Book suggestions: A reading list to keep you sane for 6 months

Books, glorious books! One of the best things about adventure is the gift of time. Hours spent turning pedals on deserted trails means hours dedicated to listening to audiobooks, and long evenings in the tent means time to curl up with my Kindle.

I’m always looking for inspiration on what to read or what to listen to next – so I thought I’d share my reading list from the last six months with you all.

If you’ve read any of these titles and want to add your thoughts, or have a questions about a specific book – go buck wild and leave a comment at the bottom. Enjoy!

THE TEN BOOKS I ENJOYED THE MOST

1. The War of Art: break through your blocks and win your inner creative battles – by Steven Pressfield

Pressfield is an absolute genius, with a fascinating personal story about his own journey to success. If you’re a creative soul – this book explains why sitting down to do your work is a real struggle, and offers tips on how to get your muse to ‘show up’ every day. Expect a gigantic kick up the bum.

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A 6 month journey to ‘the end of the world’

Greetings from Ushuaia: ‘fin del mundo’ – the end of the world!

The next land mass from here is Antarctica, and we don’t fancy going there (not yet at least). After 9,000 kilometres travelled, three countries, ten border crossings and over 103,000 metres ascended through the Andes Mountains on bikes — now seems like as good a time as any to stop.

Where in the blazes do I begin with the summing up of a six month journey? I’m going to start where you should always start when feeling a little overwhelmed— where it is the most marvellous.

MY FRIEND FAYE, AND I 

Faye and I were putting up our tents for the final time last night when she paused, mid construction, a tent peg in one hand and her ground sheet in the other:

‘Anna…’ she said.

‘Yes mate?’ I stopped wrestling with my own pop-up-palace, and looked across at her.

‘I think we’ve done really well, you know. I don’t mean the cycling, I mean… well… us.’

I smiled. ’Well?! I think ‘well’ is an understatement Faye-bomb! It’s not normal, living the way we have. It’s enough to drive you bananas. And we still very much like bananas.’

There was a moment of silence.

‘I think it’s been the best thing, you know. Us two.’ Faye continued quietly.

‘Me too mate, me too.’ I replied. We smiled at one another, and then went back to putting up our tents, just as we have done almost every night for the past half a year. Continue reading

Playing Frozen Footsie With Mount Fitz Roy

‘Ummm, Faye. I’m worried I might have gone mental.’

‘Huh? Why?’ Says Faye absently mindedly from the bed adjacent to mine.

‘Well, my toes are itchy. They were itchy last night, and they’re itching now.’

‘What kind of itchy?’ Faye enquires.

‘Like a stingy, burny kind of itchy…’

‘Get your sock off then, let’s have a look.’

Sitting on a bed in a hostel, in the town of El Chaltén, I remove my left sock.

‘Woah!’ Says Faye, leaning in to get a closer look. ‘Mate – that is not good.’

Staring back at us from behind my recently removed left sock are four puffy, red, swollen toes. The skin on them has taken on a shiny quality, on account of it being stretched rather thin. Only my biggest toe seems to have escaped the plight.

I think back to the previous day’s events: wading through icy rivers, followed by six hours spent shivering at the dockside ferry shack. Evidently my toes took a battering. There was no hope of playing ‘this little piggy went to market’, because all of the piggies were ice blocks. Continue reading

The real secret to lighting a fire (it’s not what Ray Mears would say)

‘It’s going to go out, it’s going to go out, it’s going to… Oh bugger It’s gone out.’ I slouch backwards and sigh.

Faye and I are sat outside our tents around our MSR Whisperlite stove willing it not to die on us. Our green soup cups are half-filled with dried mashed potato flakes, cold cut up sausages lay dormant on the upturned soup cup lids, and a slab of cheese has been delicately carved into chunks – patiently waiting to be plunged into a steaming pile of mashed potato.

Alas, there sits the water in the pan, cold still, over a flame that simply will not stay lit. We unscrew the red petrol canister and peer inside. There seems to be rather a lot of ‘black stuff’ and so we conclude that the fuel will filled up with in Coyhaique must been of a less than ideal quality. Continue reading

Me, Robinson Crusoe and the O’Higgins Glacier

Today we went glacier hunting.

I am slumped over the railings on the top floor of the ‘Robinson Crusoe’. The boat is rolling from side to side, causing me to brace my legs against the slippery white deck. My stomach feels like a washing machine set to spin mode. Bile is mixing with this morning’s breakfast of eggs, cheese, bacon and orange juice. Each sideways lurch is mirrored in my stomach as the contents slosh back and forth.

I change tact and try to concentrate on my breathing. Inhale. Exhale. I focus on the feeling of the cold wind across the back of my neck and over my bare hands, but it’s no use. Peeling open my eyes, I lift my head to see if looking at the horizon will help. A wave of nausea soon hits the back of my throat, and so I quickly stuff my head back down between my arms. I swear that I am going to vomit any second now

‘Why, oh why, did you agree to come on this sodding boat, Anna?’ I ask myself. ‘You know you ALWAYS get sea sick.’ Continue reading

How to make a 30th birthday ‘special’ on the road?

It’s 8am on a Friday in northern Patagonia and I am deeply engrossed in this morning’s top secret mission: operation birthday surprise.

