Pico's Cycling - Tales of the Road is an online cycling magazine. It is intended for writers and riders who want to share their on the road cycling stories and pictures. Submissions that follow our guideline are gratefully appreciated. See the appropriate page in the site menu. Will publish the best of the best each month. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @PicosCycling.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Book Review - The Road Headed West

By Jack Hawkins
Photos Leon McCarron

Leon McCarron’s “The Road Headed West” was a gift to me from a friend, as I mentioned that I was looking for some literature to take with me on my Cross-Canada tour. But, I decided that I couldn’t really wait to get reading it while on the road, so I started early!

Since the nights are getting shorter and cooler here in Eastern Canada, I’ve been retiring earlier and reading a lot more. I was eager to start reading Leon’s book, it was to be my first
‘adventure cycling’ read (although there are now many others on my list!)

For those of you that don’t know Leon, he’s a Northern Irishman who cycled coast-to-coast, from East to West, across America, and then continued his journey down the Pacific Coast, before crossing into South America. He’s also cycled in New Zealand, and a whole bunch of other countries, and he’s walked across the Empty Quarter Desert with fellow adventurer, Alastair Humphreys. The two made a film out of it called, “Into The Empty Quarter”.

But, back to his maiden adventure, a ride across America from East to West. Filled with blood, sweat, tears, gun-toting rednecks, incredible human kindness, friendships made and love tested. All on the road headed West...

Leon’s book begins with an explanation as to certain name changes that he makes to protect the individuals anonymity, then, it’s right into a prologue explaining how Leon got to the point of leaving his New York City apartment, and a relatively mundane desk-job, to begin an adventure around North America, and one that has changed his life.

Leon tells numerous tales as the book rolls forward. He keeps the chapters short, so as to avoid boring the reader with long, tedious chapters, and does this to great effect. I was never bored, or found myself getting tired from staring at the page as I read the book. Note-to-self for my future book(s): short chapters.

The book follows Leon’s journey from East to West - and then South, but it isn’t your typical “I went here and did this and then this and then this” journal-type account of an adventure. Leon’s anecdotal tone and style of writing that helps the book ebb and flow from chapter to chapter. There are moments of misery and monotony through the cornfields of the mid-West, to nearly being deported back to Ireland after re-entering the USA from Canada, having crossed over to the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. There are also however, moments of terrific joy and beauty, which Leon describes immaculately, leaving me with a wanderlust for such places.

Each and every chapter make me want to get on my bike and go - just go out there and have an adventure and change my life. He details (with a fabulous humour) getting gloriously drunk in an Irish bar that had never had a real Irish customer before (you can well imagine what happened next). He also tells of his chance-meetings on the road with a woman named Susie, who was on her own quest to find adventure, and riding most of the last portion of his journey in the company of three - and then four riders and the adventures they had together, and the friendships that formed.

He also finds the time to delve deeper into the emotional side of his journey. When he left Ireland to travel to the United States for an internship at a film company, he left behind his family and his beloved girlfriend, Clare. Leon retraces his own thoughts onto the paper with a brutal honesty, which is what I imagine would be quite akin to my own feelings when faced with a similar situation.

As Leon’s ride advances across the USA, the book turns from shorter anecdotal chapters, to some longer ones. But Leon does his best to fill the bigger chapters with more - more of everything. Something that’s quite impressive is how deep he delves into the history of places such as Mt. Rushmore, or when he talks about the two Native American tribes of the Lakota and the Dakota - following a discussion with an elder.

Leon’s history lessons give the reader a greater appreciation for the journey and provide an educational aspect to the book, something which I found to be a wonderful addition and add something different to the tale.

Leon’s journey across America ends at the Pacific Ocean, but a new journey begins. After spending a few days wrestling with whether or not he should continue South, Leon and Clare finally get to see each other for the first time in months, they spent a few days together in Los Angeles where Clare helped and positively encouraged him to continue his journey - South, and onwards, towards South America.

Leon’s book winds down with an epilogue, giving thanks to all that helped him along in his journey, from family and friends to the makers of his bike and those at his local bike shop. He reflects on a life-changing journey, and the adventures he has had since. But ultimately leaves one last piece of advice for those looking for a bicycle-powered adventure. And that is to just begin!

The last few pages include his kit list - which make my own list for my upcoming trip seem like I have packed far, far too much! I’ve learned a lot from Leon’s “get-up-and-go” book, and I learned another lesson as I flipped the last page… That lesson is that adventure is out there to be had. One must simply go and seek it. I congratulate Mr. McCarron on an excellently written book and a tale of adventure which has me yearning to get out and ride.

About the Author

Jack Hawkins is a freelance travel writer and touring cyclist. Originally from the UK, he swapped one seaside town for another in 2006, and has been living in Canada for eight years. Jack has always had a fondness for writing and after graduating from Bonar Law Memorial High School in Rexton, Jack decided to pursue a freelance writing career, and implemented his love of cycling into his work shortly after a chance-meeting in 2013 with a fellow Englishman who had cycled across Canada.

Jack currently writes for this webzine, but is also a monthly contributor Mike's Bike Shop's E-Magazine, "The Rider's Edge". He recently worked on and published a series of thirty-one articles for revered bicycle touring guru, Darren Alff, for his website: http://gobicycletouring.com/. Jack also writes articles, journals, gear reviews, and interview pieces for his own website - http://jackonabike.ca/.

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