I See By My Outfit - wBW
I See By My Outfit
By Peter S. Beagle
Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: Centro Books (July 25, 2007)
Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
List price: $14.95
Review by Alice Dryden
with this link to Amazon.com (wBW Affiliate)
Author Peter S. Beagle is best-known for his fantasy
novels. But five years before he found literary
success with The Last Unicorn, he went on a
magical, epic quest of his own - with a faithful
companion, on an unlikely steed, through strange lands
filled with perils and larger-than-life characters.
It's a cold spring morning in the early 1960s. Two childhood friends
set out from New York City on a pair of 175cc Heinkel Tourist scooters. Pete,
our narrator, is travelling to be with his girlfriend, while Phil is hoping to
find inspiration for his paintings. Their destination? Menlo Park,
That's a journey of nearly three thousand miles by the most direct route --
and these guys make frequent detours, or just plain get lost -- on underpowered
machines laden with camping gear and art supplies.
Lying ahead of the riders are deserts and mountains, rainstorms and bitter
April nights, mechanical failures and heated arguments. They travel through an
America of beatniks, Happenings and casual racism, in an age when references to
The Lord of the Rings have to be glossed because only geeks have read it.
The pair's adventures on and off the Heinkels will resonate with anyone who's
travelled on two wheels: the joys, the frustrations, the love and hate that a
bike can inspire, often within the same hour. They adore and romanticise
their scooters, giving them each a name (‘Jenny’ and ‘Couchette’) and a
character. They attempt repairs and are delighted and astonished when they
They camp with such incompetence that they risk freezing to death, or stay in
chilly, bug-infested motels. They battle headwinds that slow their little
machines to a crawl, and break down on a godforsaken highway in the middle of
the night. The cold and the weariness and the despair are palpable.
Yet for every scare or setback there's an equal and opposite moment of such
joy that you wish you could have been there. A breathtaking view, a kind
word from a stranger, a smell in the air, all experiences that wouldn't have
come about if the chosen means of transport hadn't been two-wheeled. The
curious children, the crazies that bikes seem to attract like flies to the
windshield, the mechanics who've never heard of your marque but still kludge
something together so the journey can continue.
Beagle's vivid prose immerses the reader not only in the physical terrain but
in the mindset reserved for bikers: the closeness to the environment, the
vulnerability and the sense of awe that turn us all into temporary philosophers.
I can't understand why 'I See By My Outfit' isn't better known, since in my
opinion it deserves classic status both within and outside the biking-travelogue
genre. It's Easy Rider in book form; it's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance with funny bits. Descriptions and snippets of dialogue that
crease me up are balanced by flashes of wisdom. There's an underlying
wistfulness, too, in the writer's knowledge that the journey must end and the
spirit of it can never quite be recaptured.
Above all, in this age of ever more exotic bike adventures to the remotest
parts of the globe, here's proof that you don't need to travel to another
continent to find adventure -- it can start just beyond the corner of Selwyn