Biking The U.S. of Awesomeness
The mass email correspondence of cross-country cyclists Meryl Estes, Nicole Grohoski, Caitlin Prentice and Jonathan Stuart-Moore, illustrated by Charles Mahal. New York: Graphic Union Press, 2008. 55 pp.
O, open road, (almost) endless and winding.
Here is the bicycle bell (mini-clarion) of a new generation, out to discover the U.S. of Awesomeness unburdened by cars, gasoline, or that gritty taste kicked up by long miles of high speed driving. This book is a pleasant, present, joyous record of the travels of four young bicyclists who, in the summer of 2005, pedaled their way from Maine to Oregon. It was planned as a project for a Geography course at Middlebury College in Vermont that spring, and then carried out and documented nearly every week for the 100s of people who received their emails. As a travel narrative, it is full of simple pleasures and perplexing frustrations met with wit and humor that speak of a kind of Thoreauean deliberateness. Not exactly a philosophical meditation, it is instead a collectively-authored account (written in the third-person singular) comprising the landmarks, landscapes, and local flavors encountered on the road. The path itself is traced by illustrator Mahal across a large map that spans the final five pages of the book.
As a document, it provides lots of factual detail: a "bikers' index" lists the amount of peanut butter eaten; the cyclists' regimen of diet and daily progress; the aid and comfort given by strangers who unexpectedly encounter the voyagers along the way; and praise for the community of family, friends and supporters.
While this account of a +4000-mile trek is rather brief--so brief as to leave a desire to know more--the combined array of illustrations, introduction, excerpts from the original "guidebook", emails from the relieved and celebratory cyclists' parents and the index provide a diversity of ways to read through what is truly a one-of-a-kind, and awesome, expedition.