I have some criticism to offer so let me state the positives first: This is a very good book. I gave it five stars, which is something I rarely do. I also gave it as a gift to a friend, also something I rarely do. It held my attention throughout. Kate Harris writes well, and her descriptions are vivid, often amusing, and occasionally suspenseful. As I am much more of a leisure cyclist but also as one who has biked in many foreign countries, I could empathize with many of the experiences she describes though hers multiplied mine a hundredfold. Reading this book was an opportunity to have a vicarious experience of going on an epic journey.
But as good books often do with their ability to fully engage the reader, I have some criticisms. Chiefly, it has to do with her attitude toward money. The first hint of this came with her attitude about eco-tourism. She seemed to believe that once money is involved, whether or not it is simply helping to boost another’s economy, it is no longer a genuine experience. I fully agree that money should not be an end in itself, but Ms. Harris seems to have a sense of entitlement. Yes, she skimped and lived on bare necessities during her journey, living mostly on noodles and Nescafe and sleeping in a tent in all kinds of weather. But clearly this journey cost a considerable amount when you add in plane fares, bus rides, various legal documents and fees, and equipment costs. She also casually mentions in passing trips to Norway and Borneo, Alaska and Arizona, and a transcontinental bike ride, and years attending Oxford. But during all this time, as far as what she wrote, she never held down a job. Support thus came from others---a Rhodes scholarship, a donated bicycle, gifts from family and friends, and money raised through on online blog. I will grant that her intelligence and drive “earned” her this support, but she seems more than willing to accept this support without ever asking what she can contribute in turn.
At heart is the question what is exploration all about? Is it merely for one’s own enjoyment or is really ultimately for the benefit of others. For Marco Polo, for Lewis and Clark, and presumably for a future mission to Mars, the ultimate benefit is for others. I’m not certain that is the case with Kate Harris.