The Slow Road to Tehran: A Revelatory Bike Ride through Europe and the Middle East

This adventure memoir (417 pages) was published in September of 2022 by September Publishing. The book takes you to the Middle East. David read The Slow Road to Tehran and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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The Slow Road to Tehran

A Revelatory Bike Ride through Europe and the Middle East

Rebecca Lowe

Rich with humor, history, and personal insight, this memoir of an epic bicycle ride across the Middle East is filled with adventure and stereotype-busting revelations.

In 2011, author Rebecca Lowe, was a reporter in London, specializing in Middle Eastern human rights issues. She routinely ran afoul of the problems you might expect: The Middle East is confusing and different and, from a London perspective, very much ‘not here.’ It’s over there. Journalism about the Middle East has been sensational for decades. And since 9/11, it hasn’t become any more open-minded or welcoming. As Lowe writes, it’s always ‘bombs and burqas and bigots.’

This kind of coverage has made the Middle East seem dangerous. But, Lowe wonders, is it? And how would we know? So, seeking clarity and empathy, she gets an idea: She needs a bicycle. She’s going to bike from London to Tehran. Through twenty countries. Alone. For a year. She will travel 11,000 kilometers (a little under 7,000 miles). And she will understand.

Or, that’s the plan, at least. This plan was not enthusiastically received.

‘We think you’ll probably die,’ one friend helpfully informed me, looking at me with the kind of wary fondness usually reserved for unruly toddlers or puppies that have soiled the carpet. ‘We’ve put the odds at about 60:40.’ Others were less optimistic. A family member with a particularly unfortunate sense of humour sent me a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If,’ stressing the importance of keeping my head ‘when all about you / Are losing theirs,’ while a man in the pub described me as a ‘naive idiot who’ll end up decapitated in a ditch — at best.’

But she did it. She started her ride in 2015. And she ran into predictable snags. Her tires go flat. Her ass hurts. She has to search for clean water and decent accommodations. Roads seem to vanish. Some men are horrible to her; she has to back one up with a knife. Some border crossings are difficult. She passes out from heat while riding her bike in the Sahara before she’s rescued by locals in a donkey cart. And language is frequently a challenge, but Google Translate helps a lot.

And she loves this trip. Invariably, people were warm and open — even when she presented herself as an unmarried, agnostic woman with no children. She was welcomed for who she was. In Iran — which she found particularly hospitable — she writes: ‘The deeper inland I ride, the safer and more serene I feel, as if rolling myself up in a giant feather duvet. Kindnesses eddy and flow around me, as pervasive as the summer breeze. Having lost my pump, I’m given one; having broken my sunglasses, I’m gifted a pair. On the road, so many drivers stop to offer me wonderful, utterly impractical food — watermelons, loaves of bread, bags of cucumbers — that much of it, to my dismay, must be discarded.’

Along the way, she writes about the history of the countries along her route, sharing what she knows about local politics, human rights issues, human trafficking, and refugee camps. Curious readers can take advantage of her excellent footnotes and bibliography.

Lowe encourages those who want to take it even farther to get on their own bike. ‘I promise, if you do that,’ she said in a TEDx talk, ‘your mother will forgive you eventually.’

At 9pm, the living room is carpeted with a colourful medley of bike tour ‘essentials’, from a mini-tripod and inflatable chair to a collapsible wine glass and silver-plated hipflask. In my ‘electricals’ pile alone, I have three cameras (a DSLR, Go-Pro and camcorder), a laptop, a Dictaphone, a solar-powered battery charger, a normal battery charger, a Kindle, a travel speaker, a satellite tracker (bought by [ my boyfriend ] and my parents as a safety measure), a mini-iPod and an iPhone 4. Beside this heap is a knotted lump of cables the size of a basketball that I feel obliged to include because I removed all the wires from their respective boxes and now have no idea which ones go with which pieces of equipment.

And in the centre, perched with elegant insouciance against the armchair, sits my most prized possession: my ukulele.
— Rebecca Lowe

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