Thursday, 20 September 2007

The first page of my new book...

For all of you who have kindly pretended to be excited about my new book coming out [you are both very kind], I thought that I would share a sneaky preview, a world exclusive, of the first page of my new book...
The book will be available, on this site only, conveniently in time for Christmas!

Chapter 1: Gone to Patagonia

Above the fireplace at home, ever since I was a child, hung a painting filled with a maelstrom of slate green waves and leaden troughs, a wild and savage ocean heaving and pounding and shattering with a boundless energy. In the thick of this fury, unmoved and constant, looms the rain-shrouded, craggy black outcrop of Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America and, amongst sailors at least, the most feared and revered spot on our planet. And, incredibly, ludicrously, in the foreground of this ferocious scene, alone in the midst of such power and fury, is a little boat. A mere 53ft of mahogany sailed by one man. This painting of the yacht Gipsy Moth IV, sailed by Francis Chichester, was my first introduction to Patagonia and the deep south of the world, 50 degrees below the equator, past the “Roaring 40’s” and into the “Screaming 50’s”. The old sailors used to say, “Below 40 degrees, there is no law. Below 50 degrees, there is no God.”
Patagonia, the southernmost portion of South America, spans both Argentina and Chile. Its mountains, plateau and plains taper down to a rocky southern tip. Head south across the Straits of Magellan and you reach the island of Tierra del Fuego and, at the southernmost tip of that island, the town of Ushuaia, the most southern town on the planet.
Words like Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia had thrilled and lured me for years. Sadly, upon arriving in Ushuaia, I discovered that I was not particularly original in my yearning for el fin del mundo. A six-foot tall fluffy penguin demanded two pesos to pose for a picture with me as I celebrated my arrival amongst all the tourists at the remote end of the world. Ushuaia is a colorful hotchpotch of pink, blue, green and orange corrugated metal buildings in the lee of mountains on the shore of the tranquil Beagle Canal.
Tourism flourishes in Ushuaia, but not, I imagine, due to the guided city tour, of which highlights included Mr. Pastoriza’s old house, “a man who worked in a sardine canning company. The project failed because the sardines never appeared.” Or Mr. Solomon’s General Goods store which “became very famous because of the variety of its products and closed in 1970.” Instead people went to enjoy the beautiful ruggedness of Patagonia, to look out to sea and to know that only Antarctica lay beyond the horizon. I looked in the opposite direction, however. I looked north, up the road that I intended to follow right to its very end. To Alaska.
On the morning I began riding I found it even harder than usual to get up. How do you persuade yourself to leave a nice warm sleeping bag to begin cycling when 17,848km lies between you and your destination (the distance to Alaska according to a signpost in Ushuaia)? Staying in bed seemed a far more attractive option. All of the riding I had done so far felt as though it counted for nothing now. I was right back at the beginning again, a brand new start at the bottom of a continental landmass whose top was one third of the circumference of the globe away. Riding from England to South Africa had pushed the very limits of my capacities but now I intended to tackle a ride even further in order to try to reach Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean of Alaska.
I pedalled out of town, but southwards, away from Alaska, and down to the seashore where the road to Alaska truly began. I looked at the empty car park, at the line of six white portaloos and out across the slate-coloured Lapataia Bay. There were patches of white snow on the upper scree slopes of the sharp grey mountains behind me. As if to welcome me back onto the road a headwind was brewing. A clean green stream wound slowly through the boggy fields and blended into the clean, pebbly shallows of the bay. My ears were cold and a light mist pearled tiny droplets over my fleece jacket and eyelashes. I stood still and I felt small in the silence and in awe of the phenomenal distance that lay ahead of me. My bike was heavier than I was accustomed to, loaded with extra clothes never needed in Africa such as a fleece jacket, hat and gloves. I noticed that the gaffa tape was peeling from where I had repaired one of the holes in my faded bags. I needed to remember to fix that: I was probably in for a few weeks of rain. Far away a chainsaw started up and I realised then how quiet the little cove was. I crouched and swirled my hand slowly through the cold water. I was intimidated by the road ahead. The old self-doubt was rising through me but I was determined not to cry. I was determined to start taking the dominant role in this runaway expedition which had so far been dragging me along as it stampeded crazily away with me only just managing to cling on. I was determined to enjoy this ride up the Americas. I was determined. Come on, Al, let’s go have some fun!
I climbed onto my bike and began to pedal away from one sea towards another distant one. The first pedal strokes of millions, turning up the crunching dirt track through the lichen covered thick forest, dripping and mysterious, away from the sea, back into Ushuaia and out the other side. It was mid-February. I hoped to reach Alaska by the end of summer next year.
My ride up the Americas was underway. But even that would not be the end for from there I planned to cross to Asia and cycle back to England. But this leg of my journey had actually begun months before, thousands of miles away, on some other distant seashore.



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