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Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey into Australia Hardcover – September 1, 2000

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Product Details

  • Series: Adventure Press
  • Hardcover: 284 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic (September 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0792279522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0792279525
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #956,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Booklist

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 Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

If the thought of living on the edge appeals to you, read this book.
Michael Murphy
The force of my desire to hear more from an adventurer like Roff Smith is the litmus test of how much I enjoyed this summertime page-turner.
Ron Albrecht
Roff Smith is a humorous writer with a knack for capturing the nuances of speech and behavior that make Aussies Aussies.
S. Sande

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By choiceweb0pen0 VINE VOICE on April 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Roff first covered his trip around Australia in a three part series in National Geographic a few years ago. It was a find to discover he had written an entire book on his journey since cycling around a country roughly the size of the United States should produce more material than just three magazine articles. It's not quite the same prose either, so if you did read these articles, you're not reading a reprint.
"Cold Beer and Crocodiles" is a poor title, especially when Smith's account proves there is so much more to Australia than the two. He does an excellent job of describing the different climates he rides and lives through.
Just as skillful is his portrayal of the various Australians he meets along the way. I spent several months in the country a few years ago, so I can relate to their overwhelming hospitality and generosity (most). As few truly unfriendly and hostile Australians as I met, I'm glad Smith wasn't afraid to mention the few he came across. They're such a small minority, especially if you consider a similar trip made around say the US. A small number would be so open to a strange cycling by their homes. Traditionally, Australians are used to strangers traveling through covering the vast distances in search of work. Even so I think Smith fortunate to get a rare glimpse (for the rest of the world anyway) into an outback station, several, and we're lucky to read about his other experiences. His balance between the positive and negative provides a wonderful narrative of his trip. I agree with other reviewers the book winds up extremely quickly, and he skips through and by several places worth commenting on. He barely writes about this trip in Tasmania. But this isn't the Rough Guide to Australia. What is mentioned and left out is entirely up to the writer. There are several other books on travel in Australia, such as Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country" to give a different spin on Oz.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael Murphy on June 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Cold Beer and Crocodiles (crocodiles barely feature at all!) is an excellent travel adventure which will appeal to anyone who cosily enjoys the vicarious experience of someone else battling to survive in an extreme landscape: in this case, the Australian Outback. Having lived in Australia for 15 years without developing any emotional attachment to the country, Roff Smith quit his job at Time magazine to undertake a mammoth 10,000 mile round trip of Australia, his rationale being a desire to try to find the 'real' Australia and 'real' Australians, engage emotionally "with the country I'd lived in as a stranger all these years". His chosen mode of transport, a 21 speed touring bicycle would let him get close to the land, experience Australia, its sights, sounds and smells.

In the early stages, Smith expends much pedal power shaking off the Sydney suburbs and running the gauntlet of heavy, aggressive traffic. City and suburbs sloughed off, six months of gruelling Outback travel follow: its when he hits the furnace of the Outback that the words blaze off the page as he is plagued for months on end by flies, thirst, dust, scorching heat and feelings of loneliness; is overtaken by huge triple roadtrains, horns blaring, barrelling down desert highways; witnesses spectacular thunder and sizzling forked-lightning desert storms; bivouacs in scrub under night skies "full of stars as sharp as needles"; works in sheep and cattle stations in the guts of the country - the barren interior; picks melons; visits an Aboriginal Community; duels for weeks on end with the vast, hostile expanses of empty reddish plains baking under the blistering sun - "so much nothing out there...just miles and miles of nothing". Surviving to the next roadhouse is the order of each day!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. D. Moffatt on February 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
When I was 26, about 8 years before the author made his journey, I almost undertook exactly the same adventure (even following the same roads - I had the whole thing planned out, with significantly more detail and prep than the author made), so when I heard about this book, I had to read it. I was not disappointed. His effusive story telling style was a pleasant surprise to me, and read it cover-to-cover. I think his National Geographic piece on the trip was more reflective, if I recall correctly, and you didn't get as much insight in the book as to what sort of turmoil made him take the trip, but I guess he felt it wasn't relevant. I would have also liked a bit more detail about his personal transformation, and a bit more about what certain regions were like. For example, his terrifying journey (or is that "escape"?) across the south of Australia was gripping reading, but there wasn't much about the geography, such as the spectacular coast. It didn't exactly paint a picture. It's not as poetic about the natural beauty of Australia as I'd like, but he HAD been a resident of Australia for some time before he took the trip. He wasn't exactly looking at it with tourist's eyes. My only real complaint, then, was that the book was too skimpy. I would have happily travelled with him for another 100 pages, as I didn't want it to end. If there's ever a second edition, I hope he fleshes it out a bit, maybe borrowing from the NG article. I have to say that after reading it, I'm both glad I didn't go (I might be dead now!), and even more sorry I didn't (it's dangerous, but possible and rewarding). Congratulations to the author for his courage, and thanks for satisfying a bit of my wanderlust.
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