By Lou Melini
“Take a Seat” is a book by an Englishman, Dominic Gill, who traveled by bike from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to the southern tip of South America. Mr. Gill is a self-described “adventurer.” He wants to travel the western hemisphere and film a documentary along the way. A television station suggests doing it on a tandem bike and picking up random strangers along the way to “make it more interesting”. With initial hesitation, Mr. Gill agrees to the tandem ride. After more than 2 years Mr. Gill completed his ride with approximately 270 strangers, plus his dad, on the stoker seat of his tandem nicknamed Achilles.
Overall the book is interesting, well written, and brutally honest in describing Mr. Gill’s ride. If this is an example of an “adventure”, then I’ll stick with the mundane bike tours that Julie and I do. I wasn’t intrigued by his “adventure”.
When I travel by bike, I think of it as a vacation, a relaxing time traveling from one campground to another. Overall my trips are rather boring; eat, ride, read, sleep and repeat.
Mr. Gill on the other hand had many moments of being wet and cold that on more than a few occasions could have been life threatening. Mr. Gill gives thanks to the many local people that graciously took him into their home, but in some cases the reality was that the local people were seriously concerned for his safety.
“The downhill was worse-my brakes were frozen and my feet lacked sufficient traction to stop Achilles gaining momentum. Together we’d fall down hills before I dragged him up the nest. Darkness fell and I was still pushing, it was the only way to keep the blood flowing through my soaking feet. Stopping in this weather, I realized, would be dangerous.”
Another problem I had with Mr. Gill’s book was his treatment of his stokers. He seemed offended that random strangers with perhaps little fitness, little biking experience and no experience on a tandem would not be able aid him much in his effort to pedal the tandem.
“ “I’m dizzy,” she said. Perhaps unfairly I had little sympathy, figuring she was just being dramatic, but 5 miles before we reached a little town I stopped abruptly, unable to tow her along any further. She took a taxi.”
Mr. Gill, perhaps in part due to his mission to pick up strangers on the tandem, is throughout the book, seeking companions. He doesn’t seem to like riding alone. The following is from day one of his journey.
“I ‘d never felt so alone. The more I thought about it and the more I stared down, the more I questioned why I’d opted to start alone on my tandem bicycle. In the comfort of my small terraced house in Oldham, staring at a world atlas and pictures of bicycles, it had seemed so exciting, and I’d felt brilliantly foolish and strong. Now, I still felt foolish, but also weak-I craved a companion to help me through like nothing before.”
Mr. Gill’s culinary intake also was an issue for me. Food is a serious issue on my bike travels. I cook on a one-burner stove and make some great meals with a lot of variety. Mr. Gill seemed to live on dinners of spaghetti and mayonnaise. He did receive quite a few meals from the locals in Central and South America, people who make a few dollars a day. I would have difficulty accepting meals from poor people, but then again I am a financially comfortable American. In addition I am not adventurous with food. I would not have even thought about eating the “head soup” that Mr. Gill ate, the head being sheep and it included fur and eyeballs. I lost my appetite thinking about it. I guess that is part of the “adventure”.
And now one more “adventure.”
“It was raining, a cold, sleety rain that seemed to dig in and freeze you from the inside out. Despite the rain, the pampas was still a frozen white and damp. The new wheel was cheap and I was impressed that it held up for this long. But now the spokes began to snap again, numbing my hands in the damp sub-zero air as I fumbled with tools and replacements. Two spokes down and being soaked by sleet that froze our jackets, we bumped onto the slushy back road of Tolhuin after 70 miles of head-bowed, painful silence from Alonso (the stoker). We waited irritably for Joslyn to catch up in what was quickly becoming a whiteout.”
So you have had a sampling of Mr. Gill’s book and adventures. Now the question is should you buy this book? Yes, if you are interested in an adventure ride. I did enjoy reading it though I didn’t think of it as an “adventure”. Mostly I thought of Mr. Gill’s ride as a vacation in hell so you will never hear me say; “Wow, that is something I would like to do.” I’ll stick to my boring bike trips.