Louise Sutherland – around the world before I was born

louise-sutherland-greeted-in-londonLouise Sutherland was a nurse from New Zealand who was working in London when she set off cycling around the world. She bought a bike in a church jumble sale in Soho for £2.10s and a 'grateful patient' in the hospital where she was nursing made her a small trailer 'to trundle merrily behind it.' She seems to have set off round the world almost on a whim – she had initially only intended to go to Land's End! She returned to London to collect her passport and her £50 savings and set off. This was 1949 and she returned to London in 1956. Her adventures are described in her book 'I Follow the Wind' which was 'written, printed and bound in its entirety by the author'.

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Her route took her from Calais to Bruges, Holland, Germany and Italy. 'During my first day in Italy I felt most dubious about my chances of survival. I had been offered dire warnings about what happened to small girls travelling alone in that country. I did not wish to forego the camping , but equally, I did not relish the thought of being attacked in the dead of night......Of course no one did attack me.' The warnings grew even more dire as she approached Yugoslavia ' "They shoot on sight....." "They're communists remember. If you're arrested you might never be heard of again..." "They're so poor they'll attack you just to steal the valve rubbers out of your inner tubes....." ' The people however treated her with great kindness.

From Yugoslavia she went to Greece and then took a ferry to Israel. She had an amazingly resilient spirit and refused to be daunted by the fact that having paid the boat fare she had only 13/6d left in the world. In Haifa she took a job in a Mission Hospital for 3 months, then cycled onto Jordan where she worked as a nanny. From there she cycled to Beirut and spent 6 months working in a sanitorium. She had hoped to cycle across the desert to Baghdad but was refused a visa so had to travel by train to catch a boat across the Persian Gulf to India. She was refused a third class ticket as 'We do not sell third class tickets to white men and certainly never to a white girl. Anyway no girl is permitted to travel third class alone.'

She had, of course, received many warnings against going to India. In Bombay she was inundated with offers of hospitality but later found herself in a famine region where she went for 3 days without food. 'I knew that only by keeping the pedals turning could I ever get to the dense green jungle that would indicate a rain soaked district, and only by reaching such a district would I again get food.' Unfortunately all the warnings she had received almost came true when she was attacked by 2 men but they ran away when a bus appeared. 'The memories of the attack by the few have now blunted and are fading, but the kindness of the many will always remain clear. After the fear had completely left my mind, I could feel nothing but anger for those two men. They had placed me in a position where all the world could say:"I told you so!" But does one swallow make a summer?'

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Whilst in Delhi she learnt that her father was dangerously ill and so she returned to New Zealand for a year. This was certainly not the end of her travels – she went onto Canada via Fiji and Hawaii. After working as a nurse's aide for the winter she then spent 5 months cycling to New York. She arrived in New York with just $25 to her name – not enough for the boatfare back to England and as she had no work permit she was unable to earn money. She had however a final stroke of good fortune, a TV company had heard of her journey and invited her onto their programme 'Strike it Rich'. She won $200 and so could afford the fare on the Queen Mary.

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I had assumed that this was a one off journey but I recently discovered a second book 'The Impossible Ride' published in 1982 which describes her journey along the recently built Trans Amazon Highway. Everyone assured her that this was completely impossible due to vast distances of uninhabited jungle, attack by Indians, attack by wild animals, poisonous snakes, lawless gangs....The list was endless although no one mentioned the deep and virtually impassable mud that did almost bring an end to her journey. I particularly liked her remark on the subject of loneliness. 'Loneliness didn't worry me. I was never lonely while I was cycling. I had my bicycle to talk to.' This journey was even more remarkable than the last and the experiences from it inspired her to raise funds to equip a mobile clinic to help the people living along the 'highway'.

