MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
For many Americans, a motorcycle trip on the open road is a delicious fantasy. For writer Jonathan Bastian, it became a reality. But no road trip on two wheels is complete without a little relevant reading material. So he has these recommendations, as part of our series Three Books where writers recommend three books on one theme.
JONATHAN BASTIAN: I had no more excuses. Sitting in my driveway was an old motorcycle that still ran well but was beginning to rust away. For years, I dreamed of taking my "Motorcycle Diaries" trip, which definitely included the part about exploring South America, having some steamy love affairs, maybe even starting my own Che Guevara-inspired revolution.
But dreams are still dreams, and the idea of driving a motorcycle from my home in Colorado to Argentina seemed, sadly, impossible with my domesticated trappings. But a trip through Wyoming and Montana, for two weeks? That seemed doable. So I took some time off work, bought a few maps and found three books that were perfect for the trip.
Driving through Wyoming, I started with a novel called "The Meadow" by James Galvin, who describes a punishing stretch of ranchland where men still snap ribs on cattle drives, and where the winters are so long and the silences so heavy that people lose track of days and, sometimes, their sanity. Because Galvin is primarily a poet, he's not interested in riveting plot lines, but moments, images, crystalline reflections of characters who sometimes die because they're too scared to ask for help in a community that prides itself on self-reliance.
From Wyoming, I crossed into Montana - the rugged territory of Jim Harrison, whose iconic novels include "Legends of the Fall" and "Dalva." But like James Galvin, Harrison is also a poet. His most recent collection of poems called "In Search of Small Gods" captures Harrison's love for both Buddhism and the outdoors, contrasting moments of inner calm with the primal brutality of the Western wilderness. In fact, many of these poems unfold like simple fables, leaving you with the sense that you've just learned something, even though you're not sure what.
But look, I realize that a motorcycle trip is also supposed to be a manly adventure of oil and engines and whiskey and troublemaking, so I brought along "Hell's Angels" by Hunter S. Thompson. This is the ultimate biker book that recounts the author's adventures riding with the infamous Hell's Angels motorcycle gang as they brawled, boozed and tore through small towns like Vikings. But in the end, Thompson reveals that they were still regular guys whose toxic reputations commonly broke apart their families, their jobs and sometimes their entire lives.
Most famous for his novel "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," it's rumored that Thompson wrote the last half of "Hell's Angels" in 48 hours with a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon and other illicit substances. That story inspired me so much that I hid away my book of poetry and ventured into a dingy biker bar. I quickly realized that my week-old patchy beard and Patagonia raincoat looked pathetically lame next to my leather-coated, tattooed brethren.
Needless to say, I returned home to Colorado a humbled man.
So for those of you who've always dreamed of taking a similar adventure, you've got no more excuses, because I've already solved the hardest problem of taking this trip or, for that matter, any trip. It isn't figuring out where you'll go or how you'll get the bike but deciding on what books you'll bring.
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BLOCK: Jonathan Bastian is a literary contributor at Aspen Public Radio. You can catch up on more Three Books recommendations at our website, npr.org.