The Ridiculous Race: 26,000 Miles. 2 Guys. 1 Globe. No Airplanes

The Ridiculous Race: 26,000 Miles. 2 Guys. 1 Globe. No Airplanes

4.6 3
by Steve Hely, Vali Chandrasekaran

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The most absurd, hilarious, and ridiculous travelogue ever told, by two hit-TV comedy writers who raced each other around the world—for bragging rights and a very expensive bottle of Scotch

It started as a friendly wager: two old friends from The Harvard Lampoon, Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran now hotshot Hollywood scribes, challenged


The most absurd, hilarious, and ridiculous travelogue ever told, by two hit-TV comedy writers who raced each other around the world—for bragging rights and a very expensive bottle of Scotch

It started as a friendly wager: two old friends from The Harvard Lampoon, Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran now hotshot Hollywood scribes, challenged each other to a race around the globe in opposite directions. There was only one rule: no airplanes. The first man to cross every line of longitude and arrive back in L.A. would win Scotch and infamy. But little did one racer know that the other planned to cheat him out of the big prize by way of a ride on a quarter-million-dollar jet pack.

What follows is a pair of hilarious, hazardous, and eye-opening journeys into the farthest corners of the world. From the West Bank to the Aleutian Islands, the slums of Rio to the steppes of Mongolia, traveling by ocean freighter and the Trans-Siberian Railway (pranking each other mercilessly along the way), Vali and Steve plunge eagerly and ill-prepared into global adventure.

The Ridiculous Race is a comic travelogue unlike any other, an outrageous tale of two gentlemen travelers who can't wait to don baggy cardigan sweaters, clench corncob pipes between their teeth, and yell at their sons, "You lazy bums! When we were your age, we raced around the world without airplanes!"

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“No one should set off for a plane ride, a day at the beach, or a lengthy visit to the bathroom without a copy of The Ridiculous Race. I laughed so much I almost died from a lack of oxygen reaching my brain.” —Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and American Dad!

“…will make readers laugh and cry, often simultaneously. Hely's Victorian notions of world travel and the glory of bygone eras provide the perfect foil for Chandrasekaran's glib embrace of the comforts of modern life. Their comically inoffensive braggadocio is akin to your older brother's tales of his misspent youth; Chandrasekaran and Hely might be slightly obnoxious, but therein lies their charm. Hilarious travel writing for the chronically snarky.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Riotous fun.” —People Magazine

“Hilarious.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Reads like a 300-page Simpsons episode.” —WIRED

“Hilarious race around the world.” —Publisher's Weekly

“This is one of the funniest books I've read in years….The hilarity lasts the whole way.” —Anne Stephenson, The Arizona Republic

Publishers Weekly
Hely and Chandrasekaran are friends, TV comedy writers, and 20-something Los Angelinos who decide to circle the globe and make a race of it, starting in LA and going in opposite directions. The hook: no planes. Told in alternating voices, their story fails to engage, but is funny. Hely, for example, arranges passage on a container ship from Long Beach to Shanghai: "about as exciting as a giant floating Kinkos... Entire days I spent staring at the ocean. I read so much that my eyes broke and I couldn't see words." Chandrasekaran begins his adventure with a days-long drive to Mexico City, where he makes an absurd attempt to purchase a jetpack. Beyond comedy, the experiment yields little. Virtually formless, the narrative becomes a slave to its subject, racing from antic to antic without slowing for reflection or a sense of the world's impact on the travelers. At the finish line, Hely confesses that their conclusion is "impossibly anticlimactic," but given the setup it's more like an inevitability. What's seemingly impossible (and unfortunate) is how quickly this speedy narrative runs out of momentum.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A drunken challenge pits Hollywood television writers against each other in a bumbling race around the world. Start with several bottles of 99-cent-store wine. Add a pinch of nostalgia for Old World exploration, a dash of witty (if often juvenile) one-upmanship and a healthy advance from a book publisher. Shake well, and you have this savory cocktail of comedy, adventure and barbed insults. Little planning ensued before Chandrasekaran and Hely peeled off in opposite directions in their madcap dash around the globe, bound by a single rule: no airplanes. Chandrasekaran headed east, making a quick, ultimately unsuccessful detour through Mexico to see a man about a jetpack, while his competitor sailed west on a cargo ship bound for Shanghai. Fluidly and humorously weaving between their two narratives, the book fuses sidesplitting shenanigans with clever dialogue and well-researched history. Along the way, Chandrasekaran succumbed to the ease of air travel, flitting around the world to fall in with a graffiti gang in a Brazilian favela, set up shop as a souvenir hawker in Cairo and revisit the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Hely traveled the rails from Beijing to Moscow before disembarking to ogle Peter the Great's collection of deformed fetuses in St. Petersburg and to hobnob with B-list Swedish celebrities in Stockholm. Lots of testosterone-fueled razzing occurs along the way, abetted by the authors' expat friends and pithy text messages sent via clunky satellite phones. The authors, veteran TV comedy writers, make the transition to long-form prose with ease while retaining a Hollywood grasp of what will make readers laugh and cry, often simultaneously. Hely's Victoriannotions of world travel and the glory of bygone eras provide the perfect foil for Chandrasekaran's glib embrace of the comforts of modern life. Their comically inoffensive braggadocio is akin to your older brother's tales of his misspent youth; Chandrasekaran and Hely might be slightly obnoxious, but therein lies their charm. Hilarious travel writing for the chronically snarky. Agent: Jay Mandel/William Morris Agency

