Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Fifty Places To Bike Before You Die" ?

Of course I'm going to read a book entitled "Fifty Places To Bike Before You Die."  It doesn't matter that I've biked most of them or that most of the rides are less than a week and not even 200 miles, far from my preference of going off for weeks and weeks and thousands of miles.  I read it with hopes of learning a thing or two and also to see how my passion was being represented.

The book is the latest in a series of "Before you Die" books by Chris Santella. Others in the series are devoted to birding, diving, hiking, sailing, golfing and fly fishing. The book is more of a guidebook than a book of adventure.  Nearly a quarter of the book is full-page photos.  It is more concerned with giving basic information than a full immersion into a ride.  The prose is that of guidebook vernacular.  No less than six of the rides are "breath-taking." If a locale isn't "beautiful," it's "picturesque"  or "spectacular" or "incredible" or "amazing" or fantastic."  At least four places are described as "magical"---Ireland, Italy, Canyonlands White Rim Trail and Vermont's fall foliage.

Riding through a wine-growing region is a common theme of the rides.  There are such rides in British Columbia, California, France, Italy and Spain, as well  mentions of wine along the way on quite a few other rides.  The wine ride in Spain passes a wine museum complete with 3,000 cork screws.  Three of the 46 photographs in the book, nearly one for each chapter, show cyclists riding past vineyards.  If one couldn't tell from the daily average mileage of usually no more than thirty miles for most of the rides, the photos make it clear that these rides are mostly for leisure cyclists on supported tours. Some of the cyclists in the photos are having such a good time they are waving to the camera.  In only three of the photographs does a bike have panniers, and one of those is a cyclist with just one pannier, clearly not an independent, self-supported touring cyclist.

Santella enlists the advice of cyclists who have extensive touring experience for his choices, mostly guides from touring companies.  The three or four pages he devotes to each ride are largely based on interviews he has conducted with those who suggested the ride with long paragraphs in quotation marks.  Each chapter includes a profile of the the cyclist responsible for the ride along with hotels to stay at and airports to fly into and tour companies to ride with.  Its not clear how many of the rides Santella has actually ridden himself.  Representatives of Trek Travel had the most suggestions with five.  Adventure Cycling and  Backroads had four each.  Austin-Lehman Adventures and Butterfield and Robinson had three.

Santella also takes suggestions from three accomplished cycling authors.  Former racer Joe Parkin, who has written two acclaimed books on the racing life, suggests Belgium.  Joe Kurmaskie, known as the "Metal Cowboy" with even more books to his credit, recommends a ride in South Africa.  Jan Heine, editor of "Bicycle Quarterly,"  offers up the most audacious of rides--a 24-hour 330-mile ride from Seattle to Mount Rainier and back known as the Washington State Challenge. That is more miles than all but four of the rides listed.  The longer ones are RAGBRAI with close to 500 miles, an eight-day ride in Switzerland of 480 miles,  the Natchez Trace with 444 miles, and an eight-day ride in Nova Scotia of about 350 miles.  Only one of the book's rides is longer than eight days, a nine-day ride in Thailand.  A seven-day Backroads ride from Hanoi to Cambodia of over 1,000 miles that I rode in 2002, is done mostly by van, broken into seven thirty-mile segments, hardly doing justice to a stupendous ride down Vietnam's Highway One.

The chief marketing director of LL Bean naturally plugs the state of Maine.  The gear editor of "Bicycling" magazine recommends New York City.  Bicycle advocate Mia Birk is allowed to recommend her city--Portland, Oregon. They all offer fine riding, but hardly rank among the fifty greatest places to ride a bike.   Nearly half of the rides are in the US and Canada.  There are three rides in France and Italy and two rides in Spain and South Africa.

The owner of a pannier company selected Taiwan, the most unexpected, and for me the most enticing, of all the places listed. Not many touring cyclists make it their destination, so the Taiwanese are extra welcoming.  The roads are excellent, the terrain varied and the country is prosperous enough that there is little crime.  It was just one of four places in the book that I haven't cycled.  The others were Bali, the Baltic and Majorca.  Majorca is a popular place for professional cyclists to train.  The Sant Salvador monastery on the island has six rainbow jerseys won on the track by Guillermo Timoner Obrador, Spain's first cyclist to win a world championship in 1959.

