Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review - Cycling Home From Siberia

As soon as I started reading this book it felt familiar and comfortable. Within the first few pages, I then realised why.

The first ever cycle touring/travel books I had read (in September 2010) were Alastair Humphreys' 'Moods of Future Joys' and 'Thunder and Sunshine' (Around the World by Bike - Parts 1 & 2). On the final leg of his great round the world adventure, Alastair had been joined by his old school friend, Rob Lilwall the author of 'Cycling Home From Siberia'. As it has been a while since I read Alastair's books, I can't quite remember just how Rob is referred to. In my mind right now, he is almost mentioned in passing as a friend who joins in part of the cycle. At the time I didn't think much about Rob or about his part in the story. Now though, I was reading about another persons perspective of events I already knew a bit about. From the outset, to me, that was fascinating.

Having now read several books about cycle touring and travelling, I love to read about journeys and travellers whose paths cross. Several of the books I have read have mentioned other travellers they have met along the way and I am often left wondering what became of them. Now I was reading about just one such 'other' traveller and found myself breezing through the prose at great speed as I read about this new perspective.

I remember the moment the pair of them parted company (in Alastair's version of events) as Alastair had been frustrated by Rob's lack of speed and organisation. I thought, at the time, that it sounded a little harsh on Rob. Subsequently Rob described similar experiences when friends of his joined him during the last leg of his journey 'home'. By that time though, Rob had come to understand and explained Alastair's decisions and I had forgiven him also :)

The writing style and the pace of 'Cycling Home From Siberia' is wonderful. There are interesting snippets of history about the places visited which enhances the text. A lot of the story also describes Rob's faith and how he interacts with people from many other faiths and cultures. As well as highlighting, once again (as with most cycle touring books), the kindness and friendliness of strangers around the world, it also makes you realise just what a mess some parts of the world are in through religion and greed.

The final leg of Rob's journey, from southern Italy back to England, seems a bit of a mad dash (as he himself describes it) as he was constantly having to make certain deadlines to meet up with the aforementioned friends who would cycle with him for several days on that last leg. The remaining 4,000 miles is covered in the final chapter. That brevity does not distract from the book at all though and is hopefully a sign, for me at least, that cycle touring through mainland europe is relatively straightforward and relatively 'uneventful', unlike some parts of Asia and the Middle East.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and at times did not want it to end. I will now re-read both Alastair Humphreys' books, this time from a different perspective and will hopefully enjoy them once again. As Rob approached home he 'bumped' into another cyclist attempting another extraordinary cycle. That cyclist turned out to be Mark Beaumont who was three weeks into his world record breaking attempt to cycle around the world. Another story of crossed paths.

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