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Sometimes we can only find our true selves by leaving everything we thought we wanted behind. Matt Buchman was a successful business consultant, but when he lost everything, he set off to cycle around the world. It was a way to escape his old life, but also to find a new path. In this interview, he talks about some of the highs and lows of the trip, but it’s also a discussion on what really matters and how to find home again.
M.L. Buchman is the author of over 60 romance, thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy books, as well as nonfiction. And today, we’re talking about his memoir, Mid-Life Crisis on Wheels: a Bicycle Journey Around the World.
- How losing everything led to a grand adventure
- Dealing with fear of the unknown
- Letting go of a perfect plan in order to learn more about yourself
- How the lows are just as important as the highs when traveling
- Looking for a definition of ‘home’
- Adjusting to ‘normal’ life after an extended period of travel
- Recommended books about cycling adventures
You can find ML Buchman at MLBuchman.com and on Twitter @mlbuchman
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: M.L. Buchman is the author of over 60 romance, thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy books, as well as nonfiction. And today, we’re talking about his memoir, Mid-Life Crisis on Wheels: a Bicycle Journey Around the World. Welcome to the show, Matt.
Matt: Hello, and thank you. Hey, Joanna.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. So, look, this is a hell of a book. It’s really fantastic. But I want to start at the beginning.
What led up to the decision to cycle around the world? What was happening in your life?
Matt: I tell people it’s really easy to launch on a trip like this. All you have to do is lose everything.
I had a business partner with a different definition of the word integrity than mine. I ended up losing not only my job and my business, but my career. And that ended up because I burned bridges from Houston to Calgary to Denver. It was astonishing what the train wreckage was.
I was going to lose the house. I was sitting in this house I’d spent seven years remodeling with every penny I had, and the few minutes of time. A friend said, ‘Well, if you sell the house,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to lose the house …’
I started looking for the second half of that question. I was out for a walk and got nearly clipped by a cyclist, and it was like, ‘Oh, I could bicycle around the world.’
Suddenly, it made sense, because nothing else in my life did. I was single, and bummed out, and frustrated, and angry, and a workaholic that had no work. So I sold everything and got on a bicycle.
Joanna: I love that one. A workaholic without work. I’m a workaholic. I understand that. That’s the pressure to forget everything else.
It’s interesting because, on a serious note, your life was a train wreck, but you still had this house. So often it seems that we spend a lot of energy, and time, and emotional stress building things like a house, the perfect thing to have, but that’s not what really matters.
Do you think almost that this was going to happen, that you hadn’t really addressed what was important?
Matt: Yes and no. I think that what occurred was inevitable because of who I was being. Because at that time in my life, I was still under the belief that if I just try harder, it will work. If it isn’t working, try harder.
So I designed and built the house for the family I never had time to find. And that was my motivation for remodeling this house. I made it the perfect house for the wife, and the office, and the one kid, and the dog, and the vegetable garden, and the master kitchen that I could throw big parties out of.
It was this beautiful place with no social life. I was building this career, similar to you, I was consulting to the top levels. I was designing major IT systems and security systems — and I had no life.
At some point, my body, and my career, and everything, and the universe basically said, ‘Okay, enough of this. We’re going to give you a wake-up call you can’t ignore.’
Joanna: And it certainly was. I really resonate with your story. I didn’t cycle around the world, but I left my job so many times. I was just like, ‘All right, I’m done.’ I would travel, and then I would go back again. But you did something bigger.
What was in your mind? How did you tackle the fear of the unknown? Because you did this a few years ago now. But now, even with the phones, and the internet, and everything, it still is a hell of an unknown, even just a cycle to the next town or two.
How did you tackle the fear of the unknown or any other fears?
Matt: I don’t know quite where it came from, but it started young. Part of it was I’m an IBM brat. My dad was at IBM, which stands for ‘I’ve Been Moved.’ So I had very little connection to place.
I got out of college, and I went, ‘Gee, I’m tired of the East Coast.’ I’d grown up in the northeast of the U.S. So I tossed a coin and went to Seattle and put my life in my car and drove across and people said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s so brave.’
