Patti Kagawa’s book From Sea to Shining Sea is the story of a woman’s ride across Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland, sometimes cycling with friends and/or family but often traveling alone. A professional forester and an athlete, Kagawa is obviously in better shape for this trip than many who opt to try a long cycling tour.
This is a well-planned journey, and Kagawa offers a lot of practical information in her book. Two resources that turn up often in the book are the TIC (Tourist Information Center) and Timmy’s as she calls it (Tim Hortons–a restaurant chain that originated in Canada). She makes many stops at various Timmy’s to refuel on her long journey.
Encountering varied landscapes, Kagawa travels mostly along Trans-Canada One for a distance of 6,302.62 kilometers. She comments that Quebec is “far and away the most bike-friendly province in the country.” My husband and I enjoyed some wonderful long rides when we visited Quebec and Montreal a few years ago, especially one along the Lachine Canal that I will always remember.
Kagawa’s book is a good travelogue that can be enjoyed by cyclists and non-cyclists alike. Her warm personality and optimistic outlook infuse the narration of her epic journey.
Taking the Long Way Home: Adventures of a Retired Couple Biking Across America by G. Frank Miller is probably my favorite of the three books, mainly because the people are close to our age, and I really admire their bravery. I have always wanted to do a long distance bike tour, but in Europe, not in this country. However, we have never managed to do it. We had one planned once when we were fairly young, in our forties, to Scandinavia, but several incidents interfered. Anyway the Millers are retired educators who planned their trip carefully and managed to pull it off despite some problems with busy highways, dogs, and headwinds, problems that all cyclists contend with at one time or another.
Miller has a folksy writing manner that puts the reader right there along with him. I loved the incident where his wife Helen speaks to threatening dogs as if they are children and calms them down, much to Miller’s amazement. And the serious fall that Helen suffers when Miller swerves and she swipes his rear wheel is a good object lesson to all cyclists. Moreover, anyone who has traveled a lot can identify with the one horrible motel that they get stuck in, one by which they measure all future questionable motels.
This trip from San Diego to their home in Florida is an epic journey, sustained by determination and faith, that will absorb the reader as he or she rides along.
The third book, The Valley of Heaven and Hell: In the Shadow of Marie Antoinette, by Susie Kelly is an amusing read, if a little weighted by the history of Marie Antoinette. Any cyclist will be entranced by Kelly’s hair-raising description of their whirlwind ride through Paris led by her husband Terry who believes in advancing no matter what obstacles are encountered. I shuddered at the picture of their riding through a forbidden tunnel and through an area where the terrain is nothing but ruts, an area in which both of them tumble off their bikes. But Kelly and her husband are a resilient pair who achieve their goals despite rain, heat, traffic, and disorientation.
Having ridden in France last September, I know that French drivers come much closer to cyclists on the road than do drivers here in California where most drivers who are not also cyclists regard cyclists as somewhat lacking in mental acuity and therefore to be treated warily and granted more than the legal three foot margin. The exception of course is the American driver who despises cyclists and would like to see them “shuffle off this mortal coil” as soon as possible. In France, as in most of Europe where roads are narrower than in the US, cyclists are part of the landscape, and they are expected to proceed carefully and skillfully.
As some of the people commented on Amazon, I would have preferred a little less about Marie Antoinette and a bit more about cycling, but I did like her tributes to those who suffered through World War I and her description of this north-eastern part of France, which does not enjoy the same touristic enthusiasm as some other parts of France.
Kelly’s self-effacing sense of humor along with her energetic descriptions make this a bright, humorous travelogue that gives information on camping areas, hotels, and restaurants as well as attractive towns (and some not so attractive) and places of historic interest.