Lost On Earth by Steve Crombie (2010) 342 p.

A long-held dream of mine and Chris’ is to fly to Alaska, buy motorcycles, ride them up to the Arctic Ocean, and then ride them all the way south down the Americas to the very southern tip of the continent. Since I’m currently scraping by on minimum wage in a shitty dead-end job, and this dream is years and years away, it was time to do what I did back when I was working at Coles before backpacking: live vicariously through others! Lost On Earth is an account of Steve Crombie’s motorcycle journey in the other direction, from the far south all the way up to the Arctic.

I mentioned in my review of A Time Of Gifts that there are two types of travel writers: dreamy, ruminating ones like Patrick Leigh Fermor and witty, conversational ones like Bill Bryson. Crombie fits uneasily between the two types. He is the kind of young traveller who likes to throw himself head-first into other cultures, experience strange situations and learn as much as he can about the people he meets, but he doesn’t come up with anything particularly profound (nor does he try to). He is also a mid-level wordsmith, the book being a fairly basic account of where he went, what he saw and how he felt about it. I’m fairly certain the book wasn’t ghostwritten; Crombie isn’t terrible with words, but a lot of his sentences and descriptions are quite clunky (from the first paragraph in the book: “the sparkling cobalt Pacific Ocean.”)

Crombie reminded me slightly of the protagonist from Alex Garland’s The Beach – fictional, yes, but a representation of a certain class of backpacker; the kind who makes travel a way of life, the kind who are always seeking something better or more incredible, the kind who set themselves on a level above most other travellers. To be fair, Crombie certainly does have balls of steel. He puts up with hardships that would have had Chris and I complaining for days and days, like sleeping on a muddy riverbank with nothing to eat, or riding across the mid-winter Andes in sub-zero temperatures. Yet there’s something depressing about it all. Crombie is driven on and on with a sense of purpose, and yet – as I suspected would happen at the end – he finds himself deeply depressed upon his return to Australia, because he has finished what he set out to do and has no more to occupy him. (“And when he saw the width and breadth of his empire, Alexander wept, for he had no more worlds to conquer.”) As a reader I really, really wanted him to just move to the UK and settle down with the woman he claims to love throughout the book. Not because I wanted him to straighten up and fly right and start working for The Man – if something makes you happy, then go for it – but because the thing that makes him happy is extremely expensive and unsustainable. It lends the whole book an air of melancholy.

And so Lost On Earth lacks both the warm affability of a Bryson book and the thoughtful reflections of a Fermor book. I still found it interesting because it’s a journey I plan to undertake myself, but I can’t recommend it to others.

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