Yet again, I torture myself with travel writing. This is the first book about Chris Pountney’s attempt to travel around the world on his bike, with boats being the only other acceptable vehicle choice. There are no planes, trains or automobiles, because apparently quite a few cycle tourists will use the other modes on their travels. Pountney is going to cycle the whole thing, and not just in a convenient loop, nope, one of the other goals he sets himself is to cycle through 100 countries, leading him on a twisting, winding route across the world which sometimes sees him double back on himself.
This tells the first part of his journey, from Paris to Sydney, and it frequently made my feet itch. Cycle touring sounds damn appealing, a nice way to really see the day to day life of a country and culture. Of course, I doubt WoM would be up for this style of roughing it, and there’s also the pesky problem of not being able to ride a bike.
Pountney’s journey is a fascinating one, with him providing commentary on the different countries he passes through and picking up on cultural differences. Throughout the book there’s a constant theme of human kindness, with Pountney being offered food and shelter along the way, along with small interactions with friendly, helpful locals. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however, and Pountney shows the rougher side of life on the road- scammers, dangerous drivers, rude people and the unwelcoming.
It’s one of these dark patches that provides one of the biggest emotional punches of the book. On a road in Mongolia, a country which seems in the grips of a vast alcholism problem, Pountney witnesses a horrific car crash. He attempts to help but has to contend with apathy from the other bystanders and one hysterical helper who does more to hinder him. Pountney’s writing captures the chaos of the scene and he doesn’t shy away from the mental aspect, discussing the way the incident affected him. It’s here that the loneliness of his trip comes into sharp focus, and you feel for this man alone in a country where he can’t communicate how distressed and shaken he has been left.
Pountney is an honest writer in terms of his emotions, he confesses his fears and doubts, reflects on the moments when he was tempted to jack it in. A decision at a border crossing may seem minor and trivial, but he does a good job of making readers see just how important it is and what it means to him. It helps that he’s an incredibly likeable and funny narrator, capturing vivid caricatures of the people he meets and making little asides. I particularly liked the recurring motifs of his talking bike and his fantasies of what the film version of his trip would be like. Who hasn’t daydreamed about who would play them in a movie? (Nick Frost, if they de-age him, or Seth Rogen, if he puts weight back on. Personally I favour an animated movie, where I’m voiced by Samuel L Jackson).
There are a few points where I was a little exasperated by him, however. There’s his view of other travellers and tourists, which seems a bit smug, but I guess having been in the dark corners of countries he can see the fabrication in the more popular areas. It still seems a bit condescending to me. And there’s his constant quest for female company, which is a recurring theme.
It just gets a bit tiresome hearing a guy daydreaming about meeting beautiful women. I mean, we all do it, but keep it to yourself.
But the relationship side does give the book a bit of heart. There’s an early relationship with and old friend which is destined to be short lived, and a more optimistic ending, when a girl he meets on his travels decides to fly out and join him for a while in Australia, where he plans to stop and work to raise funds for the second half, which I will be downloading on my Kindle in the very near future.
All in all, it’s a fun, easy read about one man’s journey which gives you a humorous, personal insight into various countries and, for me at least, makes you wish you could just hit the road yourself.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.