Kate Harris

writer & wanderer



Lands of Lost Borders


The Book


Knopf Canada  &  HarperCollins US/UK , with translations in  Germany ,  France , Taiwan, and China.

Knopf Canada & HarperCollins US/UK, with translations in Germany, France, Taiwan, and China.

#1 National Bestseller • Winner of the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize • Winner of the 2019 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Literary Nonfiction • Winner of the 2019 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction • Shortlisted for the 2019 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature • Finalist for the 2019 BC Book Prizes’ Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Award • A CBC and Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2018 • Globe and Mail and CBC Books Bestseller • Indie Next Pick • New York Times Book Review “Recommended Travel Read” • NPR All Things Considered "Summer Reading List" • Winner of the Banff Mountain Book Award for Adventure Travel • Outside Magazine Book Club Pick • Amazon and Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Month

Buy at your local bookstore or 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.



kate and mel the eye science fair project little kids.jpeg

Silver medals at elementary school science fairs are excellent predictors of a glorious future in adventure. The more serious the photo, the wilder the wandering to come. Melissa “Mel” Yule and Kate in 1993.

Looking giddy and pale with sunscreen in Leh, India, here we are (Kate and Mel) after getting off our bikes for the very last time on the Silk Road, 2011.

Check out more photos from the Silk Road.


Here’s a video we threw together with iMovie featuring 10 months, 10 countries, & 10,000 km of our 2011 Silk Road bike ride...in roughly 10 minutes.

Here’s another Kate & Mel iMovie documentary special, this time about our first bike ride on the Silk Road in 2006. We never got around to making episodes 2 or 3.

the land.jpg


As a young girl growing up in rural Canada, Harris dreamed of the far-off lands Marco Polo described, igniting an obsession with the world beyond the farthest bend in the road. Lands of Lost Borders is the gift Harris sends back from that beyond... With elegant, sensitive prose, she takes the reader along on her travels, shares her passion with infectious enthusiasm and invites us into her heart... That she is able to cast and maintain such a spell of wonder is no small feat. To say that Harris has become the explorer she always wanted to be is the highest praise I can think to offer.
— New York Times Book Review
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. . . 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
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
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)
[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)
[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)
From her vantage point of a student of the history of science, explorer and adventurer, Kate Harris presents a rare and unique vision of world, and explores the nature of boundaries. Unable to realize her childhood dream of travelling to Mars, she decides to trace Marco Polo’s Silk Road by bicycle. Vivid descriptions of the places and people she meets inspire deep and eclectic reflections on the nature of the world, wilderness, and the struggle of humans to define and limit them. This is a book that changes how one thinks about the world and the human compulsion to define it.
— RBC Taylor Prize jury citation
This is so much more than a travelogue; in sharing her adventure biking the Silk Road, Kate Harris gives us a meditation on both our yearning to explore and that darker impulse to divide ourselves into walled-off nations. Lands of Lost Borders is a rhapsodic, deeply researched, and elegantly written book. I cannot wait to see where this writer goes next.
— Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize jury citation
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
This is a hymn to the pure love of travel: a brave and astonishing journey.
— Colin Thubron
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
2807 Cycling Silk Turkey 2011-02-02.jpg



Forever ridiculous in Piccadilly. Author mug shot credit: Piia Kortsalo ( download a high-res version here ).

Forever ridiculous in Piccadilly. Author mug shot credit: Piia Kortsalo (download a high-res version here).

Kate Harris is a writer with a knack for getting lost. Her essays and journalism have appeared in Outside, The Walrus, Canadian Geographic Travel, and The Georgia Review, among other publications, with “notable” citations in Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing. A former Rhodes and Morehead-Cain scholar, and past student of science and the history of science, she has won multiple awards for her literary non-fiction. Canadian Geographic named her one of the country’s top modern-day explorers for journeys edging the limits of nations and prudence, such as a biking across borders on the Silk Road and skiing after Marco Polo sheep in the Pamirs, but writing remains her preferred mode of exploration.

Kate lives off-grid in a log cabin with her wife and dog near the BC/Yukon/Alaska border, with stints in Ontario for family time, her wife’s job, and hot showers. 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

Why the World Needs Barry Lopez, Outside (2019)
Where Not to Travel in 2019, or Ever, The Walrus (2019)
The Future of Exploration, The Walrus (2018)
BorderskiSidetracked Magazine (2017)
Lands of Lost Borders, The Georgia Review (“notable” selection in Best American Travel Writing 2015)
The Contours of Cold, CutBank (“notable” selection in Best American Essays 2013)
Tuktoyaktuk or BustThe Walrus (2014)
Solute & isotope geochemistry of subsurface ice melt seeps in AntarcticaGSA Bulletin

pinnacle climb.jpg

News & Events




+ Shortlisted for the 2019 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature
+ Winner of the 2019 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction
+ Winner of the 2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Literary Nonfiction
+ Winner of the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize
+ Winner of the 2018 Banff Mountain Book Award for Adventure Travel
+ Finalist for the 2019 BC Book Prizes’ Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Award
+ A Kirkus & CBC “Best Nonfiction Book of 2018”
+ Featured in/on The New York Times Book Review, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, CBC’s The Current, The Hindu, Maclean’s, Hazlitt, Minneapolis Star Tribune, NPR, Outside Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Global News, Vancouver Sun, and elsewhere.


+ Oct. 28-30: Jack Matthews Fellowship lecture, Peterborough, ON
+ Nov. 3: Toronto International Festival of Authors, Toronto, ON
+ Nov. 6: Wings WorldQuest talk, NYC
+ Nov. 7: Edna Staebler Award, Wilfrid Laurier University—Waterloo.
+ Nov. 8: Edna Staebler Award “Meet the author” event at Wilfred Laurier University—Brantford.
+ Nov. 14-17: Kendal Mountain Festival, UK.

288 Cycling Silk for Sadie 2012.jpg




Email: kate@kateharris.ca / Twitter: @kateonmars / Facebook: @kateonmars / Instagram: @kateoffmars

Literary Representation: Stuart Krichevsky

Interested in having me speak at your event or conference?
Email my publicist, Ruta Liormonas, for availability and rates. Partial list of clients:
• RBC Royal Bank • World 50 • North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) • Canadian Ecology Centre • YMCA • International Hypoxia Symposium • Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) • Morehead-Cain Foundation • Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival • Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival