Kate Harris

author & adventurer



Lands of Lost Borders


The Book


 Cover of the Dey Street Books edition from  HarperCollins USA . Also available in Canada with  Knopf Canada , with translations forthcoming in French, German, Dutch, and Chinese.

Cover of the Dey Street Books edition from HarperCollins USA. Also available in Canada with Knopf Canada, with translations forthcoming in French, German, Dutch, and Chinese.

Globe and Mail Bestseller • Indie Next Pick • Winner of the Adventure Travel Prize from the Banff Mountain Book Awards • Outside Magazine Book Club Pick • Editor’s Pick for Reader’s Digest • Amazon and Christian Science Monitor “Best Book of the Month” • “A modern classic.” —Pico Iyer

Buy it at your local bookstore or order it here:


As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved—that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and metaphysician—had gone extinct. From her small-town home in Ontario, it seemed as if Marco Polo, Magellan and their like had long ago mapped the whole earth. So she vowed to become a scientist and go to Mars.

Well along this path, Harris set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule. This trip was just a simulacrum of exploration, she thought, not the thing itself—a little adventure to pass the time until she could launch for outer space. But somewhere in between sneaking illegally across Tibet, studying the history of science and exploration at Oxford, and staring down a microscope for a doctorate at MIT, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. Forget charting maps, naming peaks, leaving footprints on another planet: what she yearned for was the feeling of soaring completely out of bounds. And where she'd felt that most intensely was on a bicycle, on a bygone trading route. So Harris quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Yule, this time determined to bike it from beginning to end.

Weaving adventure and deep reflection with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of a world that, like the self and like the stars, can never be fully mapped.

  • Check out dozens of photos from Mel’s & my 2011 Cycling Silk expedition, on which the book is based.

  • Here’s a video showcasing 10 months, 10 countries, & 10,000 km of our Silk Road ride...in ~10 minutes!

the land.jpg

The Buzz

Extraordinary. . . Lands of Lost Borders . . . is rich not only because of the adventures it recounts, but in the telling of them. It isn’t so much a travelogue as it is a contemplation of what pushes us out the door and how we change out there in the world before we return to our own little corner of it. This is not the type of book you want to motor through. Instead, it slows you down, so you can appreciate what you’re experiencing – almost like a trip on a bicycle across an astonishing landscape. You find yourself wanting to linger, rereading passages built of sentences so beautiful they demand to be read out loud – even if no one else is in the room.
— The Globe and Mail
Some books are maddening from the opening paragraph. Not because they are badly written or obtuse, or because they’re not what you thought they would be. Instead, they are maddening because from that opening paragraph you know this one is going to be good — very good — and no matter what else is going on your world, the next several hours are going to be spent happily lost in a new story. Suddenly it’s 4 a.m. and you have no idea where 2:30 went... Kate Harris’ Lands of Lost Borders is a compelling, suspenseful, insightful and elegant travel memoir. . . The book’s title is a metaphor, of course. History and self and place all get mixed into an expression of an explorer’s desire. This is one that will have you dreaming.
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
Beautifully written, a vivid conjuring of landscapes most readers have never seen. . . So many adventure memoirs detail seemingly superhuman feats of endurance that are off-limits to most mortals. Harris, instead, suggests that anyone can become an explorer simply by taking a long walk—or a bike ride—and paying close attention to the world as it passes by. . . [A] fresh new voice on what it means to be an explorer in the 21st century.
— Outside Magazine
[A] journey that beautifully reveals much about the history and nature of exploration itself. Exemplary travel writing: inspiring, moving, heartfelt, and often breathtaking.
— Kirkus (starred review)
Harris’ stunning and nuanced prose limns sweeping landscapes and offers engaging history lessons—all while maintaining a brilliant self-awareness and authenticity. Vivid, pithy descriptions read like indelible poetry, exemplifying Harris’ reverence for the interconnectedness of our world. Lands of Lost Borders is illuminating, heart-warming, and hopeful in its suggestion that we will explore not to conquer but to connect.
— Booklist (starred review)
[In this] luminous, incisive memoir, Harris chronicles her permanent wanderlust, her twisting career path and the months she spent cycling the Silk Road with her best friend. Lyrical, brilliant and sharply observed, Lands of Lost Borders is a paean to wanderlust and a call for readers to launch their own explorations.
— Shelf Awareness (starred review)
Few have the guts or the stamina to bicycle the famed Silk Road, the ancient route of Marco Polo. Fewer still possess the considerable talent of Kate Harris that allowed her to write of her adventures. . . Harris shares her experiences, but she also explores the very concept of borders, both personal as well as geographic.
— Christian Science Monitor
Beautifully rendered… debut…. Harris’s talent is in her prose, as she offers breathtaking descriptions of the Silk Road, shrouded in mystery and wonder.
— Publishers Weekly
Kate Harris arrives among us like a meteor—a hurtling intelligence, inquiring into the nature of political borders and the meaning of crossing over.  The honesty behind her self-doubt, her championing of simple human friendship, and her sheer determination to explore what she does not know, compel you to travel happily alongside her in Lands of Lost Borders.
— Barry Lopez
Lands of Lost Borders carried me up into a state of openness and excitement I haven’t felt for years. It’s a modern classic.
— Pico Iyer
This is a hymn to the pure love of travel: a brave and astonishing journey.
— Colin Thubron
“Why bike the Silk Road?” Harris writes, reading my mind. “I wanted to seek out the world’s wildness and plumb my own in the process.” With this stunningly written debut, Kate Harris maps our own wildness, and leaps right into the upper echelon of travel narratives.
— Marni Jackson
Old cliché: I couldn’t put it down. But beyond the fact that Kate’s story hooked me, I realized that I was witnessing the emergence of a formidable voice speaking startlingly original things about the world. I can’t remember coming upon a first book that so dazzled me.
— David Roberts
2807 Cycling Silk Turkey 2011-02-02.jpg



