I finished reading this book by Rob Lilwall over the past weekend. While I can say the book was interesting, I cannot say it held me spellbound throughout. I am not sure if that was due to Mr. Lilwall’s writing style or the diary-esqueness of the book, but there were times when it dragged to some degree. In fairness, I guess if I wrote about a three-year, 30,000 mile, plus bike ride where you witnessed three deaths, I would find it hard to come up with new and jovial topics to talk about too.
Looking at a map below, one wonders about the logic of following the circuitous route he chose – eastern Siberia (starting in October) to Japan to South Korea to China to Philippines to Papua New Guinea to Australia to Singapore, etc., etc. back to England. In one instance, I personally thought he was pushing his luck to cross Afghanistan.
Mr. Lilwall’s thorough description of the weather conditions, travel preparation, and people he encountered was intriguing, though to a certain extent the depth of these images diminishes as the book concludes. An entire month of Europe was essentially summed up in a single chapter with few references to the people he met.
I agree with Mr. Lilwall 100% regarding his disdain for the selfish woman in France who refused to let him fill his water bottles from her taps, especially when the poorest of the poor in other nations had offered him water without being asked and in many cases offered him gifts, meals, and shelter too. It appears that the First World has some serious catching up to do with the Third World when it comes to kindness, compassion, and selflessness.
There were two things I did not like within the book:
- The limited references to humorous situations. Most references seemed to describe the day-to-day drudgery, the potential dangers, the annoyances, and the occasional pleasant surprise. Part of the reason I love reading books by Bill Bryson and Ian Frazier has to do the hilarious and often offbeat commentary they include, as well as their descriptions of absurd situations. While Cycling Home From Siberia had some lighter moments, they tended to be few and far between.
- Overtly religious references. I did not mind Mr. Lilwall’s comparisons of Christianity to other religions in the areas he traversed, but when reading a travel essay, I am trying to escape from the daily blitz. So, the last thing I wanted to come across were his spiritual underpinnings in a book about bicycling around most of the world. Though, perhaps I am being too harsh, as that probably is a topic that one ponders during many hours alone riding unending miles of unfamiliar and lonesome roads.
Overall, despite the few flaws noted above, Cycling Home From Siberia is an intriguing and worthwhile read. It certainly does a great job of demonstrating the kindness of people all over the world. Just because our governments may get along does not mean that individual citizens cannot become friends, help a visitor in need, and be hospitable. The books also clearly depicts what amazing things one person can accomplish when they put their mind to it. Kudos to Rob Lilwall on his extraordinary ride.