Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road books – Mariahilff.de

A travelogue and memoir of the author's journey by bicycle along the Silk Road.As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she craved—to be an explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and metaphysician—had gone extinct From what she could tell of the world from small town Ontario, the likes of Marco Polo and Magellan had mapped the whole earth; there was nothing left to be discovered Looking beyond this planet, she decided to become a scientist and go to Mars.In between studying at Oxford and MIT, Harris set off by bicycle down the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Pedaling mile upon mile in some of the remotest places on earth, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines Forget charting maps, naming peaks: what she yearned for was the feeling of soaring completely out of bounds The farther she traveled, the closer she came to a world as wild as she felt within.Lands of Lost Borders is the chronicle of Harris’s odyssey and an exploration of the importance of breaking the boundaries we set ourselves; an examination of the stories borders tell, and the restrictions they place on nature and humanity; and a meditation on the existential need to explore—the essential longing to discover what in the universe we are doing here.


10 thoughts on “Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road

  1. Will Byrnes Will Byrnes says:

    The end of the road was always just out of sight. Cracked asphalt deepened into night beyond the reach of our headlamps, the thin beams swallowed by the blackness that receded before us no matter how fast we biked. Light was a kind of pavement thrown down in front of our wheels, and the road went on and on. If you ever reach the end, I remember thinking, I’ll fly off the rim of the world. I pedaled harder.
    Some lights shine brighter. The sky is full of stars, all with their distinct glow, color, and twinkle. But there can be no denying that, as breathtaking as are all the lights we can see after sunset, some call your attention at least a bit more. There are some on which you fixate. Kate Harris is one of those. She burns radiantly with obvious intellectual brilliance, which combines with a broad knowledge of science and humanities, glows with an impressive poetic gift for descriptive language, and is possessed of an incredible store of determination.

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    Lands of Lost Borders is Kate Harris’s telling of a bike trip she took with her from-pre-teen-years bff Melissa Yule. Nothing much, really, just a leisurely jaunt across the Silk Road. Be home in time for dinner, dear. Ten months and ten thousand biking kilometers later, they were. Actually, the journey was broken up into two trips, (so, back in time for lunch?) and took over a year in total. This book focuses on the longer chunk of their ride.
    I wanted to bike the Silk Road as an extension of my thesis at Oxford: to study how borders make and break what is wild in the world, from mountain ranges to people’s minds, and how science, or more specifically wilderness conservation, might bridge those divides.
    There is drive and then there is DRIVE!!! Most of us have it in modest quantities, sometimes in spikes, sometimes it barely registers. Mine has been of the spike sort. Finding, on occasion, a target, something that fills or I thought would fill a need, I found the wherewithal to make it happen. One, when I was still a teen, was tracking down a young lass I had seen at a frat party. Another was finding a study abroad program when I was tending to a broken heart, and was looking to heal somewhere far away, a third was plotting a cross country trip in an old Postal truck with a small group of peers. Not exactly riding the Silk Road, but maybe a small taste of the joys to be had when what has been dreamt of crosses the border into reality. Of course, once across that frontier, the new land in which one finds oneself may or may not be what one had imagined. But getting from here to there, setting and accomplishing a goal is a glorious experience. One that I expect all of us have had, to one degree or another. And hopefully one that we all nurture and renew at least somewhat through the course of our lives. There are some people, however, who set their sights slightly higher, sometimes beyond the bell curve, outside the box, off the beaten path.

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    Happiness is a red Hilleberg tent pitched among snowy mountains - Image from Harris’s FB pix
    The higher we climbed onto the Tibetan Plateau, the better I could breathe. I felt a strange lightness in my legs, an elation of sorts. Each revolution of the pedals took me closer to the stars than I’d ever propelled myself, not that I could see them by day, when the sky was blue and changeless but for a late-morning drift of clouds. The shadows they cast dappled the slopes of mountains like the bottom of a clear stream, so that climbing the pass felt like swimming up towards the surface of something, a threshold or a change of state. Earth to sky, China to Tibet.
    Harris writes of her early upbringing, hanging with her brothers, moving several times, particularly enjoying remote places. It did not take long for her to set her sights beyond the horizon, well, beyond the planet, actually. She had decided as a teen that she wanted to go to Mars, under the impression that all of her home planet had already been pretty much explored. She gained some notice from the Mars Society after she sent a letter to dozens of world leaders urging them to support a manned (womaned?) mission to the Red Planet. She went on a few Outward Bound adventures, and translated her particular gift for grant writing into third-party funding for projects of various sorts across the world. Toss in an early passion for biology as well.

