25 Incredible Books About Long Human-Powered Journeys

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I love books about incredible human feats like swimming, running, biking, hiking, and paddling really long distances. This post isn’t about one specific physical feat, but any human powered journey.

This also isn’t specifically hiking or running, but it’s using other modes of transportation powered by humans like kayaking and canoeing, skiing, or biking.

This list of books about human-powered journeys will make you feel like you’re on these adventures, too. I know I don’t want to do any of this myself, but I do want to read all about it!

I literally want to read all of these and I hope you can find at least one or two that you would also like to read. I would love to hear which ones you choose and what you think of them!

  • If you want to listen to some of these, consider trying Audible! You can get your first month free (one free book) plus tons of others they have for free.  Get that Audible deal here.
  • If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd!  You can get your first month free there. You can read books and listen to audiobooks. It is unlimited (especially the reading) but if you listen to tons of new audiobooks you may be restricted after a few. I don’t listen to enough to confirm this, but I do use Scribd myself and like it a lot. Sign up for Scribd here!
  • Shop my collection of bookish goodies on Etsy! These aren’t my shop items, but other shops I’ve curated into a book-themed collection. Shop my Etsy bookish goodies here!
  • If you want to read more on your Kindle but don’t want to buy books, Kindle Unlimited is a wonderful option. It’s $9.99 a month but if you read a lot and like to read more than just new releases, it could be worth it. Get Kindle Unlimited here!
  • Get $5 off of $25 from BookOutlet! This is a great place to find new books for pretty cheap. They also have sales quite a bit, so keep an eye out for those. I tend to check here for books I want if they’re more expensive other places. They don’t have everything but they do have a lot. Shop BookOutlet here!
  • Thrift Books has become my go-to when I’m looking for a book and want it cheap. It’s great if you like buying used books. With this you can get a free book after spending $30!
  • Shop my book lists here! You can find every book list I have on Bookshop.org (except my monthly round-ups) and I add everything I can but they occasionally won’t have some. I do occasionally add extras though. If any lists are empty, they’ll be filled in shortly! Shop my bookshop.org book lists here.

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube

By 18, Blair left home in California, moved to Norway to learn to drive sled dogs, and worked as an Alaskan glacier tour guide. She was often terrified of losing control of her dog team, getting lost on the tundra, or being attacked by a polar bear, but most of all, she worried she wasn’t cut out for frontier life. The only thing that was clear is that she is hooked on the North. This is her story of self-reliance in extraordinary circumstances.

This is one of the ones I have and can’t wait to read. Maybe it will be my next one, actually!

Be Brave, Be Strong

Jill is a small-town Alaskan newspaper editor with a lofty goal: to compete in the 2,740-mile mountain bike race from Canada to Mexico along the rugged spine of the Rocky Mountains.

As she prepares for her journey, her fear becomes her fuel. A winter race in Alaska leaves her seriously frosbitten while her career is also on thin ice and her long-term relationship starts to crumble. She questions if the race still matters but senses the challenge carries deeper meaning.

The Sun is a Compass

Caroline Van Hemert, an ornithologist in graduate school, was conducting experiments on misshapen chickadee beaks when she started to feel stifled by the lab. 

She began to worry that she was losing her passion for scientific research when she decided to get back outside and follow the trails of animals.

While this isn’t all by foot, the 4,000-mile journey with her husband from the Pacific Rainforest to the Alaskan Arctic is all human-powered. 

They survived harrowing experiences and moments full of joy and grace.  This is a great blend of science, adventure, and personal narrative.

This is another one I have and can’t wait to read!

Rowing to Latitude

Jill and her husband have traveled more than twenty thousand miles (!) in the Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. They carry all they need to be self-sufficient and, together, have battled treacherous waters, grizzly and polar bears, hurricane-force winds, and dragged their boats across the ice. But it wasn’t all bad. They were serenaded by humpback whales, admired by puffins, and enjoyed moments of calm. This is a celebration of their experiences in the northern waters.

I love reading about the Arctic (it’s one of the top places I want to visit) so I would love to read this one.

Alone in Antarctica

Felicity was the first woman and only the third person ever to ski across the entire continent of Antarctica on her own. 

