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You & A Bike & A Road


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You & A Bike & A Road back

Eleanor Davis

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

"I like going further than we tell ourselves is possible."

I used to love country bike rides: three or four miles down verdant Cheshire country roads to feast with a friend on sandwiches and sugary, fizzy pop like Dandelion & Burdock high up on the hill at Beeston Castle; three of four miles back again. Lovely!

Here Eleanor gets on the bike which her Dad's just built for her and cycles across America from her parents' house in Tucson, Arizona towards her own home... in Athens, Georgia. She's drawn you a little map: it's basically coast to bloody coast!

Between 15 and 50 miles she manages each day depending on the state of her knees and which way the wind's blowing (against you is a 'mare), and she doesn't stop for 56 days. Extraordinary.

Also exceptional: this entire graphic memoire. I think that's what the trendy people are calling autobiographical comics these days.

But it is! Davis has some remarkable encounters. Mostly they're acts of spontaneous generosity we should all aspire to: an invitation to join a camping family eating a catfish they'd just caught; water from Mexico border patrols (they're not always so kind: you'll see what I mean when you meet the man in the canal); and on Day 21 she nearly gives in to what has become extreme pain in her knees by then, which catalyses intense grief and depression, but the bloke in the bike shop trained as a therapist, helps her through it, calls a doctor friend, recommends a sports masseuse then finds her a couple to stay with.

"Brian says you're having vegetable soup for dinner!"

It's all so thoroughly inspiring, as is Davis' pencil art which conveys every ounce of gratitude as well as the pain, sweat, exhaustion but also elation at being surrounded on all sides by horizon or thrusting forward through "tunnels of green".

Her body forms are beautiful: such enormous weight from such few lines as punters loom large over a billiard table or Eleanor herself sets up her tent at dusk then sits up inside, almost filling the bright, cosy space while outside the night and unknown are contrasted in a dense, graphite darkness which radiates, as might light. On both pages she makes superb use of the shape of her legs, knees and thighs in body-hugging black lycra, while the strength of her shoulders then the curve of her arms freed from a white singlet vest are thrillingly physical. That her head is drawn so much smaller only adds to the sense of scale.

"While you are setting up your tent anything can get you.
"Inside your tent you are safe."

She stares out at us from inside that tent with her tiny head and an expression which seems to imply the qualifying addendum, "arguably".

The trees in the wood put me in mind of those so elegantly delineated by Isabelle Arsenault in JANE, THE FOX & ME. In their own way those pages are as lush as the double-sided landscape cover extended through its French flaps, but then anyone who's read Davis' HOW TO BE HAPPY or LIBBY'S DAD knows that she is a master of many mediums and a vast array of disparate styles.

Apart from exceptional portraiture on Day 57's ever so moving encounter, few other pages are as detailed as that but I sense that Davis drew this on the road - or at least on its various verges - in a series of diary entries. I could be entirely wrong. They all do the trick, though: at no point do you not sense that you are there alongside her as she crosses different terrains, spying a mountain ahead in the distance, moving towards it, "Now you're climbing it" before "Now you're over it" then leaving it far behind. Looking ever forward, "Now it's gone".

There are many dodgy moments like crossing an almightily high, exposed bridge with no room for manoeuvre should a bludgeoning jugger-bugger come thundering up behind her. Anything towards her at the same time...? Jeepers! Plus let us not forget that Davis is travelling alone (though often claims to be with her husband for intuitively understood safety's sake) and although she does use more RV Parks and motels than she would have liked, sometimes an invitation to use a trailer or official camping ground otherwise deserted are wisely declined.

Occasionally Davis grows frustrated and angry at herself (I fail to see why, but then I fail to see why I sometimes do the same when I later consider the general state of play rationally), then once back on her bike repudiates herself:

"Eleanor, you would never use that language with someone else so please don't use it on yourself."

Excellent advice! It was pretty fruity.

"But by the afternoon I'm skimming through streams in hysterics."

What I hope to convey here is that this is more than just a read and beautiful thing to behold: it is an experience. It is an experience we are so lucky to share without the considerable inconvenience of getting our collagen clapped out.

I leave you, however, with a sense of context candidly expressed early on which cannot help but inform your journey together, and it engenders an additional element of already excellent empathy as Eleanor pedals on.

""What made you decide to do this trip?" people ask.
"I say:
""My husband and I want a baby so I figure I either do this now or wait 20 years.
"Or
""My Dad built me this bike and I hate boxing and shipping bikes so I decided to just ride it home!"
"I don't say:
""I was having trouble with wanting to be alive. But I feel good when I'm bicycling".
"But that is also true."
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