Travel literature review: Lost on Earth

Lost on Earth by Steve Crombie

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Steve Waters

In Lost on Earth, young Aussie Crombie  plans to ride his single-cylinder Honda 650cc motorcycle from Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America's Tierra Del Fuego, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska; the Pan American Highway's unofficial endpoint well north of the Arctic Circle.

Originally accompanied by two friends, what starts as another blokey road trip quickly becomes a lot more interesting when the author's mates choose their own path and Crombie is left alone to pursue his dream - all 90,000 kilometres of it.  Over the ensuing two years, our author crisscrosses South America several times, as he struggles his way north, surviving hardships, privations, romance, diseases and numerous (mechanical) breakdowns. While a steady trickle of hermanos have completed the Pan American traverse, (Tim Cahill in Road Fever famously took a mere 23 days), Crombie does his utmost to avoid the route-more-travelled and takes the reader on a trip through the obscurer slices of Latin America.

It's hard not to draw a parallel with Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels, published over a quarter of a century earlier.  Both writers are solo motorcyclists; both are imprisoned in South America; both suffer greatly from transport of dubious mechanical reliability.  However, while journalist Simon's prose is sculptured and aloof, Crombie is refreshingly unrestrained, and sometimes boisterously low-brow. Moreover, while Jupiter's Travels peters out (one needs to read the sequel, Riding High, to fill in the blanks) Lost on Earth is perfectly paced, reaching a fabulous do-or-die climax.  And let's not forget, Simon's bike had an extra cylinder.

Crombie is always entertaining and his passion (and ability - he speaks both Spanish and Portuguese) to converse with the locals brings a depth to encounters that most adventure travellers only dream of. He's constantly indebted to the kindness of strangers as he single-mindedly flogs both body and machine relentlessly towards his goal. And the closer he gets, the more questions he asks, the more he reveals of himself and his motivation.

This cracking tale of sheer determination should be mandatory reading for any young, would-be adventurer.

Steve Waters, while working at his computer in LP's Melbourne office, day-dreams of driving his six-cylinder 3000cc '65 Holden HD Premier from Tasmania's Cockle Creek to Nordkapp in Norway.

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