In this episode, I speak with Kate Harris, author of the captivating travel memoir ‘Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road.’ We discuss living off-grid in Atlin, British Columbia, Kate’s complex relationship with Marco Polo and the famed and mythologized explorers from the “Old World,” and her life-expanding decision to traverse the famed Silk Road by bike with her childhood friend.
What does it mean to be an explorer in the modern era? How does one reconcile with the captivating myths told of “Old World” explorers charting uncharted territory with the more cynical truths surrounding their real intentions and actions? In this conversation, Kate elaborates on her journey beautifully presented in her memoir, in which she attempts to reconcile with these questions about exploration, both in the past and present sense, and her yearning to challenge the legitimacy of borders, both in the geographical sense, but also in the metaphorical sense as well. What borders exist within ourselves, preventing us from exploring the limits of our being and living fully? We discuss her journey to travel the Silk Road with these questions in mind.
“Harris set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule. This trip was just a simulacrum of exploration, she thought, not the thing itself—a little adventure to pass the time until she could launch for outer space. But somewhere in between sneaking illegally across Tibet, studying the history of science and exploration at Oxford, and staring down a microscope for a doctorate at MIT, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. Forget charting maps, naming peaks, leaving footprints on another planet: what she yearned for was the feeling of soaring completely out of bounds. And where she'd felt that most intensely was on a bicycle, on a bygone trading route. So Harris quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Yule, this time determined to bike it from beginning to end.”✧
Kate Harris is a writer with a grudge against borders and a knack for getting lost. Her essays, travel features, and poetry have appeared in The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, Sierra, CutBank, Arc Poetry Magazine, and The Georgia Review, among other publications, and cited in Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing. A Rhodes scholar and Morehead-Cain scholar, she was named one of Canada’s top modern-day explorers and in 2012 won the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award. Her journeys edging the limits of nations, science, and sanity have taken her to all seven continents, often by ski or bike. She's been profiled in Guernica, The Globe and Mail, VOGUE Germany, and the short film The Art of Wild. When she isn't wandering the world for work and play, she lives off-grid with her wife and dog in a log cabin in Atlin, British Columbia. 'Lands of Lost Borders' is her first book.★
- Learn more about Kate and her memoir ‘Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road’ at her website: http://kateharris.ca
- Purchase Kate’s book at the publisher’s website: http://bit.ly/LLBorders
- The song featured in this episode is “Kerala” by Bonobo from the album Migration.