‘Cycling Home From Siberia’: a challenging read

“It is late October, and the temperature is already negative 40 degrees … My thoughts are filled with frozen rivers that may or may not hold my weight, empty, forgotten valleys haunted by emaciated ghosts, and packs of ravenous, merciless wolves.”
That’s an excerpt from “Cycling Home from Siberia” by Rob Lilwall, a former geography teacher and Southwestern book salesman. Lilwall arrived in Siberia in 2004 with his bicycle, named “Alanis.” Loaded with supplies packed into four panniers, a handlebar bag, and two giant canoe bags, the bike weighed 130 pounds. Lilwall’s goal was to ride his bicycle south from Siberia all the way to Australia (with the help of a ferry or other sea-worthy transport when the road ran out), then north and west all the way back to his home in London. 35,000 miles, three years, 1 bicycle.
The book is a fascinating read about a man’s desire to see the world while hurling himself against an almost impossible physical challenge. He started out cycling with a friend but they separated after the first 5,000 miles because of different visions and styles. The rest of the time, Lilwall cycled alone through frozen tundras, jungles, crowded cities, desolate deserts. He was astonished by the hospitality he received in every country, and was invited to stay with more than 200 people. The trip was not without its danger, though. He was chased by “rascals” in Papua New Guinea (young boys who roam in packs and are notorious for hijacking cars and buses, frequently murdering their victims), bedridden by malaria in Australia, and pursued by bone-chilling cold in Siberia and suffocating heat in Turkmenistan. He repaired 157 tire punctures on the trip, once in Siberia when the temperature was negative 36 degrees. He drank yak butter tea in Tibet, ate 26 tubs of ice cream in Australia, got sick eating intestines in China, and enjoyed kebab in Afghanistan.
There is much more about the three-year ride, including the romance that started in Hong Kong and ended in marriage about two years after the adventure. I enjoyed following the story of Rob and Christine’s blossoming friendship and appreciated their commitment that they would not have sex until their wedding night. So rare!
I also appreciated Rob’s growing faith as he traversed the globe on a bicycle. He met people from all of the major religions of the world. Instead of arriving home with either confusion about what he believed, or with a muddled commitment to the “all roads lead to the top of the mountain” nonsense, Rob was more anchored than ever before in Jesus’ prayer for us: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”
Lilwall writes, “For me, when the gloves come off, my religion is about a personal God who does not promise us a perfect life, but instead promised he will be with us in both our suffering and our joy… While I am sometimes tempted to water down my beliefs by merging it with other faiths, I believe that my God — like Aslan in the Narnia books — is not a ‘tame lion.’ So I believe it is not a good idea for me to try and tame him by saying all religions are basically the same … As time goes on I believe more strongly that I need to work hard, as a Christian, to respectfully listen to and learn from people of other faiths, while at the same time having the integrity to articulate and live by my own beliefs.”
This book may set you on an adventure of your own.

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