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A Woman’s Story of Motorcycling the Mormon Trail

by Jana Richman

Pub Date: July 19th, 2005
ISBN: 1-4000-4542-8
Publisher: Crown

A quest for hope, meaning, a sense of place and ancestral connections, all mounted on two slippery wheels.

When she faced a personal crisis of fear and vulnerability exacerbated by 9/11, Richman recalls, she began talking about riding her motorcycle the length of the old Mormon Trail, 1,300 miles from Nauvoo, Ill., to Salt Lake City; in so doing, she would follow the path of seven of her great-great grandmothers (the eighth made the journey, though by train, not foot). At the point she realized she couldn’t back out of it, the author admits, “Everything about the idea scared the hell out of me—handling the bike, traveling alone, traffic, weather, road construction, strangers along the way, what I might find out about my Mormon ancestors, what I might find out about myself.” There’s her book, in a nutshell, but readers will also find that she writes candidly and from the heart about her rebellion from a conflicted Mormon family in Tooele, Utah—her father had no use for the church, constantly kept her steadfastly devout mother from full participation—and her own apostasy based on what turns out to be a not so simple lack of faith. She also admits that while she is an experienced rider (at 45), she has no affinity with a bike’s inner mechanical workings, and should she accidentally “drop” hers—let it fall down—loaded for touring at well over 500 pounds, she wouldn’t be able to pick it up by herself. Richman annotates her ride with stories of the original “Saints” (Mormons) on the sometimes tragic trek (over 10 percent died on the trail), often emotionally reliving the travails of her great-great-grandmothers. Self-realization, if not the true belief, is her reward at journey’s end.

Well crafted, intimate and engaging: an unorthodox rite of passage with ruminations on faith, feminism and more.