Odysseus’ Last Stand: The Chronicles of a Bicycle Nomad – Dave Stamboulis, 2004

Our new neighbor Mark lent me this book–he met Dave Stamboulis in Thailand and keeps in touch with him. I love stories like this, but they’re not always well-told so I was wary. Mark indicated that Dave had published the book himself, and although it looked very pro on the outside, when I flipped through it I noticed that it ended abruptly in the middle of a sentence on page 342–the last section was missing (not ripped out, but mis-bound). I see from Amazon that it’s supposed to have 355 pages. But all my doubts were put to rest when I started reading, and now I really want to get my hands on those missing 13 pages!

Dave rode his bike all around the world, 7 years and 40,000 kilometers. He brings the reader right along with him, through experiences harsh and disgusting, beautiful and heart-warming. The chapters on China and Central Asia especially made me grateful to Dave for describing it so vividly (he is very candid about toilet conditons) that I don’t have to feel tempted to do it myself! He writes very well, both in describing the scenery and people and in reflecting on the nature of travel and the modern world. During his adventures he lives and works in various cities for extended periods, falls in love, gets married, travels with his wife, breaks up, and continues on the road. He meets farmers, artists, policemen, hoteliers, and lots of inquisitive children, most of whom ask for pens (you can read Chapter 5, where the “hello pen” greeting first comes up, here on Dave’s site for the book). There are a few wonderful pictures in the center section of this book, although it would be nice if they were in the order of his travels. (Many more are on his site.) Periodic maps help keep track of the journey. I especially enjoyed the epigraphs which head each chapter, quotes on travel which highlight its fascinations and contradictions. What particularly stands out are the contrasts between different countries: not only the food, lodging, and road conditions, but also the general tenor of people’s reactions to Dave, their happiness and frustrations, and the pace at which they lead their lives. Surprise, surprise–the US doesn’t come off particularly well.

It was particularly coincidental to hear about this book. I had recently ordered one on the exact same topic for the library, Tim Travis’ The Road that Has No End, after stumbling across the Travis’ website. I’ve started reading that book and while it’s also fascinating, by contrast with Stamboulis’ the writing is subpar. Dave may have self-financed publication of Odysseus’ Last Stand, but he does credit an editor and it was clearly carefully proofread, which makes a huge difference to a picky porcupine like me!