Bibliophile reviews Road Fever (travel)

The other “fast travel” book I read last week was Tim Cahill’s Road Fever: A high speed travelogue, which had been languishing in my TBR pile for over two years. This is the account of how adventure travel writer Cahill and Gerry Sowerby, a professional adventure driver, drove from Ushuaia, the southernmost town in Argentina, to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, the northernmost place they could reach by road, in under 24 days, a world record.

Other reviewers have complained that nearly half the book is taken up with the planning and financing of the trip, but I found it refreshing to be allowed to see some of the intricate planning that goes into this kind of journey. So many adventure travel books make it look like the adventurers just decided to set off without any planning at all, which of course is a gross deception (in most cases).

I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I started reading it, probably something macho, but I was pleasantly surprised. Cahill is a skilful writer and manages to make even the planning part of the story sound interesting, by interjecting humour into the situations they encountered, even managing to be funny about Sowerby’s brush with death on a previous adventure in Africa.

While the "whys" of this journey are just as much beyond me as those of the previous book I reviewed, I also enjoyed it, but in a different way. In spite of the speed of the journey and the fact that they spent most of their time either driving or sleeping, Cahill seems to have kept his eyes remarkably well open. He describes the people and situations they met with on the road with understanding and humour, throwing in historical snippets to spice things up, and even manages to make some of the places they passed through sound interesting to visitors.

This was an interesting read because I had previously read Michael Palin’s book Full Circle which covers some of the same territory. The last leg of his Pacific rim journey took in much the same area as Cahill and Sowerby’s trip, only going (mostly) by public transport and thus much slower. I had also read about Argentina in books by Gerald Durrell, who ran into similar customs problems in Buenos Aires as Cahill and Sowerby did in another country on the route. So I was also covering familiar territory in this book, and as always when I do this, it was interesting to see the different perspectives.

Humour is never far away, and Cahill’s internal monologues and fantasy scenarios when he is annoyed with Sowerby for criticising his driving abilities are hilarious and should be familiar to anyone who has driven with a back-seat driver but wanted to keep the peace. While Cahill himself is the butt of some of the humour, he also deftly describes funny situations and adjusts the humour to the situation, it becoming quite dark when he is describing the traffic problems on “the Mountain of Death”, turning to slapstick in other situations and being subtle where it is required.

Rating: Wouldn’t mind reading more of Cahill. 3+ stars.

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