February 26th, 2012
“You should write a book about this”, someone says for the umpteenth time on the trip so far. I smile politely. But we really shouldn’t write a book about this. Go to the adventure travel section of any bookshop and you will find it stuffed with people’s accounts of their fastest/most unsupported/youngest attempt to cycle/run/skateboard around the Americas/North Pole/the World.
There really are enough cliche-ridden “man/woman conquers the world” adventure accounts out there already. There is no room - or more importantly any need (beyond pure self-indulgence) – for us to add our own very sedate cycling holiday to the shelves.
Far more interesting (to me at least) is trying to understand what lies behind the lure of tough physical adventure travel in the first place. Al Humphreys’ latest book, There Are Other Rivers, explores exactly this; in his words it is “an attempt to articulate my fascination with the open road and the magnetism of the next horizon”.
In the interests of objectivity, I guess I should come clean and state that we are big fans of Al Humphreys. In fact, it wouldn’t be overly melodramatic to say that without him, there’s a very good chance we would still be sat behind a desk daydreaming about this adventure, rather than writing this from somewhere in Mexico after seven months on the road.
First we read (and then re-read) his books about his four years spent cycling around the world. Then, in a stroke of present-giving genius, Sarah booked Al to come and speak for family and friends on my 30th birthday. After that, it wasn’t really a question of “if” we would set off on our own adventure, only “when”.
Superficially, There Are Other Rivers is a short story based on Al’s recent walk across India, following the length of one of its seven holy rivers from sea to source. But it’s not really a book about walking, or even about India. Unlike most “adventure books”, there are no names of places or people, no route maps, no kit lists and a refreshing lack of melodrama. It doesn’t even have a foreword by Bear Grylls.
Instead, Al has compressed his India experience into a single day on the road, during which he explores different aspects of the travelling experience. It’s a bold break with adventure writing convention, and one which he pulls off with great success.
Given our current life on the road, you won’t be surprised to hear that my reading of this book was accompanied by much furious head-nodding. As always, Al articulates my own wanderlust more concisely and eloquently than I ever could myself.
But what if you have no interest in adventure travel, no desire to cycle across continents or row across oceans? Why would you read this book? Well, because I guarantee that it will – in the nicest possible way – give you a kick up the arse. Because for Al, “adventure” is not necessarily about crossing continents, instead it is “a state of mind…an attitude of curiosity, bold enthusiasm, ambition, effort and a rejection of mediocrity.”
Passionate, honest and irresistible, There Are Other Rivers is ultimately a rallying call to switch off the TV, set yourself an ambitious goal – whatever that may be – and make the most of every precious second of life. And I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t need that every once in a while.
There Are Other Rivers is self-published and is available from Al’s website in lots of different formats for bargain prices – just £5 for the printed edition or less than £2 for the Kindle version.