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Readers' Comments

         

The following is a sample of comments received from readers – by no means confined to cyclists or armchair travellers – who have felt compelled to write to or email the author after reading ‘Why Don’t You Fly?

If you wish to add your own comments about the book or the website, please feel free to email them to chris@shycyclist.com
All such comments may be subjected to editing. 

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When I first wrote I was halfway through the book. I shortly finished it after you replied to me. I have since read it again and I can honestly say I was amazed at both the journey, the way the book was written and the inspiration it has given. I felt the descriptions given in the book were so well written I could actually see them. (Now why didn’t I have this talent when I did O Level English? Brings back those memories of the teacher trying to instil that very thing into us…Grade D!!!!)
Richard Willett

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After what was for me a bit of a slow start, I so got into your book that I could scarcely put it down. Your writing, in many parts, is quite beautiful, as well as hilarious, and how you describe the encounter with Gao will stay with me for a long time. I read my wife Sue chunks of your book and your website as we were canal boating around the Four Counties last week.
Mark Brayne

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Val and I both read 'Why Don't You Fly?' while we were away and were both knocked out by it - the scale of the feat itself, the standard of your writing and the brilliantly judged use of humour.(Books where I laugh out loud while reading are very rare indeed.)
Robert Ronsson (author of 'Olympic Mind Games' www.olympicmindgames.co.uk)

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I just wanted to add to the many positive endorsements you have had about your book.  I found it truly inspiring and without doubt one of the best travel books I have read - and I have enjoyed many in my time. You have a gift and I hope you can be one of the few who are actually able to make a living out of writing (and cycling).
Nick Webber

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Just finished your book, which I found difficult to put down. Never before felt compelled to write to an author but did on this occasion. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it. Congratulations on the achievement and the book.
Since retirement 5.5 years ago, I've cycled in over 20 countries including many of those you traversed and I was with you all the way. So often I could relate to your descriptions, and your feelings (about which I sometimes felt guilty) were the very same I've had on many occasions so can vouch for its authenticity (as though you needed this). For example, the feelings relate to my attitude, at times, to the bike, the wind and "why am I doing this?" etc
Do another.
Cliff Sore

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Everyone who is interested in the world as it really is should read this book. Not only is it a superb humane geography book, it is also incredibly exciting with delightful interactions between Chris and the wide variety of people he meets on his epic journey.
Every child interested in geography should have the availability to read this book, as much for its excellent descriptive English as the content.
I hope it will not be too long before Chris Smith publishes his next book. Could it possibly be as good? I for one will be eager to find out.
Julia Leedham-Green

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This has to be one of the most interesting travel books I have read. Congratulations, such stamina and resolution.
Graham Smith

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Smith is a gifted writer in that he not only knows how to craft a very nicely turned phrase but is also outwardly and inwardly perceptive. There is a strong ontological element to the book; separated from the possessions and jobs that define most of us in the West, he questions the very nature of being, as well as his own motivations.
Sue Page

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I read your book at the weekend. I thought that it was the best cycling book I've ever read and I buy every one I see. It inspired me to consider another wee, unambitious trip myself. As a 60-year-old lifetime bicycle lover, I've only ever managed 3 week-long journeys in Scotland. Now might consider something a bit further afield but perhaps no longer carrying a tent and definitely somewhere where there is likely to be very little wind. Wind is on a par with call centres for my grumpy old woman fury. I hope you've found the love of your life since coming home.
Heather Russell

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I am planning a trip in 2008 with my son from the very west of Ireland
(Dingle) to Tokyo following a similar route. He will be 18 I will be
50. Firstly I'd like to say how impressed I am with the quality of your
writing. I've naturally read (or skimmed) a number of cycle travel books
and they are usually poorly written, so only interesting for technical
detail. I read with horror about your 2 accidents on your return. How absolutely bizarre! Excellent book. I am recommending it to everyone currently. Even those uninterested in cycling.

Mark Swain
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Your book is being re-read straight off. That's a first for me even though most of my reading is individual travel accounts. By the by, it's possible that the terrible winds you experienced in the Gobi didn't exist in Slavomir Rawicz's time. The environmental damage done in northern China in the 20th century has caused a great increase in dust storms and these can fundamentally alter the entire weather pattern. I think your evocation of wind v cycling brilliant but must admit to inside knowledge of snow. It has many states with vastly different properties. Nansen was the first to study and record its remarkable nature. I have read individual travel accounts for over 30 yrs (yours is exceptionally well-written) and really ought to do it myself, but have got stuck in the north of Scotland steadily losing capital.
C.A. Murray

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Just to say that I really enjoyed your book. It's one of the very few cycle touring books that I have read that really brought the memories flooding back of what it's like to be on a long tour. I had almost forgotten how much the Indian drivers would wind me up towards the end of a long hot day.
Stuart Lundy

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A few days ago I finished reading 'Why Don't You Fly?' and felt compelled to write to you. What a book! What a fantastic journey / achievement! You have my full admiration. I obviously enjoyed the book immensely and it will remain in the recesses of my memory as one of my 'best ever' travel reads. I have been immersing myself in travel literature for most of my adult life, not to mention undertaking quite a few journeys of my own, and every once in a while a 'real gem' of a book comes along: for me, 'WDYF?' was one of them. Normally, in these 'exceptional cases', I write to the author to convey my thanks and appreciation for the enjoyment and pleasure received - hence this letter to you.

