You’ve been on a bike before, right? Maybe it was just when you were a kid or maybe you still ride. (If you don’t ride, I’d like to encourage you to start.) You’ve probably also seen part of the Tour de France, or at least heard of it. I’m sure you’d be as surprised as I was to learn there’s a race even tougher than the Tour de France. It’s the Race Across America and it’s the subject of Amy Snyder’s fascinating new book, Hell on Two Wheels.
The Race Across America involves getting on your bike and riding across America (obviously). The winner is the first person to reach the finish line (again, obviously). The twist is that once the race starts, the clock is ticking and there are no breaks—not for sleeping, not for eating, not for hygiene. Any time you take for those needs counts against you on the clock. The racers push themselves to the point of hallucinations and injury. As I read Hell on Two Wheels, I started to think those Tour de France guys were sort of wimpy for resting at night, eating healthy meals, and probably showering and changing their clothes.
Hell on Two Wheels recounts the 2009 Race Across America. Unbelievably, the winner finished in under nine days! Wouldn’t you take almost as long to drive across the country? Some of the riders dropped out after undergoing terrible physical hardships, but many did finish.
The prize? A medal and a lifetime of bragging rights (if you find enough people who know about the race to be impressed by your achievement). Many of the participants ride year after punishing year. The race doesn’t have big sponsors, so riders bring and outfit their own support teams. These teams usually consist of family members or friends that they’ve coerced into coming along. Hell on Two Wheels gives background on the riders and the history of the race before following the riders day after gory day as they race across America. The riders—and readers—experience sleep deprivation, hallucinations, tears, spats, falls, over exertion and injury.
Even if you don’t take my advice to pick up a bike, I hope you’ll do yourself a favor and pick up this fast-paced, true story of adventure and endurance.