To me, it wasn’t a question of bravery. It was just like, ‘Let’s see what’s over there.’ And when I fear something, that builds up to the level where, when I fear something, I attack it because I refuse to be bound by my fears.
And that’s the thing I’ve never really thought about the origin of, but it served me in many strange ways for years. The way I got into IT was I knew computers and I’d used them.
But my first real corporate job, they had three computers, and he bought two networking cards. And they said, ‘Let’s build a computer network,’ and this is 1985 before such things were happening.
I said, ‘Okay.’ And I went in with no fear and said, ‘I can solve this somehow. Let me tinker with it until I can.’
However, that trip was the constant facing of fears. I had ridden a fair number of trips, and they built up. You don’t leap off the deep end unless you’re really nuts, which I’ve done before, but you do it in stages. You do that stretch zone.
I always push the stretch zone out toward the panic zone, but I’m always trying to stretch. And so I would do a bike ride with friends around a local mountain, and then I did a ride across the state with a group.
And then I did another ride down to New Zealand by myself, and so I’d been building up. And so to get on a bike and do a trip sort of made sense.
But I didn’t know each stage of it was terrifying in a way, and I kept having to face and conquer each of those fears. Until by the end of the trip, I was going, ‘Wow, I can actually be good at things.’ And that was a revelation to me at 35. That was a revelation. I can be good.
Joanna: I can be good at staying alive at least.
Joanna: Which is great.
Give us an idea of the route you took, and any moments you specifically remember that were really incredible memories.
Matt: Oh, my goodness. Let me boil down 18 months!
Joanna: Just give us the highlights.
Matt: The route first is I rode from Seattle to LA as a warm-up because I wanted to do it where I could speak the language, and because my next stop was Japan. I went north for the Hokkaido winter.
Joanna: Did you fly to Japan or did you bike over?
Matt: I flew in between. I went to Hokkaido for the winter. And then just as it started being spring up there, I rode into the worst monsoon in recent Japanese history on the main islands. So that was a very wet two months of my life.
From there, I was supposed to meet a friend to ride in Vietnam, and this is before Vietnam had really opened up to Americans, and he had loved the country when he was there during the war.
He was always going AWOL because he would just hitch up and down the coast because he loved the country so much. He bailed on me 48 hours before I was supposed to be there.
So I ducked through Korea and went and rode across the Australian outback. I couldn’t quite do Vietnam on my own. And it’s one of my real regrets on the trip. That was where my fear threshold was too high.
I rode across the Australian outback, I dove the Great Barrier Reef, and I’ll come back to some of the highlights in a moment.
And, I was all set to continue. Because I’m a planner, I had promised I wouldn’t write it down, but I had a four-year, six-continent perfect plan in my head.
I had a sailboat lined up to take me to New Zealand. I was going to spend the winter there, come back across Sydney. I had this whole thing.
I was homesick from the first day I got on the bike.
I’m not, and this will sound really weird for somebody who’s spent 18 months living off a bicycle, I’m not a traveler.
I’m not driven to travel. As a little kid, I would imagine these great trips with a sailboat, but it was about sailing, not the travel.
My dream was to be an airline pilot, which I couldn’t do because I’m partially colorblind, but I got my basic plane license before I found that out. But again, it was the challenge of that that I found fascinating.
So here I was miserable on one of the most beautiful beaches in pristine far north Queensland.
I wanted to be home, and I couldn’t figure out why I had to keep traveling. And I had the first…it was a true epiphany. It slammed in one night, and it was:
Life does not have to be perfect, good is triumphant enough.
I had spent 35 years striving to be perfect. I am a child of adult alcoholics. Perfection was my chosen role. If I’m just perfect enough, everything will work.
I realized that that one revelation was sufficiently worthwhile and important that I had to keep traveling. I couldn’t go home yet. Because if I got one more like that, it would be worth another year of travel.
So, I said goodbye to the sailboat. I managed to get another couple my slot, so I was able to help some people out getting to New Zealand. I turned, and I just followed the sun for the next 12 months.
