YOU & A BIKE & A ROAD - A Book Review
From July 11th - 16th, 2018 I've got a giveaway for this book running on my Instagram, so head over there if you want a chance to win this book (US residents only).
My favorite ice cream shop, thus far, in NYC is Ample Hills Creamery...let's just say I find myself there often enough. So one night after indulging in some delightful dessert, my S.O. and I wandered across the street into the little bookshop, Unnameable Books. For such a small shop they have a sweet little graphic novel collection, which I always love to peruse for non-fiction graphic novels. I have always been a fan of illustrated literature, whether it be a children's book or a moving graphic memoir like "Blankets." Both visual and written art coming together quietly in the pages of a book is one of my favorite ways to ingest a story.
When I saw a book with a lovely cover on it titled "YOU & A BIKE & A ROAD" in the graphic novel section, I thought, "I love bikes & roads & drawings! This might be for me!" But it was better than anything I could have expected. In the author/illustrator Eleanor Davis's own words this book is, "A collection of journal comics I drew while on a solo bicycle tour through the southern United States."
Because of my own long distance backpacking and biking experiences, I am already partial to the long distance hiking and cycling stories of others. Add to that the fact that this this is an account by a female who cycled solo, I felt like I'd found a friend. As I turned the pages, and got deeper into the book, I felt like I'd found a kindred spirit.
I believe anyone who is interested in graphic novels, who enjoys human powered travel, who looks for the humors and lovely details of each day, who empathizes with the struggle of with self-doubt and finding one's way, who has wanted to try something big or hard, or who appreciates being reminded that we can do more than we think we can will like (hopefully love) this book.
On the first page Eleanor has jotted at the top "Day 1 Wednesday March 16th Tucson to Benson - 54 miles" and from there she shares her wabi-sabi journal comics from this trip in what I assume to be an uncorrected state. The fact that there are little scribbled out and re-labeled words here and there, the evidence of erased lines on some pages, or hasty or angrily drawn marks on other pages, leaves one with the feeling that they are looking at personal account via a visual diary and there is a strong sense of her vulnerability. We see a range of thought and themes illustrated in the record of her days, from daily mileage logging, to little details noticed, to funny conversations she has along the way, to internal dialogues and doubts, to very moving events she witnesses along the way.
No joke, I laughed and my eyes started welling up with tears in the book store as I read the first two dozen or so pages. But I was on budget, so I got nervous as I turned it over, could I handle the price of both an ice cream and a new book on that spring evening? It was being sold for the listing price...which is $12...which is kinda bananas for this little treasure. But it also is a price that is also very affordable and very accessible, so more people can read it!
I stopped reading and clutched the book to my chest. It was mine (well as soon as I paid for it, it'd be mine). I would buy it, take it home, and begin from the beginning again so I could absorb all the little details.
There is a part of me that understands that I am very biased. In 2015 when I rode solo from Los Angeles to Glacier National Park, Montana, and there was A LOT of alone time. Most of the time there was no one to notice funny little things with, to lament to about my blistered butt with, or to just share the experience with. So, as I read this account of a long solo ride, by someone who seems to have similar sensibilities as myself, I felt like I was back on my bike, riding towards Glacier NP with a friend by my side. I felt like I wasn't alone, but that through the collective consciousness all those things I'd noticed hadn't been seen just by me. All those funny, sad, frustrating, and empowering moments had been shared all along by a slew of my solo bike riding buddies around the world. My brain exclaimed, "You watched an ant carry a little purple flower! I did stuff like that too!"
While reading I was also reminded of the importance of sharing one's story, getting it out there. I know I've held many of my words and photographs captive by my perfectionism and fears of not knowing if I'd said all that I want to say, or photographed all right the moments. But this journal obviously didn't have all the moments of her whole trip, and yet it was perfect. The silence and gaps give one room to breathe and appreciate what is there. And the book/journal as a whole rides through the gamut of human emotion, one can clearly see the ups and downs of a long distance journey, and the ups, downs, and complexities of life. It tells such a beautiful story.
I don't want to spoil any more of the book, just pick up a copy if you have the chance. It's got a beautiful fold out cover that includes flaps that double as bookmarks. (Also check out more of Eleanor's work, this book is comprised of black and white sketches, but her color illustrations are so lovely!)