Long roadtrips are great – we love those so much. We often dream of saddling up on a BMW R1250GS and riding off into the sunset. Or, for the times we crave air-conditioned comfort and when a motorcycle just won’t do, we think of the Mahindra Thar, which has a rugged charm that’s all its own and sufficient mechanical capability that would allow it to be driven to the far corners of the planet. These dreams have, however, always crumpled under the unrelenting demands of the day job and, well, the simple lack of money. There are, however, people – courageous men and women – who’ve proved that it can indeed be done, and you don’t really need tons of money or even a car or a motorcycle in order to embark on a grand adventure. What, no set of wheels? Sure, just use your own two legs. What could be simpler? Now, walking thousands of kilometres over many months or even years certainly isn’t for everyone. Not everybody has the mental and physical toughness to pull it off. But in the right circumstances, it can be done. And here’s a list of books that show how. This is part 1 of a two-part series on walking adventures.
Walking Home From Mongolia, by Rob Lilwall
Ten million steps through China, from the Gobi Desert to the South China Sea – that’s what it took for adventurer Lilwall to get home from Mongolia. ‘Starting in the Gobi desert in winter, Lilwall sets out on an extraordinary six-month journey, walking almost 5,000km across China. Along the way he and his cameraman Leon brave the toxic insides of China’s longest road tunnel, explore desolate stretches of the Great Wall and endure interrogation by the Chinese police. As they walk on through the heart of China, the exuberant hospitality of cave dwellers, coal miners and desert nomads keeps them going, despite sub-zero blizzards and the treacherous terrain,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Rob writes with humour and honesty about the hardships of the walk, reflecting on the nature of pilgrimage and the uncertainties of an adventuring career. He also gives a unique insight into life on the road amid the epic landscapes and rapidly industrialising cities of backwater China,’ it adds.
‘As Rob [and cameraman Leon, who documents the journey for a 4-part TV series produced by National Geographic] journey into northern China, it is the portrayal of expedition reality that I found to be the greatest strength of Rob’s book. Far from the tales spun by travelling scholars, historians, hippies and dreamers to be found inhabiting the same shelves in bookshops, Walking Home From Mongolia has no ambition to play to childish notions of the romance of travel. If you’re looking for a book in which to live out some Far Eastern travelling fantasy, this probably isn’t going to be for you. But if a warts ‘n’ all exposé of the challenges faced by a ‘professional’ expeditioner looking for a meaningful journey in a rapidly-changing modern world is a prospect that floats your boat, I can highly recommend Walking Home From Mongolia,’ says Tom Allen.
Walking Home From Mongolia is available on Amazon
Where the Indus is Young: A Winter in Baltistan, by Dervla Murphy
Another gem from British writer and adventurer, Dervla Murphy, who passed away last year at the age of 90. ‘One winter in the mid-1970s, Murphy, her six-year-old daughter Rachel, and Hallam, a hardy mule, walked into Baltistan close to Pakistan-held Kashmir, the frozen heart of the Western Himalayas. For three months they travelled along the perilous Indus Gorge and into nearby valleys, making a mockery of fear, trekking through the forbidding Karakoram mountains and lodging with the Balts, who farm one of the remotest regions on earth. Despite the hardship, Dervla never forgot the point of travel, retaining enthusiasm for her magnificent surroundings and using her sense of humour to bring out the best in her hosts, who were often locked into the melancholic mood of mid-winter. This hair-raising, quirky and vivid account of their adventure is a classic of travel writing,’ says the publisher’s note.
‘In this memoir of that three-month journey, originally published in the UK in 1974, Murphy shares her and her daughter’s adventures along the disintegrating trails of the Karakoram mountains [where she faced] sub-zero temperatures, harsh winds, whipping sand and the constant threat of tumbling rocks, picking their way through passes on pony and foot. Her sumptuous descriptions of the mountain splendour and the obscure paths and cultures she explores are appropriately timeless,’ says Publishers Weekly.
