By Jack Hawkins http://jackonabike.ca/
“Brian has a million vague life plans, but zero sense of direction.”
That’s what’s written at the top of the back cover of Brian Benson’s memoir of the summer he spent cycling across America with the woman he loved. Brian’s journey began, really, when he met Rachel in South America. He was captivated by her, and as the two grew closer together, Brian began to ferment a plan in his head for a big adventure.
Brian and Rachel set off from Brian’s parent’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, to ride to somewhere West. They’re both not exactly sure where they’ll end up, but they’re doing it together, and that - in the beginning, is all that matters.
Life on the road begins pleasantly enough for Brian and Rachel, sure there’s the odd puncture, odd argument, and odd moment of wanting to turn back for Wisconsin. But, overall, the journey begins with all the grandeur, splendour and excitement one might expect of a memoir of an epic adventure across America.
As they wind their way West, they come across more friendly people. People like Jeff, who, when Brian needed his wheel re-truing after popping several spokes in the space of a couple of days, offered to help them - and then point-blank refused Brian’s offer of payment. He had a story of his own which Brian admired. Or people like Kim., who took them in and gave them food, and a place to stay while they waited out a tornado.
However that excitement, grandeur and splendour doesn’t last very long. One thing that is evident after the first few chapters is the effects of long-term travel on a relationship between two people. Especially when that long-term travel is both active and physically and mentally taxing. Brian is brutally honest in his accounts of how his and Rachel’s relationship begins to deteriorate, which is something that I give him credit for. It makes the story all the more real and leaves the reader wondering how they would react under those circumstances.
It starts off small, just little mentions about how Rachel was slowing Brian down, but the situation is constantly weighing on Brian’s mind as they weave their way ever Westward. There are fleeting moments that everything might be okay in the end, good times, fun times. But, as they reach nearer to the West Coast, things go from bad to worse and they bicker and fight - as one might expect, couples fight.
But it leaves Brian (and probably Rachel - the book doesn’t say), whether he wants to carry on, whether he still loves Rachel, and what will become of them after the journey is over. Rachel keeps talking about Portland, Brian’s not sure about settling there… The differences between the two become evident as the ride trundles along.
Despite much of the negativity expressed in the dialogue, there is much hilarity to be found in some of Brian’s descriptions and usage of his vernacular, Brian also does a really good job expressing the scenery that surrounds him, within in-depth detail and expressive adjectives.
The book winds down with Brian discussing what happened once they reached Portland - he and Rachel, perhaps inevitably, split up. And Brian rode back East, as explained in his epilogue where he reflects on the journey.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book, despite it’s somewhat-annoying descent into constant complaining. It’s packed with description and, because it’s a memoir - it gets right into the nitty-gritty of Brian’s feelings and his relationship with Rachel. If you’re looking for a good recount of an adventure - then look no further. It does that with roaring success.