I went through Indonesia, Singapore, India, Israel, Greece, Eastern Europe and across France. And almost daily, the universe was slapping me upside the head with some other revelation of the choices I’ve made over 35 years and the choices I wanted to make.
I think probably the most beautiful place I ever was was in the middle of the outback 200, 300 kilometers from anywhere. And I come around this corner, and it’s all red sand desert with scrub trees.
[For more on the outback, check out episode 26 on Sacred Australia and the Northern Territories with Amanda Markham.]
I came around this corner, and there was an acre of desert in full bloom. There’d been some weird rainfall. It was the middle of the dry. But this one acre had just…the wildflowers had said now, and I just stopped and sat there for an hour and watched these flowers be beautiful in the middle of all this dark wilderness.
I love the outback. I loved camping because I camped wild, so there were nights where I knew there was nobody within 50 kilometers of me. It was just spectacular.
Joanna: Just to interrupt you. It’s so interesting because the interview that will go out before yours is about the Northern Territory and the outback. And, I’ve talked about this as well.
I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, that red earth, and the stars.
Matt: The stars.
Joanna: Incredible, right?
Matt: And the silence to the point where Mother Nature is talking at you. Oh, I loved it. I will definitely be listening to that podcast.
The most important place, oddly enough, was a horrid little town called Maumere on the South of Flores Island in Indonesia. And most of these little Third-World towns there, especially in those outer islands, are pretty rundown. There’s not a lot going for them. The people are okay. The food is only moderately dangerous.
Maumere was a wreck. I was with a couple of other Westerners that day, and it turned out that we each had different pieces of information. I’d been in the country for about two weeks.
We put it together that a tidal wave had come through about six months before and killed a third of the town in about three minutes. So, 5,000 people had died there in a period of 3 minutes.
Joanna: Oh my goodness.
Matt: And it had devastated the town, and they were rebuilding. So what we were seeing was all of the flat concrete pads used to have grass huts on them. All of the concrete buildings, every wall that was parallel to the ocean was gone.
But out of the rubble, there were these little pockets where they had rebuilt a room or half of a restaurant, or they were digging out at an ungodly scale. And they were the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life anywhere.
I found somebody who stopped to help me learn his language. I was sitting there trying to get the right pronunciation for a word, and he stopped. We talked for hours.
I asked him about that finally, and he said, ‘We’ve learned that, in a moment, we can be gone. So what’s more important than sitting here and sharing our cultures and making a friendship?’ It was a life-changing moment for me.'In a moment, we can be gone.' What's really important?Click To Tweet
I finally asked him, ‘How do you stay positive? How do you stay focused on what’s important?’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s the easiest thing.’
And he touched his heart, and he said, ‘Good heart,’ he touched his head, said, ‘Good thoughts,’ and then he pointed forward and said, ‘Automatic good action.’
That’s what I try to live by. If I come from my heart, before my head, I get automatic good action. And it was true. It carried me around the rest of the world.
Joanna: Coming back to what you said, life does not have to be perfect. It just has to be life. And those people rebuilding. And, I think that that’s one of the most important things about travel.
There are these terrible studies they do, especially on Americans, asking them where is this country or that country, and people don’t know where countries are in the world.
This perspective that people are the same in the most important way and yet different in other ways is just too critical.
Matt: Yes. And it’s something I try to capture in my writing is, it’s one of the reasons I write about places all over the world is, I want to say, ‘Oh, these are people. Oh, and these are people, too. And isn’t this an interesting setting?’
Sometimes I have to turn them into villains because of the kind of books I write, but sometimes they’re heroes or sometimes they’re just on the side.
Joanna: Well, that’s the thing. There are bad people all over the world just as there are good people all over the world, right?
Matt: I love that international aspect of my writing, and I couldn’t have done that without this trip. So that was a completely unexpected benefit.
Joanna: Exactly. So, just on people, because you set off alone and you were going to meet a friend and you met some other people.
You just talked about that important moment in the desert, for example, you were alone. And this is something I feel is always difficult with travel.
How do you balance being lonely, like really alone, or about facing that loneliness and learning from it, or meeting people, being sociable? Where did the balance come for you with people?
