Biking Across The Silk Route in Kate Harris’ Memoir “Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road”

Last updated on June 25th, 2021

Photo of Son Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan by Amir Asakeev on Unsplash

Why we chose this book: A melting pot of cultures and history

By Carolyn Ray, Editor-in-Chief, Publisher, JourneyWoman

Your book club co-hosts, Wendy and Carolyn, invite you to join us for a journey along the  Silk Road, (also called the Silk Route), an ancient trade route linking China with the West, including countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. In Land of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road,  Canadian Kate Harris traces Marco Polo’s steps on her bike. 

“Every day on a bike trip is like the one before–but it is also completely different, or perhaps you are different, woken up in new ways by the mile.”

Lands of Lost Borders, winner of the 2018 Banff Adventure Travel Award and a 2018 Nautilus Award, is the chronicle of Harris’s odyssey and an exploration of the importance of breaking the boundaries we set ourselves; an examination of the stories borders tell, and the restrictions they place on nature and humanity; and a meditation on the existential need to explore—the essential longing to discover what in the universe we are doing here.

Our book club operates on a Pay-What-You-Can model, where we make a donation to a non-profit organization that is meaningful to the guest speaker. We thank you for your generosity and kindness.

Source:Silk Road , Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road by Kate Harris

Recommended by: Wendy and Thia
Published in: 2018
Country: Silk Route  

In between studying at Oxford and MIT, Harris set off by bicycle down the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel. Pedaling mile upon mile in some of the remotest places on earth, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. Forget charting maps, naming peaks: what she yearned for was the feeling of soaring completely out of bounds. The farther she traveled, the closer she came to a world as wild as she felt within.

Reviews

[A] journey that beautifully reveals much about the history and nature of exploration itself. Exemplary travel writing: inspiring, moving, heartfelt, and often breathtaking.

— KIRKUS (STARRED REVIEW) 

Watch the April Book Club Session below!

 Our Book Club Take

While we found this book a little challenging to read, it stimulated some incredible conversations around borders. What do they really mean? And is our view of countries and borders different when we’re travelling on a bike? This book got a thumbs up from the women on the call – it was interesting, proactive and real. We really enjoyed it. In some ways, it forced us to slow down and really embrace the moment. Thank you Kate! 

Several women on the call had visited the Silk Road countries. Margaret B from Australia wrote: “Ani is the ancient Armenian capital, and now just inside the Turkish border. The gorge mentioned in the book as the border is shown in one of my pictures. We weren’t supposed to film the border, though what military advantage one could get, I’m not entirely sure! I’m don’t know exactly why, but this place just stole my heart. It was so old and the buildings showed centuries of invasions and various cultures. It was a beautiful day and the wildflowers were out. What was not to love? Here  we had  wilderness, and ancient history rolled up into one”  

Thank you to those who attended and support this through our pay-what-you-can program. Thanks to you, we were able to make a donation to Pen International, an organization that helps support freedom of speech, as requested by the author, Kate Harris.

– Wendy and Carolyn, you book club co-hosts

Book Club Discussion Questions

  1. What was your favorite passage in the book?
  2.  Kate begins the book by decrying that she “was born centuries too late for the life I was meant to live.”  What prompts this observation?  Do you think we have reached the limits of physical exploration on Earth?
  3.  What prompts Kate’s journey across the Silk Road? There are numerous ways to travel.  Why did Kate choose to bike for transport?
  4.  Early in the trip, she begins to question her motives:  “At what point was I running away from life, and at what point was I running toward it?  She calls understanding the distinction between the two “crucial and troubling”. Why?
  5. Throughout the book, Kate ponders the ways in which borders–both physical and internal–keep us from connecting with others and our true selves.  Why do we impose such limits?  Are we driven by safety or by fear?  Where is the line between these two drawn?
  6. Kate explains that she set off “because I wanted to seek out the world’s wildness and plumb my own in the process.:  Does she succeed?  What do you learn about wildness?  Have you ever spent time in the wilderness?  Where did you go and what was the experience like?  Did your trip teach you anything about the world or yourself?  If you haven’t ventured beyond the boundaries of your known world, where would you go if you did?  Who would you want as a companion, or would you prefer to go solo?
  7. Kate speaks eloquently of her desire for a world without borders, “Which meant believing in hearts and minds without them too.”  Is this possible and is it really desirable?  What would the world be like without borders?  How can such openness survive the darker impulses of human nature?
  8. Do you think we should return to the moon and head to the stars — to Mars and possibly beyond?  Do you think restlessness – the need to wander – is inherent in humans?  How does modern life limit the ambitions of the adventurous spirits?  What opportunities and advantages does it offer today’s travelers?

Your Imagination Can Take You Places

Now more than ever, we're finding camaraderie and inspiration through novels. Join us each month as we discuss a different book, suggested by our community, about a faraway land.

About  Kate Harris

Photo Source: https:kateharris.ca

AUTHOR BIO

As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved–that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and philosopher–had gone extinct. From her small-town home in Ontario, it seemed as if Marco Polo, Magellan and their like had long ago mapped the whole earth. So she vowed to become a scientist and go to Mars.

To pass the time before she could launch into outer space, Kate set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule, then settled down to study at Oxford and MIT. Eventually the truth dawned on her: an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. And Harris had soared most fully out of bounds right here on Earth, travelling a bygone trading route on her bicycle. So she quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Mel, this time determined to bike it from the beginning to end.

Like Rebecca Solnit and Pico Iyer before her, Kate Harris offers a travel narrative at once exuberant and meditative, wry and rapturous. Weaving adventure and deep reflection with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of a world that, like the self and like the stars, can never be fully mapped.

(Source: KateHarris.ca) 

Watch Kate Harris’ Highlights Reel 

Carolyn is the Publisher + Editor-in-Chief of JourneyWoman and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC). A Canadian raised in South Florida, Carolyn loves all things Spanish, historic destinations and always has her backpack ready to go.

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