It's not every day that a fellow decides to pack in a good job, pack up his saddlebags, and set off by bicycle to make a circumferential journey around Australia. In 1996, that's just what American-born Time
magazine correspondent Roff Martin Smith did, though; as he explains, he'd been living in Australia for 14 years but didn't really know the country, and he "felt no emotional bond to it." About to turn 38, a few pounds over his ideal weight, and untested as a distance bicyclist, Smith faced up to considerable odds, but he survived to tell the tale.
And a rollicking tale it is, as Smith meets with an odd assortment of humans and critters along his sometimes torturous path. (One all-too-long stretch of road, for instance, he calls "the most dangerous and frightening I've ever had the misfortune to ride: a suicide run of hammering trucks, heavy construction, muddy detours, and lane closures.") Smith logs time in crocodile country, too, in the far northern Australian rainforest, where he counts the awful moments until antediluvian doom strikes. It never does, and in any event the crocs are nothing compared to the errant sheep, emus, kangaroos, and death adders he encounters, to say nothing of the 108-degree gusts euphemistically referred to by local weathercasters as "sea breezes"--none of which poses quite the dangers that his fellow humans offer out on the beery highways of Oz. Difficult though the journey is, Smith keeps up his good cheer throughout these lively pages, and, if he's not quite unflappable, he's certainly a sympathetic narrator.
Expanded from his popular three-part series in National Geographic magazine, Smith's pedal-powered epic is an instructive manual for anyone contemplating a life-changing journey--and, for the rest of us, a highly enjoyable, altogether unexpected tour of the outback. --Gregory McNamee
Smith relates the story of his bicycle trek through Australia in this amazing travel account. The New Englander, who has lived in Australia for the past 15 years, had never taken the time to see the country and realized he had no feel for the nature and character of Australia. Restless, he impulsively quit his prestigious job to embark on this journey. His adventure takes him through cities, mountains, deserts, and incredibly remote outback villages. Pitting himself against nature's harshest elements, Smith battles steep hills, headwinds, 140-degree heat, tropical storms, and xenophobia with a strength of purpose that rarely falters. Along the way, he crosses paths with a number of hostile and unsavory characters, but it is the surprising kindness and generosity of most of the people that touch him the most and teach him what it means to be "Australian." Smith set out as a foreigner, but he returned with a new and profound understanding and appreciation of that beautiful country and its people. The story of Smith's initiation into his adopted culture proves to be an engaging read. Gavin QuinnCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved