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Book Review: The University Of Gravel Roads

The University Of Gravel Roads
Global Lessons Learned From A Four-Year Motorcycle Adventure

Written by: Rene Cormier
Review by: CMR Staff

Before reading Rene's book I had a chance to listen to a presentation he gave to motorcycle journalists at the 2011 Motorcycle show in Moncton, NB and afterwards to speak with him personally. He seemed like a regular guy who was really passionate about living life to the fullest - whatever the adventure may be.  The topic of his (first) book just happened to be an epic motorcycle adventure that spanned 41 countries, 154,000 kilometers, and nearly five years of travel.

I can't think of a more interesting guy to have a few beers with and chat about travel with and all he's seen. I'm sure it's a dream in many a motorcyclists' head that they'd like to leave their responsibilities behind for a while, pack up, and travel wherever you felt like with no particular schedule or place you must be. Not all of us have the guts to do it, OR the responsibilities in our lives become our priorities and we continue to dream and live vicariously through stories like Rene's.

It's a dream that most motorcyclist's won't fulfill but Rene's book might be just the fuel you need to make you choose a different path for yourself, or perhaps - a detour on your path. Rene is infectiously excited about travel and adventure and talking to him gives me a similar feeling that I get from reading his book - if you choose to do it - you can. Don't let planning every detail in minutiae get in the way of DOING.

Rene's trip began in February of 2003 and he came 'home' in October of 2008. You can't really plan every detail of a trip of that magnitude. You just plan many, many small trips and take whatever comes.

Rene (33) calls Edmonton, Canada home but currently divides his time between there and doing guided motorcycle tours in Africa. University of Gravel Roads is Rene's first book but he's got a bit of a talent for it. The University of Gravel Roads is certainly an easy and very enjoyable read. Every page of this book is interesting! Yes, EVERY page.  Really.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's filled with interesting details of the cultures and information about the journey Rene took. Not only is it well written but it's vividly illustrated with tons of photo's - amazing photos at that. Surely they're just a small sample of what he saw and encountered over those almost 5 years of travel. How fitting the title of the book then - The University of Gravel Roads.

How did Rene come to take this trip? Was he going through a mid-life crisis and seeking meaning in his life? Was he wealthy - and therefore have the cash to fund a major trip, meals, hotels etc? Was he an expert mechanic - and have the confidence he'd be able to fix all the mechanical problems he'd experience?

Rene was 33 when he embarked on the journey, so not quite at the midlife crisis stage. He worked for bicycle suspension maker RockShox and had worked his way up to a decently paying position but by no means independently wealthy. By his account it was a pretty great job that saw him riding bicycles and drinking beer and chatting with journalists from around the world a lot of the time. Hardly sounds like he felt an urgent desire to get out of the high stress corporate world. A string of events and a decision that the timing was right for a big adventure and seeds planted by a few other adventurers were all that was needed to get Rene to begin working out a basic plan. And no - he isn't an expert mechanic. In fact I asked him about his mechanical skills and he described them as being quite basic. What he did have was lots of time. Time and necessity are wonderful enablers.

I'm not the only person who thinks this is a pretty good book - it won an Independent Publisher Book Award, recognizing excellence in independent publishing.  In 2011 the book won a DaVinci Eye Award for Cover Art.  As of this writing this review it had to go through a second round of printing too.

Some standout positive features of the book for me;

- The writing is easy to read, descriptive, interesting, and doesn't preach about politics or religion - there's no ethnocentrism here.
- Pictures; there's lots of them. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and it's really true. You couldn't describe the things he photographed and do them complete justice. They really add to the narrative.
- The maintenance schedule table (though it looks like a slight mistake might have been made around the 21,000-23,000 km mark) is quite interesting.
- The tools list was informative too.

University of Gravel Roads is available online via Rene's website. Who knows what's next for Rene and when I spoke with him he didn't really even know. The guided tours in Africa were going well but he said if it ended tomorrow he would be grateful for the experience and find something else to do.

Support CMR by purchasing the book here AND saving yourself some money in the process!  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!