Where The Indus is Young is available on Amazon
Arabia: A Journey Through the Heart of the Middle East, by Levison Wood
Levison Wood has walked around the world, writing books that describe his magnificent adventures. ‘Following in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia and Wilfred Thesiger, Arabia is an insight into Levison Wood’s most complex and daring expedition yet: an epic and unprecedented 5,000-mile journey through 13 countries, circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula. Honest, reflective and poignant, Arabia is a historical, religious and spiritual journey, through some of the harshest and most beautiful environments on Earth. Exploring the Middle East through the lives, hearts and hopes of its people, Wood challenges the perceptions of an often misunderstood part of the world, seeing how the region has changed and examining the stories we don’t often hear about in the media,’ says the publisher’s note.
‘The mix of travel, war and violence lurking in the backdrop has always attracted writers and journalists. Tales of the uncertain are high adventure. Arabia falls squarely in this genre. It takes you around the Arabian Peninsula; geography now associated with hardline religion, opaque regimes, oil wealth, terrorism, war and refugees. From Iraq to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – each of these predicaments is worth a book in itself. The author takes you on a whirlwind tour [and] the book flies; it is a breezy read,’ says the Deccan Herald. ‘Whatever reporting Wood does is above average. Four months in some of the worst conflict-torn nations takes a special kind of daring for a white man to do, and it is inevitable that such an endeavour should result in some very gripping anecdotes. Wood regales the reader with a generous collection of these, and it is here that lies his greatest achievement with Arabia,’ says the Financial Express.
Arabia: A Journey Through the Heart of the Middle East is available on Amazon
Journey Across Tibet: A Young Woman’s Trek Across the Rooftop of the World, by Sorrel Wilby
‘In this inspiring story by a woman who has few equals, on the trail or on the printed page, Sorrel Wilby hikes 1,900 miles across Tibet. Alone. Through barren desert plains, across 16,000-foot mountain passes, and into isolated hamlets previously unseen by Westerners. When she befriends some Tibetan nomads, her trek quickly evolves from a daredevil adventure to a journey of self-discovery and personal revelation,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘I guess I discovered myself, not merely ‘something about myself.’ I had to dig deep on a number of occasions and in so doing, realised what I was capable of. I was vulnerable and alone and the kindness of strangers had a massive impact on my opinion of humanity at large. I try and see the good in everyone,’ says Wilby, speaking to World Expeditions. ‘Advice for other travellers seeking their own adventure? Don’t over-think things, and at the risk of sounding like I’m marketing footwear, just do it!,’ she adds.
‘Journey Across Tibet is a chatty recounting of Wilby’s adventure. She was considered utterly mad by almost everyone she consulted before she set out, an impression Wilby did nothing to dispel. Her slightly ditsy enthusiasm seems made for television [she used to host Getaway, a popular travel show on Australian television]. Hers is an engaging voice and her story has the charm of a 19th-century travelogue, complete with an abundance of exclamation points and paeans to happy local people. Wilby’s trip was almost 2,000 miles long, including an unplanned 1,000-mile detour created by swollen rivers that cut off the most direct route to Lhasa, her final destination. Not unexpectedly, the book’s quiet moments are best at capturing the truth of this sort of travel,’ says The New York Times.
Journey Across Tibet is available on Amazon
A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins
‘A disillusioned young man set out on a walk across America. This is the book he wrote about that journey, a classic account of the reawakening of his faith in himself and his country. In this timeless classic, Jenkins describes how disillusionment with society in the 1970s drove him out onto the road on a walk across America. His experiences remain as sharp and telling today as they were fifty years ago – from the timeless secrets of life learned from a mountain-dwelling hermit, to the stir he caused by staying with a black family in North Carolina, to his hours of intense labour in Southern mills. Many, many miles later, he learned lessons about his country and himself that resonate to this day and will inspire a new generation to get out, hit the road and explore,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘I started out searching for myself and my country, and found both,’ adds the author.
