Friday, July 10, 2015

It's Like Riding a Bike

Life is a Wheel: A Memoir of a Bike-Riding Obituarist, Bruce Weber
Scribner, 2014, 333 pages

This book chose me, right from its spot on a library end-cap. It begged to be read and I couldn’t refuse. So I took it home and barreled through it, gobbling up Bruce Weber’s two-wheeled trip across the country in record time. My reading was record time, not his journey. It took him around three months, a little longer than his first trip. Yes, this is the memoir of a man cycling across the US for the second time. Day after day of cycling, averaging around 50 miles a day, took Bruce from Oregon to New York City. For a cyclist like me, though I’ve never ridden farther than across the skinny state of New Jersey, this book rang true time and time again. I could feel the aching "sit-bones," relate to the constant calculating that overtakes the mind as we measure time against distance, sense the flood of relief that happens when the narrow highway shoulder finally opens up or an alternate route suddenly appears. Only cyclists know the particular muscles that ache when you climb back on your bike after a lunch break or the specific rush of camaraderie that you get from seeing another cyclist along your lonesome route. Weber’s book will be most appreciated by those who wear toe-clip shoes. 

For those less wheel-inclined, though, Weber’s story can still be enjoyed. In a blend of recollections about his own life - stories about his mom and dad, past and present romances, and the death of a longtime friend – along with the nitty-gritty details about his cross-country journey, Life is a Wheel is a smooth hybrid of travel story and memoir. Weber unabashedly compares life to riding a bicycle: you're mostly thinking about the next pedal-stroke, the next hot shower in the next motel room, the highway in the distance you'll need to cross. Sometimes the ride itself becomes so absorbing that as the miles to home become less, you may even began to wonder, "What will I do when I get there?" And as much as you long for the breath-taking ride over the continental divide or checking off your longest day of mileage yet, when the ultimate end approaches, you suddenly wish it would slow down. For a writer who has specialized in writing obituaries, Weber understands the suddenness with which life can end. Cycling 4000 miles creates a microcosm of the journey of life: a definite end in sight, a lot to do along the way, and the danger of forgetting how brief it all really is. Life is a Wheel reminds us to keep pedaling, notice the scenery, and not wish away any of the time or distance because the end comes all too soon. I recommend this book heartily for any cyclist, anyone who loves to travel, or anyone who's ever noticed the similarity between riding a bike and journeying through life.

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