Rob Lilwall is a middle school geography teacher who is, not surprisingly, bored with his life. He is 27 years old, has no significant other, and has no big plans for the future. So when he his old buddy Al emails Rob and asks him to ride with for the last leg of his round-the-world cycling trip, Rob says why not?
So our hero hops a plane to the god forsaken Siberian town of Magadan. It’s on the Eastern side of Siberia and everyone he meets tells him he will soon die in the subfreezing cold. He is warned about the cold, about bears, and about wolves. He starts to get a bit worried about all this as he waits for his buddy to show up, but he is sure that it will all work out. He can’t help but thinking about his impending death in Siberia, especially when he thinks about the Road of Bones and the downright nasty history of Siberia in general and this part of it in particular.
But soon enough his friend joins him and they set off into the teeth of a very cold Siberian winter. He feels a bit better about the whole idea. Well, until winter really hits. At one point Rob marvels that there is a noticeable difference between -30C and -40C. -40C feels a good deal colder.
By starting in Siberia in winter, Bob makes the rest of his journey to London seem a tad tame. He talks about falling on the frozen roads, camping in banks of snow, and melting snow to make drinking water. He does not see any bears or wolves, though he continues to hear tales of them roaming through the snow and continues to get predictions that he will be eaten. On the people front, he finds the Russians to be very friendly and a little drunk.
Siberia is only the first leg of the trip, but it is the part Bob gives the most attention to. After Siberia he and Al go their separate ways, levaing Rob to ride most of the 35,000 miles home alone.
He breezes through Australia and Europe without much comment. He naturally gives more attention to the places where there is some level danger and pretty much ignores all those places that are perfectly safe and have good roads to ride on.
This still leaves a lot of adventure to his tale. He rides through Tibet, sneaking through the Checkpoints as he couldn’t get a Visa. He rides through Nepal and gets used to cycling in the thin air. He rolls through Afghanistan, where everyone warns him that he will be kidnapped and murdered-but again, the only people he meets are kind and generous-they offer him free food and shelter and repair his bike.
Another dangerous spot is Papua New Guinea, where there is no road to the place he needs to get to and he ends up carrying his bike for miles through a rain forest. He is warned about gangs and killers, and he does take the precaution of not stopping to talk to everyone who hails him as has been his practice elsewhere.
Bob is a Christian and he ends up spending a lot of time with Nuns and Priests and Ministers of one sort or another. He gets into long debates with Muslims and Buddhists and ends up agreeing to disagree. He finds their beliefs a bit baffling and they find his beliefs baffling. He says that he can’t agree with term, Many Paths Lead to the Mountaintop-he thinks its more like different roads leading up different mountains.
Overall Cycling Home From Siberia is a brilliant book. He talks about how hard the trip was, how he cycled for fifty miles a day, or a hundred miles a day, or seventy miles a day. He talked about having to repair five flats a day-don’t they have Mr. Tuffy Bicycle Tire Liner in England? He talks about sleeping in toilet stalls and I have now noticed how large many stalls are. He rides his bike for the better part of three years-and I found myself wanting to hop on my own bike and set off for far away places.
Rob is also English, so he talks in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, he uses a moblie not a cell phone and he calls an AK-47 a Kalashnikov. The usual kind of differences found in books written by Brits not Yanks.
Cycling Home from Siberia: 30,000 miles, 3 years, 1 bicycle was also made into a National Geographic miniseries. I am planning on watching it as soon as I get a few spare hours.