A 27,000km bicycle journey from Alaska to Argentina

It is fitting that my last read and review of 2016 is an inspiring read. I was given this book by the author in exchange for an honest review and frankly it was a pleasure to read over the holidays. Over the course of 360 pages, like all good adventure books, I felt like I too went on an unforgettable journey as I read about Ian Lacey’s epic cycle.

In February 2010, Ian Lacey met Lee Saville at a friend’s birthday party in Denver, Colorado. From the beginning it was clear that the two of them were looking to do something very different with their lives. Another chance encounter with a delegate at an environmentalist conference pointed Lacey in the direction of the Swedish mountaineer Gören Kropp. Then, as luck would have it, Lacey happened on a copy of Kropp’s book Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey and this firmly sowed the seed of a long term cycling project in his head. This dream easily took shape on a strong foundation built from childhood.

‘My childhood had thickly-bound atlases and time spent imagining the colour of landscapes where unusual place names were inked; as an adolescent, I had been captivated by the images of National Geographic; in my early 20s, it was Bill Bryson, Stanley Stewart, and stories of Shackleton’s voyages which held me in their grip. All of these had left an enduring mark at each stage of my life, slowly incubating a wanderlust that for a long time had very little outlet due to my age, stage of education, and financial circumstances.’

Looking at the world map on his living room wall, Lacey decided that he ‘should travel it by bicycle – for no other reason than the fact that I could.’ This statement is made all the more remarkable in that Lacey could ‘count on one hand the number of times I’d been on a bicycle in the past year.’ For me this is what makes this book such an inspirational read. It gives you the sense that practically anyone could drop what they are doing and achieve something similar to what Ian Lacey achieved.

As the journey begins Lacey makes use of a great command of the English language to describe each setting that he finds himself in. I could almost hear the crunch of the gravel or the smooth, slick sound of a sealed road as he pedalled along. I could sense the bitter cold and dry humidity that he experienced as he cycled from the Arctic Circle through Central America and on towards his final destination. I could imagine the gurgling of rivers and the windswept beauty of several mountain ranges as well as the lively town squares of South America or the desolate stretches of open road. This is impressive writing for a first time author.

Memorable experiences include an encounter with a brown bear and her cubs, staying with or randomly encountering the Irish Diaspora in the most unexpected places and a visit to an almost mythical town of beautiful women. The journey also throws up an unexpected community of fellow cyclists who Lacey meets on the road several times during his trip. He had one off meetings with others such as partially blind couple Christi and Tauru and lone traveller Steve from Birmingham who are also undertaking journeys to break their apparent limits. It is the local population of South America that steals the show however with their down-to-earth kindness and genuine friendliness that constantly blows Lacey away.

The real heart of this book though is not the measurable distance that Ian Lacey cycled but the immeasurable personal journey that he went on over 18 months. Thanks to diary entries interspersed throughout the text we get a real sense of his thoughts and feelings from beginning to end. It is tremendous to witness his athletic transformation from a struggling cyclist in Alaska to a cyclist regularly banging out over 100km a day by the end.

To his credit, he does not wax lyrical about his experiences and often includes the ‘bad’ days, the disappointments and the worries. The deterioration of his relationship with initial cycling partner Lee makes for some honest reading. He also gives an honest opinion of people and their cultures without ever preaching. That being said, after eating, sleeping and drinking amongst them his opinions do carry some weight. Throughout the book, Ian also worries about his girlfriend Áine and how their relationship might change over the 18 months that he is away and all of these elements add a real human factor to the story.

At the end of the book, Lacey hints at further adventures to come in the future. This is an author that I will be keeping an eye out for.

Would I recommend this book to a friend?

Yes. This books offers an escape from the daily grind of a working life. As I read through the pages, I felt as if I was there beside the author as he cycled through two continents. This book might not inspire you to attempt a similar challenge, but it will inspire you to live a simpler life and all the joys that it entails. An excellent read.

Afterthoughts

  • This book is available on amazon.com as well as on http://www.ianlacey.com
  • The official blog of the trip http://www.350south.org adds to the reading experience
  • Ian Lacey dedicated his cycle to the Carers’ Association of Ireland and raised over €30,000. Check out their website here http://familycarers.ie/
  • As South America approached, Ian made a special effort to learn Spanish and this undoubtedly added to his experiences with the local people. This proves that the only way to truly experience a culture is to immerse yourself in it!