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.

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