Thankfully, a few independent individuals (a rare breed) still choose to travel the 'hard way', the 'real way' (and I'd place you at the top of the league), and experience this wonderful planet of ours in a way which the average package holidaymaker, or less adventurous 'tour' type traveller, never will.

A final 'Thank You' for providing me with several hours of pleasurable, addictive reading, and I, for one, hope to see the 'maybe' (re another journey) becoming reality, followed by another absorbing book.

Take care on the bike!
Martin Davies


lettersee the letter, click it to read an exerpt

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Met mij gaat het goed!

I read the comments on your website, Ralph is terrible!!
Nice, Martin gave a reaction!

Still no idea how many books are sold??

Keep your peanut head up, it takes a time before people find out how fantastic this book is.
I continue to promote in Holland.
All the best and very much good luck.
Klompjes (a k a Carla Smit)

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Fascinating and inspiring stuff. Ralf's philosophy is interesting, to say the least! Great story and great writing.
Jonathon Litton

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'Why Don't You Fly?’ is a very refreshing approach to producing a record of this mind blowing journey.
It left me breathless with admiration. As one who needs to get out a road map if I am venturing into the next county, I became aware of the enormity of the planning that was needed for this trip. I lovedthe way that Chris shares his excitement with the reader - comparing the anticipation of entering a new country to the feelings remembered from childhood when about to open a window on an Advent Calendar.
He truly shares his joy and extreme vitality. How I wish I had been able to ask the questions that popped into my head as I followed the trail.I look forward to reading the book for a second time in 2006. I do wish there had been more photographs, but I expect there are good reasons why this was not possible. What an adventure! What a man! What a book!
Cynthia Pearson

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Being more of an armchair adventurer I have read a fair amount of books recounting other peoples travels and troubles, but in terms of style and content your man has something different. I’m not sure if it was the motivation for the trip, or Chris’ outlook on life anyway, but it was great to read an account of someone I felt I could identify with. I just felt such a degree of empathy for the situations he faced, the frustrations and pleasures. A lot of other writers seem to me to be more superficial. They never seem to let you in on how they are feeling and the observations seem stilted because of it. It really has been refreshing to read an account of a journey seen through a “real person’s” eyes and not a “traveller” as so often seems the case these days. If nothing else, it’s nice to know I am not the only one that can react badly to inquisitive rangers. I'm not sure I could cope with India! It is a long time indeed since I have read and enjoyed a book so much.
Peter Green

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Thoroughly enjoyable!! He’s got a really nice, warm style and made me laugh out loud.
Kieron Callow

