It seems to be the season for new books (or new editions) in the world of cycle touring. This month I’d like to showcase three recent releases: two travel memoirs and a revised edition of one of the most useful cycle-touring guides there is.
The Road Headed West by Leon McCarron
Leon McCarron has a long list of impressive adventures behind him, amongst them dragging a mattress across a desert for a month, walking the entire breadth of the world’s most populated nation, and — of course — attempting a source to sea of Iran’s longest river (accompanied by yours truly).
So it is interesting that for his first published book he has chosen to write about a cycling journey across the USA.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be the least interesting-sounding of his adventures — a long bike ride across a developed English-speaking country with its all-too-familiar culture. But for Leon, this was a rite of passage, a personal coming-of-age journey apparent from the opening paragraph as he ruminates on why it’d be a shame to die at the hands of a drunk, shotgun-wielding rancher, just when life was beginning to get interesting.
It’s this underlying human story that the book is really about, the places and people a backdrop for the growing-up of a young man on the road — yet, as Leon discovers, even cultures we think of as familiar can deliver the greatest surprises. My own coming-of-age journey happened during a crossing of Europe, so I can empathise well with the tale, and if I were in my early twenties and struggling to find a likely-looking path to follow, I’d devour stories like Leon’s ad infinitum. Such tales never get old.
After attending his book launch in London a couple of weeks ago, I asked Leon to explain why he wrote The Road Headed West:
I began writing this book purely for selfish reasons — I just wanted a way to remember what had been a very formative journey for me. The more I wrote, however, the more I realised that this was a story a lot of people could relate to — much of it will be familiar to anyone who has ever travelled, or those who have at one time or another felt the need to escape from ordinary life and seek out a new challenge. My hope for the book is that it will be an entertaining tale to read and, ultimately, that it’ll show how anyone can go on an adventure (and why everyone should!).
Leon’s also put together a short video about his book, which you can watch here.
Ipanema Turtles by Laura Mottram
Laura Mottram, one half of Pedalling About, has just published her account of her and Paddy’s 21,000km exploration of South America on two wheels between 2011 and 2012. As someone who’s never been to South America, I’m devouring this with gusto, and it’s doing a great job of re-igniting those familiar cravings to hit the road again in search of fresh adventures and lessons.
What’s nice about Ipanema Turtles are the local tales of South American politics and society that the author has woven through the book. In her own words:
It’s an inspirational travel memoir about exploration and self-discovery during an adventure of a lifetime. It tells the stories of the strangers we met, close encounters with sloths and tarantulas, and the incredible places we visited, as well as providing an insight into life as a couple on the road.
Ipanema Turtles is also a fantastic read if you want to learn more about the amazing continent that is South America. In the book we explain the stories of the 13 countries through which we rode – the history, culture and politics – as was told to us by the many strangers we met on the road.
Bike Touring Survival Guide by Andrew & Friedel Grant (aka TravellingTwo)
Last but not least is the second edition of TravellingTwo’s cycle touring guide to end all guides. As I said to Friedel recently, one of the main reasons I haven’t been able to muster the impetus to sit down and write a trip-planning guide of my own is because I could never do a better job than she and her husband Andrew have done with the Bike Touring Survival Guide.
Taking the format of a structured Q&A, with each chapter dedicated to comprehensively answering one of the big questions asked by newcomers to cycle touring, as well as plenty of questions a newcomer wouldn’t know to ask, the guide combines the lessons learned from the authors’ own 60,000km of bike touring with the stories and photos of over 50 touring cyclists (including yours truly).
Our leap into the world of cycle touring began with a dream: to bike around the world. At that time (in 2006), it was difficult to find practical information about bike touring. We were searching for straightforward answers to questions such as what to pack, which gear to select, how to plan a route and what life would be like on the road — and we weren’t finding the information we needed. That’s why we wrote the Bike Touring Survival Guide.