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    Melissa Yule and Kate Harris - image from Explore-mag.com

    Harris and Yule had been teaming up for sundry adventures since they were classmates as pre-teens. Science fair projects eventually gave way to other pursuits. They ran in the NYC marathon, on a whim, according to their bios in CyclingSilk.com. Who does that? These two, apparently. They also biked across the USA in 2005 and rode bikes across Tibet and Xinjiang in 2006. (the earlier piece of the Silk Road trip.) I guess they were just getting warmed up. In 2011, three Masters degrees between them later, Harris’s from Oxford and MIT, they combined their endurance-athlete inclinations, a permanent desire for adventure, and an interest in protecting imperiled landscapes and ways of life to try to ride the entire Silk Road, or at least as much as was possible, beyond what they had already ridden. Some borders are real, though, defended by people with guns, and require one to set off in an unplanned direction. So, there were interludes that had them on trucks, buses, trains, and planes.
    Longing on a large scale,” says novelist Don DeLillo, “is what makes history.” And longing on a smaller scale is what sends explorers into the unknown, where the first thing they do, typically, is draw a map.
    There are passages throughout the book on nature conservation, and the irrelevance of political borders to biological realities, but I got the feeling that this was far secondary to the ecstasy of adventuring. It seemed to me that Kate’s prodigious talent at writing grant applications, and no doubt Mel’s as well, had secured necessary funding (a $10K grant, plus considerable other support) for their odyssey, but reporting on conservation along the ride, while constituting the labor required to justify the grant, was something less than a passion. ( I was smitten with wildness, and only incidentally with science.) Of course, it could be that Harris and Yule’s reports back to their sponsors on the more scientific details of the pair’s extended field trip was the channel for most of that material. This book focuses on the adventure of exploration and, remaining true to the title, a consideration of borders, literal and figurative.

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    From Harris’s Facebook pages
    The more I learned about the South Caucasus, with its closed borders and warring enclaves, the more the place seemed like a playground game of capture-the-flag turned vicious, all in the dubious name of nationalism. And yet political fortunes, while sometimes solid as brick, are finally only as strong as shared belief.
    Harris provides spot-by-spot descriptions of the places through which they travel. She notes the sorts of things you would expect, the landscape, the architecture, the weather, the physical conditions of the area, the traffic, the colors and textures, the friendliness (or not) of the locals and the pair’s interactions with them. The history of the places they traverse comes in for a bit of a look. The origins of the word “Tibet,” for example, a consideration of whether Marco Polo actually traveled as far as he claimed, and disappointment that his motivation was solely mercantile and not exploratory. One source of inspiration was an intrepid female explorer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Fanny Bullock Workman, a mountaineer and explorer also fond of the bicycle.
    this particular stretch of salt and wind, nearly uninhabited and widely dismissed as a wasteland, is one of the most contested territories in Asia. Tibetan by cultural heritage, Indian by treaty claim, and Chinese by possession, the Aksai Chin is caught in this territorial tug-of-war owing to its strategic location between nations. It all began when China furtively build a road across it in 1957, the very dirt track we were on, roping like a slow-burning fuse for more than 1,600 kilometres over the emptiness of the plateau. India only clued in to Highway 219’s existence half a decade later, and their discovery detonated a war over the borderland.
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    image from NatureNeedsHalf.org

    She fills us in on some of the logistical challenges involved, the hurdles to be jumped in getting the correct papers to cross from here to there, the difficulty of communicating when there is no common language, the struggle to find food, water and shelter, replacements for lost or broken pieces of this or that. One surprise was the absence of any reports of serious sexual predation, although she does report on the need to move quickly at times to evade potential unpleasantness. There are several reports of wonderful, warm experiences, as locals take the pair under their wings for a meal and a warm place to sleep. They are even joined for a time by a stray dog, and are swarmed by a herd of Tibetan antelope.
    Anyone can recognize wildness on the Tibetan Plateau; the challenge is perceiving it in a roadside picnic area in Azerbaijan.
    Harris’s telling is not just the travelogue of seeing this, then that, but includes ongoing philosophical meanderings, about her own experiences and the wider human variety, about not only the political borders with which people must contend, but personal edges, where they begin and end, or don’t. Her intellectual explorations are bolstered by a rich trove of quotes from literary classics, both prose and poetry, and from some of the authors you would expect, like Thoreau and Muir, Wallace, Darwin, and Carl Sagan. But finally, it is Harris’s gift for language that elevates this book to Himalayan heights. Combining intellectual heft with an inquiring mind is amazing enough, but to be able to communicate both the inner and outer journeys with such sensitivity and beauty is a rare accomplishment indeed.
    After being on an achievement bender most of my life, the prospect of withdrawal, of doing anything without external approval, or better yet acclamation, kept me obediently between the lines I couldn’t even recognize as lines. Isn’t that the final, most forceful triumph of borders? They make us accept as real and substantial what we can’t actually see?
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    image from NatureNeedsHalf.org

