Book Review: Miles from Nowhere: a round the world bicycle adventure

Miles from Nowhere: a round the world bicycle adventure by Barbara Savage, The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1983.

I first read this book a decade or so ago and I remember vividly how shocked I was to reach the end and read of the author’s untimely death in a motor accident on her bike close to her home a matter of months after her safe return from a round the world tour.  The knowledge was all the more shocking because of the warm rapport she established with the reader over the 300 plus pages of the book.  I closed the book with a real sense of loss and awareness of a life full of promise cut short by a cruel twist of fate.

In a sense then its impossible to review the book and not find myself reflecting on the warmth, vitality and courage of Barbara Savage herself, and the tragedy of her loss for her husband and fellow traveller, Larry.  Reading the book again over the last few weeks I was struck again by just how vivid and lively an account the author offers; she has a happy knack of making her engagement with the people she meets central to her adventure.  Her humanity and openness shine through the book over its full length.  This is much more a book about people and their motivations than it is about bikes and their features and its all the better for that.

This is not to say it was all free wheeling downhill:  the trip was clearly a challenge as well as a triumph.  Barbara and Larry found their relationship tested in the tough moments of the trip. Her early struggles to cope with the physical demands of riding long days, her dislike of the culture shock experienced in Egypt and India, periods of debilitating ill-health and bouts of isolation and recurring
homesickness take their toll on her enthusiasm and on the pair’s relationship.  However, they come through all these challenges intact, in large part due to the author’s strength of will, sense of humour and spirit of adventure.  In these aspects the book is truly inspirational.

This is a book full of American, ‘can-do’ verve and spirit.  The reader cannot but be impressed by the, ‘let’s get on with it’ approach of Barbara and Larry.  Some of the descriptions are quite harrowing:  some raise unsettling doubts about the cultural expectations of Americans abroad; however, these concerns fade in the face of the reader’s liking for the heroine and hero at the heart of this saga and admiration for what they achieved.

What do I take as the essential contribution to the cycle tourists’ lexicon of this book?  Simply this: be sure you know what you are letting yourself in for, but don’t let your fears or current limitations pre-determine your sense of ambition.  Travel optimistically and trust in the people you meet to do right by you. Seek out contact with the people you encounter. Leave your tendency to pre-judge at home off the bike.

Miles from Nowhere: a round the world bicycle adventure by Barbara Savage, The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1983.  Recommended with 5 stars.   Available here from  Amazon.

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