a major train journey across all the continents one day.
Q, Top 5 essential bits of kit for this journey?
1 – A Smile – This was my most trusted tool on the road. It opened so many doors and created so many fantastic memories.
2 – My Toyota Landcruiser called Boris – A great car for the journey. One that didn’t break down would have been boring.
3 – iPhone – The brains of the operation. Maps, photos, videos, notes, email, internet. It a brilliant device for a traveller. I navigated the whole journey using (offline) google maps.
4 – Macbook Pro Laptop – This was the heart of the operation. All my music, my planning, co-ordinating, communicating and sharing of the journey came from my laptop.
5 – A ‘She’ll be right’ attitude – You need this to deal with the constant challenges you will face and to have faith that everything will be o.k.
Q, What’s next for you Jon, where will the road take you next?
Jon – I’m going to be based back in London for a while now. After 2.5 years of preparing and travelling I’m ready to stay in one spot for a while. I’m now focusing on producing a documentary and book about the journey. I’m also entering the world of public speaking to continue sharing the experience and inspiring others to follow their dreams. I’m speaking at Tales of Adventure in London on Thursday 14th August.
Q, And lastly what advice would you give to people who want to follow you in your foot steps on there own overland journey?
Jon – Say Yes More. Commit to going and then you will find a way. It will be one of the toughest things you ever do but definitely one of the most rewarding. And if you need any advice I’m always happy to help.
This interview first appeared in Going Solo Adventures where you can find more fascinating interviews from Paul Everitt.