In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Inca Roads, and a Bicycle

  Well, I made my long-planned expedition onto Exmoor last weekend, intending to cycle across the whole National Park. I managed 45 miles, hit a pothole and broke my back wheel, and had to abandon. All day I'd seemed to be riding a yard out from the road edge because the tarmac there was crumbling away. So of course this got me thinking - once the cursing had stopped - about how ancient cultures maintained their roads.

  See the way my mind works?

  So when I got home, I researched it. Turns out a lot of ancient peoples didn't really have many proper roads. Even Greece didn't: mostly they were content with dirt tracks that baked solid in summer and turned to mud every winter. The Egyptians were a bit like that too, except they built great causeways high above the plain, so they stayed dry when the Nile flooded. I'm sure they needed a lot of work to keep them intact, but they managed. The Romans built legendary roads, of course, engineering marvels, and so did the Inca. In South America the main north-south road was the Qhapac Nan, and ran nearly 4,000 miles along the Andes Mountains.

  4,000 miles, across one of the highest mountain ranges in the world, spanning deep ravines and boring through rock at times. And the Inca worked almost entirely with stone tools! But they could build and maintain a road like that, and many others besides, while in Britain we can't properly repair a road over a moor less than two thousand feet high.

  All this indicates two things. Firstly, I'm still rather vexed that my long weekend was ruined by a hole in the road. Secondly, doing the sort of writing I do requires a hell of a lot of research. This interest in roads likely won't matter much: I don't want to bore readers with endless minor details like that. But it might supply a line of prose, once or twice, and add a little to the feel and sense of the book. If I do that with ten different things I'll have quite a different story.

  Reviewers of my work constantly ask about the research I do. I take it as a compliment, because it means they've realised the background work that goes into each project. But I usually don't have to bust a wheel and skid halfway across the road in order to get there.