Matt: A couple of funny aspects to that. When I did the trip in New Zealand, which was three weeks, there were cyclists everywhere.
It’s one of the most cycled toured places ever with good reason. It’s a wonderful place to ride.
There was never alone time. And so that was my picture when I set out around the world was, ‘Okay I’m going to meet people on the road.’ And sure enough, on my second week along the Oregon coast, I met this lovely British couple and our routes overlapped for about three days.
And I went, ‘Great. This is what the trips going to be like.’ The next person I rode with was a full year later. I was alone for a year.
The only time I ran into people…and I was wild camping a lot to save money because I was broke. I did 18 months on the road for $10,000, so I was living very low. I was bartering for groceries and cooking on my camp stove.
But the people I met, I’m a fairly severe introvert, and you know what that means. But it was the meeting of them, it always happened naturally. It always happened organically.
I’d be sitting somewhere studying a language or sitting there tinkering with my bike fixing something, and somebody would stop by and ask what I was doing, the nine questions, of course.
You have to get through the nine questions. You know, ‘Where are you going? Where are you from? Why are you doing this?’ That kind of thing. I wanted to have a T-shirt made that had the nine answers on the back, just like, ‘Here, let’s get over that.’
But the thing about cycle touring that’s really unusual is, even when you’re with a group, the moment you kick the pedal high, you’re alone.
And, for me, that was the real gift of travel was I got to spend 18 months thinking about every choice I’d made in 35 years and the influences that had made me make those choices.
And then I got to think about all of the choices I was not going to make in the next 35 years.
That gift of time is something we really have lost in our culture, and it’s something that I have to fight to remember.
I’m trying to run a writing career, and we’ve just moved across the country, and we have friends, and I have writing groups, and I want to record audio, and it gets us all wrapped up in that world and I forget what it’s like to go out and just sit in silence.
So, actually, there’s a headland nearby where I live that, for some reason, when I walk onto that headland, the world goes quiet. And I’ve always looked for places like that.
I try to at least once a week. Even if it’s snowy, and bitter cold, and minus 10 wind chill, I try to go and find that moment where I can sit there and be in silence and just quiet so I can hear what my life is doing around me.
Joanna: I think that’s why I walk on the canal here a lot. It’s kind of like a meditation. I go there so often that it becomes part of that background.
When you travel, you’re always looking around or trying to figure out the food, or the money, or trying to avoid a pothole, or whatever you’re doing so things are always stimulating.
Whereas when you know somewhere, it becomes more about being still.
I do want to come back to your cycle trip around the world. It all sounds pretty Zen and incredible and amazing, but there have to have been some moments…
Matt: Hard, and painful, and scary, and dysentery, and being chased by elephants.
Joanna: Tell us some of the moments that were crazy or bad or difficult?
Matt: I didn’t get along well with Japan. And it wasn’t just that I rode in the rain for six straight weeks. There’s a culture there out in the countryside that is incredibly parochial by my standards.
Now, mind you, this is the 1990s that I actually made this trip. It took me 4 drafts and 25 years to figure out how to write this book.
But the way women were treated, and sidelined, and not allowed to speak in my presence because there was a male there who wouldn’t let them. I ran into it constantly. I was never in a big city. I was on a bike, so I was staying in the countryside.
I ran into it so constantly that I literally couldn’t stand my last week in Japan. So I went and I found a closed campground. I bought a week’s food, and I hid in the high weeds of a closed campground. And I lived.
Just the day I had to leave to get to the airport, they had just started coming in with the weed eaters to take out the high weeds. So, there are these six guys. They were the weed eaters, and suddenly, a fully loaded touring bike, wraparound shades, helmet, the whole bed comes roaring up out of the back of the campground, pops over the hillside, sees these six guys, waves and keeps going.
I’d found a couple of people to travel with maybe in India, and I was trying to get to them. And I had gone off on a different route because I wanted to see Cochin, which they’d already been to, so we’re going to meet up in a different town.
On the way, I got dysentery, and I didn’t quite know that yet. And so it’s getting harder and harder to ride. The gut pain was incredible. And I’d ridden through colds and flus before, so it’s physically hurting me to ride.
