It doesn’t take much to convince Dan Johnson to embark on an adventure—just a couple of bucks. When his pal Jim loses a bet that he’d be the last to get married, Dan buys his first motorcycle and decides to go on a 3,000-mile journey to collect his $5 winnings and attend Jim’s wedding. Plus, he has a hunch his old flame Elaine might be there, which certainly sweetens the deal. Dan has only 10 days to travel from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Minneapolis on the Alcan Highway, a rugged and sometimes desolate route that could pose problems for an inexperienced motorcyclist. But Dan forges ahead, insisting, “[T]his might be my last chance to do something like this. At twenty-three years old, obligations will catch up to me.” The novel has an intriguing premise, and it may give motorcycle enthusiasts a nostalgia kick. However, the stiff, boilerplate dialogue quickly gives the odyssey a predictable, movie-of-the-week feel. Whether he’s battling angry bears, getting hassled by the border patrol or trying to save an out-of-control trucker, Dan always narrowly escapes injury, like James Bond or Indiana Jones. But unfortunately, Dan isn’t as interesting a character as those adventurers. Instead of requesting shaken martinis, Dan thinks about his preferred peanut-butter thickness on sandwiches (“one-half inch, a gourmet technique he learned a few years ago from his younger sister Anne”) and touts the benefits of “eyeball steaming”—that is, pressing his eye sockets against a hot coffee cup. Sheimo states in the acknowledgements that he actually traveled the Alcan Highway by motorcycle in 1970, but despite his firsthand knowledge of the terrain, the novel just doesn’t feel authentic enough to be completely believable. Instead, readers are left alone with the thinly sketched protagonist as he attempts to beat the odds, which seem always to be tipped in his favor.
A road trip that doesn’t feel dangerous or realistic enough to become a fully engaging adventure.