She did the whole thing without the help of parasails or kites, unlike her two predecessors.

She had to face the possibility of hypothermia and unseen cracks in the ice below, along with emotional vulnerability thanks to hallucinations caused by the vast sea of white and lack of stimulation to her senses. 

This is an inspiring tale of Felicity battling loneliness and her own vulnerabilities as a human.

A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Foot and Raft

Erin and her husband set out on a 4,000-mile human-powered expedition from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands. It was a year-long journey through some of the most rugged terrain in the world to bring awareness of natural resources and conservation issues along the way.

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff

Civil unrest and local traditions didn’t stop Rosemary from taking a solo trip down the Nile in a small boat. She begins in the south with the help of a Muslim sailor who provided a boat and insight into the lives of rural Egyptians. Egyptian women don’t row on the Nile and tourists aren’t allowed to for safety reasons.

She faces extreme heat, crocodiles, and her own deeply held beliefs about non-Muslim women as she connects to past chroniclers on the Nile.

This Road I Ride: Sometimes It Takes Losing Everything to Find Yourself

Juliana was in a dark hole of depression after a man she loved died. A friend suggested she bike across Canada in his memory and instead, she biked around the world. Alone.

With just eight months of preparation, no serious biking experience, and no sponsorship, she left Naples, Italy in July 2012 with the aim to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

She crossed four continents and 18,060 miles, suffered breakdowns, food poisoning, hostile pursuers, and a longing for Italian espresso. On day 152, she crossed the finish line becoming the fastest woman to cycle the world, even beating prior men’s records.

Hudson Bay Bound: Two Women, One Dog, Two Thousand Miles to the Arctic

I want to read this one so bad! Part because it sounds incredibly impressive, part because the cover is so good, and part because this sounds SO good!

Wind, snakes, and polar bears are just some of the obstacles Natalie and Ann face as they paddle the 2,000-mile route made famous by Eric Sevareid from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay.

They are the first women to make this expedition and Hudson Bay Bound gives a look at the pitfalls they face and the planning it takes to make this three-month adventure of a lifetime a reality.

Paddling My Own Canoe

On a flight between islands in 1958, Audrey noticed the roadless northeast side of Molokai and decided she needed to find a way to explore it. She later determines the best way to navigate the treacherous sea walls is to swim while pulling an inflatable kayak. This is the story of her planning, implementing her planning, and fulfilling her dream.

Around Iceland on Inspiration

Riaan Manser is South Africa’s best-known adventurer and this was his most daring, and coldest, adventure yet. He was going to kayak around Iceland with Dan Skinstad, who suffers from minor cerebral palsy.

As a team, they overcome daunting obstacles while learning how to work together. This is also apparently a controversial TV series that came out in 2012. Let me know if you’ve seen that and how it was!

Fifty Shades of the USA

This is the account of Anna’s adventure cycling through all 50 states, dodging floods, blizzards, and electrical storms, riding alongside wild mustangs, through Redwood forests, and over the Rocky Mountains.

I would love to read this one, too. Books about biking across the US always intrigue me.

The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe

Almost thirty years after her expedition from Ireland to India, Dervla sets off on a 3,000-mile ride from Kenya to Zimbabwe. As she travels through Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia, she becomes preoccupied with the devastating effects of AIDS, drought, and economic collapse. It is not an area for travelers looking for tranquility but her thirst for adventure keeps her going.

I really need to read her books because they all sound so incredible.

Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman’s Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China, and Vietnam

I would love to read this one, because like Erika, Mongolia is my dream! With just a bicycle named Gene, she sets off on an eight-month, 8,000 km trek across the Mongolian Steppe, through China, and down Vietnam.

Along the way, she finds out travel is about flowing with unexpected adventures and invitations, not just seeing the sights.

Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic

In the spring of 2017, Adam Shoalts left Eagle Plains in the Yukon Territory of Canada for Bear Lake, Nunavut. Along the way, he faces a maze of obstacles like shifting ice floes, swollen rivers, gale-force winds, and more.

He travels up raging rivers that even the most expert white-water canoeists travel downstream, portages over fields of jagged rocks, and navigates swamps with clouds of mosquitos everywhere he goes. His race against the seasons means he can’t afford luxuries like rest or making mistakes. But all the effort rewards him with the adventure of a lifetime.