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 7.86(h) x 0.92(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter one

STEVE: What to Expect

Off the coast of Kamchatka, Siberia, bundled up and standing on the deck of a German container ship, I gripped the railing with oil-stained gloves to avoid being pitched into a heaving ocean the color of a wet gravestone. Snow was falling up, a meteorological phenomenon which I did not then and do not now understand, but which I saw with my own human eyes. "Well, " I thought, "I hope Vali is this miserable. "

VALI: A Taste of What’s to Come

I sat exhausted and disheveled, clutching my luggage in the backseat of a Checker taxicab driving north on La Brea Avenue, and wondered if Steve was already back in Los Angeles. Had he beaten me or was I the winner of the Ridiculous Race?

I looked out the window at the huge beige oil pumps and reflected on all I had experienced since I last saw them.

I smiled. I was proud of what I had done.

Did I, having circumnavigated the globe, consider myself to be some sort of better, modern-day Marco Polo? I wouldn’t say that. People who know a lot about both me and Marco Polo probably wouldn’t say that either. But some people, who know only a little bit about me and almost nothing about Marco Polo, might say that.

Those are the people I’m trying to impress.

STEVE: How It Started

This story begins on Sixth Street in Los Angeles, which can hold its own in any index of "world’s craziest places. " Sixth Street is home to the La Brea Tar Pits, pools of tar and water where woolly mammoths used to get stuck and eaten by saber toothed tigers, which would then also get stuck. Across from the still-burbling tar pits is the office of Variety, the showbiz newspaper devoted to reporting on which idiots just became millionaires. Just around the corner is the Peterson Auto Museum, where Notorious BIG got shot. Sixth Street runs past the barbecues of Koreatown, by Antonio Banderas’s house in Hancock Park, and into LA’s apocalyptically vacant downtown.

It was also home to the Sixth Street Dining Club and Magnificence Consortium, a society I’d founded. The members— myself, Vali Chandrasekaran, and our delightful young associate Leila—met weekly for the purposes of wearing preposterous suits, inventing cocktails, attempting to cook forgotten foods of the 1920s, drinking wine from the 99 Cent Store, sampling expired medicines, and proposing toasts to one another. Our meetings were held on Monday nights. This was a mistake. Members were often hungover disasters well into Thursday. But Monday was tradition, so Monday it remained.

Vali and I were Sixth Street neighbors, but we’d been friends at least since the time in college when I bailed him out of jail at five in the morning after he broke into the wrong building during an abortive prank. Five years later, he had cleaned up his act just enough to get a job writing jokes for actors playing well-intentioned rednecks to say on TV. My job was writing jokes for a cartoon alien, and, while this was incredibly fun, I sometimes wondered if I should try something more adventurous.

"See, some day all this will be over. We’ll have wives and children and dogs, and we’ll have to live responsibly. "

I said this as Vali and I were sitting in the hot tub of his apartment building in the waning hours of a Monday night. I was drinking a bottle of ninety-nine-cent wine which contained some kind of kernels, and Vali was putting bubbles on his face and pretending they were a beard. Which doesn’t sound all that funny, but he was really committing to the bit.

It’s possible that I’m misremembering all this. Vali may have been pretending the bubbles were a hat.

"I assume my wife will be fine with me getting drunk and getting in a hot tub, "Vali retorted.

"As of right now, my biography would be very boring to read, " I said.

"Yeah, I’ve been meaning to give my future biographers more material."

"We should have an adventure. " To get the last of the kernels out of the bottle of wine, I tilted my head back and pointed it at the stars.

"I’m in, " said Vali. It’s worth mentioning here that Vali was wearing boxer briefs.

"Should we become hoboes? "

"Mmm, too dangerous. I think these days hoboes are always getting stabbed. "

"Maybe we should circumnavigate the globe. "

"Maybe we should race around the globe. "

"That would be something. That would be an adventure. But we would have to not use airplanes. Otherwise it would be too easy. "

"No airplanes? Is that even possible? "

We didn’t worry about that.

Once we thought it up, there was no way we weren’t going to do it.

VALI: How It Started:

Corrections & Amendments

The preceding is not even close to the truth of how Steve and I came up with the idea for this book. I have no idea why he fabricated the story. The truth is as follows:

One night I had a dream about lifting weights with Bob Dylan. During the workout, my trainer, Abraham Lincoln, told me I should race my friend around the world without airplanes.

