Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Miles From Nowhere: Book Review

Miles from Nowhere, by Barbara Savage is one of the greatest bicycle travel journals or travelogues ever written.

Published by The Mountaineers, a non-profit outdoor activity and conservation club founded in 1906, every year the organization, in cooperation with Larry Savage, awards The Barbara Savage/Miles from Nowhere Memorial Award to "an unpublished nonfiction manuscript that presents a compelling account of a personal journey of discovery undertaken in an outdoor arena."

Beginning as no-nothing bicycle travelers and challenging the hills, winds, and rains of the American Pacific coastline, Barbara Savage and her husband Larry continue on through the Yukon and across and down the United States to Florida. Then it's on to Europe, Morocco, Egypt, and on around the world.

Here is an excerpt where they link up in the British Isles--a safe and clean ride except for the rain--with a friend from southern California who rides with them for a time:
"Tough! You folks 'er real tough. I'm dyin', and ya'll 'er goin' a mile a minute. They'll never believe this back in good 'ole Paso Robles," Cary chucked in his country drawl. "I thought the rough part o' yer undertakin' would be gettin' used ta pedalin' long distances. Heck, that's only a fraction of it! You've gotta get used ta bugs in yer food and campin' in animal manure and shoppin' fer food three times 'er more a day. An' then at the end o' the day, when yer tired and hungry, you've gotta search fer a good campin' spot and cook up yer dinner on that little stove before ya kin eat. And then you've still gotta wash the dishes before ya kin go ta bed, and lotsa times y go ta bed dirty. And besides all that, ya hafta bicycle in the rain and git all wet and miserable. Now that's what I call tough!"
Tough is indeed the world used to describe the Savages in this chronicle of their two-year odyssey around that world that began in 1979. Some experiences were sublime in their beauty, and some experiences they barely survived. Some experiences describe the openness and goodness of humanity, and some experiences described the closed narrowness and poverty of humanity.

All the experiences of this bicycle trek are told with Barbara's riveting prose style, with a great attention to detail that does not slow the rapid pace of the story. Although I don't use the term much, I can definitely state that this book is a real page-turner.

Here is The Mountaineers' description of the book:
This is the story of Barbara and Larry Savage's sometimes dangerous, often zany, but ultimately rewarding 23,000 miles global bicycle odyssey, which took them through 25 countries in two years. Miles From Nowhere is an adventure not to be missed!

Along the way, these near-neophyte cyclists encountered warm-hearted strangers eager to share food and shelter, bicycle-hating drivers who shoved them off the road, various wild animals (including a roof ape and an attack camel), sacred cows, rock-throwing Egyptians, overprotective Thai policeman, motherly New Zealanders, meteorological disasters, bodily indignities, and great personal joys. The stress of traveling together constantly for two years tested and ultimately strengthened the young couple's relationship.
 Online reviewer Renee Sproles commented:  "Enduring physical and mental hardships as well as relishing the pleasures of creation and human kindness, Barbara Savage sparked in me a yearning to break free of my daily routine and reach out to others however I can." She titled her review "a wake-up call from your daily routine."

This book awakens the adventure in us and enlivens our humanity. It provides us a wider picture of the world, expanding our sense of what it means to be part of the family of humankind. It increases our appreciation of our luck of living a life of privilege, compared to many in the world.

Read the book; get on your bike and ride. Remember that the tour bus doesn't really capture the reality of the land you're touring. On a bike, you are immersed in the world, surrounded by it--as heady and as scary an experience as learning to swim. Miles from Nowhere is an out-of-the-bathtub-and-into-the-ocean experience. Certainly invigorating, often chilling, but absolutely unforgettable.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What Would Fairfield, Iowa, Be Without A.J.'s Bike Shop?

(Originally posted at Tom Kepler Writing, June 19, 2012)

I'd say my son was about nine or ten when my wife and I decided to buy him a new bicycle.

Having out-grown his one-speed smaller bike, he was ready for a shifting bike. We went to A.J.'s Bike Shop in our town of Fairfield, Iowa. At that time, A.J.'s was on 4th Street in a small garage-like extension of an big house instead of his current location just off the town square.

"Just a minute," A.J. said, finishing up with another customer. After that, A.J. told us that he gave away a bicycle to every 100th customer who was buying a bike, and that we were number 100.

That was about fifteen years ago, but I still remember the moment: the small shop cluttered with shiny bikes, the smell of oils and mechanical things, and A.J. standing there in his blue denim mechanic's tool apron, a smile on his face while he enjoyed our happiness.

That's A.J. What would we do without such a man and such a shop in our town? I think over the years I've bought at least eight bicycles from A.J.'s Bike Shop. I've bought accessories. I've had my bikes tuned-up, modified, and fixed by A.J. I've learned about the greater world of bicycling, joined the national Adventure Cycling organization, and have even done a bit of bicycle touring. I've become a bicycle commuter, traveling to work regularly on my bike.

Now I commute regularly to my teaching job at Maharishi School, located on the Maharishi University of Management's campus. It's amazing how many places I go that are within two miles of my house--an easy bike ride. It takes as long to scrape my windshield and drive as it does to hop on my bike and get to work with pedal-power. I have a tee shirt that reads "The Bicycle: SUV of the 21st Century." Recreation includes bike rides with my wife. Bicycling has become a healthy part of my life.

At A.J.'s I ask about bicycle trailers (I recently bought a Burley Travoy there), a new commuter bike (such as the Raleigh Detour 2.5, a solid bike for a reasonable price), or the ever-popular biking conversation topic of gearing. It's one thing to surf the internet of information--a great thing!--but it's also wonderful to be able to talk face-to-face with a bicycle expert--and maybe even buy the desired item on the spot. Christmas on two wheels! My next evolution in bicycling is to learn more about bicycle maintenance, not to take away business from my local bike shop but rather to become more self-sufficient and able to do repair work on the road.

I wouldn't have experienced this growth and these joys without having a local bike shop in my town. Fairfield, Iowa, was designated as one of the Great Places in Iowa, and part of its greatness is in having such great businesses as A.J.'s Bike Shop. Here is a link to a video that includes information on Fairfield's Loop Trail bike path system as part of a general introduction to Fairfield.

With great joy and memories, I celebrate my long-term business relationship with A.J., his partner-wife, and with all those wonderful bikes. There's just something happy about all those spinning wheels--and every town needs as many happy places as possible.

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(Note: As the content for Green Goddess Glamping evolves, sometimes content focus will dictate that articles will be posted on some Facebook groups and not others. Articles on Dutch oven cooking, portable toilets, or bicycle day rides, for instance, could find posts in different groups. The best way to ensure that you are receiving all articles is to subscribe to follow this blog by email notifications. And if you don't get a confirmation notice, be sure to check your spam box.)