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She had been persuaded to abandon her trusty trailer and 'for the first time in thirty years of world cycling be using pannier bags instead' She was also deeply distrustful of her derailleuar gear and felt that her usual 3 speed hub gear would have performed much better. She was unable to reinflate her tyres when she arrived in Brazil as she had never used presta valves before and never mastered the frame for attaching her handlebar bag. A knowledge of mechanics may be useful but it is certainly not essential as she clearly demonstrates! Determination and persistence however are. 'Yes, I WAS frightened sometimes. There were too many people telling me I couldn't do it. Too much talk about the impossibilities.I needed some pros to balance the cons. Some possible stories to balance the impossible ones- and now I had the best 'possible' one of all to tell! And, most of all, my faith in human nature had been completely justified.

Leaving Heathrow

See also Louise Sutherland Spinning the Globe ».

40 comments on “Louise Sutherland – around the world before I was born”

  1. Mike Smith wrote:

    What a lady! Makes my little treks around Cornwall completely insignificant. No I'm going to have to go into town (cycle, of course) and order the books!

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Good one Hilary. I would guess those books are pretty rare, but I found one online for £8.50 (I Follow the Wind: Southern Cross Press, 83 Goswell Road, London circa 1973 edition not stated. Hard back binding in publisher's original illustrated glazed boards ... Monochrome photographic illustrations on glossy silk art paper, small sketches throughout. Signed presentation copy by the author).

  3. Mick F wrote:

    Wow!
    That lady has guts!

    Thanks for sharing that with us, Hilary.

    Do you know, there isn't a Wiki page for her?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special%3ASearch&search=louise+sutherland
    Perhaps someone should write one.

  4. Mary wrote:

    Hilary, thank you so much for sharing this totally inspiring woman traveller with us. I am going online tonight to research her book and get myself a copy! How she managed! She was some woman in mybooks, not just the fact she ignored the "its too dangerous' folk, who it seemed were about even in her day, but that she managed it without 'technology' which most of us could not do without. Imagine, no mobiles, no help when you really need it most,and ... gulp... no GPS...

    This IS THE book to get. Her tales will be exciting from an era when cycling such distances really was pioneering. Mick, she has a trailer!

    Thank you SO much for sharing this important topic.

    mary x

  5. Patrick wrote:

    I ordered 'I Follow the Wind' today from Little Stour Books. There's also one on eBay – it looks a bit tatty but includes a newspaper cutting from the Daily Mail in 1978. 'The Impossible Ride' seems more widely available.

    Her bike trailer looks amazing, and heavy.

  6. Mick F wrote:

    Yes, Mary, she had a trailer!
    Wonderful!
    ..... for thirty years!

    Beats me hand down.

  7. Chris wrote:

    Hilary wrote: Her adventures are described in her book 'I Follow the Wind' which was 'written, printed and bound in its entirety by the author'.

    Is this form of printing still referred to as 'vanity publishing'? I suppose the modern equivalent is the blog. Any old blogger can do it.

    Undoubtedly a very impressive effort, though. I wouldn't dare even now 8O

  8. Mary wrote:

    Just bought a book off Ebay (free postage even to IOM!).

    Cant wait for a good ol read.

    Now looking for her second book, if anyone finds a source of this one, please let me know.

    Mary x

  9. Takano wrote:

    I read the portuguese version of "The Impossible Ride" a few years ago and was looking for some news from her. I am a brasilian cyclist. Thanks for the article.

  10. Patrick wrote:

    Chris wrote: Is this form of printing still referred to as 'vanity publishing'?

    Louise Sutherland was a Self Publisher I think. There's an explanation of Vanity Publishing on the same website. I'd never heard of Vanity Publishing until now.

    Re Takano's comment, is Louise Sutherland still living? Mary, you can buy 'The Impossible Ride' on Amazon.

  11. Hilary wrote:

    I've not been able to find out if she is still alive. A firm called Kennett Bros Ltd of New Zealand is publishing a series of books entitled 'New Zealand Cycling Legends' which will consist of 10 books at the rate of one per year. 'Cycling Legends 6: Louise Sutherland – The Desire to Go' is due to be published in October this year.
    I'm really pleased that this has generated so much interest.

