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Tales From the Road: Tibet, Xinjiang, Bangkok, Kenya

by Tim Patterson Sep 6, 2007

We all know the feeling. It comes in airport shuttles and on mountain passes, in subway cars and deep in tangled jungles.

It comes from breaking out of routine and finding yourself some place new, where anything can happen.

The feeling is a silly sort of glee, a giddy wave of adrenaline that tickles your stomach and crinkles the corners of your eyes and makes you want to yell and wave your arms and act like a fool.

Of course, all travelers are fools of one sort or another. Who in their right mind would fly halfway around the world to sit on a cranky camel and eat sand soup in the Sahara?

And yet, we keep chasing that rush, bumbling on to new adventures and grinning all the while.

I found a wonderful quote while putting together this round-up. It’s by a traveler named Peter Fleming, who went to Xinjiang in 1935:

“He who starts on a ride of two or three thousand miles may experience, at the moment of departure, a variety of emotions. He may feel excited, sentimental, anxious, carefree, heroic, roistering, picaresque, introspective, or practically anything else; but above all he must and will feel a fool.”

This week’s roundup goes out to traveling fools, to all wayfarers chasing enlightenment and glee.

1) “My Best Holiday Experience” by Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer is the unofficial poet-laureate of travel writing, a master of language and insight who has captured sights, sounds, smells and flavors in countless corners of the globe.

In this essay, Iyer recounts the first moment travel seized him and would not let go. Playing hooky from an office job in New York, Iyer set off for Asia and found himself utterly enraptured.

Few of us have traveled as widely as Iyer, but we can all relate to that exhilarating feeling of wide-eyed wonder he describes so well.

2) “Yurts, Yak-Hair Patches, and a Wary Uighur Separatist” by Greg Grim

This is the last and best installment in a 5 piece travel narrative entitled “Three Knuckle-Headed Guys Cycle the Silk Road.”

I love to travel by bicycle; it’s slow enough to notice interesting details, fast enough to cover serious ground and hard enough to generate plenty of endorphin epiphanies.

Grim and his buddies rode from Istanbul to Western China, and the resultant tale is equal parts ridiculous and sublime.

At the end, Grim stares into a mirror somewhere in the vast frontier of Western China. He’s sunburned, chapped, wind-blown and wild-eyed, but he’s still smiling. Read the story, and you will be too.

3) “Jay Peak: Redefining the Ride” by Chris Weiss

I love finding great travel stories in obscure blogs – it’s like stumbling across a terrific hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a new city.

“Redefining the Ride” is the story of a snowboarder desperate to salvage a season lacking in snow, who convinces an erstwhile friend to join him for one last trip to the mountains.

The two set off from New York City at 8 pm and drive through the night in a blinding snowstorm all the way to Jay Peak, a blue-collar resort at the Northern edge of Vermont. Luckily, powder awaits at the end of the highway.

“The atmosphere at Jay was a rich, rare treat,” writes Weiss. So is this story.

4) “Escape to Mount Kenya” by Matthew Powers

As Matthew Powers discovers, climbing Mt. Kenya is no easy feat. But for three Italian prisoners of war captured by the British and languishing in a prison camp, climbing was the easy part.

Before attempting the mountain, they first had to break free.

Few readers of this column are prisoners of war, but anyone working in an office can relate to the impulse for adventure that led the Italians to embark on their audacious gambit:

“In order to break the monotony of life one had only to start taking risks again.”

5) “Burma or Bust” by Mark Jenkins

There are better writers than Mark Jenkins, and there are more daring adventurers too. But there aren’t very many people who are superior in either category, and none who can top him in both.

“Burma or Bust” is a classic adventure tale, an ambitious and illegal trek across Eastern Tibet to Northern Burma, with the goal of making the first ascent of a peak called Hkakabo Razi. Whether or not the journey is successful or not is somehat beside the point.

As Jenkins notes:

“I’ll be the first to admit that this expedition to Burma was half-mad from the beginning and that the chances of success were perhaps small. So what? If you’re sure you can do it, what’s the point?”

Anyone up for a road-trip?

Tim Patterson travels with a sleeping bag and pup tent strapped to the back of his folding bicycle. His articles and travel guides have appeared in Get Lost Magazine, Tales Of Asia, Matador Travel and Common Language Project. Check out his personal site Rucksack Wanderer.

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