‘Peter Jenkins’ A Walk Across America chronicles his trek from New York state all the way down to New Orleans with nothing but a backpack, a Nikon and his dog Cooper by his side. Peter’s sense of adventure is palpable as he seeks to discover America for what she really is. It’s an inspiration to anyone who’s got the hunger for adventure and escape. Learn a few lessons from Peter Jenkins and enjoy the walk,’ says The Little Man.
A Walk Across America is available on Amazon
Note: This book also has a second part – The Walk West: A Walk Across America 2, which is as good as part one.
Just a Little Run Around the World, by Rosie Swale Pope
‘Heartbroken when she lost her husband to cancer, 57-year-old Rosie set off from Wales with nothing but a small backpack of food and equipment, and funded by the rent from her little cottage. So began her epic five-year journey that would take her 20,000 miles around the world, crossing Europe, Russia, Asia, Alaska, North America, Greenland, Iceland, and back into the UK. Followed by wolves, knocked down by a bus, confronted by bears, chased by a naked man with a gun and stranded with severe frostbite, Rosie’s breathtaking solo journey is as gripping as it is inspiring,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘On a good day she’d run 30 miles. On a bad day she’d only manage 500 yards, digging herself out of the snow at -62 degrees, moving her cart inches at a time. Every inch, every mile, was a triumph, a celebration of life, and 53 pairs of shoes later Rosie arrived home to jubilant crowds in Tenby, Wales,’ it adds.
‘From long summer days to sub-zero survival conditions in Siberia and Alaska, she faces injury, traffic accidents and being tracked by wolves in the taiga. The expedition is both arduous and deeply personal, as Swale-Pope gives her account of the challenges she faces, and the generosity and kindness she encounters, taking it all in her stride,’ says The Vagabond Shoes. ‘Her style is relaxed and humble while the stories are often mind-boggling. Insane coldness, wolves, a naked gunman and frostbite all feature. It’s a phenomenal expedition, really, related with humour and honesty. Perhaps the sentiment that resonated most for me was her musings on just how much we can really do without,’ adds Running Tuff.
Just a Little Run Around the World is available on Amazon
The Impossible First, by Colin O’Brady
‘Colin O’Brady’s awe-inspiring, bestselling memoir recounting his recovery from a tragic accident and his record-setting 932-mile solo crossing of Antarctica is a jaw-dropping tale of passion and perseverance. Prior to December 2018, no individual had ever crossed the landmass of Antarctica alone, without support and completely human powered. Yet, Colin O’Brady was determined to do just that, even if, ten years earlier, there was doubt that he’d ever walk again normally. From the depths of a tragic accident, he fought his way back. In a quest to unlock his potential and discover what was possible, he went on to set three mountaineering world records before turning to this historic Antarctic challenge,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘O’Brady’s pursuit of a goal that had eluded many others was made even more intense by a head-to-head battle that emerged with British polar explorer Captain Louis Rudd, also striving to be the first. Enduring Antarctica’s sub-zero temperatures and pulling a sled that initially weighed 375 pounds, in complete isolation and through a succession of whiteouts, storms, and a series of near disasters, O’Brady persevered. Alone with his thoughts for nearly two months in the vastness of the frozen continent, gripped by fear and doubt, he reflected on his past, seeking courage and inspiration in the relationships and experiences that had shaped his life,’ it adds.
‘The obvious question is: Why do this to yourself? A charitable reading would credit O’Brady for testing the limits of human potential and furnishing us with a rich metaphor for chasing our dreams. To what extremes would you go, and how much punishment would you endure, in the service of a single goal? If there is a lesson, it’s that the path of the reduced man can lead to triumph, or madness, or both,’ says The New Yorker. ‘O’Brady is a confident, crafty storyteller, and he has plenty of captivating stories to tell about his exploits and his family life, which he intertwines with his voyage. Many of his tales have an underlying theme of audacity accomplished through grit, purpose, and a growth mindset. A brutally sublime tale of derring-do that transports as well as teaches,’ adds Kirkus.
One response to “Not Just a Walk in the Park”
This is great list of books to choose from. One that I would highly recommend is The Places in Between by Rory Stewart, also a UK member of parliament who walked through Afghanistan.