Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Review: Your MIleage May Vary

Wow, a little late-evening storm activity has temperatures here finally dropping, and a lovely wind blowing in my window.  It makes the blinds flap, but who needs 'em?  Raise 'em out of the way and let the breezes blow!

Oh, yeah.  I was here to post up a review of an interesting and entertaining read. . . 

Your Mileage May Vary, by Kristine Goad.

I was intrigued when I heard about Kristine Goad's memoir of her participation in the first American Lung Association Big Ride Across America.  I'm a sucker for tales of long trips and outdoor activities--journals of hiking the PCT, trips to far places in Alaska, or crazy bike rides (see review of Mud, Sweat and Gears).  As soon as I read her blurb, I realized this wasn't quite the same sort of book, but I was still intrigued.  How did a 29-year-old, overweight, asthmatic, novice rider ever get the idea to ride across America--and how did she manage to make it any distance at all?

Ms. Goad is completely upfront with this.  In her words, "it is the story of one wildly imperfect, novice cyclist facing more than just the challenges of the road. . . . you should expect to endure a measure of whining as well as a good dose of tears, bouts of irrational or overblown fear, and more than a few questionable decisions."  She doesn't exaggerate, except perhaps about the whining (she reports some, but the book itself does not whine).

I enjoyed the story a great deal, from the first, frightened pedal strokes out of Seattle (Ms. Goad, it turns out, having so little experience with riding, has to deal not only with her fear of bridges, but also with a great fear of riding in traffic).  When she has to give up on the climb over Snoqualmie Pass, I feel her disappointment, and accept the warning she's already given: not the heroic story of a woman who rides every mile, but rather the actual story of a woman who rides as much as she is able, physically and mentally.  She is very hard on herself in many ways when her asthma sidelines her for days at a time, but I cannot imagine even getting up in the morning feeling that way.

My own reactions, as an experienced rider and outdoors person, did often tend toward wishing I could have given her some advice and help.  So here's some of that advice, gleaned from Ms. Goad's misadventures, for anyone contemplating something similar:
  • Learn to pee in the woods.  There isn't always going to be an outhouse where you need it.
  • Use tire liners, but still learn how to change a flat before leaving home.  Practice.  Ms. Goad experienced an inordinate number of flats, which surprised me as I get so few.  Tire liners make a huge difference (and yes, they were out there in 1998 when she rode.  No one thought to suggest them, apparently).
  • Get decent camping gear.  She was sleeping directly on the ground in a tent that couldn't keep out the rain.  Use a pad, get a tent that can stand up to high winds.  In 48 nights and over the mountains and across the prairies, there is bound to be some interesting weather.
  • Learn to ride comfortably in all kinds of conditions (weather and traffic).  Test your gear and clothing.
  • This one I'd never have thought of, but YMMV makes it pretty clear: have plenty of money.  The riders had a lot of fuel expenses (i.e. food.  What else would a bike run on?), not to mention laundry and occasional entertainment.
Ultimately, I admired the author for doing the ride.  Ironically, being more accustomed to biking, and having experience with riding Centuries, I would probably say that I am by no means fit enough to take on a ride like that, and wouldn't even start.  Sometimes, ignorance is your friend, though it's pretty clear at times it didn't look like it to her.  But the lessons she learned, about herself, about being fit, and about group events, prove that she was right and I would be wrong: it is worth doing, even if you can't ride every inch of the way.

Ms. Goad's writing is engaging and generally smooth and well-edited.  I'm giving this one 4.5 stars.

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