BY MELANIE BUCK –
Mena residents, George and Rosie Davis, and several of their family members were on a Saturday trip to Dallas when they saw a couple riding a two-person bicycle loaded with baggage. The family had a small discussion of the scene but didn’t think much more about it until the following Monday, when George happened to look out of his State Farm office window and there was the couple riding down Highway 71. George thought to himself that it must be the same couple. Amused, George smiled and went about his day. Later on that day, George headed home for lunch, and lo and behold, there was the couple again. George thought three times was enough and stopped to talk with the couple.
“When they stopped, he was sweating profusely and she didn’t have a drop on her. I told the guy he needed to make her peddle more,” said George with a laugh. They told George they were on a cross-country cycling adventure. “It was really hot that day so I offered for them to come on down to the house and have a swim in our pool and they took me up on the offer,” recalls George.
George and Rosie were quite hospitable, taking the couple to dinner that evening after their swim, and allowing the couple to stay the night. “They are on this cross-country trip on a bicycle and they asked if they could set up their tent in our yard. I said, ‘I’ll do one better. We have an RV with air conditioning, you can stay in there,’ to which they agreed.”
George, Rosie, and members of their family really enjoyed the couple and listened to several of their stories from their big adventure. However, it wasn’t until after daylight the next morning that the Davis family realized who their guests were. George said at daylight he woke up and found the two loading their gear, headlamps on, and heading out. After they left, George went down to the RV and found a thank you note and the man’s business card. Curiosity struck George and so he looked up the website on the card and was amazed at what he found.
The guests were Rob Lilwall and his wife, Christine. Lilwall is originally from London and is an internationally renowned author, motivational speaker, adventurist, and is the subject of two National Geographic TV documentaries that followed the travels of Lilwall on a three-year trek, on foot and bicycle, from Siberia to England and also a trip from Mongolia to Hong Kong.
Lilwall’s travels have seen him through sun and rain, snow and desert, flat land and mountains, village and metropolis. After completing his education at Oxford University, he taught geography for two years before quitting his job and flying to northeastern Siberian with his bicycle and setting off to ride back home. The journey of over 30,000 miles through 28 countries took him over three years during 2004 thru 2008 and took him on detours through Papua New Guinea, Australia, Tibet, Afghanistan and Iran. He published a book in 2009 called Cycling Home from Siberia about his adventure.
It was on this adventure that Lilwall met his wife. Upon completion of his trip, the couple married in 2009 and moved to her hometown of Hong Kong, where they still live today. In 2011, Lilwall began his next adventure, Walking Home from Mongolia, as his book, published in 2013, is aptly named. After flying from Hong Kong to Mongolia, he set off on foot from the Gobi Desert. He walked for the next six and a half months, for a total of 3,500 miles, back to Hong Kong. Since National Geographic filmed a TV series about that journey as well, Lilwall took a cameraman with him on the expedition, the young Northern Irish adventurer, Leon McCarron. They endured temperatures down to minus thirty and severe physical hardship as they covered the long distance with heavy packs. Lilwall wrote a weekly column for the South China Morning Post during the venture.
Some of Lilwall’s shorter adventures have included circumnavigating the M25 motorway and crossing Israel and the West Bank on foot, and traversing the Ethiopian Highlands, the Andes, and the Karakoram by bicycle. In between expeditions Rob devotes himself to writing, speaking, and charity work. From 2010-2014 Rob and Christine, a lawyer, started and developed a fundraising office for children’s charity, Viva, in Hong Kong. They are now voluntary ambassadors for the charity.
Currently, the Lilwall’s are on a four-month long, 3,500 mile cycling expedition across the U.S., riding from Los Angeles to New York City, via Texas and New Orleans, and obviously, Mena, Arkansas. Although this is Christine’s first long distance adventure, she is really enjoying it and has met a tremendous amount of nice people along the way. Spending most nights in fields under the protection of only their tent, the couple is happy to find nice people like the Davis’ to get a good night’s sleep and a shower.
The couple did confess that from California to Mena, after going through places such as the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and the Mojave Desert, one of the hardest parts of the trip was climbing Arkansas’ second highest peak, Rich Mountain. The pair entered Arkansas from Oklahoma, atop the mountain and tried, in vain, to spend the night at the top. However, sometime into the night, the couple called 911 for assistance when they awoke to what they thought was a bear outside of their tent. When rangers arrived, raccoons were discovered, much to the relief of the two. It was the next afternoon that they enjoyed the hospitality of the Davis family.
After leaving Mena, the couple was heading towards Little Rock and then on to Nashville, and Washington D.C. before reaching their goal in New York City in mid-August 2015.
George was amazed at the greatness and humbleness of the couple and said, “I was so impressed that he had not bragged about himself at all. He’s traveled all over Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, and other places. It was very interesting and they were very nice and humble people. It really was nice for us. They may have gained a place to sleep for the night, but we gained a whole lot more. We got more of a blessing than they got. We got the experience of meeting a couple with such diverse lives.”