Saturday, 23 March 2013

Blizzard conditions...and final thoughts about Mike Carter's book

You might not be able to see the snow, but it's there, believe me.
I went to bed early and woke up early as a result. It was gone 5am and for a while I sat and listened to the shipping forecast, something I haven't done for a while. It went on for much longer than I remember when dad used to listen to it back at home, but there's something cosy about it.

When I gazed out of the window there was snow, fine snow, but now, at 0655hrs, it's coming down quite heavily. I aborted the ride early as I just knew it was settling in for the day. Let's hope tomorrow's a better day for a ride as I need to get out there. In fact, because I was up early I was going to head out early, ie around 7am, but the weather had other plans.

Yesterday I finished Mike Carter's One Man & His Bike and I can honestly say it was the only book that I've truly not wanted to finish – and by that I mean I wanted it to go on forever. But, as they say, all good things come to an end and I can only cheer myself up with the fact that he's written another travel book, Uneasy Rider, which I intend to buy immediately.

As readers of this blog will already know, I've posted about One Man & His Bike before and I really must recommend it to anybody who likes the idea, believes in the idea, of the strong relationship between the bicycle and freedom of mind and, of course, freedom of spirit. I know that I can really think about stuff when I'm out on the bike, riding towards the green or through some country lane, it's a time to sort things out in my head.

So, I've finished it. One of the best later chapters (it's all good) is Chapter 20 when he meets a ferryman who, it transpires, is more than just a ferryman – although that 'just' is not right. Mike meets a man who pedalled to Hawaii and, indeed, almost everywhere else in the world. His name was Stevie and, I guess the best way to describe people like Stevie – whose book I will definitely read if I can find it – is 'out there'. I think Mike Carter's 'out there', you have to be to embark upon a mammoth cycling adventure around the coast of the UK. I'd like to think that I was 'out there' – and in some respects I probably am – but not as 'out there' as Stevie. In fact, he's truly 'out there' in the sense that he doesn't seem to care about the things we're all supposed to care about: jobs, prospects, 'getting on', pensions and fitting in. It takes something that I don't have to simply up sticks and cycle to Hawaii, forgetting any peer pressure to stay at home or parental pressure, perhaps, to 'knuckle down'. Or perhaps its not having these things, or not caring about these things or even not having the friendly, stable surroundings in the first place that makes people do these things. Then again, of course, it might just be the spirit of adventure, which is even better and I'd like to think that with all these guys: Mike Carter, Stevie, all the others that write great travel books, that it's more the spirit of adventure that motivates them, not, say, a desolate family life, nobody to cling on to and so on.

Last week Andy and I spoke about how we wouldn't be able to do what Mike Carter and now, of course, Stevie, have done; we have commitments, responsibilities, we're no longer carefree – were we ever carefree? I think that's why I liked One Man & His Bike, because it put me in the saddle. I did that trip with Mike but in the comfort of a hotel restaurant in California, a sofa in my living room, an airplane high above the clouds travelling from Detroit to Los Angeles. I was there in the Highlands of Scotland, in various campsites dotted around the country, in lonely bed & breakfasts in coastal towns, but at the same time I wasn't there – that is what good writing is all about, putting the reader in the adventure, transporting them from wherever they are to the landscape of the book, even if, for the reader, the reality is more a fairground ride as they trace the steps of the pioneering writer who did it for real, laying down the tracks in front of himself like Gromit did in The Wrong Trousers.

I've just spent about five minutes searching around for my copy of One Man & His Bike, which I've probably left in the office. I was going to quote from the book itself and I will, probably later in the week. For now, though, I'd advise you to go out and buy this great book, or order it on Amazon, it's amazing.

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