The book intersects the world of professional cycling on other occasions too.  The Tour de France is sprinkled in here and there.  Lance Armstrong makes three appearances--in the chapters on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Majorca and Texas hill country.  He is also alluded to in the chapter on RAGBRAI, when it is mentioned that "a few Tour de France champions" have ridden it.  Mont Ventoux is brought up twice, once in the chapter on Provence and also by Heine as a destination similar to his Mount Rainer.

If I'd been asked to contribute to the book, it would have been very difficult for me to choose one place over another.  I might have made a choice similar to that of Taiwan, a place that few would consider but that I liked very much. That would be through the tepui region of Venezuela.  The tepuis are table top mountains, many with their own flora and fauna.  They are other-worldly mini-islands in the sky unlike anything I have ever seen.  They were breathtaking and magical.

I'd also be happy to recommend the Ring Road around Iceland, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Alaskan Highway, Baja, Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca in Mexico, the Bastille Day stage of The Tour de France,  the Most Dangerous Road in the World in Bolivia, Lake Como to the Madonna de Ghisallo, the Nullarbor Plain of Australia, through the fjords of Norway to the North Cape beyond the Arctic Circle, bicycling across the US as at least two of the contributors to the book have done, or rides in Japan, Morocco, Colombia, China or Laos. The book includes a circuit of Oregon's Crater Lake.  I would counter with rides around Africa's Lake Victoria or Turkey's Lake Van.

The list of exceptional places to ride one's bike is nearly endless.  Santella made a decent start for someone whose chief interest is not bicycling. His seems to be fly fishing, his first book back in 2004, followed up by golf a year later.  He wrote sequels for both as well as books on other topics (birding, sailing, hiking, diving) before he turned to biking.  If this book had been written by an ardent cyclist, the list would have been considerably different and more insightful.  These aren't necessarily places to bike before one dies, but rather good introductory places to bike for the neophyte.  Kurmaskie's excellent introduction conveyed better than anything in the book the  flavor of the touring experience.  So too did a Dutch contributor to the book, one of sixteen women, who summed up the transformative power of the bike:"When I ride my bike, the day becomes mine."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mother/Daughter Tears on a Cycle Tour

It is a given that books on bicycle racing will include incidents of tears--racers so overcome with joy or in such pain or suffering or despair that they burst into tears.  Tears aren't so common though in books on bicycle touring.  Margaret Logan's "Happy Endings" is a rare exception.  Tears are regularly shed by both the 40-year old author and her seventeen-year old daughter as they pedal from Paris to Rome in this 164-page book published in 1979.

As with racers, there are happy tears and sad tears.  The mother and daughter have arguments that leave them both crying.  There are upsetting incidents that bring them to tears.  Some of the tears are expressions of pride the mother feels towards her daughter that she doesn't want her to see.  There are also tears from the past that the author remembers.

It is the author's idea to undertake this trip.   She had previously biked in Europe with men friends and on her own.   Her daughter, who she never names, but only refers to as "the kid" or "my daughter," isn't so sure about the purpose of the trip.  She asks, "Why are we doing this?  To say we have, or to prove we can?"  Logan knows the joy of travel and bicycle touring and wishes to introduce her daughter to this wonderful world.

She has no concerns about her daughter's physical ability.  She has won varsity letters in field hockey, squash and lacrosse.  As she gains confidence she frequently rides on ahead.  Once when she awaits her mother at a summit, Logan fears that when she arrives her daughter will want to push on, while she'll be "ready to die."  When she joins her, Logan politely tells her she doesn't need to wait, that she can continue on, but her daughter surprises her and says she needs to rest too.  Her tact brings tears to Logan's eyes.

Though the trip isn't without friction, especially at the start, they gain an increasing respect and love for one another during their 45 days together.  When people ask if they are sisters, her daughter is surprised that it doesn't make her mother pleased that people think she is so young.  She is proud of her daughter and wants the credit of being her mother.

