I think that anyone who has ever ridden a bike anywhere has at one point thought “what if I just keep pedalling” and this is the essence of Tom Bruce’s book where he sets off to ride every inch of the way around the world. This isn’t a tourist book focussing on the fantastic places that exist in every country along the way, instead it’s very much a travel journal where you accompany Tom through the natural rhythm of his long distance ride. This rhythm falls into three basic parts: ride; find somewhere to pitch tent and sleep; eat and drink. At first you might think that this might make for dull reading but it’s anything but, the fact that life for Tom is stripped back to these basics means he experiences the culture and hospitality of the ordinary people along the route and for me it was this that I really enjoyed. There was something beautiful and simple that Tom revealed about human nature as he rolled into towns and villages where he knew no one and couldn’t speak the language but would need to ask for directions or somewhere to pitch his tent for the night and that is that if you peal away the structures that govern us, be they political or religious, we are human beings, social animals that in the vast majority of cases will help each other out.
Many of us will have travelled in Europe and some further afield but Tom’s trip opened up for me when he started to move from Turkey to Georgia and onwards heading East. Time after time people who perhaps did not possess the material wealth that many in Britain have and take for granted displayed a wealth of community, spirit and hospitality that would put many of us to shame, opening up their houses, sharing food etc with a total stranger. Would we do the same if someone from Kazakhstan cycled into your town, village, city looking for similar assistance?
One of the things that I really liked about Tom was that he was not trying to break any records he was just basically seeing if he could do it and while clearly he is a fit guy had not done huge amounts of prep or training prior to going. The bit of the journey I liked the best was Tom’s travels through the Caucasus and central Asia; Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan via the ancient Silk Road effectively crossing huge deserts and colossal mountain passes – 4,655m at the highest point of the trip and also including a mindboggling climb of 156 miles in Tajikistan and a descent of 78 miles in Kyrgyzstan. Each one of the countries sounded amazing in their own way full of interesting people, history and places and they really felt isolated and unknown. However despite this isolation and the vast distances involved Tom would always come across other cyclists which seemed quite amazing to me included one night when he was staying in the ancient city of Samarkand where there were 12 cyclists in the hostel he stayed in, what are the odds on that?
Sometimes Tom would hook up with someone riding the same way at the same pace and they’d ride together for a country or two before going their separate ways as they took different routes onwards and you got a real sense of both the need and relief to have that human contact and company and how hard it was to sometimes go out on your own again but at the same time, apart from a few instances I never got the feeling that Tom struggled with loneliness that much on the trip.
Much of what Tom experienced I think I’d have loved but I would definitely have struggled with some of the hardships, Tom did not have much cash so the trip was done on a definite budget and this made things very tough at times. In addition some of the conditions both from a cycling and human perspective were challenging to say the least, the desert crossings in central Asia for one seemed madness and the time spent cycling across China did not seem much fun where the culture seemed much less hospitable than elsewhere on the trip. Of course despite the vastness of the world it’s smallness was also revealed as Tom was able to get bike parts sent out to a remote hotel in the middle of nowhere to allow him to do some running repairs and it was also clear that bureaucracy is alive and kicking everywhere especially with regards to border crossings, embassies and visas.
It was great to ride along with Tom (as that is what it felt like you were doing reading his book) but what did he learn from his trip? There is a great section on this in the book where he expands on the following:
- The world and the people in it are good
- Don’t believe the press and in particular what they tell you about other countries, people and religions
- Get out into the world and experience things
- Society is important
- You can achieve amazing things if you want to
Seems like a pretty good list to me and if you want evidence of the truths within those lessons pick up a copy of Every Inch of the Way and go for a ride round the world with Tom
Tom kindly sent me a copy of this book but if I did not enjoy reading it I would not have written about it on the blog.