  12. Patrick wrote:

    Louise Sutherland setting off

    Louise Sutherland setting off round the world (larger version on Flickr)

    My book arrived – 'I Follow the Wind' – but it's not the original edition like Hilary's, although it is signed by the author (1973). It's very well written. I think that trailer is not the one she finished with, which has bicycle-type wheels with spokes.

  13. Takano wrote:

    Just take a look at Transamazônica road that she crossed:

    http://inema.com.br/mat/idmat108267.htm

    It is a quite recent picture but still looks almost impossible. . .

  14. Hilary wrote:

    Thanks for that Takano. It really shows the scale of her achievement, its hard to imagine such road conditions and the effort it must take to get a bike and panniers through there.

  15. Gethyn wrote:

    I read her book the Impossible Ride sometime ago and thought yes an incredible woman cycling where she did. She certainly gives NZ Nurses a good name as plucky hard working people.

  16. Takano wrote:

    Let's try to find out where she is now? Just for fun, without deadline. I just created a google group. If you write an e-mail to where-is-louise@googlegroups.com I can join you. This is a reserved group, nothing appears in the google search.

  17. Takano wrote:

    Hi Hilary, you posted this article and I am very new in this website. So if there is any other way to exchange information is ok for me.

  18. Patrick wrote:

    Hello Takano. Thanks for the suggestion, but we exchange information only on this website. It won't be easy for you to find out where Louise Sutherland is now. She was from New Zealand, and if she's still alive will probably be 85 years old or even older. It's possible that one of her relatives might comment on this website, but unlikely. Assuming they still exist, you could try writing to her publisher, Southern Cross Press, 104-106 New Canterbury Rd, Petersham, NSW 2049, Australia. Good luck.

  19. Patrick wrote:

    An email received today from Roar Skaug Larssen in Sweden:

    I have just posted an article on Louise Sutherland on my blog. It is a translation of an article that was printed in the Swedish magazine "Bild Journalen" No 40, October 3rd 1956.

    The article: Meet Louise Sutherland

  20. Hilary wrote:

    That is an interesting article. I particularly like her quote about not confusing adventure with happiness
    'But you must not mistake adventure for happiness. Happiness is somewhere back home, happiness is love and being loved, being taken care of and taking care of.'
    I must remember that when I'm feeling that I don't go on big enough adventures! :)

  21. The magazine the article was taken from was Swedish, but I'm Norwegian ;-)

  22. Patrick wrote:

    Whoops! Sorry. Thanks for the correction.

  23. Bronwen wrote:

    Actually, there is a biography about Louise being published in her home country of New Zealand this year. It's called Louise Sutherland: Spinning the Globe and is due out in November. More details would be available from the publisher's website: http://www.kennett.co.nz if anyone were interested.
    Louise is not alive now. Strangely enough, she died very suddenly and unexpectedly when she was 67. I say 'strangely enough' because all of her sisters are still alive and seem very spritely.

  24. Hilary wrote:

    Thanks very much for that Bronwen. I knew the book was in preparation but couldn't find contact details for the publisher. I'd like to get a copy once its published.

  25. I am attending the launch of "Louise Sutherland – spinning the globe" this evening here in Wellington.
    I had the good fortune to meet Louise in about 1986 at her home at Lake Waihola, near Dunedin, NZ. I had read The Impossible Ride, made contact, and visited while on a bike tour of the South Island.
    She showed us the skirt she designed, which she used instead of a slide show when giving a talk about her Amazon trip.
    She was utterly unpretentious and full of energy.
    Can't wait to read the new biography.

  26. Hilary wrote:

    She sounds a remarkable lady, I would love to have met her.
    I've ordered 'Spinning the Globe' from Kennet Bros and am looking forward to reading it.