 Photo credit:  Joanne Ratajczak /Glorious & Free

Photo credit: Joanne Ratajczak/Glorious & Free

Kate Harris is a writer with a knack for getting lost. Her words have been featured in The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, and The Georgia Review, among other publications, and cited in Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing. A Rhodes and Morehead-Cain scholar, she was named one of Canada’s top modern-day explorers and in 2012 won the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award. Her journeys edging the limits of nations, science, and sanity have taken her to all seven continents, often by ski or bike. She's been profiled in Guernica, The Globe and MailVOGUE Germany, and the short film The Art of Wild. When she isn't wandering the world, she lives off-grid with her wife and dog in a log cabin in Atlin, British Columbia. Lands of Lost Borders is her first book.

atlin cabin in winter.jpg

Why write?

As Virginia Woolf put it,

"That would be a glorious life, to addict oneself to perfection; to follow the curve of the sentence wherever it may lead, into deserts, under drifts of sand, regardless of lures, of seductions; to be poor always and unkempt; to be ridiculous in Piccadilly."

Or from Robert Bly's perspective,

“If you have a tiny farm, you need to love poetry more than the farm. If you sell apples, you need to love poetry more than the apples. It’s good to settle down somewhere and love poetry more than that.”


Select Publications


Essay about borders and biking the Silk Road, published in The Georgia Review (Fall 2014) and cited in Best American Travel Writing 2015. Read it online here.

"My obsession with borders was born all at once in three different countries, depending on who you ask. I was in my early twenties, biking with a friend across the parched soda plains of the Askai Chin. For weeks we traversed this high-altitude wilderness, a land spread wide as wings, folded here and there into mountains. Turquoise lakes glimmered in the distance like puddles of sky. The horizon was more a hesitation than a hard edge, and every so often it spat out a dust tornado that would skim across the road just meters ahead of us, its flue curved into a question mark missing its point. 
On a daily basis the wild fact of being here knocked me sideways with astonishment. Where on this spinning world was I? Ask a Chinese, and I was in China; an Indian, and I was in India; a Tibetan, and I was in Tibet. Ask me, and I was in paradise, no further names necessary."


Essay about an off-season ski traverse of the Hardangervidda Plateau in Norway, published by CutBank, reprinted in Drunken Boat, and cited in Best American Essays 2013You can read it here.

"There is nothing practical whatsoever about this expedition: we have no ambitions to make history, plant flags, claim territory, collect specimens, chart maps, win fame, or curry the favors of kings and queens. We are simply here to study the contours of cold, and apprentice ourselves to wildness along the way. The goal is something like sublimation, ice loosed straight to sky."


The Future of Exploration, The Walrus
BorderskiSidetracked Magazine
Arizona UncorkedCanadian Geographic
Two PoemsDrunken Boat
Tuktoyaktuk or BustThe Walrus
Antarctic Dry ValleysSierra
Solute and isotope geochemistry of subsurface ice melt seeps in Taylor Valley, AntarcticaGeological Society of America Bulletin

pinnacle climb.jpg

News & Events




 Profile & book review  in the Globe and Mail .

Profile & book review in the Globe and Mail.

+ Winner of the Adventure Travel book prize with the Banff Mountain Book Awards
+ Recommended on NPR’s “All Things Considered”
+ LOLB is the September Pick for Outside Magazine's book club 
Review of LOLB in the Minneapolis Star Tribune
Profile/review in Outside, September 2018 print issue
+ Travel writing interview with Rolf Potts
+ LOLB is the Christian Science Monitor's #1 book pick for August
+ Maclean's features LOLB as one of "the 15 books you should read this summer"
+ Guest on CBC's The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti
+ Profile and book review in the Globe and Mail
+ Appearance on Global News' The Morning Show
+ CBC says Lands of Lost Borders is one of the 12 books you should read this spring
+ Named a "fearless female author" by Kobo on International Women's Day (click on photo for Q&A)
+ Top book pick in the Vancouver Sun's Spring Arts Preview
+ Interview on Time to Eat the Dogs podcast
+ "How I Wrote It" with CBC Books
+ Sneaking into Tibet excerpt in Canadian Geographic
+ Q&A with my Canadian book editor in Hazlitt
+ Biking the Black Sea excerpt in The Toronto Star 
+ Lands of Lost Borders named one of 21 nonfiction books to watch for in 2018 by the CBC
+ One of 33 "audacious Canadians" featured in Glorious & Free book



October 12-14, 2018: Haystack Book Talks, Norfolk, CT, USA
+ October 15-19, 2018: Vancouver Writers Festival (three events)
+ October 20-21, 2018: Morehead-Cain Alumni Forum
October 31-Nov.4, 2018: Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival keynote and panel
+ November 16, 2018: YMCA Peace Medal Breakfast keynote, Kingston, Ontario

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For Kate's agent, please contact Stuart Krichevsky:

Tel: (212) 725-5288 | sk@skagency.com

For US media or event inquiries, please contact Libby Collins at Dey Street/HarperCollins:

Tel: (212) 207-7061 | libby.collins@harpercollins.com

For Canadian media, event, or speaking inquiries, please contact Ruta Liormonas at Knopf Canada:

Tel: (416) 557-5518 | rliormonas@penguinrandomhouse.com

Interested in having me speak at your US-based conference or event? 

Contact the HarperCollins Speakers Bureau.