Travel writing is one of my favourite genres of books to read. Especially if the authors have walked across a country, ridden a bicycle, motorcycle, donkey or horse. I love the different ways people see the world.
I came across Old Man on a Bicycle: A Ride Across America on a Kindle special deal so decided to give it a try. It was a pretty easy read and the style of it made me laugh. The book is in a combined paragraph to journal format. Don was 71 yrs of age when he decided to ride his bicycle from New Hampshire to San Francisco, California. The journey itself is amazing. Unfortunately he gets tied up not so much in the trip itself but stating what Australian people always tell me about Americans. “They love the weather and they love to know the population of various cities. While attending a conference once in Brisbane, Qld, we had a keynote speaker from a university in Maine, USA. My Aussie friend sitting beside me said, “You wait, her power point presentation will have initial photos of the state of Maine, where it is on the map, what the population is of her state and city and what the weather is like. They always do this.” I, of course said, “No they won’t.” Her reply was, “Yes she will.”
The speaker is introduced, the lights go down and the large screen in front of us lights up with a huge picture of Maine. She introduced us to her university (photo 2) and then told us the population and showed two more photos. Maine in summer and Maine in winter. Well of course my friend and I were paralysed with silent laughter. She whispered, “I rest my case.” Over the years I have watched for this and I have to admit that is what American speakers do when visiting here. I find it highly entertaining.
So I was not surprised when 71 year old Don stated on almost every page of his journal, the population of all the towns he went through and gave me detailed weather updates.
I did enjoy this book but was glad it wasn’t any longer than it was. He described the roads in detail, the winds and what their measurement was. He would start riding about 5:00 am and finish about noon to 2:00 pm. I admired his stamina. I admired his determination. I also admired him when he was wiped out by an inattentive driver in Utah (She was reaching for her coffee on the floorboard when she veered to the right and wiped him out on a freeway) and returned to the same spot a year later to finish his journey to California.
What I found tedious was the health information. Whenever he mentioned something to do with his training he might say he didn’t smoke, he ate well, all the things you would expect a 71 yr old man to mention while training for a cross country ride.
However, if smoking was mentioned he would then go into a long page or two lecture about the physiological things that happen to a body when one smokes. That would include statistics (another American favourite). Then he did the same thing to nutrition, African politics (more on that later) as well as aging complaints and illnesses.
There were several topics he mentioned while continuing with the story that the lecture began. I found it tedious and skipped over those bits. The one paragraph or two I did agree with him on was the aging factor and how society views and talks about the elderly. I have always maintained the elderly are their own worst enemy as they continually pass cartoons and jokes around about incontinent, brain dead, droopy breasted, technologically phobic oldies. They complain with one hand how the elderly are treated but then go on to absolutely denigrate the whole range of elderly in the same conversation.
When I produced the regional Senior’s Association newsletter I put a stop to the aged cartoons and jokes. I received several and I said I would not be continuing this practice. I do feel strongly about it so don’t feel too left out if I never post one here.
I wondered why this book was written like a military manual. Then as the ride progressed he began telling us about himself. First thing is he was an ambassador to Somalia in Africa in the early 1980’s. Then he talked about being a congressman for the state of New Hampshire. That is when everything fell into place about my thinking. A retired politician. No wonder the writing was so vague.
When I read travel writing I like to hear about the people, the quirky places, the conversations in the various places they visit. The only conversations this guy reported on were those of people in diners telling him how “awesome” he was for undertaking this trip. Many Americans don’t seem to realise there are people doing these things all over the world and we barely hear a thing about it unless it involves the moon.
So get over yourself and read a couple of Anne Mustoe’s incredible bicycle journeys (the British woman who truly was awesome).
Would I recommend this book? I think it would be good to read by a person contemplating this journey because of the detailed weather reports, wind speeds and how one must adjust their mileage to better find accommodation in a country that has vast spaces and none available. Though had he begun in San Francisco and gone eastward to New Hampshire he wouldn’t have spent half the book talking about the head winds. They almost always come from the west.
To the armchair traveller there is more exciting travel writing. I do admire his undertaking and his perseverance. There were a lot of bits I did truly enjoy reading but over all I would say it was pretty average writing. And being an American-Australian I did enjoy hearing about the population, weather and statistics.