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Signs of Life: To the Ends of the Earth with a Doctor

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  149 ratings  ·  38 reviews
They say that being a good doctor boils down to just four things:

Shut up, listen, know something, care.

The same could be said for life on the road, too.

When Stephen Fabes left his job as a junior doctor and set out to cycle around the world, frontline medicine quickly faded from his mind. Of more pressing concern were the daily challenges of life as an unfit rider on an ov
Hardcover, 397 pages
Published August 6th 2020 by Pursuit Books
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Average rating 4.40  · 
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 ·  149 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Stephen Fabes is an emergency room doctor at St Thomas’s Hospital, London. Not exciting enough for you? Well, he also spent six years of the past decade cycling six continents (so, all bar Antarctica). His statistics are beyond impressive: 53,568 miles, 102 international borders, 1000+ nights of free camping, 26 bicycle tires, and 23 journals filled with his experiences. A warm-up was cycling the length of Chile with his brother at age 19. After medical school in Liverpool and starting his caree ...more
Undertaking training to become a doctor is around seven years of your life, or longer depending on your specialism. To take the decision to pause when you are a junior doctor and cycle around the world is not a light decision. He had the idea from Langer’s lines, the topological lines that are drawn on the body and show the natural orientation of the collagen fibres. He sat down with an atlas and drew lines across each of the seven continents of a possible route. His mum pointed out that Antarct ...more
Mr T
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Not every writer has this sort of material to work with, and not every cyclist-adventurer can write. Fortunately Dr Fabes writes beautifully and has an amazing story to tell. All the mishaps, cultural misunderstandings, adventures and bumps to bike and body that you’d expect in a journey like this are here, but this is much more than just a collection of - admittedly often hilarious - travellers’ tales. Fabes, a London doctor who set off round the world in 2010, had plenty of time to think durin ...more
Paola Fornari
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful way to be transported around the world during these troubled times!

‘Signs of Life’ is so much more than an ‘I-took-six-years-off-and-cycled-round-the world’ travel book. We accompany Doctor Stephen Fabes to spots we would never dream of visiting: a mobile medical clinic in Northern Kenya, a rubbish dump in Jakarta, the migrant jungle in Calais, to name a tiny fraction. With Fabes, we tend to lepers, discover a mummified Tibetan lama, and suffer the horrors of dengue fever, pois
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, kindle
Everything about this book is impressive. The journey undertaken by the author is mind blowing - almost 54,000 miles on a bike over six years. The book tells the story of the journey; from leaving London, St Thomas' hospital on a cold January day to celebrating a birthday in Syria with Tariq, (who he had just met) and countless other stories in many other countries. This is not a book which documents the tourist hotspots in the countries visitied, it is absolutely a travel memoir and often refle ...more
Jill Green
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was engrossed for three whole days on my 4 day with this book. As someone who has always enjoyed reading travel books...(particularly Dervla Murphy, who I noticed Stephen also rated highly) I seriously loved this one with it’s addition of genuine medical interest. I was amazed by his extraordinary courage and persistence in the face of some serious dangers. His get back up and carry on in the face of Dengue fever after a mere 10 days of life threatening illness was inspiring.
I felt he could ha
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
I've read a lot of travel narrative over the years, including a fair amount of bicycling adventures. Is this one perfect? No, in the sense that some chapters engaged me more than others; I realize that's a personal thing, but I suspect others may feel the same way. Overall, however, I'd declare it a really good read. 

