METAL COWBOY: TALES FROM THE ROAD LESS PEDALED, by Joe Kurmaskie (Breakaway), 304 pages, $35.50 cloth. Rating: NN
The most boring vacation slides are those of a bike trekker. You get never-ending mountain-with-unusually-shaped-cloud shots plus the bike bore's snore-inducing stories of mechanical mayhem in countries where you can't get your bottom bracket repacked, man.
Fortunately, two new books steer clear of this pattern.
Anik See's A Fork In The Road starts in Mexico, where she cycles off the beaten path through the countryside, encounters real people living real lives and finds that food is the common currency.
In each locale she visits -- Thailand, Bali, Turkey, Iran, Patagonia -- she sites the cuisine within its cultural context and then offers a few recipes for dishes that are familiar to most Torontonians: rotis, empanadas, humitas, fesenjun.
Returning to Vancouver, where she works as the food researcher for the Urban Peasant, she suffers culture shock. But slowly, her new-found perspective crystallizes. Although she's had to leave home to discover the world, she now realizes the world has been in her own backyard all along. Now that she's relocated to T.O., a quick bike ride over to Kensington Market might have produced the same result.
Bicycling columnist Joe Kurmaskie's trans-U.S. travels are chock-full of epiphanies. Each of Metal Cowboy's 40 short chapters ends with a revelation about the meaning of life from the vantage point of a bicycle saddle.
The first third of these insights are quite touching. His story about meeting up with a motelful of Elvis impersonators in Utah is particularly comical yet poignant.
But as the travelogue continues, this one-trick pony ride becomes so predictable that the reader can't help thinking that Joe might be making up some of this cosmic stuff. Wherever Kurmaskie treks, he finds some interesting dude to male-bond with over the handlebars. (No subtext here -- he mentions his lovely fiancee back home several times.)
Although Metal Cowboy begins well, by its end you know more than you ever wanted to about the author. The absolute lows? A visit to a Renaissance fayre to have his fortune told ("The future is a complete mystery") and a day spent juggling with a courier in a San Francisco park.