Thursday, November 15, 2007

New Release Spotlight: Walking the Gobi

Walking the Gobi by Helen Thayer

Crossing sixteen hundred miles of nearly uninhabited desert in 126-degree temperatures, all on foot, seems impossible—or at least unbearable—on its own. But author Helen Thayer and her husband, Bill, tackled the journey anyway, all for the sake of an adventurer’s childhood dream. Thayer first fathomed crossing Mongolia’s Gobi Desert when she was thirteen. Political situations closed the desert to foreigners for years, but she maintained her goal for half a century. At age sixty-three, despite a recent injury that left her limping, she began her journey.

Before the start of their first week in the desert, they experienced a sandstorm that left them huddled behind their camels in instant darkness as the sand blasts blocked out the seething sun. Over the next months, they battled scorpions and snakes, not to mention wild Bactrian camels intent on stampeding them and wolves intent on devouring the pack camels. They watched the desert swallow their precious water supply after a camel’s temper tantrum smashed their tank, and they endured the ensuing muscle cramps and delusions as their bodies stood at the brink of expiration. Helen and Bill hid from smugglers crossing the Mongolian-Chinese border and were even jailed for allegedly smuggling as they inadvertently crossed the border themselves.

Amid all these trials, Helen Thayer shows not only her sense of courage and adventure, but also her talent as a writer and, through her words, her love of the desert and the culture therein: “At night, electric blue flashes sparked when we moved our hands rapidly through the air.” She and Bill encounter ovoos, pyramids of rocks adorned with offerings to ward off storms and bad luck. When they meet the few nomadic people who inhabit the desert, they are quickly invited inside to be treated to salty tea, goat’s milk, and mutton. In the utterly desolate regions, Thayer finds “a mosaic of browns, tans, and blacks merged to form abstract patterns across the scorched earth.” By the end of their journey, eighty-one days total, Thayer and her husband are reluctant to leave the land that challenged them and thrilled them so. “Over the roar of the plane, Bill and I held hands and mouthed the same words to each other: ‘We’ll be back.’”

Thayer deserves applause not only for her incredible life as an adventurer, but also for her mastery of language that brings us on the journey with her. Through her words, the scenery takes our breath away and the dangers leave our hearts pounding. And even as the vast emptiness of the desert seems to suspend time and leaves our heroes stumbling across innumerable dunes, Thayer’s writing pace turns this eighty-one day excursion into a journey readers can experience in just a few hours—preferably in the comfort of shelter, food, and water.

Review by Ali McCart, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN: 978-1-59485-064-6
Publisher: The Mountaineers Books
Pub. Date: September 2007
Hardcover, $23.95

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