One night in their tent in Italy the daughter recognizes the heavy burden of responsibility her mother is carrying looking out for the two of them. She tells her how awful it must be having to be a grownup all the time, unable to break down as she occasionally does.  Logan tells her that she does feel moments of weakness and does break down.    "Not like I do," the daughter says.  The dark hides Logan's tears from her daughter.
Her daughter had yet to learn how to handle the assertiveness of the Italian men that at times went beyond mere flirtation. Riding ahead she would regularly have men on motor cycles shower her with more attention than she cared for. The mother wasn't concerned.  She knew the ways of Italian men, how they "feel culturally impelled to behave as if they're prostrated by adoration for every passing woman,"  but considered it more playful than serious. On her last trip to Italy three years previously she'd had a fling with a former Italian cycling champion that had them both in tears when they parted.

She thought it would  "put some wind into the kid's sails," as she phrased it, to experience the excessive adoration of the Italian male.  But after one guy riding alongside her on a motorcycle grabbed her crotch and inserted his thumb, mother and daughter were both traumatized and rode together.  For a while afterwards whenever the daughter heard the sound of a motorcycle, tears would come that weren't always easy to stop.

Though Logan was protective, fully aware that she had a "virgin in tow," she knew her daughter would love Italy before long, "as everyone must."  The daughter learns lesson after lesson.  In France they met a college-aged American girl cycling on her own who'd been inflicted by more attention than she wanted, though the French were like innocent school boys compared to the Italians.  She even felt compelled to wear long pants in the heat to make herself less attractive.  She asked if she could ride along with them.  Logan was agreeable, but her daughter wasn't.  After her incident in Italy she told her mother she regretted not letting her ride with them.

In the early stages of the trip she was combative and resistant to her mother, wanting her own way, not happy about having to go to museums and look at statues or accept her mother's advice on how to ride.  They'd argue and end up in tears.  Then they'd argue more on other issues and tears would splash once again.  Logan didn't always object yielding to tears, as they could be a sign of resolution.

The daughter did not like her mother's inability to remain true to any one guy.  Her parents had divorced early in her life.  Her father remarried and hardly had anything to do with her.  Logan regularly switches boy friends.  Her daughter grows to like them and doesn't want to see them go.  Logan withholds from her daughter until well into their trip that her current boy friend is married. She admits, "Like most women who have been long single, I'm perfectly schooled in reasons for not involving myself with married men." But she is smitten by him and convinces herself that his marriage hangs by a thread soon to be snapped.  She is thrilled by the dozen flowers he sent her at the airport departure gate.  They don't know what to do with them all, so they each keep one and then pass out the rest to their fellow passengers.  She is happy for every letter he sends her on their trip.  The daughter is crestfallen that her boy friend does not send her any letters until later in the trip.  When he does send a letter after her motorcycle molestation, she cries that he's not sympathetic enough.

The book has a strong feminist slant.  Logan's first visit to Italy was in the "Dark Ages" before the woman's movement enlightened her to the realization that she was "more than an insufficient, weak boy of some sort."  She broods about marriage, wondering if its only justification is that it provides "ready access to sex."  She wonders if her married boy friend could possibly be her last love.  She refuses to refer to him as Mr. Right, "an insidious concept" that she wants no part of.  

"Happy Endings" is a rare cycle touring book that is deeply reflective and written with the flourish and range of a novelist, as she later became.  Surprisingly, this was Logan's first book, as it is written with the authority of a most accomplished writer.  Nine years later she published a murder mystery, the first of five novels. Logan not only thoroughly understands bicycle touring but the broader and deeper issues of life.

It was my good fortune to be introduced to this small gem of a book by my friend Funky, former bicycle messenger and Telluride Film Festival projectionist, who happened to meet Logan recently while visiting his grandmother in the Hamptons.  He was attracted to speak to her by the thick book she was reading.   Logan told Funky that she had written six books, but no longer wrote.  Funky did some investigating and discovered one was about bicycle touring and let me know.  The Chicago Public Library has several of her novels, but not this book.  I was able to find a copy at that venerable academic institution, the University of Chicago.   Any book granted a slot on its hallowed shelves is a book of considerable merit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hail, Hail David Walsh, "The Little Troll"

For thirteen years Irish journalist David Walsh has been on a crusade to prove that Lance Armstrong is a doper. When he saw Lance ride away from everyone in the first mountainous stage of the 1999 Tour, his first post-cancer Tour, he couldn't believe it.  Rather than being thrilled, as most were, he was repulsed, knowing how rife drugs were in cycling. From that point on he has been obsessed with proving what few wanted to believe, earning Lance's enmity and  harsh condemnation as "The Little Troll."  He's written three books on Lance and his doping, the latest "Seven Deadly Sins, A Journalist's Thirteen Year Quest for the Truth About a Champion," along with biographies of Irish cyclists Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche and a profile of The Tour de France.  The man is a genuine authority on cycling, having covered it for more than twenty years.

