Jeremy Felt

Full Tilt: Ireland To India With A Bicycle

Sometime last year I stumbled upon writer Dervla Murphy, and her book chronicling her solo trip in 1963, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. I think I was drawn by the cycling, the wonder at how it was done equipment wise, and just the raw adventure it promised.

The book turned out to be wonderful and I came away even more impressed than I thought I would. Here is a solo traveler, female, who voyaged by bicycle through Iran (Persia), Afghanistan, and Pakistan. She did this without a cell phone, internet, GPS… any of the things we take completely for granted now.

And she did it alone.

If you haven’t imagined this yet, I’d highly recommend the book. These phrases will mean so much more in context, and it is a fairly quick 225 page read. The first passage comes from when the author is leaving Kabul, Afghanistan. As part of this process, she also leaves some stuff behind that she has deemed no longer necessary.

My friends here are paralysed with horror at the thought of anyone going on a five-month trip with only a saddle-bag of luggage, but the fact is that the further you travel the less you find you need and I see no sense in frolicking around the Himalayas with a load of inessentials. So I’m down to two pens, writing-paper, Blake’s poems, map, passport, camera, comb, toothbrush, one spare pair of nylon pants and nylon shirt–and there’s plenty of room left over for food as required from day to day. It’s a good life that teaches you how little you need to be healthy and happy, if not particularly clean!

The next excerpt covers her trip via small plane from Jalipur to Gilgit, both in northern Pakistan. With the Himalayas having such a high average elevation, a small plane just can’t reach the altitude required to go completely over the peaks. Instead, it must weave around inside the range to reach its destination.

We were flying so low that it was, in a sense, the next best thing to trekking through this area, which even the hardiest tribes have never attempted to inhabit and which has been trodden by no more than a few of the bravest traders and mountaineers. Yet only in one sense was it the next best thing; when we passed the 26,000-foot Nanga Parbat, whose triple peak dominated the thousands of snow mountains which stretched to the horizon in every direction, I suddenly became acutely aware that this was the wrong approach to a noble range. One should win the privilege of looking down on such a scene, and because I had done nothing to earn a glimpse of these remote beauties I felt that I was cheating and that this nasty, noisy little impertinence, mechanically transporting me, was an insult to the mountains. You will probaby accuse me of a tiresome outburst of romanticism–but I’m not sure you’ll be right. The more I see of unmechanized places and people the more convinced I become that machines have done incalculable damage by unbalancing the relationship between Man and Nature. The mere fact that that we think and talk as we do about Nature is symptomatic. For us to refer to Nature as a separate entity–something we admire or avoid or study or paint–shows how far we’ve removed ourselves from it.

I haven’t been to too many remote places, but having been above 14,000 feet a couple times by car at Mount Evans, and having hiked by foot several miles to above 14,000 feet at Grays Peak, I know at some level what the difference between cheating and the real thing feels like.

That’s my mini review, mostly centered around the two passages that I really loved. You should know that I in no way payed enough tribute to the rest of the book. The adventures she encounters throughout her journey are amazing and completely enjoyable.

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