Title: You & A Bike & A Road
Author: Eleanor Davis
Publisher: Koyama Press
What it is: A journal of a solo bike tour through the southern United States in 2016, told in graphic form
Strengths: Economy of story-telling and a strong story
Weaknesses: Deceptively simple
In the Spring of 2016 cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis set out to ride from her parents' home in Tucson, Arizona, to her own home, in Athens, Georgia. That's about eighteen hundred miles as the crow flies, twenty-three hundred when you add in all the curlicues Davis's route takes, twisting along roads that keep her close to America's southern border a lot of the way.
A woman travelling alone, Davis has to come up with some imaginative stories along the way that the likes of Tim Moore never have to consider:
She also, though, has to come up with some stories just like Moore would have to:
Davis's tale is about herself – her insecurities, her inner-strength, her knackered knees – and she doesn't spare herself the lash in the telling:
But it's also about a place and a people. The kindness of strangers stands out more than their strangeness:
Along the way Davis deals with all the sorts of problems touring cyclists deal with: the wrong kind of wind, the wrong kind of weather, the wrong kind of road. Oh, and every cyclist's best friend – dogs:
Being a trip that in part takes in the borderlands, Davis is riding in the shadow of an unbuilt wall and her encounters with the Border Patrol thread through the early section of her trip. Some of this can be seen in a stand-alone piece Davis contributed to Slate.
As some of you may have realised by now, by and large I dislike the travelogue genre and the self-absorption of many who practice it. Davis, though, strips the genre of its flaws, her graphic telling calling for an economy of style that reduces each day to key elements and allows for whole days to be discarded or glossed over. In this format there's not much time for recounting every puncture or every time you got lost approaching the next big town.
Such economy makes for a book that's a quick read and what is most wonderful about it is how quickly you get drawn into Davis's world. How quickly you feel yourself egging her on when she feels like quitting. How quickly you see people the way she does: Meet some strangers. Get to know them and they get to know you. Now they are your people. That may well be the key takeaway from You & A Bike & A Road but if it is it's a takeaway delivered gently, not hammered home like a Hallmark greeting card, more shown by Davis's interactions with people. Especially so in a touching epilogue that – like the Border Patrol story told on Slate – is almost a stand-alone story in itself. And maybe this is what makes You & A Bike & A Road work as well as it does: it's subtle, it doesn't try to oversell itself. It treats you, the reader, with respect, treats you, the reader, like a friend Davis is sharing her trip with.