BOOK REVIEW: Cycling Home From Siberia

Long distance human powered adventurer Rob Lilwall’s first book about his 30,000mile cycle journey is an absolute thriller. Each turn of the page left me shaking my head in disbelief at the fortunes and misfortunes of this rather unlikely epic adventurer. Some people just slide into the part of the ‘epic adventurer’ as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Not so for this English geography teacher. This is a story about a true learning adventure, with twists at every turn.

Have you ever been reading a book so compelling, fast-moving, and exciting, that you notice, after reaching the end of a particularly riveting chapter, that you’ve actually been holding your breath for almost the entire chapter?

That was my experience as I got to the end of chapter 63 of Rob Lilwall’s excellent book Cycling Home From Siberia. Chapters 61 to 65 see Rob recounting his frantic and risky 600 mile cycle through northern Afghanistan in late 2007. I finished the last chapter of that section and I found myself gasping for breath; they are an extremely tense few chapters.

Cycling Home From Siberia

I read the whole book in about a week of small sittings, absolutely loving the short chapters. And by short, I really do mean short. A long chapter might be five pages long. “Just one more chapter before turning out the light,” I would tell myself, and that one chapter would easily end up being another five or so. This helped to keep the sense of momentumn up and really gave me the sense of pedalling along with Lilwall on his epic 30,000 mile adventure by bicycle from Siberia to Australia to England. The short chapters, I think, would really appeal to people, like me, who read a lot of blogs, and enjoy getting good concetrated juicy shots of action rather than long, slow moving, drawn-out passages of text.

I bought the hot-off-the-press book (published only a month or so ago) because I had heard from Alistair Humphries that he had a “friend who travelled by bike for 3 years, and has also studied theology.” That friend was Rob Lilwall, and I was keen to read some insights from another hardcore human-powered traveller who may have also wrestled with the implications of his Christian faith. I also wanted to see how on earth someone would compact three years of travelling into one single 300 page book. Perhaps I could learn something, and even be inspired to put a book together myself?

After finishing the book yesterday, I am still amazed at how Lilwall has crammed so much of his experiences – in such colour and vibrancy – into the book. His use of short sentences makes it an extremely easy read, but he manages not to skimp on depth of meaning. You can tell, however, that buried beneath the characters and stories he does choose to tell, there are scores of details still yearning to be uncovered. I’m sure if Lilwall had attempted to unearth all of those juicy out-takes, the book would have been much longer than 300 pages. As it is, Lilwall has left much up to the imagination of the reader, but what a rich picture-in-the-mind his writing does facilitate!

I appreciated his spatterings of spiritual reflection throughout the book too. The depiction of his faith-journey was honest and frank; it was great to hear how he engaged honestly with other world religions (Lilwall is a keen Christian who has spent time studying theology). The open road is no place for the closed-minded, and Lilwall articulated well his interesting encounters with other travellers and locals.

I ordered the book as well as a DVD of the journey directly from his website here:

The DVD is due to be released at the end of the year, so I am waiting with bated breath for that to arrive; should be a great watch.

So do another hard-working adventurer a favour and buy a copy of his book. I highly recommend it.

Rob Lilwall | Cycling Home from Siberia

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3 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Cycling Home From Siberia

  • Sam Webb

    Once I started this book I couldn't put it down and now it's finished. This is one of the most inspiring journeys I have ever read about, in parts exhilarating in others terrifying. Who in their right mind would want to cycle across Afghanistan? And then Iran which was full of kind people. As Rob Lilwall says: "the world is full of good people." He's one of them. This is a brilliant book.