I just finished reading, with a rueful sigh, David Lamb’s book, Over the Hills: A Midlife Escape Across America by Bicycle (Times Books, 1996), which I found, somewhat on a whim, at the Tecumseh Public Library last week. Not unlike so many bike rides I take, I simply did not want the book to end.
When he took his solo trek and wrote the book, Lamb was working as a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. The chain-smoking 54-year-old with high cholesterol who, since childhood, had rarely done anything more on a bicycle than take a recreational ramble down his local bike path, decided to forego most of the training advice he found, and also to limit as much as possible the amount of new gear he had to buy.
He set out from his home in Alexandria, Virginia. Two months and 3,145 miles later, he arrived in Santa Monica, California. In between, he followed a route partly designed beforehand by an expert, partly crafted by decisions he made along the way, and partly shaped by suggestions from locals he met in small towns scattered about the path.
As a journalist and an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Lamb knows how to tell a story. This is something that’s really important to me, because there are innumerable books in this genre out there, written by perfectly good people that, unfortunately, can’t write worth a lick. And they’re just as tedious and painful to listen to as the sticky rub and drag of a dirty, poorly lubricated chain.
Lamb moves easily back and forth between the epic tale of his tour, the individual lives of people and small communities he passes through, the “real” world we all share (whether we’re on or off the bike), and the internal monologue that provides the soundtrack for days on end with nothing whatsoever to do but pedal. Throughout, he offers the reader fascinating bits of history pertaining to bicycles, highways, transportation, and our nation.
The book is an easy read, thanks its nice sense of flow, which almost seems to match the ebb and flow of the trip itself. It’s funny, thought-provoking, honest, and realistic — though, never once abandoning that je ne sais quoi which makes the idea of a cross-country bike ride so alluring.
In sum, I highly recommend the book. And if you’re in the area, it will be back on the library shelves Monday.
Heaven only knows if I’ll ever have (or take) the opportunity to traverse the continent on a bicycle, or to explore far-away lands on two wheels. But, the idea is certainly enticing, and books like this do a marvelous job of ensuring my daydreams stay vivid and vibrant. Meanwhile, I’ve added more travel stories to my reading list, and I’m beginning to survey maps and bike-touring websites. In the coming months, I’m going to investigate the feasibility of a self-supported trek through Canada along the northern shore of Lake Erie next year.
I’ve been pleased to discover that a number of local riders have done a fair share of touring, and that others have given it serious contemplation. Have you toured or thought about doing so? Leave a comment telling us about it.