This sounds like the ultimate human-powered journey book.

No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women and Their Historic Journey across Antarctica

Liv and Ann are the first women to cross Antarctica and this is the story of their experience. It follows their planning and their trek from the Norwegian sector to McMurdo Station. To get there, they walked, skied, and ice sailed across 1,700 miles of ice for almost three months, pulling their 250-pound supply sledges in temperatures as low as -35°F.

I would love to read this one because it’s two things I love: Antarctica and a human-powered journey.

Skiing Into the Bright Open: My Solo Journey to the South Pole

After 745 miles in fifty days of skiing solo, Liv finally arrives at the Amundsen-Scott base in the early hours of Christmas morning. For almost 41 years she has been dreaming of the South Pole and in 1994, she reached her goal.

This is the story of her exhausting and exhilarating experience of being the first known woman to ski unsupported to the south pole alone. I would love to read this one, too!

Canoeing with the Cree

The inspiration for Hudson Bay Bound, Eric and Walter, two novice paddlers, launch a secondhand 18-foot canvas canoe at Fort Snelling in 1930 for a summer-long journey from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay.

They make their way over 2,250 miles of rivers, lakes, and portages with no radio, motor, or good maps and nearly four months later they arrive in the Hudson Bay.

Paddle to the Amazon: The Ultimate 12,000-Mile Canoe Adventure

Don and Dana left Winnipeg in a three-seat canoe with no idea of the dangers that lay ahead. After two years and 12,180 miles, they had slept on beaches and in jungles, ate tapir and roasted ants, and were arrested and shot at but lived through it all to tell the tales here.

I would also really like to read this one because paddling 12,000 miles is mind-blowing!

Snow Tales and Powder Trails: Adventures on Skis

This one is a little different because it’s not an extremely long human-powered journey, but a collection of short stories of journeys made by skis and the joy that mountains in winter can offer.

Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey into Australia

Here we have a book about a bike adventure in Australia, a place that doesn’t see much action like this (or at least not that I’ve found.)

These are experiences from nine months and 10,000-miles of Roff’s solo bike trip across Australia, offering a glimpse into the land down under. In the thousands of miles he traveled, he lost himself among cattle farms, Aboriginal communities, rainforests, and deserts before finding his new home.

From Peak to Peak: The Story of the First Human-Powered Journey from the Summit of Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand to the Summit of Aoraki/ Mount Cook

With just a borrowed bicycle, climbing gear, an inflatable kayak, a shoestring budget, and a tight time constraint, two men set off on a 1400 km trek between Mt. Ruapehu to Mt. Cook, the highest peaks in New Zealand.

Off the Map: A Journey Through the Amazonian Wild

The is the adventure of John Harrison and with wife Heather as they explore the unexplored region of the Amazon in the Guiana Highlands bordering Brazil.

With just a canoe and a shotgun, they follow the most remote tributary of the Amazon River with no means of contacting the outside world.

This one sounds really interesting, too and just added it to my wishlist! It’s perfect if you want a South America adventure book.

On Roads That Echo: A bicycle journey through Asia and Africa

Charlie’s 2.5-year journey had him pedaling 18,000 miles from Britain to Beijing and 26,000 more through Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

He made it through mountains and deserts, through remote jungles, and down rapids in a dugout canoe. We get insight into the past, present, and future of often-overlooked places during periods of great change.

The Impossible First

Before December of 2018, no one had ever crossed the landmass of Antarctica alone with no support and was totally human-powered.

But Colin O’Brady was determined to change that. It was made even more intense as a head-to-head battle with Captain Louis Rudd, a British polar explorer that also wants to be the first to finish the journey.

In the sub-zero temperatures, he starts out pulling a sled weighing 375 pounds in complete isolation and through a series of near-disasters over the next two months.

Have you read any of these human-powered adventure books? Which ones? Are there any other books about human-powered journeys I should check out?

Author: Megan Johnson

I'm Megan, a cheesehead at heart currently residing in the Sunshine State. You can probably find me reading, watching Forensic Files, or both.

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