First of all, Dr. Fabes is flat-out a great writer. I'm sensitive to (picky about) books where the material strikes me as either choppy or flowery. Here, the stories flowed well, al
Linda Eshag
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Signs of Life by Stephen Fabes 2020
This has been a joyous read! The whole idea of the bike ride excited me from the first. I wondered whether Stephen Fabes could sustain my interest and write with feeling about the places and people he encountered? The answer is resoundingly positive. Yes, he could!
I was touched by the delicate and modest way in which he integrated his considerable medical knowledge into the substance of his account, and by the warmth of his relationships with many of the peopl
Jan 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
3.5 rounded up for one adorable photo. A lively bicycle adventure saga. Fabes experiences were surprisingly relatable to someone who has never done any bicycle touring (and never intends to), he has an easy, natural way of relating to the people he meets along the way that makes him seem very approachable. I had hoped there would be a little more medicine along the way, and he does visit various clinics starting about halfway through his journey and discusses the ways in which money and privileg ...more
Pecchini Lucia
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As a reader, when I approach adventure books, I always fear feeling like a useless couch potato admiring the incredible achievements of supernatural-fearless-beings overcoming every obstacles in their adventurous perfect life.
When I finished Stephen Fabes’ book I felt nowhere near that. It is a honest, witty and ironic account of his adventures (and disadventures), fears and excitements as he embarks in a bicicle world tour.
The book takes the reader on a trip across the globe exploring mankind
Ronan Ryan
Fascinating read. Fabes style and confidence as a writer grow on you throughout this book. His descriptions are often very observant and witty. The detail with which he describes the places and history of the countries he visits is captivating. I was often left wondering where and what the many characters in his book are doing now. The book is analytical and reflective but not overly so, as his wonderfully timed humor brings a smile back to the readers face.
I enjoyed his thoughts on healthcare,
David Harcus
Feb 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's not about the bike.
Difficult to sum up, for me it was a compelling mix of travel anecdote and profound observation, of our differences and similarities. It is quite philosophical, maybe political. A lot to digest and think about.
Funny, sad, poignant. I loved it.
Matthew Tett
May 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoy travel writing, particularly a book that does something different, as well as one that complements my fiction reading. Stephen Fabes’ ‘Signs Of Life’ does just this..

Fabes is a London-based hospital doctor and in his late twenties, relatively new to his vocation, he decides to give it all up and cycle around the world. No mean feat - but it has been done before, in various ways. Fabes sets out from London and the next six years of his life are spent exploring the world, from trave
John Fabes
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly enjoyable and brilliant read. I loved the descriptive writing and the pace of the story telling as the epic journey unfolds. The brief snapshots of the people Stephen meets are captured so well making the individuals stand out like wonderful vignettes illustrating his passage across the continents. He weaves in social commentary and small historical perspectives, facts and figures which all inform the places through which he was travelling making the reader more knowledgeable or hav ...more
Cee Weston-baker
May 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Oh did this book make me want to hop on my bike and get going! A fully qualified doctor decides he can't quite reconcile himself to 'normal' everyday life and so he sorts out his world into a couple of panniers, attaches them to his bike and leaves the front door of St Thomas' hospital in London to cycle around the world for six years.

Stephen Fabes has a great turn of phrase and sees the absurd in many of the situations that he finds himself in. First trip was from London to Cape Town - waking t
Joanna Pearl
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Doctor Stephen Fabes gives up his job in emergency medicine and spends six years cycling round the world.
We travel with him, encountering danger (poisonous spiders in his tent, the Taliban) as well as the kindness of strangers.
Fabes mixes his traveller’s tales with history of the places he visits, and experiences of seeing medical facilities including a TB hospital and a refugee camp.
Although Fabes dwells on themes such as the nature of connections between humans, and the politics of global he
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: I haven't read the book yet. Even better though: I've met and traveled with Steve himself!

While I was a paltry 5,000km into my own bicycle trip in East Asia, someone I came across told me of a legendary character who had already covered five times that distance in Europe and Africa. I immediately became a devoted follower of Steve's blog, Cycling the Six, greatly enjoying reading up on his exploits wheeling around countries that I wasn't sure I'd ever get to. Two or so years later, o
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
In this time of travel restrictions, what better way to spend some hours than in the company of Stephen Forbes as he recounts his 6 yeras cycling around the world.
A total of 53,568 miles, 102 international borders crossed and 26 replaced tyres.

