In 2011, at the age of 57, New York Times reporter Weber (As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires, 2009, etc.) embarked on his second cross-country bicycle trip, an adventure as much transcendental as transcontinental.
Written mostly in real time, the book reflects the author’s philosophy of cycling: Moving forward is the cure for all ills. Woven through this generally engaging chronicle of a west-to-east odyssey are asides on his parents, old friends, loves lost and new, a pivotal journey through North Vietnam and his post-trip “heart event.” But the real strength of the book is on the road, where incidents coalesce into chapters. A long bike ride is a good story to tell, however meandering, and Weber admits that he did it again due to his encroaching mortality; his checklist for adventure wasn’t keeping pace with his advancing age. Unlike his first cross-country sojourn nearly 20 years before, this time, the author brought a smartphone, a computer and constant feedback from readers following his ongoing blog for the Times. This time, the writing, not self-elevation, would be the defining part of the journey. A Manhattanite keenly aware of his provincialism, Weber regards America’s geographic and cultural expanse as exotic: New York is a vertical realm, not so the rest of the country. Measuring miles by the rhythmic pumping of his legs, experiencing the country in topographical segments, Weber lived the quixotic notion that ordeals can be as satisfying as pleasures, and he makes us believe it. “You can’t gobble up the nation, mile after mile under your own power, without assimilating a sense of its greatness,” he writes, discovering anew how geography helps define the identities of thousands of towns and millions of citizens.
Ultimately, Weber sees solo cycling as a metaphor for the solitary experience of being alive. He wonders if every crucible of middle age is about defying impermanence and death. If true, Weber does it with brio.