Sailing Into the Unknown

Photo: Amber Word

In 2016, accomplished sailor Falcon Riley began dreaming of a different kind of voyage. He was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, traveling from San Francisco to Guam when he began fantasizing about Mongolia. He’d written a report about Genghis Khan as a child and had been drawn to the idea of visiting ever since.

A trip across the wilds of Mongolia sounded like an interesting adventure; but how to navigate the terrain? The long stretches of bleak, uninhabited landscape would make hiking it almost impossible. If only he could sail across the country, he’d be able to match his dream with his expertise. Unfortunately, Mongolia is landlocked, so sailing was out of the question. Or was it?

Riley began sketching out a simple box with wheels and a sail, in essence a sailing cart. Over the next year and a half, we returned periodically to his design, trying to factor in elements like a sleeping space, storage for food and gear, and a steering mechanism. Finally, in April of 2018, Riley and his girlfriend Amber Word (whom he’d met in Guam) arrived in Mongolia.

With just $200 and a huge language barrier, they began sourcing materials to build their cross-country vehicle. After several days they’d scrounged up enough plywood and other materials to begin construction. They befriended a local builder who loaned them his tools and some shop space. With his help, the couple soon had a workable “ship.” They caught a ride to the end of a dirt road and set off.

Like so many of the stories I share, I believe this journey holds valuable lessons for us. Regardless of your goal, whether it’s setting off on a wild adventure or achieving annual growth goals, the transition from dream to reality can seem daunting. I’m always encouraged by learning how others managed the process. Here are a few ideas I pulled from Riley and Word.

Start with what you have. Two hundred dollars and a sketch. That’s all Riley and Word had when they set foot in Mongolia. They didn’t have a support team. They didn’t have a wealth of resources or the means to acquire them. They didn’t even speak the native language. Yet they had a goal to reach and the will to achieve it. So using what they had at their disposal, they went to work. They didn’t wait for perfect conditions; they just got started.

Seek out others who will help. A successful mission meant partnering with other people – people who had knowledge and resources and skills the travelers did not possess. It began with a carpenter who allowed them to use his shop and tools. Other partnerships occurred along the way. Riley and Word encountered families who took them in and offered food. They were helped out by total strangers who offered to assist with repairs. In each instance, the couple attempted to repay the help by performing household chores. They didn’t look for handouts; they accepted partnerships.

Keep moving forward. Completing their trip meant crossing 300 kilometers in a three by nine foot cart. That’s less than 190 miles, but the journey took 46 days. Without lights, they couldn’t travel at night. Frequent breakdowns caused by hitting gopher holes created delays while they sought out tools, materials, and help. And the wind wasn’t always kind. One particularly windy day allowed them to travel 70 kilometers, which means on the other 45 days, they only averaged five. The cart was barely wide enough for them to sleep shoulder to shoulder. They didn’t dwell on the problems; they focused on the goal.

As you embark on this journey called 2019, I hope you will adopt the attitude of an adventurer. Start with what you have. Seek out other who will help you. And above all else, keep moving forward. Keep your eyes on the goal. I’ll see you at the finish line.