  27. Nicolas wrote:

    Hey!
    I'm from Argentina, i've heard about "The Impossible Ride" and i'm really looking forward to read it. Anybody knows where can i get/buy it? is it available online?

  28. Hilary wrote:

    Hi Nicolas
    http://www.abebooks.com have 4 copies of 'The Impossible Ride'. It was easily obtainable on Amazon but they now have only 1 exorbitantly expensive copy listed.

    Its an amazing story and well worth reading.

  29. Carol wrote:

    Hey! This is great! I met Louise Sutherland at University of California in Davis when I was a grad student back in about 1985. There was a poster up on campus that advertised "Come hear about Louise Sutherland's Bike Trip Through the Amazon." Well, I couldn't miss that. I was expecting a slide show, but was delighted to listen to Louise spin her tales of adventure for over an hour without a single prop. Just her. She has been an inspiration to me ever since then and I have gone on many long bike journeys myself — through Europe, and all over the East coast of the US.

  30. John Foster wrote:

    I hope at least one of her bikes is in a museum somewhere.

  31. sandra wrote:

    I am lucky enough to have met Louise when I was working for BBC Documentary Features and I was hoping we could make a film about her travels. In particular, her TransAmazonic trip and the mobile clinic she bought – and re-equipped – out of the proceeds of her book for the people in the region. She is a wonderful person and an example to us all!

  32. Lawrence Woods wrote:

    Just seen a 13 minute TV interview of Louise! She was on the Russell Harty Show in 1978 at age 52 just before she set off on the Amazon Jungle trip.

    I first heard about her in Globetrotter Don White's book ' Get Up And Go ' (1959). He met her in India in 1953 while hitchhiking around the world. I did the same in 1962 after reading his book.

    In 2001 I travelled to Dunedin to 26 Begg Street to see her but was told she had died (in 1996).

    Below is the link to her TV interview. Hope it works for everyone.

    Cycling Legends 6: Louise Sutherland – spinning the globe

    [ Edit: Good find Lawrence... YouTube video embedded by Patrick ]

  33. Hilary wrote:

    That was brilliant. 'A little cracker' as Russell Harty put it.

    Thankyou so much for sharing the link Lawrence.

  34. Lawrence Woods wrote:

    Thanks Hilary for your comment – and Patrick for embedding the video.

    I made a mistake about when she died. It wasn't in 1996 but Christmas Eve 1994 from a sudden brain aneurism – those facts from Wikipedia site.

  35. I'm glad to come accross some information about that incredible women on the web at least.
    I was given a copy of her book (brazilian version "Amazonia. A viagem (quase) impossivel" when I left Mariana for my 4.900 (3.200 cylcing) kms in Brazil. My reference and my lighthouse during the first nights sleeping in the "postos caminhoeiros". My tribute to her. Eduard de Cáceres (Barcelona/Catalonia http://www.ideesfixes.cat)

  36. Diana Lundin wrote:

    I met Louise in 1984 or 1985 when I was working for a small newspaper in California and interviewed her. She was so memorable to me and I remember quoting her for years to come, particularly when she said she arrived in New York with no money, needed to get to England, booked passage on a ship, then won the right amount of money on a game show. She just went about doing whatever she wanted, going wherever she wanted, and let the means take care of themselves. She was wonderful. So nice to hear others respect her, too. She had a rich life.

  37. Diana Shand wrote:

    Hi – I met Louise in 1992 at the UNCED (UN Conference on Environment and Development – Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro – I think the Brasilian Government had paid for her to return – perhaps the NZ one – but it was most fitting she was there. .And then we met again in Christchurch where I think she had a cousin. She gave me her book – The Impossible Ride – which I have just reread with admiration. She died most unexpectedly early 90's (brain aneurysm?) and her cousin called me to return a book I had lent her. Such a shock. A fabulous unassuming but absolutely resolute woman who shared and gave and left a wonderful example of what we can do. And I would love to know of any relatives – just to tell them that. I must look out for her first book.

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