I am doing my best to keep any noise to a minimum. Faye is still asleep in the tent next door as I delicately unwrap the sponge cake I have been carrying in secret for the past few days. As I ease it out of its plastic coated case, the packaging threatens to reach decibel danger level. I wince and pause to listen for any noise from next door. I am rewarded with a light snore – phew! Princess Faye is still sleeping.

I set about stuffing glacé cherries deep into the buttery cake, and finish off the sponge-sculpture with a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands. I consider shoving half a banana in the top of it to add some ‘depth’ to my creation, but decide that all good artists must know when to leave a masterpiece alone.

Taking care not to drop the cake and cause an explosion of rainbow coloured sugar, I ease open the zip on my tent porch and creep a few steps forwards until I am just outside Faye’s tent. The crunch of my bare feet on the gravel surface seems to pierce through the morning silence, but at last I am in position. I inhale deeply… Continue reading

Chile’s legendary Careterra Austral: When hype doesn’t equal reality.

Ah the Careterra Austral. These are two words both Faye and I had never heard until we began cycling in South America. But everywhere we went, and from every cycle tourist we met who learned of our route south, the question was the same: ‘So you’re going to DO the Careterra Austral, right?’

Based on these conversations (and our tendency to perform minimal research into route options) it seemed as if there were only one way to travel through Northern Patagonia. And so ‘DO’ the Careterra Austral, we would.

In the words of the Lonely Planet: ‘The Carretera Austral begins where Chile’s Lakes District ends, snaking south for 1240km into a land of dense forests, snow-tipped mountains, glacial streams, islands and swift-flowing rivers’ Continue reading

With Love, From Germany

We begin to chatting to German couple Anja and Radko on the roadside just outside the Chilean village of Chaitén. I’d first seen them an hour earlier, as we zoomed past a duo taking shelter and eating lunch under a roadside bus stop. It was too wet (and we were too cold) to stop then, but thankfully the rain has now subsided and so Faye and I have taken the opportunity to pull over for our usual lunchtime snackette of cold hot dogs in tortilla wraps (avec ketchup). Mid lunch-munch, Anja and Radko appear on the road behind us, and pull over to where we are sat.
 
Anja has blonde hair, bright eyes and an even brighter smile. She is extremely friendly and begins putting us to shame with her near perfect grasp of English. Radko has opted for a more traditional unshaven ‘adventure look’ and is sporting a well-worn, and no doubt much loved, bright yellow long sleeve with black stripes down the arm and a small black eagle on his chest.
 
The four of us get along rather well and so we elect to spend the rest of the afternoon cycling together. It’s nice for Faye and I to have the chance to talk to others, and so we eagerly embrace this departure from our usual, sometimes stayed, conversation. There are only so many times you can ask one another how well you slept and how your morning poo was, after all.
 
Now an awesome foursome, we begin cruising along side by side under blue skies and past lush green surrounds. When I ask Anja how her and Radko came to be cycling around the world with one another, she takes a deep breath and I can tell there’s a good story coming…

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A Dog Bite And A Rabies Scare

We’ve been in Puerto Montt now for 3 days and are packing up our things to leave. We’d stopped a little longer than usual in town to wait for some packages to arrive from the UK (one of which contains some new shorts for Faye’s now permanently exposed buttocks). Alas, there seems to be no sign of the packages, and so we prepare to leave, hoping that they can be sent on. We go to bid our host Corina farewell. Corina is just shy of 5ft, with dark brown eyes, crop cut brown hair and an exuberance of energy makes her seem 7ft tall. She is surprised at our plans to depart:
‘You are going today?!’ Corina asks

‘Sadly yes. We have to be getting on’ Faye says.

‘But the plane that brings the post will arrive tomorrow.’

‘Will it?!’ This is news to us, and possibly something lost in translation during the previous days’ thrilling and repetitive ’are the packages here yet?’ chit-chat.

‘Yes, the plane comes in on Wednesday each week.’ Corina confirms.

Faye and I look at one another. After 3 full days off the bikes, cabin fever has well and truly set in. Although I opted to go for runs along the lakeshore on some of those days, my body is craving more movement. I am like a caged (bicycle) tiger, and I cannot wait to hit the road again. But it now seems foolish to leave when just one more day could save Faye’s bum from it’s naked fate. And what harm could one more day do? Continue reading

Down But Not Out

Today we had our first crash.

We are heading for the Chilean town of Puerto Montt on our fifth day since leaving San Martin de los Andes, and it is wet, wet, wet. As Marti Pellow so beautifully put it: ‘I feel it in fingers, I feel it in my toes…’ except, actually I don’t. Because I can’t really feel my fingers and toes anymore. I am instead just making circular motions with my thigh muscles in the hope that they drag my feet behind them. I am also steering and breaking ‘by sight’, as I can no longer feel whether or not my hands are in contact with the bars or brake levers.

With everything we own being sopping wet, we are forced to put yesterdays wet clothes back on for today’s ride. It’s not the most fun day on the bike, and so we choose to take a more direct route into town, via the main road.

Faye and I have just entered the very awkward situation of arriving at a highway toll-booth. The surprised attendant in his little booth-shack (who has boldly paired a hi-viz jacket with a floral shirt) waves us through without charge – largely because they haven’t developed a tariff for cyclists. We pull away from the booths and towards a sign which reads ‘Puerto Montt 2km’. We both whoop in delight and at the prospect of transporting our sodden shaking bodies to somewhere warm and dry. Zooming past the sign, we begin to go down a little hill. Continue reading