Pilgrim Wheels by Neil Hanson

Pilgrim Wheels

Reflections of a Cyclist Crossing America
Email this review


A middle-aged cycling enthusiast takes a cross-country trip in this travel memoir.

In 2011, Hanson (The Pilgrim Way: Ultralight Bicycle Touring, 2015, etc.) surprised his friends with an announcement. He was planning a cross-country bicycle trip in which he would ride from Big Sur in California to the east coast. It was an ambitious undertaking, but he was undaunted. Though not a professional cyclist, Hanson, 57, had enough experience and know-how, and apparently the stamina, to pull it off. A friend would join the ride in Flagstaff, Arizona. As Hanson departed from Monterey, he hoped for northwest winds to help him reach a respectable goal of more than 100 miles per day. Sometimes the winds cooperated, sometimes they didn’t, but the journey along the Pacific coast and through redwood forests provided a picturesque and soulful beginning to a trip that had more to do with peace of mind than simple achievement. What lay ahead was the desert in summer. Across the Mojave, temperatures in June hovered around 120 degrees, and there were stretches with no services for 75 miles. Good planning and precise calculations tempered the struggle, as did some interactions with business proprietors in remote locales. After the cyclist’s friend Dave Giesler joins the odyssey, the book covers some of the science of riding in pairs against the wind and delves into personal and professional history to highlight what makes the trip important to Hanson. In southern Colorado, the story turns more meditative, inspired by the astonishing scenery, and light philosophizing gives way to a terrific reflection on cycling as a way to balance the need to achieve with the wish to enjoy life. Hanson writes his first-person adventure with enough descriptions of the pains and joys of cycling to pull the story successfully through some slow patches in barren landscapes (and plenty of truck stop breakfasts). He may be determined to accomplish his goal, but his simultaneous desire to improve himself adds a somewhat humble layer to the narrative. The tale concludes in Kansas, with a sequel planned to document the remainder of the journey.

A book about an impressive trek through unforgiving Western lands that offers a personal reflection and meditation on the art and science of cycling.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9826391-2-2
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: High Prairie Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2016


NonfictionPASSAGE TO JUNEAU by Jonathan Raban
by Jonathan Raban
NonfictionTHE LOST CONTINENT by Bill Bryson
by Bill Bryson
NonfictionAMERICAN NOMADS by Richard Grant
by Richard Grant