And I realized I need to get a bus. I’ve got my whole life on a touring bike, so this is 110 pounds of gear, 4 panniers, sleeping bags, my whole life is on this thing. I pull into the insanely crowded bus station that is India, and I’ve been treated wonderfully all through the country.
This one town, people start trying to steal things off the bike. And they were crowding in closer and closer. It got to the point where I actually had to take my bike pump and beat them back. And I’m whacking people’s hands as they try to undo my panniers, which you’re locked to the bike.
I’m not a fool. But they start undoing straps and so I finally have to ride away. And I go and I sit somewhere for an hour in a construction site, and I come back thinking, ‘Okay, maybe that group of bad people has gone,’ but it was the same thing.
So I end up riding away with dysentery. It was insanely hard. India was the hardest travel I’ve ever done.
I also met incredible people all over the place, not in that town. For some reason, it was concentrated right there. But getting to those people or going home, going home was always a big draw. And it was always the hardest thing I did was to ride past an airport. That was always insanely difficult.
Joanna: It’s interesting because I always feel like the lows are as important as the highs with travel. Because, again, in your daily life, we optimize our daily life for comfort on a certain level. And we have an occasional high and an occasional low.
You can have highs and lows in one hour while traveling.
Matt: Yes. So, there I am riding along with dysentery. I’ve finally bribed somebody with a Jeep to take me up this insane hill that I couldn’t ride, and I ride into the Mudumalai Animal Reserve.
Here we are an hour and a half after that bus station, and there’s a tiny little sign…there’s a big sign that says, ‘Welcome to Mudumalai Animal Reserve.’ And about a half kilometer later, there’s a little sign way up high in the trees that says, ‘Animals may bite.’
Okay. I’m riding along thinking, ‘I’m only a day late. Hopefully, my new friends will still be there.’ Turns out they were.
I come around this corner in the jungle, it’s a jungle at that point, and this baby elephant pops up its head and looks at me and goes, ‘Oh, what are you?’ And so I slowed down, and it’s like he’s really cute, maybe five, six feet tall, just this sweet little thing, clearly interested in me. And suddenly, there’s this funk that I can feel up through the bike.
And about 30 meters behind the little elephant is the mama elephant of all mama elephants. She was freaking huge. And so I’m slowing just a little wondering if I can reach for my camera.
She takes like three steps toward me, and it’s like, okay, you know, I dropped two gears and I’m up and moving. And she stops, and so I slow again. And she just picked up her front leg, she knew what I was doing. She knew I was slowing down to look at them.
She just picked up her front leg and bumped it back down on the ground really hard. It was like, you could literally feel the sonic wave. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gone.’
So, here’s this hilarious thing in the middle of suffering with dysentery and being disenchanted with the country and the little elephant wanted to play.
Joanna: That’s right. I’ve cycled in a reserve in India as well. And what they told us was, if an elephant comes for you, throw the bike at them. And I’m like, ‘That’s fine if you’re just cycling with a daypack.’ But you had everything on your bike. You’re not going to be leaving your bike behind.
Matt: Yeah. And throwing your bike at them, I’m sorry, they can move a lot faster.
Joanna: A lot faster. No, that’s fantastic. There are a lot more stories in the book, obviously, but we can’t talk about everything now.
I do want to ask because you mentioned there that, when you went past an airport, it was hard not to get on a plane.
At the beginning, you said “I have little connection to place,” but you’ve also mentioned how homesick you were a number of times. What is home when you’ve traveled so much, and you’ve moved around so much? And you’ve just said you’ve moved again recently.
What is home to you — and what is travel?
Matt: That’s funny. That was my personal theme as I rode all the way around the world. I asked almost everybody I met for their definition of home because I didn’t have one.
I’d been living for 20 years in Seattle at that point, and most of them were young, fresh out of college, or Israeli military service, or something. ‘Well, my stuff’s at my Moms at the moment, so I guess that’s home,’ you know?
