Monday, December 24, 2012

Where the Pavement Ends

That is the title of a fascinating book by Erika Warmbrunn, a young American who in 1993 decided to bicycle alone from Irkutsk, Russia to Saigon. Drawn by a need for adventure in remote areas but without much long-distance cycling experience, she set out across Mongolia shortly after the end of Communism there.
Warmbrunn did have the advantage of speaking Russian (in addition to German and French,) and of being well-organized and seemingly possessed of an indominatable will. Even that didn't help, though, when she tried to cross from Russia into Mongolia at a border that was not authorized for international visitors. (I heard about this border last year when I was in Irkutsk and would not have attempted it, but then I'm not much of a cyclist either.)
This was just the first of a number of adventures she had in Mongolia, where she realized that her original plan of cycling acorss the sparsely populated country was impractical, regardless of how hospitable the locals were. And generally they were very welcoming. Instead, she was invited to teach English to children in a small settlement, where her hosts built her an individual ger.
I have not read beyond the Mongolia section of the book yet, but I am riveted by her prose and her bravery, and eager to see how she fares as a teacher and in her later escapades in China and Vietnam.
Warmbrunn does not seem to have written any more books, but on her Website ( you can order this book and read her account of a more recent long trip where she worked with Doctors Without Borders in West Africa. She also writes of another cycling trip, this time from Denver to Montreal.
If you are looking for inspiration to travel for yourself or as a gift, I cannot think of a better book. And if you want more practical advice for travel in Russia, please consider my electronic book "Budget Travel Tips for Russia," available at


Post a Comment

<< Home