His latest book is a most personal chronicle of his quest, beginning with having his eyes opened to the prevalence of drug-taking in sports when he heard the rattle of pills in the jersey pocket of his hero, Sean Kelly, before a race.  He couldn't bring himself to report on that, but he was in the forefront of challenging the unexpected success of the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when she won three gold medals and instantly became a national hero.

Walsh traces his scepticism and strong urge to seek out the truth, regardless of how painful it may be, to his son John, who was hit by a car and killed when he was thirteen.  His son had the strength to question teachers and to name a classmate who had dissed a teacher when no one else would.

In his early days of sports writing he was a devoted fan who celebrated the heroics of those he was covering.  He cried in the press room at the 1992 Tour de France thrilled by Claudio Chiappucci's brazen attack in the Alps on the first of several climbs more than one hundred miles from the finish in Sestriere, holding off Miguel Indurain to win the stage by one minute and 45 seconds, replicating the storied feat of Fausto Coppi forty years before.  "I stood there and wept," he wrote.  "Not alone either."  By 1999 Walsh knew that Chiappucci's feat was fueled by drugs, just as he knew what Lance accomplished in his return, on the very same climb, had to have been. "Happy tears in the salle de presse would be no more," he writes.

Walsh confesses that it is "embarrassing" to remember those tears of his in 1992, but as someone with as intimate a knowledge of the sport as one can have without having competed in it, he knows how intrinsic tears are to cycling. Tears are sprinkled throughout his book.  Lance brings them up during his first interview with Walsh during the 1993 Tour before they became arch enemies. Walsh was writing a book on The Tour and wanted to do a chapter on Lance as a new-comer to the sport.  He was mightily impressed with his confidence and frankness and determination and knew he was someone who would make his mark.  During the three-hour interview Walsh asked him about his father and his step-father.  Lance said they were of no importance to him and that he couldn't understand how friends of his would fall apart and break into tears when their parents got divorced.  When he and his mother threw out his step-father it was a happy day.  And then he asks Walsh the prophetic question, "Is something wrong with me?"

As hardened as Lance could be, he was not immune to the loosening of the tear ducts.   Walsh describes him as weeping after the death of his teammate Fabio Casartelli in the 1995 Tour.  He doesn't report any other Lance tears, but he knows that when the truth of his doping is finally proved, "His time for tears would come."

One of the central characters of Walsh's pursuit of Lance was Betsy Andreu.  She offered him encouragement and evidence all along the way after they first talked in 2001. It was Betsy who asked a mutual friend to have Walsh call her, as she had much to tell him that would help make his case. They communicated regularly, often talking for hours at a time.  Walsh regarded her as a sister.  Lance tried to discredit and intimidate her in any way he could. As tough as she was, tougher than her husband Walsh says, Frank revealed, "she shed many tears."

Betsy and Frank had at one time been virtual best friends of Lance and his wife Kirsten. They were at his hospital bedside in Indianapolis in 1996 when he told  doctors that he had taken performance enhancing drugs before he was diagnosed with cancer. Betsy later defended Kirsten on a cycling website when someone wrote that Kirsten no doubt would have a nanny to look after their first child.  When Betsy told Kirsten about it, Kirsten was so distraught that some stranger would write such a thing about her, "She burst into tears."  Lance angrily told Frank that he didn't appreciate Betsy making his wife cry, despite the fact she was defending her.

Greg LeMond was another of the few who supported Walsh during all those years.  He is often accused of being jealous of Lance, but LeMond says that when Lance surprised everyone and convincingly won the Prologue of the 1999 Tour he was close to tears.  He wanted to believe, even though there were those who were immediately suspicious of his stunning performance.

