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One Man and his Bike

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I'm putting this in the Travel rather than the Sport category because the author is not really a competitor, the reverse if anything.


Mike Carter, One Man and his Bike


Mind, muscle and machine! If these are in working order you may rest content. That’s the message embedded in this fascinating account of Mike Carter’s round trip from London through Scotland and Wales. Halfway through his mazy journey he enters a bar in Sutherland and orders double egg and chips. There are only two customers, a drunk and a middle-aged woman eating egg and chips. He greets the woman who has a non-Scottish accent:

‘Long way from home?’

‘As far as possible.’


She was straight into it. ‘Gave him a second chance but it was a mistake.’


‘Had to get away.’


‘It was hard giving away all my furniture, everything, but it’s so expensive to store and I didn’t need it. People here have been very kind. Given me all kinds of stuff.’


Carter relishes his own company, but once off the bike he engages with whoever he meets. He finds himself an object of curiosity, a lone cyclist whose mission is to complete a tour of his native island. On the way he asks himself why, and there’s either no answer or a dozen. The reader gathers in passing that he’s a middle-aged atheist divorcee, seeking escape from urban living and materialism, relishing nature, as though seeing it freshly for the first time.


Every one of the book’s twenty-five chapters contains amusing and revealing incidents. Both places and people engage Carter, many of the latter becoming soul mates, like the Lindisfarne monk, the lighthouse keeper at Cape Wrath or the pensioner from Bury St Edmonds who has walked 5,000 miles in 5 years.


Fascinating as Carter finds almost everyone he meets, he must forever be off and away on his bike. Masochistically he is determined to survive in his one-man tent, enduring hailstorms floods and tempest or being edged off the road by murderous hauliers, because sooner or later he’ll be ravished by the most spectacular natural beauty.


Despite the thorough illumination of natural scenery and human traces in the landscape this is no dull and factual guidebook, but a jokey glance at the strangeness of human nature, its odd obsessions, like collecting junk or dressing up, its variety of accents and attitudes, always seen through the author’s wry eye. Thus this self-confessed atheist, having fallen off his bike in Wales and injured his wrist, is encouraged pray. Chapter 23’s epigraph from Mario Cipollini, a former World Cycling Champion, tells us ‘The bicycle has a soul. If you succeed to love it, it will give you emotions that you will never forget.’ Mike Carter’s tidings to the world!

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