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Miles from Nowhere – Book Review

It’s 1977, and Larry and Barbara Savage decide to invest in the adventure of a lifetime rather than buy a house. Their hope is to avoid that which many of us must live with: spending a lifetime regretting the path not taken. They decide that after one year of saving and planning they will start off on a round-the-world bicycle tour to see all the places they’d only dreamed of. They live the adventure, and we benefit from a marvelously fun book.

You just can’t help but like a book that starts right off with the author being threatened by an ape while using a rooftop bucket cum bathroom. Such anecdotes are the norm in Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage, as is plentiful humor in this book about an around-the-world bicycle trip in which the author and her husband cycle over 23,000 miles through 25 countries in two years.

Amid piles of gear, two bikes, worries about riding so many miles, and concerns about how their relationship will stand so much togetherness, Barbara and Larry start their first bicycle tour from Santa Barbara, California and head north through the rains of Oregon and Washington. A loop through British Columbia brings them back south into the United States. Despite worries about traffic and the people they might encounter, the two successfully cycle to the east coast and down to Florida. Unfortunately, in Florida they encounter the worst drivers of their two years, menaces bent on mowing them off the side of the highway. After riding south through the Keys, they decide to depart the state as quickly as possible.

A flight to Spain followed by a five week layover in a quaint coastal town and they’re off into northern Africa and Europe. Cycling in Egypt gave them their first encounters with true third world poverty and filth, preparing them well for later travels through India and Nepal. First, however, they enjoyed the wonders of cycling in Spain, Portugal, England, Germany, and Austria. The Middle East was as unstable then as it is now, so they overflew that region from Greece and landed in India.

Barbara had been especially fearful especially of riding in India. They’d heard stories of masses of beggars, filth, and disease. Larry was particularly worried about going hungry in such a poor country. While they did tire of always being watched wherever they went (it was impossible to get away from the many curious people), they found food to be readily available and only encountered beggars the one time they took an organized bus tour of Delhi (the beggars apparently congregated at the tour bus stops and ignored all other foreigners).

From India they rode into Nepal to suffer intestinal distress throughout the rooftop of the world. Although they enjoyed the scenery and people of Nepal, they were happy to catch a flight in Kathmandu for Thailand where they spent a few weeks in Bangkok letting their intestines recover. Their tour through Thailand included enjoying fabulous beaches while worrying about murderous bandits. Happily, they got through without major mishap.

After being denied visas for Australia (the official in charge apparently thought their well-worn appearance did not inspire confidence in their ability to both enter and exit Australia without the need to earn money), they flew instead to New Zealand where they were welcomed with open arms by everyone they met. Larry commented that they’d never get out of the country if they accepted every invitation they received. They declared Kiwis to be the “world’s friendliest folks.”

After two years of travelling, it was with both sadness and longing that they made their final stop in Tahiti for two weeks. Despite battling homesickness at various times during their journey, especially at Thanksgivings and Christmases, Barbara and Larry were sad to think of their expedition’s end. At the same time, however, they began to eagerly look forward to seeing family and friends. After two weeks of enjoying Tahiti’s beaches, palapas and seafood, they enthusiastically flew home.

Notwithstanding the tales of malevolent and negligent drivers, intestinal distress, and cold, wet riding, the overwhelming theme of Barbara’s tale is one of friendly people, fascinating cultures, and unbelievable cycling. The two ended their trip with intentions of tackling South America in the future.

Unfortunately, as Miles from Nowhere was going to press, Barbara Savage was killed in a cycling accident while training for a triathlon. In her memory, her publisher, The Mountaineers Books, and Larry Savage established the Barbara Savage/Miles from Nowhere Memorial Award for unpublished nonfiction manuscripts portraying personal accounts of muscle-powered journeys of discovery. Miles from Nowhere truly is a book that epitomizes the ideals of this award. It is well worth reading.

Pick up a copy of Miles from Nowhere and be prepared to be inspired to embark on a journey of your own.

Note: This book was purchased by me with my own money; providing this review did not benefit me in any way.

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