Extreme Frontiers: Racing Across Canada From Newfoundland to the Rockies – Charley Boorman with Jeff Gulvin (2012, Sphere, Great Britain)
Adventurer and TV star Charley Boorman is famous for his travelogues detailing journeys in Asia, Africa, Europe, and – oh yeah – that tiny little race known as the Dakar Rally. In Extreme Frontiers, he tackles the massive country of Canada and all of its geographical challenges – from diving among shipwrecks in icy Lake Huron, tangling with rapids in the wilds of Manitoba, climbing a mountain in Alberta, spelunking on Vancouver Island, and deliberately “falling” down a crevasse on an ice field near Dawson City. Along the way he meets a wonderful cast of characters – including museum interpreters, fishermen, bikers, cowgirls and ranchers, and several Royal Canadian Mounted Police cadets. In a super-casual, easy tone, Boorman brings Canada and all of its diversity to the reader. And if you don’t want to bother reading the book, there’s an accompanying TV show (currently showing on Discovery World) and DVD in the making. I’m looking forward to viewing the footage Boorman’s team shot – I may be a bit biased, of course, but I think Canada is pretty darn incredible.
Nobody Rides for Free: A Drifter in the Americas – John Francis Hughes (2012, BookThug, Ontario)
This is as much a book about addiction as it is a travelogue. In Nobody Rides for Free, a Canadian bike courier takes on Latin America on a bicycle…a daunting prospect for anyone, much less when you’re completely addled with booze and drugs. Amongst his exploits, Hughes teaches (or, rather, doesn’t teach) English to students in Colombia, gets robbed at gunpoint by a bunch of farmers in El Salvador, narrowly thwarts a marriage proposal on a bus in Ecuador, sails down the Amazon on a crowded boat, and contracts worms in Brazil. Down to his last few dollars after hanging out in seedy hotels and on the streets, Hughes ends up in the eastern United States, trying to hitchhike his way across the country to his home in Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast. His encounters with the people who pick him up and drive him closer to his destination are so insane you think they simply MUST be fictional…there’s no way such a cast of social misfits could be real. I actually interpreted the madness of his situation as mirroring Hughes’ descent to rock bottom – it’s as if he attracts the dregs of society to help him home, and eventually to a place of healing.
I know it’s marketed as a travel memoir, but something about the book’s sensational leanings didn’t quite ring genuinely with me – I found myself doubting Hughes on more than one occasion. I don’t know what that says about the book, or about me as a reader. But no matter what I felt about the constant escalation of nutzoid characters and wild incidents, it is impossible not to root for Hughes in his quest to get sober. That’s honest and true.