As a child Kate Harris would trace Marco Polo’s path along the Silk Road in books, and dream of exploring Mars. She loved the idea of being outside, in the wilderness, seeing things no one had ever seen. So she decided to become an astronaut to take a shot at exploring Mars. As an adult she realized two important things. The first one was that the science degree she was studying (as part of her quest to become an astronaut) involved less exploration and more time indoors, peering into microscopes. It wasn’t for her. The second thing she realized was that Marco Polo was not the explorer she thought he was. He preferred comfort to wilderness. He might not be the voice she should listen to about the wild places of the world.
With plans she’d worked on since childhood now up in the air, Kate was unsure of her next step. So she and a high school friend, Mel, decided to bike the Silk Road. This decision takes them through countries with obscure, confusing visa requirements, wild weather, and more than a few people who tell them gravely “I wouldn’t let my daughter do what you’re doing.”
Lands of Lost Borders is an adventure, a travelogue, and a survey of the history of science and exploration. It’s a bildungsroman and a meditation on the surreal nature of political borders patrolled by soldiers. In this book you’ll find useful minutiae of information, like the Georgian word for “I accidentally ate the whole thing," and how hard it is to find chocolate chip cookies in China. You’ll read about earlier explorers, like Fanny Workman, the suffragette mountaineer who carried a newspaper proclaiming “Votes for Women” up a mountain, and you’ll follow Kate and Mel to what feels like the end of the world, through snow, storms, deserts and to areas of complete desolation. But the world is a globe. In the end, they’ll find their way back to themselves.