Adventuring never came naturally to me.
When I was younger, to say that I was untalented at sports would be a kind understatement. I never went camping because of the one time my parents tried it and it rained. I wasn’t allowed to join the Scouts because of paedophiles. As a student I joined the TA to make up for it but failed to see out the first year. My list of potential career paths has included computer programmer, disc jockey, hotel manager, lighting designer, barista, ski guide, yardie, carpenter, pot-washer and shit-shoveller — but nothing resembling ‘adventurer’.
(Perhaps it was this unenviable list of prospective futures that I was trying to escape?)
Yet, somewhere along the line, a few seeds were sown that seem to have germinated into the only thing I’ve ever been able to call a career. Being someone who reads for escapism, I believe that most of those seeds were sown by books. Here are some of them.
Note that these are not necessarily ‘good’ books. I don’t suggest anyone buy them in anticipation of planning their own adventures. It’s just a collection of the books that I happened to read — long before I knew that ‘cycle touring’ existed as an actual thing.
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I read the usual complement of now-rather-imperialistic-sounding adventure stories as a child. For whatever reason, this is the one that stands out most clearly. I might conveniently romanticise history by suggesting that they inspired a spirit of healthy curiosity towards the unknown.
A very old edition of this classic Collins Gem was always on the bookshelf at my mate Andy’s house. Flicking through the little pages of advice on surviving mortally dangerous situations never failed to implant dreams of macho heroics (and corresponding success with women) into the minds of two teenage boys. Probably responsible for the presence of brass rabbit snares in my original kit-list for a cycling trip.
Blackwells, Southside, Edinburgh, summer 2006. The bottom shelf of the travel section. It was from this book that I first learned that cycling across whole countries had actually already been done, and that at the age of 23 I wasn’t the first person to have the idea. So mind-blowing was the discovery that I ended up taking a Stanley knife to it and packing the middle third of the book in my panniers as inspiration for when the going got tough. (The author later told me that this was ridiculous.)
The first book I ever read about a long bicycle journey was this one, co-authored by two hapless Aussies who rode recumbent bikes from Moscow to Beijing, almost coming a cropper on several occasions, at all times appearing to be hopelessly naive and unprepared for what they were doing, but doing it anyway. The co-authored narrative was flawed, but the sentiment of the trip was a tipping point.
Tipping point reached; local libraries raided — uncovering the tale of two argumentative testosterone-fuelled Englishmen whoe decide to circumnavigate the world by human power and build an ocean-going pedalo to do it. One decides that one continent, one and a half oceans and a ruined friendship is quite enough, thanks, and writes this book. (The other, Jason Lewis, continues for another decade or so and completes the project alone.) A highly memorable book that showed me what kind of a trip I didn’t want to do.
No list of books that inspired a big bike ride would be complete without Alastair’s colourful modern-day classic; the tale of a young middle-class Brit with nothing better to do and a penchant for setting ludicrous goals to entertain himself — such as cycling the length of all the world’s major landmasses. I came across this excellently-written book about half-way through the planning of my own Big Trip, and it prompted a serious increase in anticipated mileage and a prolonged feeling of inferiority for failing to ever reach it.
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Whenever I’m concerned that Internet-age information overload is in danger of clouding my decisions and unhelpfully influencing my current direction, I find it helps to look back and consider why I followed the road that let to here. It’s a good reminder of the priorities that make these journeys my own, rather than imitations of somebody else’s.
What past influences have led you down this adventurous path? Feel free to include links when posting your answers in the comments section.