Back In 6 Years: A Journey Around The Planet
Goose Lane Editions
So it is with Tony Robinson-Smith’s account of his six-year trek through regions that would probably never make the top of anyone’s cruise list: across a desert in trucks that were literally falling to pieces, on foot through a jungle, across Canada on bike the tough way, from Halifax to Vancouver into the prevailing winds. Each chapter offers a rudimentary map, but where are the photos? The nine-year-old has the answer. The pictures are in our heads:
…a truck squatted alone on the rutted desert. The windshield was a cobweb of fractures, a door was missing…the vertical exhaust pipe was bent and adrift from its moorings…But it was the tires that bothered me. They were hairy. Long threads from the frayed edges of ill-glued patches and slim fingers of flaking black rubber curling off the rims…This vehicle was not capable of a four-hundred-kilometre journey across scorching roadless desert…
Tony Robinson-Smith was born in England. He was living in Tokyo, teaching English and studying karate and Japanese when, inspired by travel writer Ted Simon, who circled the earth on a motorcycle, he impulsively sketched out a world-wide trip that would keep his feet firmly on earth – or on a boat deck. No flying. “I would travel by whatever local means came to hand.”
And he did, through countries that were not exactly tourist-friendly, across borders staffed by bribe-demanding, gun-slinging officials, aboard private yachts with incompetent owner-skippers. This last situation was, in fact, fair, given that Robinson-Smith had more than slightly exaggerated his own knowledge of sailing and boats in order to sign on as crew. Although he writes with an unforced quixotic sense of humour that makes light of situations that were potentially life-threatening, Robinson-Smith never strays from the truth that Fourth World life and travel are complex.
There’s not much about Robinson-Smith’s story that would encourage any rational person, in particular one with a passion for hot showers and safe beds, to emulate him. Yet Robinson-Smith’s word pictures are seductive. Readers are swept up, suddenly realizing that they know the bumbling skipper; that they could, giving pressing need, probably figure out the rules for riding a Chinese train; and they want to be fed and tended for the length of the St. Lawrence River by the successive waves of Hovington families who washed Robinson-Smith’s laundry and fuelled his cycling muscles with pea soup, tourtiere, cretons and toast, ice cream with maple syrup, and homemade beer.
The reader also knows the instant the adventure loses its zest and Robinson-Smith wants to revisit the real world of jobs and families, subways and running water-realizes the truth before Robinson-Smith puts the words into print.
Robinson-Smith now lives in Montreal. To explain why would spoil the end of the story. mRb