After decades of pursuing the pleasures of cycling, I’m convinced that riding with an intent, an objective of some sort, adds meaning and value. This conviction is clearly shared by Sara Dykman, a serious cyclist, a concerned environmental scientist and a damned good storyteller as well. And it’s clearly in evidence in the story of her engrossing cycling adventure, which she shares in Bicycling with Butterflies.
Fascinated by the monarch butterfly and its annual journey from its winter habitat in Mexico, Ms. Dykman resolves to follow the monarch’s migration on her bicycle. She rides with the butterflies north, solo, across America, into Canada, a five-thousand mile, months-long ride, and then five thousand miles back to their sanctuary in Mexico. Her journey, begun in March, 2017, ended nine months later in November.
Ten thousand miles on a bicycle: wow. It’s so many miles, demanding so much training, planning, dreaming. A profound mental commitment until it becomes the season, the day, the moment to just do it. Ms. Dykman shares the serious cyclist’s secret in the early pages of her beautifully crafted narrative:
. . . a long trip is nothing more than a collection of miles. If I could bike one mile, then I could bike two. If I could bike two, then I could bike 10,000.
You don’t need to be a cyclist or a field biologist to enjoy reading Bicycling with Butterflies. All you need is the interest in learning about another human being, a humanist, and her hero-journey, for it is exactly that. Ms. Dykman’s quest to learn more about this very special butterfly is bound with her own very special search for self-knowledge and a desire to understand life, philosophically, interpersonally and ecologically. These intertwining perspectives enrich the narrative so much—and make her story so very special.
Bicycling with Butterflies is, in my opinion, simply the best book about adventure bicycling ever: gloves on the handlebars, feet on the pedals, bum on the saddle. I listened to the Audible book, which is elegantly, emotionally narrated by Xe Sands. Her first-person characterization is so well done I couldn’t differentiate Ms. Sands’ voiceover from the author. When I finished listening, I recommended it to some of my cycling friends. But the more I thought about it, I grew convinced there were way too many rich insights, evocative turns of phrase and memorable events which I wished to recall. That would be difficult to recapture from audio, so I bought a copy of the hardcover book and am setting into it with my yellow highlighter in hand.
The print book reveals new dimensions of Ms. Dykman’s story. That came as no surprise; from the audiobook I already knew her as an attention-to-detail person. The front matter dedication, “To the monarchs,” displays her own beautiful pen-and-ink drawing. There is a route map, an illustration of the monarch’s migration routes (yes, there are more than one), and an excellent index in the end matter. Each chapter opens with the number of days, dates and miles covered; she kept a journal and it shows.
I fully expect that by the end of my reading I’ll have hatched an idea or two or three for my own road trip, which I, too, will write about in one form or another—although I have no expectations of accomplishing as great a quest as has the extraordinary Sara Dykman.