Not very many first-time authors get blurbage from the likes of Pico Iyer ("It's a modern classic.") and Barry Lopez, but then not very many can claim they live off the grid, outside of Atlin, on the Yukon border, next to a glacier. Kate Harris has degrees in science from MIT and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in the history of science from Oxford, where she studied as a Rhodes scholar.

Unable to realize her childhood dream of travelling to Mars, she decided to trace Marco Polo's Silk Road by bicycle in 2011, accompanied by her childhood friend Mel(issa) Yule. Previously the pair had cycled through Western China for four months in 2006. A film called Cycling Silk documented their ten months, ten countries and ten thousand kilometres via pedal power through remote parts of Asia in 2011, leading to social media publicity and Harris' first book, Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road (Knopf 2018 $29.95).

Avoiding land mines, rock slides and prostrate pilgrims, the pair pedalled in Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan (the poorest 'stan' of them all), Kyryzstan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet and China. To enter Tibet, they disguised themselves as androgynous Chinese cyclists. The catchline is: she has knack for getting lost. Along the way Harris has been found by an international publishing consortium and named one of Canada's top modern-day explorers.

In March of 2019 Kate Harris was awarded the $30,000 RBC Taylor Prize for Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road. Historically, authors from B.C. are given short shrift by the Toronto-based prize, but two other B.C. authors were shortlisted and received $5,000 each: Ian Hampton of Vancouver for Jan in 35 Pieces: A Memoir in Music (Porcupine's Quill) and Darrel J. McLeod of Sooke for Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age (Douglas & McIntyre), winner of the Governor's Award for Non-Fiction.

RBC Taylor Prize 2019 winner Kate Harris. Photo Tom Sandler (CNW Group/RBC Taylor Prize)

Meanwhile Kate Harris resides with her partner in a tiny cabin with solar panels when she's not reporting on UN environmental negotiations for the International Institute for Sustainable Development and having her nature/travel pieces published in The Walrus, Canadian Geographic Travel, Sidetracked and The Georgia Review, and cited in Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing. 9780345816771

[Coffee cup photo by Piia Kortsalo]

[BCBW 2017]