The best answer that I got was from this grizzled old, bearded traveler in his 60s, had been on the road for 25 or 30 years, and there’s an amusing anecdote about that, but he just pointed to his wife.
And they had both been on the road for about 30 years together. And that was such an amazing definition of home for me.
By the time I got home, I got back to Seattle, I decided that home was neither a place nor a state of mind. It was a circle of friends and a bed without bedbugs.
Joanna: And not a bike, presumably.
Matt: Yes! Eventually, I’m the lucky person. For 22 years now, my definition of home sleeps beside me. I don’t know what I did right to make that happen, but neither of us has a connection to place.
Her life was as jinky as mine in some ways. So, as long as we’re together, and then the modern world has made that easier because we can stay in touch with our daughter who moved to Africa. But as long as we’re together, the rest of it is flexible.
Joanna: I think that’s another good lesson learned because you need somewhere safe to sleep, and some food, and some water. Everything else is probably negotiable, except that person, as you’re saying.
Just to circle back to your cycle trip, so when you got back, one of the difficult things is adjusting to normal life because so you didn’t spend much money while you were going around the world, but you didn’t have any money.
How did you adjust from being out there just living day to day to normal life and presumably getting work and doing normal things again, rather than being on the road?
Matt: It was hard. My friends opened their home to me. I came back, and I had a bedroom. And I put a small amount of stuff in storage.
A couple of weeks later, I had rented a small place and put my life in it up on an island in San Juan, a place that I loved. I would come down to Seattle to visit them, but life was moving so fast. It was moving so fast I couldn’t stand it for more than about 48 hours.
And then just a drive, a drive I’d made hundreds of times, hour and a half of the highway, I would pull over two, three, four times to shake on the side of the road because everything was going so fast.
In a year and a half, I pretty much hadn’t gone over 12 miles an hour. And there are these stages as you travel at two weeks, and you’ll get this on a vacation. You come back from a two-week vacation, and you go, ‘Whoa, I slowed down a lot.’
Well, there’s a cliff edge out at six months, and there’s another one out a year where you notch down and you’re moving, if not slower, more thoughtfully.
And so to reintegrate was really hard, and I spent about six months up on the island trying to figure out how to get back into it. I was looking for odd jobs and temporary work, and I never quite found anything.
By then, I was really broke. So, I came back to Seattle. By that point, I could stand to come back to Seattle. And instead of creating multimillion-dollar IT systems, I got a job as a number three person in a three-person IT department. I went around doing customer support.
It was at Seattle opera, so these users were fabled artists who found a job selling tickets for the opera, and I would go around and help them with their little computer problems.
It was such a shift, and even that was hard for me. But that’s also the time I started writing. And so it took me 15 years to launch my writing career, but that became a focus from 1995 on, was trying to learn about the craft, and sold a couple of books to a small press, and just started working my way forward.
I had offers to get back into the rat race, and I just couldn’t face it. I couldn’t do it.
Joanna: Maybe you had the perspective that you didn’t want that anymore.
Matt: I didn’t. It was no longer part of who I was. And one of the funny jokes is, my friends, the ones I kept from before and after the trip, I didn’t meet my wife till after the trip.
To this day, they still check-in with her to make sure that the old man isn’t doing something insane, that I’m not pushing her to do things she doesn’t want to do and driving ahead with no plan and full chart.
It’s like, ‘No, that’s not who I am anymore.’ But they can’t quite get their minds over there.
Joanna: Obvious they don’t.
Matt: Whereas all the people I’ve met since my trip had been like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s you, that’s who you are. You’re just this person. ‘
Joanna: I’ve known you for a few years now. And yet to me, you’re a writer. You’re quite a techie writer, but that’s who you are. You’re a writer. But it’s interesting.
Matt: Yes, I’m a geek.
Joanna: Obviously, you did that big trip, and you do move around the U.S. In the time I’ve known you, you’ve moved around.
What does travel mean to you now, and how does it inform your writing?
Matt: I’ve talked with you and, obviously, you have a passion for travel, for going places, and I’m pretty comfortable wherever I am. So, I’m very comfortable being here. However, I’m also comfortable, almost as comfortable being there, wherever there is.
