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Updated: July 31, 2012 11:55 IST
The Armchair Traveller

Bicycle diary

APARNA KARTHIKEYAN
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Lone traveller book cover
Lone traveller book cover

Arranged as a semi-guide, an inspirational manual, Anne Mustoe tells you how to plan for a trip of this scale in an unusual travel book which is a patchwork quilt of images

One Woman, Two Wheels And The World by Anne Mustoe

There are women travel writers, and there is Anne Mustoe. Here is this woman, who does not know how to fix her bicycle (why should I, she asks, when one is not expected to fix one’s car?) choosing to cycle around the world. With that attitude, you almost think she won’t go far. But she manages to do what she sets out to. All alone. And not just once, but twice. Lone Traveller. One Woman, Two Wheels And The World is the book that was born after the second round-trip. And yet her book is far from gushy ‘yaay, I did it’ prose. Maybe it’s because she is older (61) and a retired headmistress (that too from the land of stiff upper lips). It’s also probably why she wisely breaks the narrative down not by countries and continents, but into good days and bad; the pleasures of solitude (plenty), the joy of company (erm, a few); the police (‘Whatever their nationality, they cluck over me’) and this being a travel book, a few descriptive bits thrown here and there. The Amazon’s water she likens to ‘a cross between oxtail soup and butterscotch sauce’; the Gobi desert to ‘desolate, pitiless terrain, whipped by ferocious winds and, according to legends, haunted by demons’. And, interestingly, she does not hesitate to use her headmistress glare and headmistress voice to scare away unwanted attention in the remote corners of the world!

It works because…

It’s an unusual travel book, a patchwork quilt of images, with, perhaps, more colour than warmth. Arranged as a semi-guide, an inspirational manual, Anne tells you how to plan for a trip of this scale. She makes a strong case for solitary travelling, gently dissing co-travellers whose circadian rhythms might clash with hers (largely nocturnal) and who might be dreadfully bored by her interest in history. As a single woman, she says, ‘My evenings are not exciting. Men who travel alone can drop into a bar or nightclub and spice up their travel writing with racy anecdotes and fascinating local colour. But if I strode alone into a nightclub in Salvador or Bangkok, my presence would certainly be misconstrued!’ Often, you can read her disapproval – ‘I found this alcohol culture depressing’ she says about backpackers, even as she shares the hostel (which she primly calls a ‘day care centre for alcoholics’). Clearly, this is no slaphappy book. But it’s terribly informative, with appendixes heaving with lists and stuff. So should you read it only if you plan to cycle, single, all the way across the globe? Maybe not. Because, beneath the stiff upper lip and headmistress glares, you discover a woman who actually says handsome young men like her company as they find her restful. And that’s exactly how I found her book – restful. Despite it being about the most challenging thing I could ever imagine doing…

And this one stays with you…

Cycling along the Silk Road

‘It was spectacular landscape, completely empty, as if no one had passed that way before. The only vital force was the cyclist’s enemy, the wind, which hurled clouds of sand into my face and made every turn of the pedals an ordeal. Expressed in musical terms, its underlying force was ff, with gusts of fff or even ffff. On ffff, the bicycle would stand still and I had to jump off or crash to the ground.

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