    I would not want you get through this review without at least a few roadblocks. I really wanted for each chapter to include a map of the travels contained therein. There is a map provide at the beginning, but chapter-by-chapter additions would have been most welcome. I would have liked a bit more science in the book, even if it added a fair number of pages to the total. A quibble. I wonder, though, if Harris was aware of the issues faced by Fanny Bullock Workman, who also wrote of her travels, having greater popular success with work that focused more on the travel than the scientific findings.
    Whether buttressed with dirt roads or red tape, barbed wire or bribes, the various walls of the world have one aspect in common: they all posture as righteous and necessary parts of the landscape.
    This is not your summer trip to Europe. You will not be familiar with most of the places these two riders visit. The larger entities, sure, country names, some mountain ranges, but most of the local place names will be unfamiliar. Part of the fun of reading this book is that it sends you off on a journey of discovery of your own, looking up this town, that river, or an unheard-of plain or valley. In this, the book very much succeeds in sparking a bit of the exploratory impulse in most readers. You may or may not want to schedule a trip to many of the places she notes, but you will definitely want to learn more about them.
    The true risks of travel are disappointment and transformation: the fear you’ll be the same person when you go home, and the fear you won’t. Then there’s the fear, particularly acute on roads in India, that you won’t make it home at all.
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    image from Explore Magazine – shot by Kate Harris

    It may be grueling, surprising, filled with up and downs, demoralizing, exhilarating, exciting, stunningly beautiful, and rich with landscape, exterior and interior. Lands of Lost Borders may not wear out your arms or legs, your back, or any other muscle group, (ok, maybe the muscles that control your eyes) but it will stimulate your mind, lift up your spirit, and stimulate your need to pedal through darkness into knowing. Lands of Lost Borders is a stunning literary memoir you will not soon forget.
    Exploration, more than anything, is like falling in love: the experience feels singular, unprecedented, and revolutionary, despite the fact that others have been there before. No one can fall in love for you, just as no one can bike the Silk Road or walk on the moon for you. The most powerful experiences aren’t amenable to maps.

    Review posted – April 6, 2018

    Publication date – August 21, 2018

    =============================EXTRA STUFF

    Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

    Melissa Yule’s Twitter page. Yule holds a Master’s degree in International Development from the University of Guelph. Her interests include community development and environmental science. Here is her profile on the CyclingSilk.com site.

    There is a lot of information available at Cycling Silk. I strongly advise you to check out the site.

    A brief (11:43) video of their trip

    In case you missed the link in the body of the review, it is worth checking out Fanny Bullock Workman, one of Harris’s heroes.

    The Golden Record – it was sent on the Voyager mission to let far-away civilizations know we are here. Harris talks about it a fair bit at one point in the book

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    What’s on it - image from Wiki

    The Harper Book Queen included a bit on this book in her TBR Tuesdays FB live broadcast from 8/21/18 - at 11:47

    Interviews
    -----The Globe and Mail - In a tiny B.C. cabin, Kate Harris penned tales of travel along the Silk Road - by Marsha Lederman - 2/15/18
    -----Explore Magazine - The Way of the Wolf: Lands of Lost Borders, With Author Kate Harris
    What was the hardest part of the journey?
    Coming home and writing about it. Mel and I spent over a year total biking the Silk Road on two different trips. Writing a book about the journey took me half-a-decade. And while I love the exposure to new places and new people that you get by travelling by bicycle, I find there’s as much (or even more) intensity and thrill and a sense of discovery when I’m sitting back at my desk, trying to put those experiences to words. Words and the world go very much hand-in-hand for me: I traveled vicariously through books long before I had the chance to travel anywhere myself, so I wanted to write something worthy, I hope, of the books that galvanized me out the door in the first place.
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    The Harris Mansion - image from the Globe and Mail article
    400 square feet of paradise in Atlin, B.C. suits the author just fine. Not surprising that she is comfy in what most of us might consider roughing-it quarters. She is a descendant of William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame.

