Stephen Fabes is a doctor and this brings a unique aspect to the adventure cycling genre because he visits health care settings as he travels. This is a much deeper journey than just a bike ride. This is a 6 year, 53,000 mile, cycle around the world full of thoughtful insights about people and places. It is a fascinating, moving and inspirational travel book.
This is one of the best travel books I have read. The author is incredibly observant and brings something new and fresh to travel writing. He has a great way with words and really brings a place to life. Here is one of my favourite examples of how wonderful the writing is, when he has to replace his pedals in India:
"they'd cost 15 rupees a pop (around 18 pence- rust already included) and each weighed more than a kilogram. It was like cycling with A Suitable Boy nailed to the soles of my shoes."
It feels like an incredible amount of work went into crafting each sentence in this book as it reads so beautifully. Unlike many other books of this type the focus is very much on a sense of place and not all about the author and what he is going through. For instance, when he cycles past huge palm plantations in Malaysia he shares his thoughts about the palm oil industry and its impact on the environment.
I particularly enjoyed reading about the adventures of cycle tourists from history. Stephen has uncovered some wonderful travellers tails and used these to add colour to his own journey. In 1923 a group of Indian weightlifters spent four years cycling around the world and had incredible adventures- they even managed to acquire an autograph from Mussolini to help ease passage when faced with corrupt officials!
Stephen even gets to meet the person who has spent the longest time cycling around the world. Heinz has been doing it for 51 years! Their meeting is fascinating with some interesting reflection on whether cycling the world really does make you more worldly.
This book is full of the excitement and adrenaline of adventure cycling. Meeting people, exhaustion, things going wrong with the bike and illness, not to mention incredible parts of the planet that you may never have heard of before. I was particularly fascinated by Chin State in Myanmar, an area of cloud forest, landslides and leeches falling from above.
Stephen's contacts within the medical profession allowed him to gain an insight into healthcare around the world. He visits several settings, including mental health in India and the migrant camp in Calais. These encounters provide a richer world view than you would expect from a cycling travel book and Stephen provides plenty of thoughts on what he experiences. The most moving account was his visit to a TB field hospital in Thailand and it had me in tears.
Interestingly, this book does not end with the finishing line, but with Stephen recalling the challenges he had in returning to his normal life in the UK. This is quite unusual in cycling books and it is refreshing to have an adventure cyclist reflect on this in such detail.
This book is not only one of the most enjoyable cycle travel books I have read, but one of the best travel books. It is written beautifully and by the end you really feel like you have learned something about the world.