This is a little bit more than a normal traveller's account of such a journey, for Stephen has a medical background and the book is infused with how healthcare forms an integral part of his life.
We also see how healthcare provision differs so markedly t
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really great travel book with a bit more of an unusual slant than the usual cycling around the world.
I personally thought that the first two continents felt quite rushed (although obviously fitting six years and all of this into one book is very impressive) but then things settled down to a more enjoyable pace.
The doctor's view of everything was a really interesting take on things. Occasionally the medical analogies felt slightly forced, but generally they weren't.
What I really enjoyed wer
Mar 26, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written tale of a fledgling British doctor who begins a tour around the world in a snow storm that takes him 6 years. The story focusses on the journey itself but also contains social commentary on the kindness of many people he encountered who housed and fed him despite, by first world standards, having little themselves as well as on fellow travelers present and past. One missed aspect was the medical follow up when Dr. Fabes reached the end of his journey. Before he left, he un ...more
Denise Chojnacki
Six years navigating the world on a bike....inspiring or insane? If you are a good author, you are bound to make it sound inspirational to those of us who would not entertain such a bold adventure. Stephen Fabes takes you on a journey of that six years that feels literally like a whirlwind. His accounts are entertaining yet move along at a good pace; you never get bogged down in one place. Some of his experiences felt harrowing but he made it through well. I love the fact that he included pictur ...more
David Ryan
Wanderlust in the extreme! Six years spent bicycling around the globe, some 53,000 miles, across 102 international borders (just after finishing med school yet!). Enduring untold hardships, hazards and the “worldwide human condition.” Talk about true grit! Fabes is indomitable, resolute, stoic and, above all, a born writer, possessing a natural gift with words and phrases (subtle, wry and outright laughable). The writing is thoroughly engaging. Alas, there’s no index (inexcusable for a “travel b ...more
Apr 02, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book has no soul. I read the entire first section of him biking from London to the southern part of Africa and still have no feel for anything he saw, experienced or felt. He gave some facts of the travel, mentioned some people, and spouted out random bits of history, but none of it was spoken with any real interest or passion.

I don't have any hope that the rest of the book will offer much more. So I'm turning it in.

This book gets good reviews from many people, so maybe this is what they wa
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A superb read: funny, fascinating, moving. Written with the fluidity of a bike moving inexorably around the world. Part travel memoir, part journey within, this book was a rich experience. I particularly enjoyed the author's determination to find the most challenging routes (as if cycling around the world wasn't hard enough) and the insights into his life as an A+E doctor. ...more
Jamie Andrews
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Post-colonial without the bullsh*t. Stephen's witty narrative of a fascinating adventure shines light on many aspects of humanity, but particularly the West's relationship with less affluent parts of the world. Astute cultural and historical reference are peppered within his own absorbing tale. It left me reflecting on what a healthy global society might really look like. ...more
Linda Halsey
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Stephen Fabes's account of his 6 years cycling 6 continents(!!) is so very interesting and insightful. It's incredibly thought-provoking and funny too. His medical perspective makes this a very different type of travel book. I found myself stopping to google things like camel spiders and tuberculosis as well as look at maps of the places he was writing about. ...more
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this story. I enjoy bike touring, and was supposed to be on a big trip at the moment - but viruses... So being able to revisit Stephen's journey, which I followed on and off for years on line, has been a brilliant distraction. He's done a great job turning an amazing trip into a book. It's an entertaining and thoughtful read. Recommended. ...more
Isabel O’Keeffe
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I saw Stephen Fabes speak at the Adventure Travel Show 2018 and have been looking forward to his book being published. A tale of cycling six continents, Faves strikes a balance of laugh out loud moments and reflective questioning of his journey and the places and people he meets. I like his idea of, ‘shut up, listen, know something, care’ making both a good doctor and a good adventurer.
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating and informative read that kept me hooked till the end.
The author is a talented storyteller and this book is full of food for thought and the story of a great travel.
I strongly recommend it.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Sarah Howell
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a read that will inspire you to get off the couch and get moving, this is it. Stephen took off for 6 years, cycling the world, and came out with this incredibly well written and grounded book. Beautiful, metaphorical look at the world. Read it! ...more
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Stephen Fabes is British medical doctor, author and adventurer.

As a teenager, Stephen cycled the length of Chile with his younger brother Ronan, a journey that inspired a bicycle journey around the world. In 2010 he set off from St Thomas' Hospital in central London, where he was working as a junior doctor, and for six years he cycled the length of six continents, covering more than 53,000 miles b

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