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The song of the ol’ gray dawg

In “Cash on the Barrelhead”, a Louvin Brothers song  he recorded for his album Grievous Angel, Gram Parsons (the man who invented country rock) sings of a bus driver reminding him that “this ol’ gray dawg gets paid to run”. Greyhound, though, is still one of the cheapest forms of long-distance transport in the US, which is why it’s the choice of what Doug Levitt calls “people on the margins”. Levitt, who describes himself as a former foreign correspondent and “downwardly-mobile” singer songwriter, has clocked up 120,000 miles riding Greyhounds across the United States over the past 12 years, on an odyssey inspired by Woody Guthrie. In The Greyhound Diaries, for the BBC World Service, he trades stories with passengers he meets along the way, and turns some of theirs into songs. 

Deserts and Dickens

William Atkins’s latest book, The Immeasurable World, is about deserts, but his first was The Moor. He’s returned to the damp for The New York Times to make a journey into the world of Great Expectations. I particularly like the way he makes Google Maps and Streetview redundant:

The Hoo Peninsula divides the estuary of the Thames from that of the smaller Medway 10 miles to the east. To get a sense of its shape, take a seat on the churchyard bench and rest your right foot on your left knee: the Thames follows the curve of your heel and sole; the Medway the bony top of your foot. Both rivers open to the North Sea beyond your toes. The marshes occupy most of the northwest of the peninsula, which is to say your heel.

Breaking down in Bend

Tim Moore is a writer who’s not afraid of a gimmick. For his last book, The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold, he rode a two-geared East German shopping bike along a route that parallels the old Iron Curtain. For his latest, Another Fine Mess (Yellow Jersey), he switches from two wheels to four, travelling coast to coast across the United States through Trump-voting territory in a 93-year-old Ford Model T nicknamed Mike. In an extract published in The Telegraph Magazine, he tells how the car broke down in the town of Bend, Oregon, and he was enveloped in a “two-week festival of resourcefulness and the human spirit”.

Westward Ho!

My elder grandson’s on half-term break. I’ve been spending the days with him and my wife going to and from harbours and beaches along the high-hedged roads of Devon, and the evenings on slightly wider highways on the other side of the Atlantic. No teleportation involved; I just tune in at night to Laura Barton’s American Road Trip on Radio 4 Extra. In a grand audio outing, she heads from New York to LA, combining reflections and reminiscences on her own Stateside journeys with well-chosen excerpts from the radio archives and readings from the works of writers including Jonathan Raban, Joan Didion and Sam Shepard.  It’s a three-hour trip, but an endlessly diverting one, and there are plenty of places where you can pull in for a break along the way…

Worsley and ‘The White Darkness’

David Grann has turned his article for The New Yorker on the Antarctic journeys of Henry Worsley into a short (150-page) book. The White Darkness is due to be published in Britain on November 1 by Simon & Schuster.


Deskbound Traveller is taking a break while its editor escapes from the desk.

On the Waveney, with Gaw and Deakin

In his debut The Pull of the River (Elliott and Thompson), which I’m just dipping into, Matt Gaw acknowledges that his own journey on Britain’s waterways was partly prompted by one made by Roger Deakin in 2005 on the River Waveney, which became an audio diary for Radio 4, Cigarette on the Waveney (Cigarette being Deakin’s canoe, which was named after one used on the canals of Belgium and northern France in 1876 by Robert Louis Stevenson and his friend Sir Walter Grindlay). Deakin’s programme, as Gaw points out, has recently become available again via the BBC iPlayer. And Gaw’s canoe, built by his friend and fellow traveller James? It’s called the Pipe.

More on Saudi Arabia

Lindsey Hillsum’s piece on Saudi Arabia (see earlier post) seems remarkably prescient in the light of the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Saudi government.

Fiction as a form of travel

The latest edition of Five Dials, the excellent literary magazine from the publishing house Hamish Hamilton, has an interview with the novelist Mohsin Hamid. The self-professed “Lahore-born nomad”, whose Exit West was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, says that for him “writing fiction is a form of travel”. He also talks about migration — which is central to Exit West — empathy and a certain Fantastic Fox.

Harris talks about outer space and the Silk Road

Kate Harris, author of Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road — published in Britain last week — has been interviewed recently for the podcast of the American magazine Outside, in which she talks about risk-taking, outer space and the adventurous women she admires.

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