Alastair Humphreys is a man of charity, a man of adventure, and now a man of letters. Idealistically, he set out to bike around the world and then tell about it, donating money garnered from the enterprise to help orphaned children through an organization called Hope and Homes for Children. This book is
the second part of his journey, a ride that officially began in Patagonia and ends in his homeland of England, crossing four continents. Vowing to stay on earth, if not dry land, Humphreys contrived to go by boat where there were no roads, as when he confronted the Atlantic Ocean.
Humphreys stated that by biking he would find out if he was a writer. He is.
His first book, Moods of Future Joys, detailed his bike trek through the Middle East and south to Cape Town. This, the second volume, opens when he finds berth in a yacht from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro. In Rio, realizing he won't be able to go by ship to Cape Horn, he takes a deep breath and cycles southward to the southern tip of South America, then back north again, all the way to Alaska. From Alaska he enters Russia in Magadan and returns home through the vastness of Asia and back across central Europe.
Humphreys, who did the whole 46,000 miles on a shoestring budget with occasional speaking engagements along the way, had adventures too numerous to mention, yet the book reads with immediacy, like a series of newspaper articles sent from farther and farther away places. At the end of the book there is a list of superlatives, such as longest downhill (Peru - 50 miles), most vomits in a day's ride (numerous - Turkey) and other important data such as farthest south, north, east and west, fastest speed and most food carried. He also lists the gear he tended to carry at a minimum - lots of bike-fixing tools, of course, and clothing, a camera, books, a diary and a toothbrush. Nearly all of his "dispatches" combine personal and political, philosophical and historical observations of the regions he is traversing.
He notes that his passport, containing visas for most Middle Eastern countries, was heavily scrutinized when he entered America at Nogales. He saw only a slice of the United States, along the
West Coast, but was inclined to like it, even speculating that he might return someday. He found the political scene varied and conflicted but the people friendly. He was amazed to see that street people in San Francisco often shepherded two grocery carts at a time, therefore apparently owning twice as much gear as he.
In Russia he recounts some of the grim history of the northern region. Prisoners of Stalin's evil mania built the port of Magadan. Humphreys and his traveling companion for that stint chose the "winter road" and battled sub-zero weather in flimsy tents, carrying extra stoves and cold-weather gear that made their bikes unmanageably heavy. The author once opined, "If I had known at the beginning all that I knew...on the third year of the expedition, I would not have dared to begin." But one senses that the dangerous and unknowable aspects of the trip were the salt that added the savor. Humphreys was determined to complete his round, and he succeeded. Yet he admits that he was often plagued by self-doubt, and "the gradual realization that I was actually going to accomplish my objective" was a source of surprise and pride: "I had underestimated my capacity and I had learned to aim so much higher."
In an age when there are, in the older way of looking at things, no new frontiers, an adventure like this is a great achievement and no doubt an inspiration to others. There may be no roads untraveled, but there are still new ways to travel them and much to learn along the way. Humphreys is a hopeful person - there is no taint of cynicism or world-weariness in his writing. Constantly self-motivated, he had only himself to thank when he got up each day and cycled another few miles. He was nearly always treated with kindness and "nobody ever refused me water." He concludes, "Don't believe what you see on the TV; the world really is a good place."