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I have been on an incredible journey! It only took two days, I was on a bike to China. Sometimes I laughed out loud, others I lapped up the history and atmosphere of unexplored lands. I then realised that actually I was still on my sofa reading an amazing book within the comfort of my own home. Or should I say comfort zone. The journey meant a lot to me, and even the opening quote, told me exactly where I am. In fact it told me that I have done absolutely f**k all with my life thus far. I always meant to travel, but as pointed out in the book, a woman on her own is never a good idea. I had a few experiences whilst in different countries that I would rather forget. Men who could never work out where I am from (they knew I didn't look English); apparently anything from Italian, Portuguese, Spanish through to Israeli or Indian. Judging from the lol moment when someone thought Ralf was Japanese, it now makes sense. All tried to adopt me as their own, or swap me for several camels on one occasion, whilst being mistaken for a goddess in Africa, or a Kashmiri Princess,(and that was just at the garage in Milton Keynes), and believe me I am no Claudia! Hence, I have been wondering how to break out of the conventional, mundane, cynical existence I lead. (This is also what my book happens
to be about, and the main character breaking out of her cocoon of limitation).
Although I have travelled across Europe by train several times, (but that's because I am too scared to get on an aeroplane), barely a day goes by when someone does not say to me 'why don't you fly'? that is why I knew I had to read your book. 
I could never imagine achieving what you have, I was trying to think of how I personally would choose to travel to Beijing, if I had guts instead of jelly. 1. To rollerskate there,(well I was never out of them when I was a kid), although those roads don't sound promising. 2. Swimming (I thought of that once, honest! I think in my daydream I got to Southend. I don't want to sound gushy when I say how brave, courageous and inspiring you are. -An amazing man! I also cannot agree with your brother about what your audience will want to read - (well, the women anyway!). Think Darcy, well-Colin Firth, he is a true romantic, makes women swoon, and certainly would not sleep with someone for £12.50. Even if she was gorgeous and he was tempted! I am all for romance however, and the moments with Gao spoke a million times more than any quick jump in the sack with a prostitute. Many a woman would swoon, and possibly try and imagine what you would look like riding your bike in the rain,- the last English gentleman in a sodden white shirt. 
Anyway, the book is excellently written and I found myself nodding profusely (to myself) at things like 'we are in control of our own destiny', our 'own puppet masters', and 'we need to take responsibility,' us and us alone. I cannot and will never understand organised religion, but appreciate other people's beliefs.
Existing and living? It's books like these that make me want to sell my car, flat and life (not body), and motor round the world in a Winnebago. That's my dream and I also feel pity for those who either never have one, or never reach them... All my friends and family want to do is acquire the bigger house, 2.2 kids and the 4X4 (but only if they have a Porsche as well). Not for me. 
Essay over, told you I felt inspired. I also thought when my book is finished, I might ask you to write a blurb for me, that goes on the back cover, with 'author of 'Why don't you fly', on it. If that's ok with you and my eventual publisher. Course that means that you have to read it first!
Thanks so much Chris, it hard to find inspiring people these days, celebrities bore me!
Take care 
Sometimes it takes a book like this to realise what is sadly lacking in one's own life, and the parameters in which we live.
Denise Acton

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I have just finished your amazing book. I could hardly put it down! You certainly do write well and have tremendously interesting things to say. It is a great mixture of a vivid description of your journey, the people you met, just the right amount of background info and your thoughts and feelings. I must say that at the beginning I thought that cycling to China would be very exciting and was rather a romantic idea, but now I realise how hard it must have been and what an achievement it is! I do rather like reading about other people’s adventures, but I have never read a book by someone I know- though I now feel I know you a lot better than you know me! That’s rather odd and I feel that it is somehow a very generous thing to do- to let readers get to know you in that way. Do you see what I mean?
Sarah Harrison

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Consistently entertaining, interesting, informative and well written. I do like your vary spare economical style, now increasingly rare, and you have an attractive descriptive vocabulary also.
Robert Dudley

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I really enjoyed reading your book. A really good mixture of adventurous cycling, humour and perceptive intelligence. What I admire about it, is the way it hasn't changed the core you. That is to say, a journey like that should change someone, otherwise what's the point? But I do get a bit cynical about people who do these journeys, and have that road to Damascus experience, where they step off the plane at Bombay,look up at the sun and declare they have seen - 'the light' because they are in India. You have a good, down to earth perspective about your travels.

I also think you are a bit hard on yourself. You have achieved a great deal. After all, it takes, drive, stamina, hard work, commitment, and a great deal of guts to ride a tomato.

Saddles!!... I would recommend a Brooks all leather saddle. I went through all sorts of saddles when I took up long distance cycling. A few people I know use Brooks saddles and I always swore that they looked like some implement of torture which only hardened cyclists use as a badge of honour. Well, having bought one about a year ago, I am a complete convert! I have never had any problems in that department since and is the one aspect of my bike I wouldn't ever change. If you can get over the first hundred or so miles until it wears to your shape, it really is worth it. They are so comfortable - even over the rough bits.

Sorry to end on a bum note! But just to say again, I thought the book was a wonderful read. You are a good writer. It was hard to imagine this was your first publication. Don't worry that you might end up as a lorry driver (I very much doubt it), and even if you did, you could look back on your life in your old age and say that you had a book published, it sold, and more importantly, you will feel more satisfied that you had a go. That in itself is an achievement. Not many people can say that!

Take up your pen (well, it sounds so much more romantic than....'.keep bashing that keyboard'!) and keep writing!
Debbie Brady

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Walking down the Shambles in Worcester last month & waiting for my wife to finish her endless shopping in H&M I spotted your Thorn bike in the Window of Ottakar's book shop.I enjoyed your book immensely, loved the small snippets of history you added about each country you visited.When I am next struggling to cycle to the top of the Malvern's I will think of your plight on the Khunjerab Pass! Do you have any plans to return & visit Russia?
Scott Dodgson

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I can honestly say that yours is the best cycle adventure/travel book I have read (well half read so far!). Your style is so different from the usual day-to-day narrative as is your humour and understatement of many of your 'trials'.
Dave Pountney

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Hey Smithers, old bean!

