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two wheels on my wagon - paul howard. mainstream publishing 280pp illus.

two wheels on my wagon

'enjoy the suffering - pain is only weakness leaving the body.'

there's a danger here of blurring the lines between modes of cycling, something i'm quite pleased about to an extent, but trying not to make a habit of. only today did i receive an e-mail from a colleague asking whether my recent reviews of touring books suggested that the post might be venturing into touring country. and that i might be trying to lead up to the purchase of a touring bike. just to knock that one on the head, it's been quite a number of years since i toured anywhere, and at this stage of my life, i have no intention of revisiting the genre.

i can but sit and marvel at the journeys some folks are eager and willing to undertake; i'm too much of a home bod to take myself much further than to visit the mighty dave t in port wemyss by bike. someone who has no such qualms about dropping everything for a few thousand kilometres on a road bike or, latterly, a mountain bike, is the intrepid paul howard. paul's first noted ride of more than a trip to the shops, was riding high, during which he shadowed the 2003 tour de france route, albeit several hours ahead of the tour itself. i did give him a bit of a hard time over that book, for while i read very positive reviews on amazon, i didn't find it as enjoyable a read as it probably was to ride.

however, only a few years later, he redeemed himself masterfully with the eccentrically titled sex, lies and handlebar tape, a biography of jacques anquetil. and as with many sections of modern life, he just continues to get better with age, entitling his latest book two wheels on my wagon. this time the subject matter is the undertaking of the tour divide, a 2,700 mile off-road ride down the spine of the rocky mountains from banff in canada to the mexican border.

jason the cowboy

i'm sure that there are many well-versed mountain bikers who would blanche at the thought of riding such a distance through bear country, at altitudes of up to 12,000 feet and through weather conditions that have a tendency to vary from one extreme to the other, often in the same day. in addition, self-sufficiency was the rule of the game; no outside assistance. paul, at the time of cogitating about entering such exquisite purgatory, didn't even own a mountain bike. certainly, there was no entry fee, but consequently there was no prize money either; he'd be doing it for fun. still, a few exploratory rides around sussex would be just the preparation required, don't you think?

'i had ridden 60 miles. more than 2,700 still remained.'

fun is the watchword for the whole book; there can be no doubting that paul howard not only has a heightened sense of it, but a finely developed sense of humour. so while we must be eternally grateful that paul took both fun and humour with him, the pre-ride preparations concentrated on just how much luggage should be carried on such a trip; whether to sleep light in bivvy-bags, or carry a lightweight tent. paul opted for the latter, but some of his 42 co-competitors (can you describe competitors in that way?) took the former, some based on not very much at all.

paul's greatest worry, however, was not the size or amount of luggage and provisions required for the next 2,700 miles, but that of grizzly bears, something that, not unnaturally would focus the attention of most of us living in a mostly bear free environment. comfortingly (or otherwise), an average of only three bear related deaths per year in a population of more than 300 million put his fears in perspective.

'they're prescription sunglasses. i'd like to see the bear that's about to eat me.'

idaho and wyoming map

my initial review copy arrived minus the maps preceding each chapter; the page simply stated 'map of canada', 'map of montana' etc. and i had expected something akin to an ordnance survey map detailing topography, route and other geographical features. upon finally receiving a copy with the maps in their appropriate places, the humour was well and truly sealed, something you may share with me by taking a look at the map accompanying this article. brilliantly conceived.

the tone of the book can likely be garnered from not only the book's title, but a quick glance at the chapter headings: a series of unfortunate events; the bear necessities; where the wild things are; breakfast with dolly parton; a river runs through it. i'm sure you get the idea. in e-mail correspondence with the author, he said "i hoped it might transcend the mtb genre (if such a genre exists). an adventure that happens to be on a bike was what I was hoping for." in which case, he got everything he wished. aware throughout two wheels on my wagon that the journey was by bicycle, the fact that it was an off-road bicycle is more implied than described. if you cut me in half, it says paris-roubaix all the way through in pink lettering, and i'd defy even fausto coppi not to enjoy every chapter. an adventure it most certainly is, and so well written and paced, that paul howard wasn't the only one experiencing every one of those nearly 3,000 miles.

'I arrived on the fringes of eureka. scarcely had a town been more appropriately named.'

two wheels on my wagon is a triumph of adventure writing by an author who happens to be on a bike. a truly formidable mixture of observation, humour and naivety that will keep you reading until you've finished the last page.

would i lie to you?

two wheels on my wagon by paul howard is published by mainstream publishing on april 1st at a price of £10.99

mainstream publishing | tourdivide.org

photo credit: stephen huddle

twmp

posted thursday 25 february 2010

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