A book review of Metal Cowboy – Tales From the Road Less Pedaled by Joe Kurmaskie
Back in May of 2009, I attended the Bicycle and Pedestrian Conference up at Lake Tahoe. Author Joe Kurmaskie was one of the guest speakers at the conference, speaking on bicycle advocacy during the day, and entertaining the crowd at night. He was also there selling his books between events, so I got a chance to talk with Joe, buy a couple of his books, and even have lunch with him.
Joe Kurmaskie is a passionate man, and full of energy. Having heard him address the crowd up at Lake Tahoe, it was easy to hear his enthusiastic voice tell the stories as I began reading his book Metal Cowboy. First released in 1999, Metal Cowboy is a collection of stories from his bicycle travels around the world. You’ll get to follow Joe through a logging dispute in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, play darts for serious stakes in a bar in the Australian Outback, explore the tropical island of Aruba, stay in a hotel full of Elvis impersonators in the Utah desert, and meet all the characters he’s met along the way. The book opens with the story of how he got his nickname. “Metal Cowboy” is a moniker that Joe Kurmaskie earned from an old rancher while riding through the old west town of Pocatello, Idaho.
There are 40 essays in the 304 page book. Each chapter is a complete story in itself, and they could be read in any order if you chose to; however, it’s obvious that the chapters were laid out to keep the book flowing with tension and release. There are stories of hilarious encounters, spiritual journeys, and even dangerous predicaments.
In addition to the great stories from the road, Joe’s writing style makes you want to keep reading. He takes the time to craft each paragraph with descriptive, humorous imagery that really makes the story come to life. Seldom settling for common nouns, he’ll get creative and expand them; for example, instead of merely “geese”, they are “a gaggle of guard geese” or his “web-footed captors”. Here’s one excerpt:
“The most unusual chase, though, involved a gaggle of guard geese in rural New Hampshire. Where a garden-variety pack of dogs will usually give up the race in a couple of minutes, tops, I’m here to testify that geese know something about commitment.”
And here’s a description of an old touring cyclist he met in the Rockies:
“Wrapped in a military parka, loose shorts with dark thermals under that, Gordy was a cross between a deranged Eskimo and a fashion trendsetter for the Seattle grunge movement.”
No matter what the mood though, a common theme that comes up all throughout the book is finding kindness in unexpected places. In our politically polarized country, we have built stereotypical boundaries of mistrust. There are two countries at times it seems. Time and time again throughout the book though, Joe finds help or kindness where he least expects it, and demonstrates that most people are good people, no matter what their beliefs. His stories are good lessons for us all.
In summary, Metal Cowboy is not so much about bicycle touring, as it is about adventure. The bike is merely the vessel of his journeys, and you won’t hear much technical talk or jargon about the bicycle itself. No matter what bike we’re on, we all crave the adventure and freedom that the bicycle gives us. Metal Cowboy will appeal to cyclists of any discipline, and will make you want to go on your own journey along the road less traveled.
Check out Joe’s website, www.metalcowboy.com, for more information including his latest book, Blood, Sweat, and Gears.
Until you get your copy of Metal Cowboy, here’s a taste of Joe’s writing from his blog: Telltale Signs That Cycling Has Taken Over Your Life
Stay tuned for a book review of Momentum is Your Friend. In this book, Joe takes his two young boys on a bicycle tour across the country!