Pedaling to Hawaii: A Human-Powered Odyssey

I have a weakness for travel adventure stories, especially if they involve crossing oceans. Yet they all seem cursedly written by men who insist on ruining a good yarn by talking about relationships with women in an idiotic way. If only an editor could have saved poor Stevie Smith (Stevie? someone sounds like he never wants to grow up), and hacked out the rotted bits that I’ll expose later.
It begins with a noble idea, hatched in the brain of a dull office-worker in Paris who stares at the bland walls and seems the rest of his life unfolding in front of him in a wretched state of suburbs, family, marriage. Smith gets the idea of making a voyage around the world on only human-powered machines – walking, biking, pedal boat. He enlists a partner for the trip, an old college mate – Jason. They enlist friends and friends of friends to help with the expedition– everything from fundraising, drawing the plans up for the custom boat to be built, building the boat. Smith’s girlfriend of the time hands over her life savings and is broken up with as the boat leaves. Ooops. Supposedly the debt is paid off later.
They leave Greenwich (London) July 1994 and cycle to Rye, climb in the pedal boat to cross the channel, then cycle through France, Spain, Portugal, sleeping in fields when it gets dark, getting used to each other’s perpetual presence slowly. Jason peels off on his own in Spain, they reunite in Lagos, Portugal, where they get the boat ready for the Atlantic Ocean crossing, and where they have so cleverly put up a “cunt box” (ammunition box with a slit for money to be rammed in) for passersby to help fund their drinking habits while they’re still ashore. Lovely. Like the boneheads they are, they learn several things only moments before setting off, like the necessity of oiling the gas canisters for the stove and bringing zinc anodes to combat corrosion. The harbor security guard is pleased to see them finally leave, as I’m sure many others were.
So, 3+ months on the Atlantic, taking turns pedaling this boat, sleeping and cooking while not pedaling. They get open wounds from the salt water and don’t talk to each other much. Stevie spills boiling hot water on his crotch and they invite themselves aboard a US cable ship for Christmas turkey and hot showers. They capsize, recover, make it to Miami where they bitch about not having any press to meet them. In Miami they do educational talks at schools to drive press attention to drive paid speaking engagements to fund the trip. The two of them plus Stevie’s dad, are living on $20/day.
Then we’re introduced to some romantic nonsense – he gets letters from a girl he met cycling through France at the beginning of the trip (right on the heels of his breakup from the woman who handed him her savings). A “very attractive and bubbly Irish brunette”… now why does this terrible description bother me so much? Mostly due to the superficiality of their relationship, if the first thing you mention about someone is their looks. Lo and behold, the Irish beauty is invited to join him on his bicycle trip across America, when Jason decides to go it alone on roller skates (WTF). So now we’re loaded up with nauseating, “How lucky I am! I watch Eilbhe cycling ahead, the movement of her deliciously firm, long limbs, and flowing brown hair… she can drink beer and belch with the best of them and can slurp soup from the pot. She abhors pretension (Editor’s note: why is she with you then?), all make-up, frills, and glamour; yet she is a divinely feminine, natural beauty.” Excuse me while I wipe the vomit from my mouth. Ah, the “Cool Girl” as eviscerated by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl. Shallow, stupid men who write books require more editorial assistance than normal, I’d say. But this isn’t the worst. The pathetic part comes later, in San Francisco, when at last Irish Beaut tires of his sorry ass, but he can’t come to grips with the break. He keeps a goddamned FRAMED PICTURE of her in the van he lives in. He lives in a van, and has a framed picture of the girl who broke up with him months previously.
Jason, when we last left him, was roller skating across America. He gets hit by a car in Colorado, shattering his legs. After months of recuperation, he makes it out to San Francisco to join Sad Sack Stevie. Some personal drama swirls, there’s lots of descriptions of SF in the late 90s, the pair hand over the boat to a couple other dudes who turn back after 3 days, scared shitless (<-- this to prove what real men Sad Sack Stevie and Jason are). Eventually the pair get back in the boat, paddle to Hawaii, and mercifully this book ends.