My wife has an interest in travel, my kid moved to Africa, so I’m willing to go to those places and be there and be present with the culture.
And that then, I think, helps make my writing deeper and richer because it’s more universal. It’s less white male who grew up in New England and was a tech nerd in Seattle.
I’ve also lived on the Oregon coast, and hiked sections of the Cotswolds trail, and sat on the beaches of Senegal, and I’ve done these different things. They help me make characters more interesting, more worldly.
That’s one of the things that goes all the way back to why I write, which is something I discovered on the trip, is the old ‘Think globally, act locally.’ I want to create a better world. I’ve always wanted to do that.
How do I go about doing that? I used to do it by trying to automate people’s lives with computers from 1980, I started doing that, to try to make their job less tedious and more efficient.
But with writing, I found this bigger voice where I can try to address, let’s treat each other as people. Let me educate you a little about this crazy thing called the Dakar Rally that swings through five countries of South America, which I haven’t seen yet but I’d love to go to.
I want to go see the thing, which will then educate me about the place, but the desire to travel isn’t the driver for me. It’s more about the people and the environment, and what I’ll learn.
Joanna: Fantastic. I think I feel the same. Although I love seeing natural things, but I do find myself drawn probably more to cities and places where there are different cultures and architecture. I love architecture. I’m a little architecture obsessed!
Matt: Yes, I’m drawn to the countryside. I ran the college planetarium for four years. I love being out where I can see the stars. And I grew up in a town of 1,200 people and 10,000 herded dairy cows, so nature, nature is supposed to be right there. It’s not supposed to be a 40-minute train ride away.
Joanna: Fair enough.
Apart from your own fantastic book, Mid-Life Crisis on Wheels, can you recommend any other books about cycling trips, or around-the-world trips, or anything that you think would also resonate?
Matt: There are the two that basically launched me on to the trip. Dervla Murphy, Full Tilt. she has a whole series of books, but she was a frustrated young English woman.
I don’t even remember when, it might have been the ’50s, and she said, ‘Screw all this,’ and she put a small bag, which included some food, and a revolver, and a change of clothes in the front basket of her three-speed English bicycle, and she rode to India overland.
She took the ferry to France, and she went through all of Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan. She just rode, and had amazing adventures, and was welcomed everywhere, and became a writer, an amazing travel writer.
The other one, it’s really the seminal book of bicycle travel is Barbara Savage’s Miles From Nowhere. It’s about a woman who very reluctantly followed her boyfriend onto the road and came back a completely different person.
She wrote a book about it that basically founded the genre, and then was killed shortly after while she was training for a triathlon on the road, she was hit by a car.
So her husband created the whole foundation to promote travel writing, especially on bicycles. It’s still going today.
Those are the two books that for me really did it. I’ve read a lot of sailing books. I love sailboats.
I’ve read a lot of books about from Crowhurst’s Last Voyage to Chichester’s Gypsy Moth Alone Around the World.
I also love Arctic adventure. Admiral Byrd’s Alone about the first man to winter over at the South Pole. These are just amazing stories of people who had a passion and set out to pursue it and see where it led against all those fears and all those challenges. So that’s my shortlist. I have a long list.
Joanna: We all do. That’s why I asked for just a couple. I will add Alastair Humphreys, an adventurer who’s been on the show talking about walking through Spain also cycled around the world. I’m like, ‘How do I know two people who’ve cycled around the world?’
But Alastair’s book is Moods of Future Joys. If people want another more recent book, I guess, about cycling around the world, that is available as well.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Matt: Everything is at mlbuchman.com, that’s Twitter, that’s Facebook. That’s how you find me.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, look, thanks so much for your time, Matt. That was great.
Matt: Thank you for having me.
I recently found your podcasts and have been devoring them. This one was especially interesting to me since I just published my travel memoir, Bicycle Odyssey, about my around-the-world bicycle odyssey in 1991. It sounds like Matt and I may have journeyed on some of the same roads in India around the same time!
Thank you for all that you share on the writing and travel podcasts.,
Jo Frances Penn
Glad you’re enjoying the show, Carla!