Momentum is Your Friend is a crisp take on bicycling across America, as can only be told by Joe Kurmaskie.
In the early 2000s, the author bicycled from Portland, Oregon to Washington DC.
As if this wasn’t challenging enough, he pulled his two young sons along for the ride! They were 5 and 7 years old at the time.
This book is the story of their trip. It’s a personal story, baked in pop-culture references and seasoned with a hearty dose of good old-fashioned Americana.
Rather than falling into the traps of the oh-so-common navel-gazing found on journeys like this, we find that there’s nothing quite like a 5 and 7 year-old to keep things down to earth.
Kurmaskie’s writing is thick with an abundance of similes, humor, and travel-writing hubris. Beneath it, however, lies an undercurrent of big-hearted humility.
Similar to the bite-sized style found in his original book Metal Cowboy, each chapter of Momentum Is Your Friend serves as its own short story. The latter work picks up a good measure of power with its chronological thread of traveling across the USA.
I first met Joe Kurmaskie when I was in the midst of my own bicycle tour across America in 2006. I was looking for a place to stay in Portland, Oregon via the warm showers website (couch-surfer for cyclists), and got connected with Joe. Prior to my stay in Portland, I was able to meet him in Eugene, where he gave a talk to promote this book. At the time, seeing how his career was forged from writing and bicycle touring was a serendipitous discovery.
I didn’t get around to reading his work for a number of years. This was mostly because I was too deep in my own pursuits, frankly, to be drawn in to yet another cyclist’s glorified journal from the road. Considering this book in particular, my 25-year-old self mused that I had very little in common with the daddy-train circus shown on the cover.
Older and (hopefully) wiser now as I approach midlife, I picked up Momentum Is Your Friend with a much different perspective. Joe’s immersive writing put me right back on the road, and floored me with his audacity to bring his two young sons on the trip. The underlying theme, naturally, is fatherhood… as seen through the lens of traveling by bicycle.
For me, the story of his ride features 3 consistent qualities:
- nostalgia (for touring cyclists)
- passages that flirt with being overly-sentimental, without quite stepping over the line
Most impressive of all is the author’s willingness to candidly put so much in print. Such a vein of writing is impossible to accomplish without laying out a healthy measure of Joe’s family life. Reading between the lines, the way he manages to juggle his work with his personal life seems to be the most underrated achievement of all.
Finally, Joe’s book plainly reminded me exactly what it’s like to be a touring cyclist. After setting it down, I was immediately inspired to go out for a long ride on the state highways, imagining the horizon as my destination. I plugged some appropriate classic rock in my ear (Bruce Springsteen Radio on Pandora, if you must know), and felt like I was 25 again, bicycling across America, and bulletproof.