Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris

Harris Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2018

A non-fiction pick by Jean-Louis

In a time of 24-hour news coverage, the internet, endless content, and Google, where oh where can a person find to be an explorer? Hasn’t everything and every place been discovered? These are the questions that vex Kate Harris as she grows up in Southern, Ontario. She hits upon the solution–she will become an astronaut bound for Mars. In fact she is so serious about this that she writes a prize-winning essay on the topic and this vaults her into a life of discovery.

Kate Harris’s book is subtitled “Out of Bounds on the Silk Road” and this tells us where this book eventually takes us. Not Mars–much to her family’s relief I think, but still a massive adventure. Her early fascination with Mars leads Harris to win a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University where she studies the history of science. The works of Darwin and his epic voyage on the Beagle and the legendary journals of Marco Polo are among her primary texts and her true siren call.

Interspersed in her studies are numerous cycling and adventuring trips in the wilds of Scotland and across North America. Harris is not afraid–she is one intrepid traveler.  One short trip with her childhood friend, Mel Yule, takes them to a section of the Silk Road and this experience stays with her for about five years. After completing her studies in England and while studying toward a Ph. D. at MIT, the call of the road finds her and she leaves the lab to be an adventurer once again. Amazingly, her friend Mel is also up for the challenge and the two young friends set out to bicycle the entire route followed by the famous Marco Polo.

Harris’s account describes their adventures in foreign lands and across borders that are political, geographic, linguistic, gastronomic, and even spiritual. If you have ever wanted to set yourself a huge challenge to discover what it will take to achieve your goal, read this book. Harris’s book is charming, gritty, and wise.

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