Coincidentally, it was on the very same 6.8 kilometer course that had been used as the Prologue for the 1993 Tour when it likewise commenced at Puy du Fou. Lance had finished 81st that year, 47 seconds behind Miguel Indurain.  Six years later Lance improved his time from 8 minutes and 59 seconds to eight minutes and two seconds, ten seconds better than Indurain's had been. That was an astounding difference.   Walsh was among the sceptics, but he wanted to wait until the mountains before he made certain his suspicions.

Despite the mass euphoria over Lance's remarkable achievement winning The Tour, Walsh was one of the few doubters and did not hold back.  The headline of his story on the Sunday The Tour finished in Paris was "Flawed Fairytale."  He never wavered in not believing, though it took years of plugging away to find the evidence.  One of his early breakthroughs came when he could prove that Lance was working with the notorious Italian doping doctor Michele Ferrari, known as Il Mito, The Myth, by his Italian clients.

Court records revealed that Lance's teammate and close friend from Texas, Kevin Livingston, was a client of Ferreri.  Walsh was certain that if Livingston was, then Lance was too.  He got the Italian police to investigate hotel records in Ferrari's home town and discovered Lance had spent two days there in March of 1999 and had three visits in 2000 and one more in May of 2001.  Walsh broke the story that Lance was a client of Ferrari at the  2001 Tour during the rest day in Pau, something Lance had managed to keep a secret for six years since his first meeting with Ferreri in November of 1995 at the arrangement of Eddie Merckx.  Several days later when Walsh called LeMond for a reaction, LeMond uttered the prophetic comment that got him in a heap of trouble with Lance and all his supporters: "If Lance is clean it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports.  If he isn't, it would be the greatest fraud."

Greg eventually was pressured to apologize for his comment, something he greatly regrets.  He and his wife Kathy were also victims of Lance's wrath over the years.  Trek withdrew production and distribution of the LeMond brand of bikes at Lance's insistence.  During Kathy's deposition for the 2006 SCA Promotions trial of Lance over whether it had to pay Lance a five million dollar bonus she broke into tears from the years of harassment.

Walsh's coverage caught the attention of Emma O'Reilly, a former masseuse of Lance's who had evidence of his team doping.  She gave him a call in 2001 after the Ferreri story broke and offered him the most incriminating information yet.  Walsh was so consumed by the story he wrote of that call, "I don't know if this was the happiest day of my life, but it would give the others a run for their money."

When Walsh went to visit O'Reilly he didn't immediately start quizzing her about what she knew.  He first established a rapport having a casual dinner with her and her husband.  When they finally sat down for a formal interview it went on for six hours and produced 40,000 words.

Along with all the praise Walsh heaps on O'Reilly and the Andreus and the LeMonds, he is unflinching in outing Armstrong's toadies in the press, who wouldn't listen to Walsh's arguments and treated him with less than respect.  He has special disdain for John Wilcockson, retired long-time editor of "VeloNews," whose benign attitude towards doping had always irritated him. The day before the start of the 2004 Tour in Liege Wilcockson told Walsh that he could not ride along with him in his car following The Race as Lance would not speak to him if he did, forcing him to make last minute arrangements.  It put him in a desperate situation, but he writes, "There are worse things in life than being dumped in the middle of Liege by John Wilcockson!"  He aptly describes Wilcockson's biography of Armstrong published in 2009 to coincide with his comeback as a "hagiography."

Walsh has similar disregard for veteran "New York Times" writer Samuel Abt.  He likewise turned a blind eye to Armstrong's true nature and was fully committed to doing his bidding.  He refers to a story he wrote on Emma O'Reilly as being "cutesy," with minimal relevance, a good summation for most of his cycling coverage.  He also quotes Abt as saying his first Armstrong book, "LA Confidential," that was only published in French as Armstrong was able to prevent its publication in English, had nothing of substance in it, though others applauded it for being the basis of the USADA report that brought Armstrong down.

Commentator Paul Sherwen would also seem to be among those who will not receive an invitation to any of the weddings of Walsh's five children.  He is given one incidental and unnecessary mention in the book as having been a "Motorola PR flunkie" in 1996.  The book was rushed into print, so there is no index to search the reference out.  It comes on page 244 for those interested.

