This was a question I considered long and hard before putting pen to paper. In January 2012 – somewhere between Mexico City and Oaxaca – I first started thinking seriously about turning my experiences into a story to share.
Writing a book had always been on my mind, but in one of those fleeting ‘wouldn’t that be nice’ kind of ways. It was never something to plan or focus on because the most important thing on my travels was enjoying what lay ahead.
However, when I started rolling back the layers of what it would be like to tell a story of the bike ride, I opened the door to many questions I imagine would-be first-time non-fiction authors come across.
First of all, I was found asking what would make my story interesting or different than any other similar tales of journey or adventure? I knew people had cycled from Alaska to Argentina before – quite a few in fact. Some had done it in big groups; others, alone like me (for the majority). People were doing it as part of round-the-world trips, such as Salva who I met in Baja California. He’d been on the road for 6 years when our paths crossed and had traversed much of Africa, Europe and Asia along the way. Others had even completed it through adversity, such as Cristi and Tauru from the US, who rode a tandem 26,000km even though they were legally blind.
If I were to tell my story, would it need to have a unique angle and message? Would that even matter or did people just want to hear about what I saw, whom I met, and how I was feeling? I’m sure plenty of other travel books (and there are a lot) would have recounted similar experiences in a more successful and entertaining manner. So what could I possibly add to the growing pile?
Behind these thoughts existed a bigger question again – figuring out the reason to write in the first place. Would I do it to make money (there’s a pittance to be made in this genre unless you’re well-established or have done something truly unique like carry a refrigerator on your back while climbing Mt Everest)? Would it be for myself, to keep for the future with all my memories in one place? Or would it be for others?
In truth, it’s a mixture of the last two. I’ve always grasped things better once I talk them out with others (everything from politics to football tactics), so writing about the trip might help me work through 15 months of those memories and gain a better insight and appreciation of the people and places I encountered. I could distill daily events, chance meetings and time on my own in foreign, yet not so foreign places into something greater, giving them meaning. It would also be an A to Z project that I could put all my energy, heart and soul into – a chance to be creative and at the end hopefully validated for the attempt.
I also want it to be for others. For family, friends, followers of the 350South journey and those who I have never met. The latter group may in fact be the most important. It could be someone who, in not too distant future, picks up a copy and decides to go out and see some of the world. It could be Outer Mongolia or that trail walk in the local woods they’ve heard so much about. It might be the inspiration, the drive, the get up and go – whatever you want to call it – to see the world and advance a better understanding of it – socially, environmentally, or both.
This might seem a little highfalutin, but I say it because it happened to me. When I put down that copy of Göran Kropp’s Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey, something had stirred. And within 10 minutes I knew that cycling the length of the Americas was it.
Of course, for some it will be just a good story. I hope it will at least. In that, it’s worth trying to tell in a way that represents the truth within my experiences from the saddle which resonates with others. After all, I was just someone pedalling a bicycle for a very long time with a wish to see towns, mountains, countries, places with interesting names and peoples I had heard lots about, and plenty more that I didn’t.
So the actual answer to the question why write a book? is a multi-faceted one, but altogether simple in its aims. Asking what I could add the growing pile of travel books (whether it’s a lot or little at all) is itself answered with the thought that someone, somewhere, may take something positive and affirming from it.
And in the coming weeks and months, I’ll try to elaborate on everything else that comes after the decision is made to begin Chapter 1.