While a few clicks can transport people across the world to discover different places, cultures and people, Kate Harris says first-hand exploration, which engages all five senses and the imagination, is essential.
Travel, she said, is a reminder of the many lives playing out on the planet at once.
“You can watch, say, romantic movies and be like, ‘Oh, that’s what it is to fall in love. Now I don’t need to fall in love,’” Harris said. “We all know that’s absurd. Falling in love is such a unique thing for every person, every connection that happens. To sort of dismiss it as not worth doing because you’ve seen it done in art in some way or on Google Images — two people holding hands — it’s never the same as when you live through something yourself. I think that’s absolutely true for travel.”
Reached by phone at her home in Atlin, B.C., which is about three hours south of Whitehorse and about as far north as you can go in this province, the 36-year-old Canadian author who will speak in Kamloops later this month told KTW she has spent her life mesmerized by exploration.
As a youngster, Harris was fascinated by Mars and guided her studies toward becoming an astronaut. She studied biology and geology, earning a historical science masters from Oxford University in England and enrolling in a PhD program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which helped launch the likes of Buzz Aldrin into space.
Adventures on this planet, however, changed Harris’ trajectory and she quit her PhD and astronaut aspirations to become a travel writer.
“The earth kind of ruined me for wanting to go anywhere else,” Harris said. “The more I travelled here, the more I realized there is no end to the wonder and mystery of life on earth. You really don’t need to go to another planet to have a sense of discovery.”
Harris’ first book, Lands of Lost Borders, detailed a 10-month biking and backpacking trip along the Silk Road, an ancient trade route that spans dozens of countries linking the East and West.
Harris’ interest in the area derived from the romantic idea to follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo. She realized, however, their views did not mesh. Polo, who was a merchant, cursed the region’s wilderness and sought profit. Harris, meanwhile, embraced that wilderness, tenting in locals yards and finding comfort in the hospitality of strangers.
Lands of Lost Borders is not intended for just those interested in learning about the Silk Road. Harris said she wrote the book for those who love words and have a sense of curiosity.
The book has received critical acclaim. The New York Times Book Review touted Harris’ writing: “With elegant, sensitive prose, she takes the reader along on her travels, shares her passion with infectious enthusiasm and invites us into her heart,” the review stated.
Harris’ book was also short-listed this month among five books for the RBC Taylor prize, which highlights Canadian non-fiction. The winner, who receives $25,000, will be announced in March. Harris’ writing has been featured in numerous publications, including The Walrus and Canadian Geographic.
The Kamloops Society for the Written Arts will host Harris, who will discuss her book and adventures, at the House of Learning room 190 at Thompson Rivers University on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are by donation, available online at kswa.ca.