Book Title: Lands of Lost Borders – A Journey On The Silk Road
Author: Kate Harris
Promotional Blurb: As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved – that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and metaphysician – had gone extinct. From her small-town home in Ontario, it seemed as if Marco Polo, Magellan and their like had long ago mapped the whole earth. So she vowed to become a scientist and go to Mars.
Well along this path, Harris set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule. This trip was just a simulacrum of exploration, she thought, not the thing itself – a little adventure to pass the time until she could launch for outer space. But somewhere in between sneaking illegally across Tibet, studying the history of science and exploration at Oxford, and staring down a microscope for a doctorate at MIT, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. Forget charting maps, naming peaks, leaving footprints on another planet: what she yearned for was the feeling of soaring completely out of bounds. And where she’d felt that most intensely was on a bicycle, on a bygone trading route. So Harris quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Yule, this time determined to bike it from beginning to end.
Weaving adventure and deep reflection with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of a world that, like the self and like the stars, can never be fully mapped. Source.
That about covers it.
No, there is way more to this book than just WOW! I am brimming over with respect, admiration and a fair dose of astonishment. What some people set out to do AND achieve regardless of the discomfort and hardship, just beggars belief.
If you haven’t worked it out by now, this is not your ‘normal’ travel yarn. It is actually quite difficult to pigeon hole because it is part travel story, part adventure, part navel-gazing and a whole lot of science and philosophy thrown in there as well.
“The true risks of travel are disappointment and transformation: the fear that you’ll be the same person when you go home, and the fear you won’t. Then there’s the fear, particularly on roads in India, that you won’t make it home at all.”
Harris obviously doesn’t want just a stock standard adventure, she wants to explore the World and understand what it all means. And this is what sets this book apart from your traditional travel read – the intimate insight into her own professional and personal life journey up to that point. You won’t learn how to cycle in their tracks or the mechanics of what to pack and how to plan. You will be given a good insight into what it takes to traverse great swathes of unforgiving landscape.
“Hesitation, it turns out, is the hardest frontier to cross”.
Interspersed in the story are snippets of her wrangling with what she wanted to do with her life, ultimately deciding that if she couldn’t be an astronomer on a mission to Mars, cycling a bloody long way on the Silk Road was the next best thing. I am not sure I can see the link, but you go girl!
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” – Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
I was dazzled by the things she, and her sidekick Mel, achieved in a physical sense. How she/they cycled up so many mountainous mountains was simply amazing, but it was their sheer resilience that boggled me. The dirt, the heat, endless rain, snow and equally endless government bureaucracy as they rode from one country to the next, would have broken me. I am not sure I could have withstood all the ‘broken’ countries as well where corruption in rife and human rights non-existent.
“Travel is perhaps one part geography, nine parts imagination.”
Amongst all the hardship, Kate and Mel received warmth and hospitality – a hot meal and a dry bed in the most unexpected places and often when they needed it most. It certainly made a pleasant change from their usual 2-minute noodles and a soggy tent.
Despite all the hardship, this is not a litany of woe. They could still see the beauty of the landscape they were cycling through and, in most cases, the kindness and humanity most people possess regardless of their language or skin colour.
“…the air scrubbed clean and blue with wind, of the mountains smoothed over with snow, of a landscape indifferent to my admiration, and all the more compelling for it. More sky than earth. More wind than world”.
Harris is obviously a deep thinker with a passion for science, history, and philosophy. It seems to me that she uses travel as a backdrop to think through the theories that underpin those weighty topics. What better way to compare the practical against the esoteric than on a bicycle with a 6 400km ‘road’ stretching out in front of you?
Not a light read, but an inspirational one and definitely worth the effort. I gave it 8/10.
Author bio: I’m a writer with a knack for getting lost and a grudge against borders. My essays and articles have featured in Outside, The Walrus, and The Georgia Review, among other publications. Most of my work draws in some way on the biology and geology I studied at MIT and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (thanks to the tremendous boon of the Morehead-Cain scholarship), and on the history and philosophy of science I studied at Oxford (by grace of the Rhodes scholarship). Condé Nast Traveller named me one of the “world’s most adventurous women” for my various, mostly ill-advised escapades with pals on bikes and skis in countries with names often ending in “stan.” But my main adventure these days is staying home, in an off-grid log cabin on Taku River Tlingit territory, near the BC, Yukon, and Alaska border. My first book was Lands of Lost Borders. I’m hard at work on my second. Source.
Author blog or website: http://www.kateharris.ca/
Publisher: Harper Collins
Available from: Book Depository for AUD$22.62
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