Bicycle Journeys

Library TakeoutMartin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Bicycle Journeys

Recommended Reading from the Shelves of the DC Public Library

Outpedaling the Big C: My Healing Cycle across America by Elizabeth McGowan 
"Proceed as the way opens" is how William Least Heat-Moon put it in his book, River Horse. The line becomes a sort of mantra for Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth McGowan, a melanoma survivor. Having been given a five-year clean bill of health, McGowan decides to bicycle all 4,000 or so miles from America's west to east coast. For her, there are multiple reasons for the exhausting trip. She wants to help other melanoma victims, and sets out to use her many miles to raise funds for cancer research in southeastern Wisconsin, where she was treated. She also wants to better understand her late father, who died of melanoma at the age of 44, when Elizabeth was just fifteen. She rides through small towns and places that she visited as a kid with her dad, mom, and siblings. Her long, nearly 90-day cycling trip across the U.S. continent not only showcases people affected by cancer and more than willing to help promote cancer research, but it personally brings McGowan closer to her father.
This is an anything-but-typical, exhilarating journey story revealing how immersion in the natural world is a balm for the wounded.

Africa Solo: My World Record Race from Cairo to Cape Town by Mark Beaumont
In 2015, Beaumont, a well-known adventure athlete who had previously ridden around the world and throughout North and South America, set out to ride south through Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. After 41 days of intense riding through eight countries he completed his journey, and this book, in diary format, recounts the trip. He details his training program, the logistical challenges, the mechanical failures (from flat tires to broken pedals), the idiosyncrasies of border crossings and customs checks... and adds many vivid descriptions of the landscapes and people he met – and the food he ate – along the way. 

This Road I Ride: Sometimes it Takes Losing Everything to Find Yourself by Juliana Buhring
In 2012, Juliana Buhring rode for 152 days and 18,000 miles – at the time the fastest circumnavigation of the world by bicycle. What’s more, she had never previously done any serious long-distance bike riding and had no corporate sponsors, instead relying on piecemeal fundraising efforts and the generosity of family and friends along the way. This book offers her day-by-day account of crashes, flayed skin, flat tires, the joys of a strong tailwind, the anxiety of riding on a shoestring budget, and the many characters she met along the way. But most of all it’s about the deep meaning of her adventure cycling around the world and the abiding inspiration she found in the memories of conversations she had with her late boyfriend. The journey – and the freedom it bestows upon the traveler – is the destination, and her account leaves the reader with the sense that adventure is to be found in both the everyday and the epic.

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
Most of the books in this list detail excessive sweat, dirt, and sore muscles – but not this volume. These are more accounts of what can be seen while riding a bicycle (“faster than a walk, slower than a train”) through various urban landscapes – the view of the everyday from the saddle of a bike. Byrne meditates on topics far and wide, such as the fate of urban spaces in the United States, the weight of history in Europe, and wildlife in Australia. 

Tour de Oz by Bret Harris
Australia is approximately the size of the continental United States, but, although flatter, it is far less hospitable with its hot and dry climate. Nevertheless, at the end of the 19th century there was a small coterie of foolhardy souls eager to become known as the first to ride around the continent’s perimeter. This well-researched adventure switches back and forth among four riders who circle the Australian continent, one limping along clockwise from Perth, the others counterclockwise from Melbourne and Brisbane. In true rugged Aussie style, the riders battle exhaustion, snake bites, heatstroke, crocodiles and flying spears from unimpressed Aboriginal warriors. The book also provides a glimpse into life in turn-of-the-century Australia, when modern infrastructure was scarce and the car had yet to appear on the scene.

The Wind at My Back: A Cycling Life by Paul Maunder
In this cycling journey, Paul Maunder takes to his bike in the British countryside to realize the connection between one's creative life and the natural surroundings that shape who we are. Maunder’s journey begins in the dense center of a major city, then moves to the suburbs and peripheries of the city, then into idyllic farmlands, and finally to remote mountains.  This lyrical meditation explores the history of cycling as well as how cycling is the "perfect cipher for our feelings about the natural world."

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain by Tim Moore
From the British adventurist who chronicled the “hardest bike race in history” on a 99-year old bike in Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour de Italy (Giro d’Italia) comes Moore’s self-described "most difficult ride of his life" on the Iron Curtain Trail.  This time he rides an archaic East German-made, gearless folding bike on a 10,000km journey through former Soviet Bloc countries over a three-month period and in temperatures ranging from -14.2C to 58C. 

Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, etc., and a Bike Ride across America by Bruce Weber
Some men embrace middle age by buying a sports car, getting a toupe, or finding a younger companion – or all three.  Bruce Weber, a New York Times obituary writer, columnist, theater critic, and sports author, took another route, literally. He bought a fancy new bike and rode it across America, from Astoria, Oregon to Manhattan, New York from July to October 2011. Craving a “jump start” and a chance to “view old things in a new way,” Weber revels in opportunities to build his endurance and appreciate the rich variety of this country.  Weber is an introspective and quiet man whose writing style is conversational and straightforward, so anyone pining for embarking on a bucket list bike tour will find this memoir/travelogue instructive and inspiring.

Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride by Peter Zheutlin
In 1894-1895 a young woman called Annie Londonderry began pedaling from Boston, heading west, with the stated aim of riding around the world – on a single-speed bicycle that weighed 42 pounds, dressed in a long skirt, having only just learned to ride a bicycle. The rider was, in fact, Annie Kopchovsky, a wife and mother of three small children (she rode under the name Londonderry to hide her Jewish identity) who had accepted a wealthy businessman’s challenge that a woman was unable to ride a bicycle around the world. The book includes many contemporary accounts of her and her journey and Kopchovsky’s own written account of her trip as published in 1895 in the Sunday World of New York. A truly remarkable story and a wonderful read.