And the 2011 winner is...

There were many excellent entries this year, with particular credit going to J Griffin for Coffee with the Queen of Sheba and M Jaques for Final Frontier. Has there been a more intriguing opening than the latter’s: “It’s a jawbone, the crunch beneath my hiking boot”?

However, for me the clear winner is S Clark, with a wonderful snapshot of life on the road entitled Highway 14 Revisited. Lyrical and understated, there is so much to like in Highway 14 Revisited, it’s hard to know where to begin. An intriguing tale of a chance encounter while cycling across America, the piece fair sings with poetry, such as this description of the sky, “a thick pewter that sank onto the horizon and trawled through the valley, scooping everything into its windy influence.”

Where travel writing can so often disappear up its own descriptive backside, however, Clark doesn’t just describe events, but also interprets them. In particular, I loved the following passage, which surely chimes with anyone who’s ever carried a backpack: “He glared. It was a moment, like so many travel moments—when the taxi driver detours down a deserted street, when skulkers linger around your campsite as you’re about to leave — when all good options close and you simply have to take the situation as it is.”

As for Clark’s prose, it is wonderfully stripped back, as spare as the Shell Canyon prairies it describes. Less here is so much more, a few simple words speaking volumes. “We talked, which is to say I mostly listened,” observes Clark, telling very little, but still somehow saying it all. Similarly, Clark’s description of the man is brilliantly, minutely observed, a whole life story hinted at in one telling sentence: “He was a greyed redhead with pale eyes hazed to an allergic pink—he’d spent the afternoon clearing rabbit brush.”

Ultimately, however, what I really loved about this piece is just how hazily it is sketched: things are hinted at, rather than just spelt out, and the picture painted is all the more vivid, moody, poignant and intriguing for it. By the time I got to the last sentence – ““I don’t know if this was good thing, or in the end a very bad thing for me,” he said. “But I’m glad you came to my door.”" – I was hooked. Had there been romance? Why was the man so ambivalent? Either way, I was in, and desperate to know more. As a reader, you can’t ask for more.

Jeremy Lazell

Comments from S Clark

The 1,500 dollars is going to my next adventure down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. On my bike trip I was following Lewis and Clark's route across North America, and this trip is tribute to John W. Powell's descent down the Grand. The money came just in time to make the next adventure possible. Thanks so much!

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