The next night, I had dinner with Steve. When I told him about my dream, his eyes widened with amazement and he spit out his soda. I knew something big had happened because Steve really hates to waste soda.

"I had the exact same dream last night, " he said.

Then we both knew what needed to be done.

STEVE: Circumnavigation:

Why It’s Awesome

In the next few days it became all I could think about.

It’s not the craziest adventure ever. These days any men’s magazine has an article by someone who backstroked the length of the Amazon, skateboarded the Kalahari, or Segway’d the Andes.

But 26,000 miles by sea and land is nothing to scoff at. Bear in mind that the first guy to try this, Magellan, ended up dead.

There’s an old-fashioned grandeur to the idea. It’s the kind of journey the great nineteenth-century adventurers dreamed up at the gentlemen’s club and began on a whim. It summoned up cafés in grand, decaying train stations, and the bowels of steamships, timetables, and engine whistles and half-true tales told over card games with strangers.

The route is full of names that still ring with the exotic, even in a globalized age. The Forbidden City. Ulaanbaatar. Siberia. St. Petersburg.Warsaw. Cologne. Ohio.

Ironically, it may be harder to pull off than it was in Jules Verne’s day. No one travels the oceans anymore. Long railway journeys are left to eccentrics. This trip would require stitching together transportation from the artifacts of the past and the new engines of the modern age. Vali and I were prepared to ride whatever beasts presented themselves, or to test the inventions of lunatic engineers.

Perhaps the best part would be that the "no airplanes" rule would keep us literally and figuratively close to the ground. We would see the world.We’d have to.

But to be honest, what I couldn’t stop thinking about was me, in the near future, walking up to beautiful women, and saying this:

"Hello,my name is Steve Hely. In 2007 I circumnavigated the world by boat and train. I was competing in a race against a worthy and devilish foe. The prize was a bottle of forty-year old Scotch. I won. "

Steve: The Rules

We agreed on certain details.

We would start in Los Angeles and go in opposite directions.Because I’d done slightly more thinking about this than Vali, I quickly called dibs on heading

west. My advantage would dawn on him over the course of the trip, when he lost an hour every time zone while my sleep was extended every two days.

No airplanes, helicopters, or hot air balloons. Hovercrafts were a gray area.

Both competitors would cross every line of longitude on Earth. You could do this any way you liked. If you went to the North Pole, ran around, and came back first, you’d win. But good luck getting to the North Pole without using airplanes.

The winner would be the first person back in Los Angeles. Two glasses of Scotch would be poured and left in the care of Vali’s roommate. The first man to round the Earth, arrive back from the opposite direction, and drink his Scotch would be the winner.

The schedule for network television has a two- to three month gap, usually between the middle of April and the middle of June, when shows shut down production to prepare for the coming year. As a result, Vali and I both had two months off. That’s when we’d go.

All we needed now was someone to pay for all this.

Excerpted from The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran.

Copyright © 2008. by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran.

Published in 2008 by Henry Holt and Company,LLC.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Steve Hely writes for the Fox animated comedy American Dad! He was twice president of The Harvard Lampoon, and has been a writer and performer on Last Call with Carson Daly and a writer for The Late Show with David Letterman, the latter earning him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Comedy Show.

Vali Chandrasekaran writes for television's My Name Is Earl. In 2006, his script Jump for Joy was nominated for a Writer's Guild Award. He has been an editor of The Harvard Lampoon and a management consultant for Boston Consulting Group, and he runs the Web site Vali's Views. In a memorable turn on-screen, he played the role of "Vali" on the NBC hit comedy The Office.

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The Ridiculous Race: 26,000 Miles. 2 Guys. 1 Globe. No Airplanes 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was full of funny adventures and great humor. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a book to make you laugh!
Bookclub_enthusiast More than 1 year ago
This was a bookclub selection. It was entertaining and witty with some laugh out loud moments. It made me want to visit Sweden, reminded me how much I miss Paris and Rome, and was instructive on the many reasons why not to visit Mongolia. That said, I was annoyed by Vali and his approach (don't want to give anything away!), and the ending was woefully anti-climatic. A quick and easy read, but it does not come highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Two young comedy writers race each other around the world. They visited mostly non-tourist places and ate ¿exotic food¿ while kidding each other via satellite phone. The book is loaded with humor. Your life will extend by a year after reading the book. Guaranteed belly laughs!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Whether it's eating Mexican food in Mongolia or duck feet in China, traveling by boat, taxi, rail or other exotic means, or trying out the most exotic of local activities in the most exotic of locales, the authors of this book convey a sense of the places that is unsurpassed. Highly recommended. My 14 year old couldn't put it down, and I found it equally amusing - and, at times, enlightening.