Subscriber OnlyBooksReview

From Tip to Top: The Journey of a Lifetime, From Chile to Alaska is an inspiring and absorbing read

Peter Murtagh delivers a pacey, age-defying ride along the Pan-American Highway

From Tip to Top: The Journey of a Lifetime, From Chile to Alaska
From Tip to Top: The Journey of a Lifetime, From Chile to Alaska
Author: Peter Murtagh
ISBN-13: 978-0717190027
Publisher: Gill Books
Guideline Price: €18.99

Staying active, as Peter Murtagh is told by a well-meaning Pilates instructor at the start of this book, is the key to a happy retirement. It’s advice he takes on board, as, at the age of 69, he loads up his motorbike to complete, solo, a ride along the famous Pan-American Highway, from the bottom tip of Chile in South America right up to the very top of Alaska – a place called Deadhorse, where he can go no further.

Tip to Top weaves together his writing over the seven months of the journey – from reporting for The Irish Times, to blogs and notebooks. After a false start caused by Covid – the blight of many a recent travelogue – this turns into an exhilarating read, full of adventure. From getting lost in the woods of the Ukika Valley in Chile, where he’s lulled to sleep by the sound of wild dogs, to visiting the world’s most polite gun fair in Tucson, Arizona.

The book is most absorbing when Murtagh’s journalistic nouse takes over, leading him to investigate human drama. He makes his way through the Peruvian protests that followed the ousting of President Pedro Castillo and engages empathetically with the fate of migrants in Colombia, following the trail that thousands take across the jungle to Panama in their quest to reach a new life in North America.

This is an inspiring read, and Murtagh captures well the almost-unreal feeling of travel as his mind struggles to take in the breathtaking landscapes that flash past. His journey will particularly appeal to those who love the open road as Murtagh charts the challenges of steering, refuelling and mechanically tending to a motorbike in all sorts of conditions – from the blindingly white salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia to the ‘caminos de la meurte’ of highland Peru.


Completing such a mammoth undertaking means Murtagh has to be selective about where to linger and where to pass through, which can at times be a little jarring, but such a conundrum is in the nature of any road trip and indeed only adds to the pace.

Gráinne Lyons is the author of Wild Atlantic Women: Walking Ireland’s West Coast (New Island Books)