    Sorry, I could not help it. There were just so many quotes from the book that I wanted to use. But it was not possible to fit them all in. So off we go to EXTRA EXTRA STUFF right below here in Comment #1


  2. Vida Vida says:

    What a disappointing book. Kate came across as incredibly privileged. I wouldn't have minded reading a book about a woman who biked across Asia and read about her journey from start to finish. I would have loved reading about a woman who travels off the beaten path and makes deep meaningful relationships with people and their cultures. Reading her boast for pages and pages about how she's an explorer and destined for greatness, chronicling her Oxford and MIT experiences didn't wow me. Was it supposed to? At one point she has an interaction with a local and he asks what she does. She doesn't have an answer for him, because what it seems she does is get degrees and live a life of travel and adventure with no mention of work. If it had been a great description of remote cultures I would have put that aside. But it's a kid who gets to travel and feel entitled. The writing isn't even that great. Not impressed.


  3. Krista Krista says:

    Beyond avenging my childhood ideals of explorers, and figuring out how to be one myself, I wanted to bike the Silk Road as a practical extension of my thesis at Oxford: to study how borders make and break what is wild in the world, from mountain ranges to people's minds, and how science, or more specifically wilderness conservation, might bridge those divides. So there I was, rich in unemployable university degrees, poor in cash, with few possessions to my name beyond a tent, a bicycle, and some books. I felt great about my life decisions, until I felt terrified.

    Always an overachiever, Kate Harris took a rural Ontario child's dream about going to Mars and endeavored to become an astronaut by obtaining an undergrad degree at UNC, earning a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and starting a doctorate at MIT. Along the way, Harris set off on many adventures by bicycle, and when the lab work became too stifling, she enlisted her longtime friend, Mel Yule, to join her in finishing a quest they had started some years before: biking the Silk Road from Istanbul to its terminus in the Himalayas. On Harris' website devoted to this trip, you can watch a highlights video described as “showcasing ten months, ten countries, and ten thousand kilometers of the Silk Road...in roughly ten minutes”. And while the video does capture something of the punishing conditions the women biked through and the lovely people that the pair met along the way, it does nothing to showcase the power of Harris' written word in this book: the narrative is simply a delight to read, filled with personal anecdotes, historical perspectives, and an academically informed tying-together of the disparate bits; all written in the awe-filled voice of someone who has witnessed the ragged ends of the Earth and was changed by that wildness. Lands of Lost Borders is a rare and true pleasure.

    The root word of the word explorer is ex-plorare, with ex meaning “go out” and plorare meaning “to utter a cry”. Venturing into the unknown, in other words, is only half the job. The other half, and maybe the most crucial half for exploration to matter beyond the narrow margins of the self, is coming home to share the tale.

    The obstacles that Harris and Yule faced on this trip are fascinating to read about, but not wholly unexpected: the physical challenge of carrying everything you might need – tent and sleeping bag, dry goods and cooking stove, clothes and spare bicycle parts – on the frame of your bike as you pedal down roads of varying stability; the weather that ranged from a month of sleet in a Turkish winter, to the punishing heat of a desert plain, to snow and thin air in the world's highest mountain range; attempting to interact with locals in an everchanging string of languages you don't understand; arranging visas to enter countries legally, or sneaking around the barriers to those areas that are barred to foreigners – as an adventure tale, there is much to inspire the imagination. And while I sometimes found the romanticism of Harris' writing to be a bit indulgent, I decided to submit to it as an honest expression of her own sense of wonder:

    • We savoured nubs of chocolate all the sweeter for their smallness as the sun sank behind the mountains, and when it was too dark to read birdflight into speech anymore, even the silence was like something winged.

    • As the sun rose it tugged gold out of the ground and tossed it everywhere, letting the land's innate wealth loose from a disguise of dust.

    • Just another night on the Silk Road, with silence settling over the fields and the crickets resuming their own strange incantations, spells that conjured beads of dew from blades of grass and lulled us to sleep under a smoke of stars.

