Book Review :: American Borders by Carla King

cover american borders

There’s nothing like anger to fuel the fires within. When Carla King’s husband kept vacillating about joining her for a motorcycle trip through Europe, Carla took matters into her own hands. She went by herself.

Realizing her marriage was faltering, 28-year-old Carla was heartbroken, but this event would be the catalyst she needed to restart her life. After riding around Europe for two months, which gave her an exciting movie trailer for life to come, Carla was bitten by the adventure-on-motorcycles bug.

carla king in morocco american borders

In 1995, after living in France working as a technical writer, Carla returned to California and contacted Ural motorcycles. She asked if they needed a test rider for one of their new US imports—a Ural sidecar motorcycle designed in 1938 and built in 1994. Carla was intrigued by the Ural’s past-era qualities, graceful lines, and the sound of its engine. She wanted to travel around America and was given the Ural to do so.

Next, Carla contacted an editor she’d met at a travel writing conference and proposed a weekly series of dispatches to the internet. This was a time when WiFi hadn’t even been invented, and no one carried mobile computers in their pockets. Carla’s travelogue idea was an easy sell to the editor, who’d been having a hard time finding writers who knew how to connect to the internet while on the road. Her timing was perfect.

carla king taking notes american borders

Once these particulars were in place, Carla got to work on planning her adventure—to circumnavigate the US, mostly on back roads and secondary highways following coastlines and borders, while also ducking into Canada and Mexico. American Borders is the story of her 10,000-mile, four-month journey.

When I read American Borders, I was brought back to the first solo road trip I ever took through the US, also in the ’90s. Though I was in a vehicle, I had the same insatiable sense of wanderlust that made me want to move every day and see something new. I was more than impressed by Carla’s sense of adventure but also by her practicality. Here was an adventurous young woman, like myself; however, unlike me, she figured out a way to make a living through her travels. Not only that, Carla became one of the first pioneers of reality-based publishing.

As with any journey, Carla’s trip around America has its ups and downs. She demonstrates resilience and resourcefulness throughout, even when confronted by threatening characters and multiple mechanical breakdowns. Often, a mechanic is miles or days away, and she has to fend for herself. Carla’s repair skills are evident during the story, and we’re not just talking about checking the oil. Whatever she can’t fix roadside forces Carla to interact with strangers to help her. All of these encounters result in enlightening and even humorous travel anecdotes that weave themselves beautifully throughout this book.

American Borders shows us there really are no borders at all when it comes to the basic human needs and desire for adventure.

Sometimes the best way to discover trust in one another is to head out on the open road.

American Borders and more of Carla’s books are for sale here.

American Borders cover


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Heather Lea has traveled to over 60 countries, 40 of which were on a BMW F 800 GS during a 708-day round-the-world motorcycle adventure with now-husband, Dave Sears (Trip Blog: Riding Full Circle). Heather has been a freelance writer for over twenty-five years and a book and magazine editor for more than fifteen. Aside from Expedition Portal, her stories can be found in Overland Journal, Canadian Geographic, Kootenay Mountain Culture, and Canadian Alpine Journal. She loves doing anything in the backcountry, including backpacking, four-wheel-driving, ski touring, and climbing. Heather is a Canadian now living in Bellingham, WA. Find her on Instagram @writer_heather_lea or on Facebook @heatherleawriter.