Pilgrimage on a Steel Ride: A Memoir About Men and Motorcycles Hardcover – Nov 1997
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At 57, with heart disease and a bad case of wanderlust, Gary Paulsen decided to get himself the motorcycle of his dreams and take it to Alaska from his home in New Mexico. "The bike held me like a hand, caught me and took me with it so that the engine seemed to be my engine, the wheels my wheels," he writes. "It was singular, visceral, unlike any other motorcycle I had ever ridden. In some way it brought me out of myself, out ahead of myself, into myself, into the core of what I was, what I needed to live. And I knew, my core knew that I would never be the same again, could never be the same."
Paulsen writes in a blaze of macho invective, about men who like drinkin' and butcherin' and guns and "poker with no-limits stakes, or stakes high enough to make you intensely focus on everything there is--and there is everything--in the game." But when he's writing about the spicy characters he's encountered in his wide-ranging travels around America, this short memoir, for all its exaggerated manliness, turns out to be quite funny. --Maria Dolan
From Library Journal
In his previous autobiographical odyssey, Eastern Sun, Winter Moon (LJ 2/15/93), Paulsen looked backward at his life. Here he looks at the present and sees a 57-year-old man with a heart problem and a gnawing discontent. Having had an enduring "love affair with two-wheeled vehicles" and a desire to get a Harley and make a long "run," Paulsen buys his Harley and with a friend takes a run from New Mexico to Alaska. Along the way, he ruminates about playing poker, the Zen of a good motorcycle mechanic, and the Canadian prairie. He copes with changing weather, seagulls flying into the bike, the unpaved portions of the Alaska highway, and motor-home drivers, for whom he has little use. You do not have to be a fan of long runs and Harleys to enjoy this. Recommended for public libraries.?David Schau, Kanawha Cty. P.L., Charleston, W. Va.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
You might ask, why do you care about this guy's life? Because while the book's title suggests a road journey, the subtitle suggests otherwise: "a memoir about men and motorcycles." But this book is not about either; there is only one bike involved and one guy's story. Since I don't believe in false advertising, I would change that subtitle to "a memoir about myself." And this is what we get. We get an award-winning book author who makes no compromises with his life, who clocked up 10,000 miles on the Alaskan Highway astride his Harley the moment he laid $19K on her and just weeks after doctors told him he had heart disease. And that's nothing compared to the 20,000 miles he claims he's done as a real sled-dog musher and Iditarod finisher.
Paulsen's writing style is direct, in-your-face, colloquial. This explains why his books are big sellers in the "young adult" market. He's never eloquent, but then you don't have to be when you can write something like this: "To seek. Not to find, not to end but to always seek a beginning."
Paulsen is like so many riders out there scribbling on the slab: a pilgrimage is not about traveling to any holy place since the holy place is found in the traveling itself.
At only 179 pages, Steel Ride is a fast read and despite the journey to Alaska, the book doesn't exactly inspire trekking there because we hardly get out of Paulsen's own head trip. For every mile we go forward we get two miles back into his personal history. But it's a fascinating history and a kind of life better heard than lived.
He pleads with the reader about hurrying up to Alaska by any means possible "before it's too late, before the jaws of life clamp down on your neck." Now there's some good advice.
I love many of Gary Paulsen's books. I've heard Gary discuss his books at a bookstore appearance; Gary appears to be a very genuine, intelligent, and caring man and author.
BUT, this book seems to have been cobbled together to meet a contractual obligation. Not only is the book short, but the print line spacing is expanded to "fluff" the text. Typical books have 28 to 32 lines of text per page; this book has 24. The title doesn't even match: the journey isn't a "pilgrimage," since the length of trip is more important than the destination. While the book is in part about Gary Paulsen's relationship with motorcycles and journeys, it isn't about "men and motorcycles." There's some glorification of how a Harley, different from any other motorcycle, "brought me out of myself, out ahead of myself, into myself, into the core of what I was, what I needed to live," but no thought about WHY the Harley brand does this for Gary -- or why other motorcyclists feel that other brands fit THEIR soul. (See _The Perfect Vehicle: What It is about Motorcycles_ for Melissa Holbrook Pierson's take on her relationship with her Moto Guzzi.)
_Pilgrimage_ contains some interesting insights into Gary Paulsen's life, and has some beautifully written passages: but that's what you might expect in a long magazine interview.
The profanity is inappropriate and very stilted. Further, the profanity suddenly and almost totally stops halfway through the book at the start of chapter five -- almost as if an editor said, "Gary, you've got to throw some profanity into the first half of the book. After all, it is a 'Harley book.'" Who knows -- maybe the same editor later said, "hey, let's put out the same book under a different title and not tell anyone."
Borrow this book if you must read it -- it's a very quick read. But DON'T give up on Gary Paulsen if this is your first book of his -- he's an excellent writer -- just not here -- and perhaps not in his other directly autobiographical books.
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