Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hero: Dervla Murphy

As with so many great things in cycling, I first learned of Dervla through my buddy Gilbert Anderson, who referred me to Dr. Clifford Graves' summary of her book, The Perils of Dervla Murphy. In the midst of a record-setting blizzard in 1963, Dervla Murphy packed a pistol aboard Roz, her Armstrong Cadet bicycle (converted to single-speed for maximum reliability) and accomplished her first international bicycle tour--a completely self-supported solo trip from Ireland to India. In Yugoslavia, she began keeping a journal instead of mailing letters home. That journal was later published as her first book Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. In Full Tilt, she describes her adventures through Persia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. She particularly enjoyed Afghanistan and wrote lovingly of that country.

Dervla instantly became a hero of mine, but where today was this woman who completed and wrote of this incredible adventure undertaken in the year of my birth? Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that she's still living, still writing and still traveling the world by bicycle!

In the forty years since Full Tilt she has bicycled through, and published numerous books on Africa, the Balkans, and Tibet. Generally traveling alone and unaided, her writing continues to be rich with compelling insights into the cultures and the lives of the people she meets. Recently, she's been exploring and publishing on travels in Siberia. I'll challenge anybody to read her brief Siberian Grand Tour article and deny the sprouting of a seed of wanderlust in their heart.

On her most recent adventures, she brought along her young granddaughters, and chose a gentler territory to explore--Cuba. The Australian published today an excerpt from The Island that Dared as Dervla Murphy discovers the intricacies of rail travel in Cuba.

Being such a fan, I'm proud to boast that I wrote the original Dervla Murphy article for Wikipedia back in 2003.