Bicyclist-author to talk about travels

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2003

Adventure travel author Erika Warmbrunn will bring photos and stories from her 5,000-mile bicycle tour through Asia to Juneau next weekend.

The New York City stagehand and translator wrote "Where The Pavement Ends: One Woman's Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China, and Vietnam," published last year by The Mountaineers Books. She will tell tales of her travels, show slides and sign copies of her book at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at the downtown library.

"There's a lot of people here who travel and a lot of outdoors adventure people and that subject area seems to be quite popular," said local librarian Carol Race, an organizer of the program.

Warmbrunn began her journey in August of 1993 in southern Siberia after a theatrical translating job in the area. She said she chose to bicycle through areas rarely traveled by foreigners.

"There are very few corners left on this planet where you are not following in everyone else's footsteps. I wanted, once, to trace my own path across a land as yet untrampled by hordes of tourist feet. I wanted to lose myself in unmapped landscapes and to meet the people who inhabited them. I wanted uncompromising, boundless space, and nature's reminders of how minute a human being is," she wrote in a description of her journey.

Web links

For more on Erika Warmbrunn's Asian adventure, check out www.wherethepavementends.com

The eight-month-long bike ride introduced Warmbrunn to salty Mongolian tea brewed with yak milk and frequent questioning by police in China. In Vietnam she visited the village of My Lai, where American forces killed hundreds of civilians in a 1968 attack. There she asked a resident, "Don't you hate me?" The response was "a quizzical look and a puzzled head shake, 'No,' " she wrote.

Wearing bright blue Gore-Tex and riding an expensive bicycle she nicknamed Greene, she drew frequent crowds of locals unused to foreign travelers.

" 'Where are you from?' they queried. 'Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Alone?!' These were the first phrases I would learn in Mongolian, and again in Chinese and again Vietnamese,' " she wrote.

Warmbrunn began working on her book in 1995, typing her journals into a computer. She found it was harder than she ever imagined.

"I had no idea. No idea how hard writing would be. How much plain, old-fashioned, one-rotation-of-the-pedals-will-eventually-get-you-up-the-hill work it would take to turn those journal pages into honest, uncluttered, and, with any luck, compelling narrative," she wrote.

The 15-month writing effort was followed by two years of searching for a publisher. In 1998, Seattle-based Mountaineers Books gave "Where the Pavement Ends" the Barbara Savage-Miles From Nowhere Memorial Award, which includes publication.

Once released, her book won national praise, including the Lowell Thomas-Society of American Travel Writers Award, the Independent Publisher Book Award and the National Outdoor Book Award.

"Travels such as Warmbrunn's are not so rare today, but thoughtful, honest, insightful writing about the cross-cultural experience is," wrote a review in Library Journal.

Warmbrunn's Juneau appearance is sponsored by Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries.

Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at eschoenfeld@juneauempire.com.



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