Unusual travel guide makes for fun summer read.
Unusual travel guide makes for fun summer read.
The likable, everybody’s-favorite-neighbors kind of couple “trained for their cross-country bike ride by eating in dozens of restaurants, pairing the meals with amazing wine and discussing how they were going to get in shape…tomorrow!” writes McQuade. And when it was time for getting those wheels rolling nearly every day for four months, that would be fine after a hearty breakfast and one more cup of coffee.
As McQuade and her husband are reminded repeatedly throughout the book by steep grades, aggressive drivers, mean teenagers, relentless grasshoppers, torrential rain, body shamers, painful falls and mechanical disfunctions, they had no business taking on the ambitious goal of riding their bikes from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. As McQuade writes, they were overweight and also didn’t know how to change a flat tire.
When we told people we were biking across the country, they often assumed we meant on a motorcycle. When they discovered we were on bicycles, their expressions turned to shock, especially after giving our bodies a once-over.
Motivated by the hope of staying ahead of hailstorms or the promise of a good meal and a cheap motel or a quiet campsite, the two pushed through self-doubt, sore bodies, unwanted attention and torturous climbs, like the ride up Wyoming’s 9,000-foot Shell Canyon on Day 40.
“The road got so steep we had to stand on our pedals for extra oomph. It felt like we were biking at a 90-degree angle and might tumble backward. Sweat poured off our bodies, dripping on the ground and collecting in little pools on our handlebar bags. After a few miles, a travel bus chugged by, then pulled over ahead of us at a turnout. A group of tourists spilled out on the road. Instead of walking toward the scenic overlook, they aimed their cameras in our direction. One man followed me for an inordinately long time, recording my progress inch by inch. I think we were photographed more on this trip than the rest of our lives combined.”
A communications professional, retired from a long career in TV, radio and film, Liza is a gifted storyteller. She offers readers a fun journey that can be picked up and put down one day at a time – great for a road trip. Many of the adventures are relatable and some are terrifying, like being pulled into the drag of a huge RV on a fast highway or an encounter with the “Killer Cowboy,” on Day 48, near Custer, South Dakota.
“An old cowboy in a beat-up blue truck drove past, then slowed considerably. We could see him squinting at us, deep wrinkles creating an angry scowl. He studied us in the rearview mirror while driving only 10 feet ahead, his expression frozen in place. I watched the pick-up inch forward, making note of the gun rack in the back window. Several long hunting rifles perched in place, silently warning us to stay away. When the summit came into view, the man pulled over and got out of his truck. Squinting and never cracking a smile, he chewed and spit, chewed and spit, chewed and spit. I winced as the cowboy ducked back out of the cab, but fear turned to relief when we saw two Cokes in his hands.”
By Day 20, a 30-mile day no longer seemed overwhelming. By Day 30, nothing hurt. And every day, life on the road offered something, including interesting characters like Chuckles the Clown, a retired rodeo clown they remained friends with long after the trip; Beige Edna, a woman who blended into her monotone surroundings and had nothing colorful to say; and, Magnet Lady, a “stone-cold crazy” person who latched on to Clark.
“We took a much-needed rest at a café. My attention was immediately drawn to an odd-looking woman I guessed to be fiftyish. A child’s Easter hat sat at an odd angle on her head. Laying eyes on Clark, she zeroed in like a laser beam. Hi-i-i-i…,” she purred seductively, sashaying toward him. She brought out a big set of magnets, claiming they helped energy flow more efficiently throughout a body. This might have been an interesting discussion, but she got a little too personal with Clark, rubbing magnets up and down his back and trying to drop them in his shoes. “Buy sssssommmmmme,” she said, trying to beguile.”
As McQuade reports, Clark asked her politely to leave him alone. But she continued, more aggressively, rubbing his legs with the magnets. Finally, he stood up and told her to leave him alone.
She let out a shrill, diabolical laugh that echoed off the walls. Her eyes turned icy black, and the energy in the room felt stifling.
Around Day 90, McQuade remarked how comfortable she had become not wearing makeup in public. By Day 97, she noticed how she could zip up her sleeping bag with ease and still have space for rolling over and breathing comfortably. And, on Day 119,
All of a sudden, there it was – the Atlantic Ocean. Not our final destination of Portland, but close. I was speechless, filled with mixed emotions.
Spontaneous Revolutions is a beautifully descriptive and often hilarious account of travel by bicycle through America’s small towns, scenic byways and historic landmarks. It serves as a powerful reminder that most people are kind, caring and generous. It also lands the message that we should not wait to do something meaningful for ourselves. In the words of a preacher the couple met along the way, “Life is short; never postpone happiness.”
A few years after their ride of a lifetime, Campbell died unexpectedly. McQuade compiled her notes into a book to commemorate the summer the two of them shared something truly special, grew closer and felt the strength of their love and support through every mile.
After reading “Spontaneous Revolutions,” you may find yourself rooting for unlikely athletes, no matter how far away the finish line is and believing what Liza discovered, “Surmounting a challenge is mostly a mind game.” QCBN
By Bonnie Stevens, QCBN
“Spontaneous Revolutions: Seeing America One Pedal at a Time” is available on Amazon. Hear directly from Liza McQuade on Zonie Living at https://starworldwidenetworks.com/shows/bonnie-stevens
Courtesy Photo: Liza McQuade celebrates the 2,000-mile mark of the more than 3,000-mile journey.