Kate Harris, an avid writer and adventurer, is dubbed as one of Canada’s greatest female explorers in contemporary times for her famous cycling journey along the Silk Road.
On Friday, Jan. 25, the writer paid a visit to TRU to share some of the “misadventures” she encountered during her travels, as told in her book, Lands of Lost Borders.
Harris described herself as a keen student who is wildly ambitious. She explained that growing up she always had a thirst for adventure and knew she wanted to be an explorer like Marco Polo and other brave people she read about.
“We grew up in small-town Ontario and when I looked around the tallest summit all I could see was a haystack and the widest horizon was a field of corn,” she said.
She said the quaint environment she grew up in fuelled her craving for the wild, which she knew had the potential to “wipe her out” if she wasn’t cautious.
After graduating university in 2006, Harris decided to embark on a bicycle journey with her childhood friend Melissa Yule.
The goal was to get to Lhasa, a forbidden city in Tibet, which she explained was a “former sovereign nation liberated by China decades ago.”
Harris said the bicycle journey was inspired by “imagining a world without borders or barbed wires.”
She added that visitors did require permits to enter the region, but said she and Yule were emboldened by notable European explorers who hadn’t exactly received permission to go to Tibet themselves.
“We didn’t have permission to go there and neither did this gal, Alexandra David Neel, she was even more emboldening,” she said. “In the year 1924 at the age of 55, this French women disguised herself as a pilgrim and snuck into Tibet and made it all the way into the forbidden city of Lhasa.”
Harris said her and Mel felt justified because the Tibetan people welcomed foreigners and wanted people to see what had become of their former country.
She added they also didn’t “want to be led around on a leash” and were definitely against paying for permits that would only reinforce the power and symmetry between China and Tibet.
“Instead we woke up at 3 a.m and we dressed in our darkest most criminal clothing,” she said. “We flipped over the reflectors on our bicycles and we pedalled up to this checkpoint guard rail and snuck under it and dragged our bikes after us and then we got back on our backs and rode as fast as we could into forbidden territory.”
While Harris admitted all of this did sound pretty insane, she emphasized that she and Yule had only crossed a regional boundary and not an international border.
“The biggest penalty we faced was a fine and so that was a risk we were willing to take if we got caught,” she said.
Still, Harris admitted that the trip did not always go smoothly and even mentioned how the duo had to deal with pouring rain, freezing snow and body aches induced by countless hours of cycling in poor weather conditions.
Nonetheless, she stated that once they finally reached their destination they saw what she described as a “magical place.”
“The sheer wonder of being there was astonishing and I kept asking myself, “How did we get here?” And of course, I knew the answer is that we broke all the rules”, she said.
Harris said experiences like this helped her to realize the true meaning of exploration, which she says is “not about planting flags or leaving footprints.”