    When Harris was at Oxford, she focussed on the history of science, and in particular, was interested in the Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas; a region of Kashmir claimed by both India and Pakistan which is not only the world's highest battleground, but has become the world highest and biggest garbage dump. It was such places of fuzzy and disputed borders along the Silk Road – like the Aksai Chin (Tibetan by cultural heritage, Indian by treaty claim, and Chinese by possession), or the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblate (majority Armenian population, claimed by Azerbaijan because of imposed Soviet era borderlines) – that Harris and Yule sought out along the way, and because they had secured some funding for their trip from wilderness conservation groups, they meet up with local experts and guides periodically to discuss those species who choose to ignore mankind's imaginary boundaries. This kind of anti-nationalism becomes the undercurrent of the narrative, and along with other progressive truisms (I don't know about calling out North America and Western Europe as the world's biggest contributors to climate change while on a road that straddles India and China), there's an anti-capitalist bent to Harris' desire to avenge her childhood ideal of explorers (as quoted in the first passage). It was the adventure tales of Charles Darwin and Marco Polo that had first sparked Harris' wanderlust when she was a child, but as an adult, she learned that all her idols had feet of clay: Charles Darwin suffered a pitiable “withdrawal from wonder” as he spent his later years close to home, churning his data in theory; turns out, Marco Polo was never a true explorer, just a greedy capitalist who was looking for trade routes; the Wright Brothers gained the sky but sold their plane to the highest bidding military (a fact Harris had taken in at Oxford “like a knife to the heart”). Even the astronauts who once so inspired Harris were never sent on missions of pure exploration:

    Astronauts rave about how they can't see any borders from low Earth orbit, yet the whole enterprise of space exploration is fuelled by a rabid nationalism. The same loyalty that sparked the Cold War also launched humans to the moon. How does cynical ambition, the capacity for mutually assured destruction, give rise to something as wondrous as a stroll on the Sea of Tranquility?

    My natural inclination has been to push back against someone who uses her position within the wealth and stability of western civilisation to attempt to tear down that civilisation, but Harris has studied more and seen more than I ever will and I find myself unwilling to criticise her conclusions too harshly: if Harris can really see a way towards easing deadly border disputes through cooperative conservation efforts, more power to her.

    Ride far enough and the road becomes strange and unknown to you. Ride a little farther and you become strange and unknown to yourself, not to mention your travelling companion.

    Ultimately, beyond the political, this journey reads as one of self-discovery for Kate Harris. For anyone who was enchanted by, say, Cheryl Strayed's Wild, I would say read Land of Lost Borders: it's more serious and reflective, better written, and challenging of worldviews. I loved this book, cover to cover.


  4. Heather(Gibby) Heather(Gibby) says:

    I received an advance reader's copy fro a Goodreads giveaway.

    You can't hep but admire the determination of Ms. Harris and her companion Mel to complete the bicycle journey along the Silk Road. This journey took over a year in conditions varying from freezing to scorching temperatures, and very little in the way of creature comforts along the way.

    I really enjoyed her descriptions of the terrain, and the many of the historical references to the locations she travelled through, especially in the determination of the geographical borders between countries is established and the routes of some of the traders/explorers such as Marco Polo who had traveleld along the route in the past.

    Ms. Harris also give an overview of her own history, and what ultimately led to her taking this journey.

    I did feel that there were some unneeded side stories that I skimmed through, especially recounting Darwin's travels and adventures. having actually read Darwin's own accounts, I had no need revisiting them.


  5. MJ Beauchamp MJ Beauchamp says:

    I had been craving a good travel memoir for some time now - Kate Harris' Lands of Lost Borders not only hit the spot, it completely exceeded my expectations...

    Packed with historical, geographic and scientific facts, literary references and philosophical wisdom, this book is an impressive debut and well deserving the recognition. Harris' passion, curiosity, and love for mountainous landscapes and vast spaces are contagious. Though I've never felt particularly drawn to Central Asia as a travel destination, nor compelled to hop on an almost yearlong bike trip, her courage and determination certainly are envious. As is her ability to recount her journey, and share her experiences...

    The words are put together so perfectly on the pages, I was definitely along for the adventure. And I did not want it to end. I feel as though the magic of the Silk Road, its incredible stories and people met along the way, are now also a part of me... Unexplainably beautiful. Kate Harris is a rockstar explorer, and an extremely gifted writer.


  6. Madeline Madeline says:

    Reading can be such a wonderful conduit for 'travel'. Good literature transports its readers in time and space, widening perspectives and broadening horizons.

    Travel literature is the antithesis to 'travelling through reading'.

    People who write books (or even worse - blogs) on their travels are often suffering from two conditions that go hand in hand: inflated sense of self, and a condescending (cough, ORIENTALIST, cough) view of the rest of the world. I so wanted Kate Harris to prove my ideas about travel writing wrong, but instead she provided me with the perfect example to support my theory.

    Harris loves a good quote about being different and untamed and enjoying the wilderness and blah blah blah. She's fond of combining these with bad puns. Because she's so different and all. Right.

