This book is about the epic, 6000 mile, cycle trip from New York City to Seattle and then to the Mexican border undertaken by adventurer Leon McCarron. His route takes the reader through a less touristy USA of small towns, general stores and farms. This journey is not about speed and setting records; it is about the places and people of America. It is a nicely detailed and highly readable book for anyone inspired by the idea of crossing America by bike.
Leon McCarron has done some pretty amazing things in his life. He walked across China and trekked 1000 miles through the Empty Quarter. His first experience of adventure was this bicycle trip across America, inspired, like so many others by not wanting to settle for a desk job. Leon's mind was also full of the adventures of Lewis and Clark, the men who led the first expedition across the western part of the USA in the early 1800s.
The author comes across as someone you would enjoy being friends with, a nice guy, and a great companion for a long bike trip. This is one of the things that makes this book so enjoyable because the friendly and laid back tone makes you care about Leon's journey. It is also that he is very aware of his shortcomings and not afraid to admit them, such as knowing little about how to fix bikes and carrying too much luggage. He misses his girlfriend and goes through the emotional dilemma of wanting to do the trip, but also wanting a life with her.
The other strength of the book is that the pace is slower than many similar books; there is no race against time. That means there is more detail in the descriptions of the landscapes, encounters with people and what these parts of America are really like. You get quite a vivid picture of a USA that you might not be as familiar with, largely away from the big tourist attractions. For example, Leon was quite taken by the General Stores in upstate New York. These shops are old fashioned icons in small town America. He recalls sitting on the porch of one for hours with a coffee, talking to locals. Leon even rides in the boxcar of a freight train just because it seemed like fun and it was the classic American hobo experience.
As you would expect he meets a lot of people on this journey. Although he set off on his own he spends a lot of time with other long distance cyclists. There are many interesting encounters with locals. I loved when he stopped at an Irish bar in Shipton where he was bought drinks all night because it was the first time that a real Irish person had ever been in the bar!
There is one particularly shocking encounter with locals that is written so brilliantly that it had my heart racing to find out how it was going to play out. I am not going to ruin it for you by saying anything more, but it is a superb piece of dramatic travel writing.
Leon also experiences a tornado, an encounter with a bear and comes close to wild buffalo. This book pretty much covers all the possible adventures you could imagine on an American cycle trip!
This is another classic of adventure cycle writing, made all the better for the author's likability, attention to detail and good story telling.
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My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.