The book does not dwell at all on the USADA report, so there is no analysis of the various confessions of Armstrong's teammates.  Christian Vande Velde appears once.  He is with Armstrong when he meets O'Reilly for the first time and has to explain to O'Reilly Armstrong's rather self-absorbed nature.

With the book rushed to print it couldn't help but have a few extra typographical errors, but more surprisingly several factual errors.  Walsh writes that Merckx tested positive twice. It was in fact three times, unless he discounts his 1969 Giro positive that was waived. The others were the Tour of Lombardy in 1973 and Fleche Wallone in 1977. He is wrong when he writes that Floyd Landis gave up the lead to Oscar Pereriro in the 2006 Tour "in the Alps."  It was in fact before the Alps on a 230-kilometer flat stage from Beziers to Montelimar.  The book also disagrees with itself when it says that Lance was the youngest ever world champion on page 101 and then on a caption to a photo that he was the third youngest.  The caption gets it right.  According to Wikipedia Karel Kaers in 1934 is the youngest at 20.  Jean-Pierre Monsere in 1970 is the second youngest three weeks shy of 22, one week younger than Armstrong was in l993.

I'm sorry to point out any shortcomings in this exceptional tale of a journalist who wouldn't quit, but I do it in the spirit of that very same journalist who committed himself to putting truth first after initially not doing so when it came to his friend Sean Kelly. Bravo, bravo.  And what next might he tackle?  He could follow up on the little nugget he drops in from the Festina trial in 2000, quoting Thomas Davy, a teammate of Indurain's at Banesto, that there was a systematic doping program while he was there.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tears All Round in Raisin's "Tour de Life"

It should come as no surprise that Saul Raisin's "Tour de Life," a detailed account of his miraculous recovery from a horrific crash that battered his body and left him in a coma with a severe brain injury, is punctuated by tears on nearly every page.  The initial tears are of those devastated by the tragedy that had Raisin's parents debating what to do with his organs if he didn't survive. Later, the tears become expressions of triumph and joy, as he regains his faculties step-by-step. 

The crash occurred in April of 2006 at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France.  Raisin was a 23-year old  American riding for the French Credit Agricole team on the verge of competing in his first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, in May.  He was riding strongly and had dreams of maturing into a Tour de France contender.  He'd won the King of the Mountains Competition the year before at the Tour de l'Avenir and had a fine showing in the Tour of California earlier in the year. He was progressing nicely from having won the Young Rider Competition in the inaugural Tour de Georgia as a twenty-year old in 2003.

He was blessed with the all-important physiological ingredients--an extraordinary lung capacity with a VO2 max in the high 80s (better than Lance Armstrong) and a heart twice the size of normal.  He also had the will to push himself to his limits, a quality essential as well to his recovery, getting back on his bike a little over four months after his crash, defying his doctors fears that he'd spend the rest of his life as a vegetable.

Raisin wrote the book with Dave Shields, author of two previous books on cycling, the novels "The Race" and "The Tour."  Shields knows the sport well, though this book is not without a couple of cycling miscues endemic to books on cycling published in the United States.  One of his mentions of the Tour de l'Avenir forgets the "de".  He also incorrectly refers to the newspaper "L'Equipe," as "L'Equipe Magazine, the magazine sports daily in France."

Also endemic to American books on cycling are explanations of cycling's basics, though these are fairly benign--shaving legs, the peloton, attack, The Monuments, soigneurs, Eddie Merckx.  Although there isn't much about actual racing, with the bulk of the book devoted to his recovery, devotees of the sport will appreciate anecdotes regarding Bradley Wiggins and Thor Hushovd (teammates of Raisin's), a training ride with Armstrong and watching the Floyd Landis Tour de France during his rehab.

The first half of the book is written from the perspective of his parents, Jim and Yvonne, with lengthy stretches of re-created dialogue.  They fly from their home in Georgia  and spend three weeks in France at his bedside before he is well enough to fly back to Atlanta in a medical Lear jet at a cost of $60.000.  They speak no French and are greatly assisted by Raisin's German girl friend. They come to love and appreciate her so much, that when she has to leave to return to school, it is cause for one of Raisin's mother's many crying episodes. 