I’m spending a few guilt-free weeks in Denmark (horrible weather, bread rolls), Northern Germany (yawn), Bochum (2-2 vs Cottbus) and maybe Holland next. My steel donkey has given me a few problems on this trip: the chain broke twice, completely f**king up the derailleur, an aluminium thing on my luggage rack broke (your bungee cord still going strong), one puncture (1800 km).

I still made it as far as Aahus, where I caught one stage of the Tour de Danmark (Basso, Nardello) shivering in the rain and went to one of them Roman Steam Baths (no naughty East-Asian masseuses far and wide).

But that’s not important because besides my survival kit (tent, sleeping bag, cooker, toothbrush, Kicker) I’m carrying a well-thumbed, rain-soaked, sh*t-stained copy of ‘Why Don’t You Fly?’ And this time I’ve read it!

I think ‘Gimme Five’ was a better title for Chapter 8 – more original.

Even though you tell us about your ‘almost’ rape in Morocco 20 years ago and give detailed account of the colour, consistency and amount of your poop along with descriptions of every ass-wiping technique ever used by man, you fail to touch the very important (especially for cyclists) matter of masturbation! I didn’t expect a flowery confession, but a matter-of-fact report in your trademark apologetic, scientific sounding style would have been nice. The reader has a RIGHT TO KNOW!

Having said that, I have to congratulate you: the book’s good, man. Some of it is very good. And coming from me, you know it’s not another compassionate bucket of bull. It’s a bit of a pity that outside of the Kerman–Quetta stretch and the shagging of Carla nothing really extraordinary happens. The book’s at its best when there’s a lot of conversation.

Hope your publisher is getting his (marketing) act together. In the meantime: drive that truck and drive it hard! And let me know about your schedule and I’ll give you a call.

Splendid!
Windhorse (aka Ralf Hahne)

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A few weeks back I managed to get a copy of your book. I ordered it at a bookshop in Tilburg! Amazing, isn't it. They ordered at Amazon in the US. I could have done that myself, but I still don't have a credit card. Of course I read chapter 14 at first. It is really nice. I didn't remember me pointing at the candles in the water. Funny. I still think you write very nice and funny. I'm glad I bought it.
Martin van Doorne

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Just a quick note to share the revelation that I actually read your book from cover to cover! Not quite the same achievement of cycling 16,500 miles but hey small steps.

Although I clearly can't comment from a position of great experience but for what its worth I was very very impressed, not only with your obvious ability to write in a manner that kept even me interested but with the whole trip. In a way I found myself feeling a little jealous not with the achievement of cycling all that way but more the whole experience. I sometimes look back on trips to the states and romanticise about people I have met (all but too briefly in some instances) and the things I saw. But clearly they are nothing in comparison to the varied people you met and the sights and smells you experienced. I got a few questions regarding the trip which you probably have been asked a few hundred times, though I will avoid where from? what is your good name? what is your salary?

Take care
Markos Uttley

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I just finished reading your book. Congratulations! I had a lot of fun reading it. For me it was like going on a trip again myself. You made me experience the highs and lows of such a journey again. The first "deja vu" I had when you where cycling in the tunnel in Turkey. The second was the "Islamic Republic of Food Poisoness", the nice experiences in Iran, the every day terror on the roads of India and so on.... After we met in Calcutta, Babsi and I went south. Thank you very much for the Nelles Map from Southern India you gave us. It was a big help. As you know we where not able to enter China with our motorcycles. We tried 3 times. (Pakistan, Nepal, Siberia) So I really felt with you when you where rejected at the Embassy. It is pain in the a*** when bureaucracy limits your dreams. Therefore I was so happy to get an insight vision of China through your book.

It keeps me dreaming on. So I doubtlessly hope to be on the roads of China one day. Struggling with the wind. Of course it's something different with a motorbike but on the other Hand we had our specific problems as well. Especially in Mongolia and Siberia the petrol supply was poor. Often only diesel was available or if there was petrol it was only 76 octane. I learned that the freedom we take as granted is only possible on a infrastructure that was built up by the generations before us. As we stood at the end of the road in Siberia, we felt that travelling further would only be possible by walking or riding on a horseback. We have met a Russian bicyclist who cycled from Moscow to Vladivostok. We met him close to Khabarovsk. Maybe this could be a option for you too. I really had excellent experiences with the people in eastern Russia. So open hearted and hospitable. Last year the road from Chita to Scoverodino was opened providing an through connection from St.Petersburg to Vladivostok. So the villages there are much better accessible. I hope this impact doesn't spoil too much.

I have to stop dreaming. I really have the urge to go on a big trip again. So I have some Chris-Smith-inflicted "problems". Once more congratulations to the extraordinary book. For me as a not native English speaker the vocabulary was quite big. So I learned a lot using the dictionary along with your travel rapport.
Martin Muench
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Further comments by readers can be found on www.amazon.co.uk under Why Donít You Fly?

 

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