Around the world in 13 years and 80 days

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The Independent Online

Jason Lewis is looking to the future with a certain amount of trepidation. "I will be the most unemployable man in Britain," he said yesterday from his temporary base in Ostend, Belgium. "I'm 40 years old, I've got nowhere to live and have no material possessions. I've got nothing but a few good travel stories."

But what stories they are. For the past 13 years, Mr Lewis has been on an extraordinary adventure, circumnavigating the world using only his own power.

His 46,000-mile odyssey, by pedal-powered boat, kayak, rollerblade, bicycle and on foot, will reach its conclusion next week when Mr Lewis sets out for the relatively short hop across the English Channel before heading up the Thames to complete the circumnavigation where it began, at the Greenwich Meridian.

Looking back, Mr Lewis, who ran a window-cleaning business after graduating from the University of London, is unsure what impact his adventures have had on him.

"It's hard to know what I would have been like if I hadn't been on this trip," he says. "Strangely, I think what has kept me going is the fact that I am not particularly goal-orientated."

Expedition 360, as it is officially entitled, has been punctuated by a series of crises, near and actual disasters, grinding boredom and the never-ending need to raise cash simply to keep going. Most people would have thrown in the towel a decade ago, he believes.

So much so that Steve Smith, the man who first devised the plan and convinced his university friend to join him, succumbed to the pressure and quit the expedition in Hawaii in 1999.

By then, the voyage had threatened to come unstuck on many occasions. There was a near-fatal encounter with a whale in the Atlantic, the inevitable arguments, an altercation with a Cuban gunboat, and an accident in which Mr Lewis suffered two broken legs after being hit by a car in Colorado.

The two Britons then embarked on one of the great wrong turns in history,hiking, kayaking and biking from California to Honduras in an attempt to avoid the Doldrums during their Pacific crossing, only to be forced to return after the arrival of El Niño in 1997. When they finally set off on their 26ft wooden pedalo Moshka, they found it almost impossible to make progress against the Pacific current and spent three weeks getting nowhere fast.

The second "solo" part of the trip proved equally challenging. Mr Lewis found his itinerary interrupted by civil war in the Solomon Islands, was chased by a crocodile in Australia, and was held in an Egyptian jail where he faced 40 years' imprisonment as a suspected spy.

But perhaps the worst moment came when the Canadian adventurer Colin Angus announced last year that he had gone round the northern hemisphere under his own steam in just two years. Mr Lewis counters that his trip is the genuine article, having made his way across the equatorial regions rather than a shorter, more northerly route.

Depending on the weather, the Briton hopes to be back in London on 6 October. Since setting off in July 1994, he has returned only once, to nurse his father through cancer treatment.

Most of the time in between has been taken up by fundraising. Since signing a sponsorship deal with a financial firm in Singapore, he has completed the final third of the journey in just 18 months.

The first two thirds of his epic voyage took more than 11 years as cashflow depended on selling T-shirts and on income from odd jobs, including working as an undertaker in Australia.

He has had his fair share of romances and made numerous friends. But it was his ability to deal with the mundane realities of 100 days at a time at sea that has seen him through.

He says he never seriously considered giving up, but admits there were times when the going got tough.

"Pedalling across an ocean is such a huge expanse of space and time. Sometimes you can get a little dispirited," he said. "But you have to forget about getting to the other end and concentrate on the here and now."