    I managed to grit my teeth and push through most of the book, making excuses for Harris. She's obviously a bright woman, adventurous, self-assured, and eager to push her boundaries. All of my excuses for her came to a halt when she arrived in Turkey. For some reason, Harris decided to ignore her common sense in order to get a good punch line that would demonize an entire nation. She mistranslated the word in Turkish for foreigner, which is yabancı. It was much better for her book if she decided to declare that the word for foreigner is gavûr - a slur that has been out of favour for nearly a century. Kate Harris decided that she would accept the hospitality of Turkish people, then turn around and declare that they are inhospitable and have an unfavourable view of foreigners, whom they apparently all call gavûr (which translates more closely to "infidel").

    Great shock factor ("those barbaric orientals think everyone is an infidel, but I, the brave Kate Harris, biked through their land!"), shitty tactics. If you're going to outright lie in your book, it should be about something that isn't easily discovered through Google Translate.

    Oh, Kate. Sweetheart... If the people of Turkey were calling you a gavûr then you must have some insane interpersonal issues that need to be worked out. Good luck with that.


  7. Laurie Laurie says:

    Disclaimer: I did not receive a free copy of Land of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road; I paid full price for it at the bookstore and I am so glad that I did. Kate Harris really is a wonderful writer and even more than that she is a wonderful thinker. Her ability to make connections between her lived and inner experiences and the wider, wilder, world are what make this book fulfilling. There are so many books out there about journeys alone the Silk Road that it would seem as though one more wouldn't be necessary. Ms. Harris has written a necessary book. Her thoughtfulness about the bigger issues such as wilderness, borders, exploration challenge the reader to think of these concepts in new ways. A great finish to my 2018 reading challenge.


  8. Jacob Overmark Jacob Overmark says:

    I let myself lure into this ... "on the Silk Road" fueled my curiosity and made me think of past travels of my own.

    But, while I do share the wanderlust and some of the restlessness of the author, we would never have gotten along as travel companions.

    I admire the determination and the achievement, it really does take a special kind of guts to bike from Istanbul to India, the sharing of the experience just doesn´t satisfy my curious mind.

    Thinking of the parts of the Silk Road I have travelled, the rich cultural and social experiences I enjoyed, something is missing in this tale of two bikers on the loose.

    If you want to share, make sure there is some substance besides the endless intake of cup noodles, mending inner tubes and setting up camp.


  9. Jennifer Jennifer says:

    The mystique of the Silk Road (a name given by Westerners to the trade routes across Central Asia) has long fascinated me for its rich history and the way the route crosses cultures, religions, and environments, so I had really hoped for more depth on those aspects of this area of the world. While Harris does address some of these things, I had the feeling that maybe she hadn't done quite as much research into the area before traveling or really prepared herself for encountering the people there. Yes, the book is more about her bike journey with her good friend Mel and the challenges they faced along the way, but I had real concerns at the beginning about her blind spots about her own privilege and Western attitudes. While she did acknowledge some of those along the way, I still cringed at some of the descriptions of their encounters. Above all, I came away from the book feeling that perhaps "explorer" is not necessarily a great occupation or avocation in itself, as it seems to carry overtones of pre-conceived notions and conquering, instead of learning and humility.


  10. Lisa Lisa says:

    I won an advanced copy of Lands of Lost Borders from the publisher and it arrived just as I got sick with the first bad cold of the winter. I was so excited to delve right in to this delicious read and escape my misery! This book is part memoir, part adventure travel guide, part history lesson and part science fiction (at least for me). Harris had always dreamed of traveling to Mars but found herself instead cycling from Istanbul, Turkey to Leh, India.. roughly 10,000 km in 1o months. For me, her story might as well have taken place on Mars. It seemed as remote, unfamiliar and at times, as inhabitable, as life on another planet. I can't say her story inspired me to want to live on instant noodles for months at a time or sneak across any border check points- but it did make me want to be a more daring and inquisitive traveler. I thought a lot about what I would give up or what hardships were worth enduring in order to have some of the experiences I dream of having, as a traveler and in life in general. Harris is a true explorer with a broad knowledge of science, history and literature. As a writer, she weaves this knowledge and experience together with musings on her past relationships and choices, her quirky childhood passions (Mars and Marco Polo), her honest reflections on the people she meets along her journey and wraps it all up with a sense of humour and incredibly beautiful and original descriptions... all while inspiring the reader to question and perhaps cross the perceived borders in their own lives.