Larry Walsh’s FORTY TO FINISH begins with a low moment in the author’s life. At 57, he’s been laid off and is battling depression. During this unanticipated break from the rat race, he completes the near-3,000-mile Southern Tier cross-country bike route and decides to take on the Trans America Bike Race―nearly 4,200 miles between Astoria, Oregon and Yorktown, Virginia. The Trans Am is grueling; even the race’s founder warns potential riders of the trek’s dangers. This memoir recounts Walsh’s experiences on his bike, Tank, cycling over five mountain ranges and stopping in dozens of small towns across North America in his effort to finish in less than 40 days. Walsh’s straightforward, contemplative story is also a love letter to America that could only be told by someone crossing the continent’s surface slowly enough to feel the contours. Walsh diligently logs town names, populations and brief conversations with strangers he meets along the way. He writes thoughtfully about small resonant places touched by history. Even his sense of urgency to complete the race does not stop him from pausing at a breathtaking vista or taking a detour to visit Sacajawea’s grave.
Walsh’s simple presentation of his tremendous effort―his hero’s journey―is compelling. Most arduous, life-altering personal quests are unsung and un-famous. But stories of this sort remain worth sharing. They serve as reminders of what we can do with planning, observation and determination―and how much it is possible to win without coming in first. Walsh writes about one stretch, “The ride … was merciless … I tried to think about my family. That didn’t help. Hearing my Garmin ping at each 10-mile mark was no longer motivating. I put my head down and counted pedal rotations in my mind (and aloud), grinding at the monotonous sameness of it all.” For all Walsh’s appreciation of the small joys of a good meal and a warm bed, he leaves no doubt that this ride takes all he can bring to it, mentally, emotionally and physically. His story is a thoughtful, forthright re-telling of accomplishment and also a reminder of the power of steady determination, the delight in simple things, the grace lurking in small towns, and the grandeur of the North American continent.
Larry Walsh’s FORTY TO FINISH is a straightforward, quietly dramatic memoir of a 4,192-mile bike race from Oregon to Virginia, a love letter to America, and a story of hard-won victory.
~Ellen Graham for IndieReader