Shields is continually underlining the gravity of the experience with mentions of tears, as many by his father as his mother.  His doctors also are emotionally involved enough to be wet-eyed on occasion.  Raisin's Aunt Teresa arrives in France shortly after he emerges from his coma.  Shields writes, "Teresa burst into tears.  She'd long had a reputation as waterworks city, but now she was a mess.  Soon Jim and Phil couldn't resist crying and that caused Yvonne to start sobbing too, but this was a happy cry." This is just one of many cluster cries.

Shields does his best to vary his descriptions of the crying--they trickle, they flow, they stream, they are mopped up, they are wiped away, they are fought back, they are blinked back, they can't be held back, they glisten on cheeks, they run down cheeks,  they streak faces, eyes well with tears, eyes fill with tears, a tear appears in the corner of an eye.  People tear up, are brought to tears, cry like a baby, bawl, sniffle, have good cries.  There is no end to them.  Lips quiver, tear ducts open.  There are tears of joy.  There are tears of shared misery.

The book is a gold mine for any researcher seeking samples of tears.  A baby wails on his parent's flight to France.  A bully from his school days runs away crying after Saul pops him one.  When the Tour de Georgia passes through his home town of Dalton while he's still hospitalized in France, there isn't a dry eye in the place.  Saul sobs when his girl friend calls to break up.  There is a tear orgy when Saul manages to walk four steps to his mother on Mother's Day, over a month after his crash.  He cries.  His father cries.  His two therapists cry and his mother cries harder than Saul has ever seen her cry.

Its a while before Saul is well enough to be able to cry.  His first cry doesn't come until he sees himself in the mirror for the first time over a month into his rehabilitation.  He is shattered by what he sees and can't stop crying.  He remembers back that he hadn't been able to cry previously during his ordeal no matter how sad he felt inside.  Then he cries a lot and doesn't mind at all.  He cries when his teammate Hushovd wins the final stage of The Tour de France on the Champs Elysees and then his tears are recharged when Hushovd calls him from Paris shortly afterwards.

When he starts riding his bike on rollers and feels a familiar trickle down his face he's happy for once that it isn't tears, but the first sweat he has felt since his crash.  There are mass cries with relatives and when he addresses the crowd at the US Pro Cycling Championships in Greensville, South Carolina.  He feels bad to learn that nearly everyone who visited him during the early dark days of his recovery left in tears.

Half way through the book, after Raisin begins his rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, the narrative switches from his parents to his own.  He had a slight paralysis of his left side. His left foot and leg and hand are barely functional.  He can't walk on his own. He also had to regain his ability to think and reason. He has the mental capacity of a third-grader.  He brings his mother to tears when he can't correctly add two and three.

He also has to learn not to speak so frankly, as he has the propensity to aggressively flirt with the nurses telling them exactly his desires.  He has to restrain from acting on impulse, gobbling down whatever food he can get his hands on, even breaking into a food closet and devouring chocolate cupcakes. But the determination that made him a world-class cyclist also speeds up his recovery.  It was predicted that he would need to remain at the center for three months.  He was out in a little over three weeks.

One of his inspirations was Armstrong.  As a teen-ager he had a large painting of Armstrong in yellow on the Champs Elysee over his bed.  Armstrong called his mother while he was in his coma to offer best wishes and whatever help he could provide.  Raisin wrote, "He'll never comprehend how much that call meant to us as a family."  They'd only met once before, when he had joined Lance on a five-hour training ride in the mountains outside of Nice.  That was a huge thrill too for the young pro--"You can't imagine how cool it felt to go as hard as I could against him with our audience, Axel Merckx and Sheryl Crow, following in the car behind."  Raisin was brash enough to attack him on the final climb to the Col de Braus, but couldn't hold him off.

The book ends with his participation in a Credit Agricole training camp the January after his crash.  He is the first to the top of a day's final steep climb.  He had fully regained the physical skills that he hoped one day would earn him a Tour de France title.  He had yet though to regain the mental capacity to think quickly on the bike.  The book was published in 2007 with his future hopeful but undefined.  He never did return to the bicycle racing world.  Instead, he now devotes his life to helping others who have suffered brain injuries through his Raisin Hope Foundation.  This book too is a worthwhile contribution to the field.