WINNER OF THE RBC TAYLOR PRIZE
WINNER OF THE EDNA STAEBLER AWARD FOR CREATIVE NON-FICTION
"Every day on a bike trip is like the one before--but it is also completely different, or perhaps you are different, woken up in new ways by the mile."
As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved--that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and philosopher--had gone extinct. From her small-town home in Ontario, it seemed as if Marco Polo, Magellan and their like had long ago mapped the whole earth. So she vowed to become a scientist and go to Mars.
To pass the time before she could launch into outer space, Kate set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule, then settled down to study at Oxford and MIT. Eventually the truth dawned on her: an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. And Harris had soared most fully out of bounds right here on Earth, travelling a bygone trading route on her bicycle. So she quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Mel, this time determined to bike it from the beginning to end.
Like Rebecca Solnit and Pico Iyer before her, Kate Harris offers a travel narrative at once exuberant and meditative, wry and rapturous. Weaving adventure and deep reflection with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of a world that, like the self and like the stars, can never be fully mapped.
Nature writer and adventurer Harris details her bike journey along the Silk Road, in this beautifully rendered if sometimes slow-moving debut. Growing up, Harris wanted to be an explorer; when she got older, however, she went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and later to MIT where she found the drudgery of the laboratory unbearable. As an escape, she and her best friend, Mel, planned their bike adventure and were soon pedaling along the Silk Road, starting on the pungent banks of the Black Sea ("The bottom waters are poor in oxygen but rich in hydrogen sulphide, a colourless, poisonous gas that reeks of rotten eggs"). They biked across often treacherous landscapes (and took planes or trains along routes inaccessible by bike) through Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, India, Nepal, and China; they ascended mountains and traversed river valleys. The trip concluded at the Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas at the edge of the Tibetan plateau, where "the wind was more alive than the branches it moved, and so big it could only be the mountains breathing." Harris's talent is in her prose, as she offers breathtaking descriptions of the Silk Road, shrouded in mystery and wonder.