About a year ago, I found a book I was looking for on amazon.co.uk but when I got to the checkout there was one of those little offers to get you to buy more ... something like "spend another £10 and you'll get your postage free".
It was too good an offer to pass up (seeing the postage charge was around £14 ) and so I randomly bought two more books, both of which sat in my "to read" pile for quite a long time.
I read the first of these "Discovery Road" a few months ago, but while it finished strongly, it was a little bit too whiny for me, so I shall say no more.
Then about a week ago, I finished a very enjoyable book lent to me by a friend, titled "Stalking the Side-Hill Salmon" which is a compilation of humorous fisherman's tales from Alaska. It was funny and entertaining, but it was a bit like watching your favorite television show - it entertains, and I was always looking forward to the next chapter, but at the end of the book you just put it down and quickly forget what it was about.
Then I picked up that other book I'd bought: "Moods of Future Joys" by Alistair Humphreys.
Just the title and cover photo had kept this book at the bottom of my reading pile ever since it had arrived, it just didn't look interesting, but having nothing else to read, I picked it up and thought I'd give it a go ...
"A sofa and a coffee are the finest travel companions one can have. Armchair travel is often more exciting than the real thing, and always more comfortable. The only limit is your imagination. Don Quixote said that you can "journey all over the universe in a map, without the expense and fatigue, without the inconveniences of heat, cold, hunger and thirst." Reading is far cheaper than traveling (in paperback at least) and far more convenient. You can skip the boring parts, savour the good bits, laugh in the face of danger and drop ice cubes down the vest of fear. Alistair HumphreysBy the time I put it down that first night I was tingling with excitement: it was like when you meet someone new and you realise that this is one of those few people that excite you just because they exist ... someone who inspires you by their deeds and connects with you because at your most fundamental level your body screams "Yes, this person understands".
I spent the next day just wanting to get home so I could read more.
By the end of the second night of reading, I was still only a third the way through the book, but I had already jumped onto fishpond.com.au (my current favourite online bookstore due to cheap prices in $A and no shipping costs) and amazon.com (hey kindle versions are sometimes very cheap) and ordered every other book (except his two children stores) that he had written.
Last night I finished it, and now I'm waiting, waiting, waiting ...
So why so excited? Well I've read a lot of travel stories, particularly bicycle touring stories, and whilst there are some real stand outs, there are so few that I can connect with at a fundamental level. For me this is one of the few books I've read that really captures the joy and the despair that comes from living on a bike.
I doubt others who haven't toured will enjoy this book as much as I did, but as I read of the sweeping emotions of joy and despair I thought "I know that feeling". When he wrote of the uncertainty and fear every time you started a new day, or crossed a new border I thought "I know that". When he was in Nairobi and talked of the people he had met, I thought "I know those people" and when he reads of the generosity and beauty of people around the world, the routines of cycling ... I just felt like it was me on that bike.
"Once more, I smiled and waved, promised that I would be careful, rang my little bell and then pedalled out of the lives of my new friends. Rounding that first corner I would be a stranger once more. Nobody would know my name, and I would know no-one. I went through my now traditional ritual of crying, feeling sorry for myself, wanting to go home, and then cheering up and enjoying being free once more, wondering what adventures the next stage would hold." Alistair Humphreys