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Thursday, February 02, 2023

Review: Lone Traveller - One Woman, Two Wheels and the World

 I picked up Lone Traveller at the library donations box for $1. When I picked it up I had no idea who Anne Mustoe was, but the first chapter had such a fresh attitude that I brought it home and read it in 2 days.

The book is not a linear travelogue, and so jumps around in time and trips. Mustoe starts off the book modestly, explaining that she always wondered why Devla Murphy chose to set off across Europe in the middle of winter rather than waiting until Spring so she could have good weather. Of course, by the middle of the book you're traversing the great Australian outback with her followed by stories of her traversing the silk road, and then you realize this is one tough cookie!

The big difference between British women writing about their travels and American women writing about their travels is the complete lack of incompetence in the British. They don't go for the self-pitying, I'm in such a mess that I need to do something crazy and totally incompetent in order to make up for a poor childhood, bad ex-husband, or some unsatisfactory relationship with a parent. Even when she is being harassed by the Chinese police and put on a bus and warned that bicycle touring in China was illegal, she would simply accept it, take the bus ride, and then after other adventures of a non-cycling nature, she would just get on her bike to keep going.

Mustoe travels in a much different style than I do. While I wouldn't feel comfortable cycling without knowing how to fix a flat, she flat out asserts that in most places you can find some mechanic who can fix your flats for you for pennies, a small sum for you but enough to make a living for them, and that there's no point learning how to fix a flat! That drives Mustoe to make certain decisions that I wouldn't have made --- for instance, she buys heavy bikes with heavy duty tires to minimize flat tires, and so travels slower while taking more time to do her trips (she quit her job to do her first big round the world trip and apparently her books made her famous enough and sold well enough that she never went back to work). As a result, while I look for mountains and views and try to stay high and cool, she goes for the flattish deserts and historical routes like the Silk route. Her knowledge of history is impeccable, and she clearly does a lot more studying of the history of the land she travels through than I do.

A surprising amount of the travel in the book is her putting her bicycle on buses, boats, and so on to get around obstacles or to get to the start (or finish) of a ride. Like myself, she eschews reservations, doesn't like camping, but carries a tent anyway. In many cases, she starts by asking if she can pitch a tent outside somebody's home and by the time evening rolls around she's invited into the home to stay for a night.

As a former principal of a school, she deals with potential predators with verve. She says she's perfected the icy stare and confident manner with which to scare of would-be harassers. Her stories in this regards are great. I think many people who are put off from traveling solo would do well to read her book. Recommended!


Arley said...

Good review; I'll read this one. About the incompetence on display in recent first-person adventure books, I think the publishing industry loves the "I'm such a mess" stories, so that's what we get. The boringly competent bikers have to tell their tales through their product review blogs ( ) or flashy adventure racing logs ( ).

My favorite tale of competent, adventurous insanity remains Göran Kropp's "My Everest Odyssey."

N said...

I recently tried to read Salt Path, a book by a British woman who walked 500km. The book was filled with self-pity.

She incompetently got into debt, lost a court case by being her own lawyer and screwing up the processes, and lost her home as a result. So she did the hike.

So it is not true that all British women avoid tales of incompetence and self-pity!

Piaw Na said...

I guess it must be as Arley said --- it's a general thing driven by the needs of the publishing industry.