Riding Outside the Lines: International Incidents and Other Misadventures with the Metal Cowboy

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Overview

Like a modern-day Don Quixote, Joe Kurmaskie—bike adventurer, writer, and twelve-year-old boy trapped in a man’s body—wanders the world on two wheels, often with hilarious results, in Riding Outside the Lines.
A jaunt through such far-flung locations as Ireland, Australia, Mexico, South America, and beyond, here is a collection of tales woven together with one central theme: the world is a much smaller place when you view it from the seat of a...
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Riding Outside the Lines: International Incidents and Other Misadventures with the Metal Cowboy

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Overview

Like a modern-day Don Quixote, Joe Kurmaskie—bike adventurer, writer, and twelve-year-old boy trapped in a man’s body—wanders the world on two wheels, often with hilarious results, in Riding Outside the Lines.
A jaunt through such far-flung locations as Ireland, Australia, Mexico, South America, and beyond, here is a collection of tales woven together with one central theme: the world is a much smaller place when you view it from the seat of a bicycle.

Whether he’s weekending in the buff after accidentally stumbling into a nudist colony wedding, knocking back red wine in tin cans with a gun-toting ex–bounty hunter, combing the countryside in a quest to find the all-girl bagpipe squad he met in his dreams, or playing a rousing game of ice golf on the frozen tundra, Joe Kurmaskie writes of his gonzo global trek in a spirit infused with insight, good humor, and optimism. Riding Outside the Lines encourages travel buffs and armchair explorers alike to get on your bike and see the beauty of our planet and the colorful souls who populate it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A columnist for Bicycling magazine, Kurmaskie (Metal Cowboy) valorizes the unexpected vista or encounter above all else: "I like to think of the world as a grab bag, one that I rarely peek inside before the party gets rolling." Structured as a series of short trips rather than a single extended trek, this breezy, unpretentious volume covers such far-flung locales as Ireland, Peru and New Zealand. Inevitably romanticizing the material, Kurmaskie adopts the persona of your affable, "extreme" pal who's good with words. The emphasis is less on the physical toll of cycling than on the people and places encountered along the way. Kurmaskie runs into some noteworthy characters, including a former insurance agent turned Acapulco dumpster diver and an Vietnam vet turned Mexican bounty hunter. While Kurmaskie's escapades sometimes feel like tall tales, his occasional willingness to pad the text with personal if irrelevant reveries about, for example, a fondly remembered Bruce Springsteen concert, enhance his credibility-if every chapter beggared the imagination, readers would have more reason to look askance. Thankfully, some of his anecdotes (e.g., his quest to track down an Irish all-female bagpipe squad) don't work out according to the expected script. A chapter on curious syntax in signs reinforces the author's similarities to Bill Bryson, but the mode here is bubbly enthusiasm rather than dyspeptic weariness. All in all, Kurmaskie's gregarious willingness to play the role of a "ramshackle traveling carnival" makes for a highly amusing read. (May) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
One of the great modern iterations of the literary travelog is a sort of grand tour of America, whether by recreational vehicle, motorcycle, or, in this case, bicycle. But given that the "road memoir" is well-traveled territory, it is incumbent on the author to add something new, and Kurmaskie here does not. His far-flung observations are superficial and facile (e.g., "Scientists have spent years and millions of grant dollars determining that the ocean makes its own rules"), and his sense of humor is trite and corny. For example, in a chapter on typographical errors in road and store sign, he cites "Proceeds used to cripple children," then quips, "Maybe the notorious skating femme fatale Tonya Harding was at the helm of their fund-raising campaign." His prose is clumsy and predictable, as he mistakes a dumpster scavenger he meets in Mexico for some kind of Thoreauvian hero. Kurmaskie has written another collection of essays about cycling called Metal Cowboy and is a regular contributor to Bicycling magazine. It is therefore surprising that his current work offers little information on equipment, technique, or the real nuts and bolts of long-distance biking. Not recommended.-James Miller, Springfield Coll. Lib., MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another series of wayward bicycling adventures from the author of Metal Cowboy (1999), as spirited, searching, and hungry for laughs as ever. The bike is the message for Kurmaskie, who uses it as a good excuse to get out and about and most of all to get off it to use his own wheels to explore, strike up friendships ("to chat about nothing in particular and feel completely in the present"), and have encounters of all stripes. The adventures Kurmaskie feels are worth recounting here are always peculiar: a run-in with nudists, a fleeting vision of an all-girl bagpipe band that sends him on a quest in Ireland, a pause to listen to a Dumpster-diving philosopher’s deep reflections, a friendly game of ice golf ("as much fun as sex outdoors in the summertime"). Having a few of these nuggets in the pocket of life would not be a bad thing, you feel, so long as the author keeps them in modest perspective. But you’ll want to ask Kurmaskie to lighten up when he starts twanging his ain’t-I-something chord: "I can’t promise you a smooth ride, but if you’re looking for safe and predictable, Disney World’s always open," for grating instance, or, "these all sure beat the Motel 6 for the storytelling factor." And while he comes across as an engagingly rumpled guy, the kind who knows the best groundcover for a siesta and appreciates that he smells like ripe cheese in dirty laundry after a day on the road, the author can overdo the quiet-desperation theme, often delivered by his roadmates. "Majority of people out there play it safe," sighs one. "Punch the clock, pass go, collect their two hundred bucks . . . put it on a loop for twenty more years. Nothin’ terrible ’bout that." Oh sure, sounds great. A littleaffected, but you have to admire Kurmaskie for following the Irish exhortation "on yere bike"--shorthand for "get off your arse and on with your life."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400047987
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/27/2003
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 528,181
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

JOE KURMASKIE is the author of Metal Cowboy and has written for Details, the Arizona Star, Oregon Cycling, and
Midwest Bike. He is a regular contributor to Bicycling, where his “Ask the Metal Cowboy” column appears. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two sons. Visit Joe at www.metalcowboy.com.
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Read an Excerpt

ON YERE BIKE

I took a place in one of the booths near the door, intent on ordering something warm. A traditional pub: darts, fireplace, and a long bar already crowded with Irishmen pouring that dark mother’s milk down their throats. It might have been about ten in the morning. The joint was rowdy enough by anyone’s standards, on a weekday no less, that I wanted to hang around and see how it ended. But this was only meant as a brief pit stop before pedaling back into the breach.

The rain hadn’t really stopped lashing since before breakfast, and the wind, like the higher math I so loathed back in school, was a constant. Seeing as I’d volunteered to bicycle around my ancestral homeland, I felt duty-bound to offer casual disregard in the face of the harshest weather. Given my pitiful state after less than a week of sloshing about country roads, my relatives, were they still aboveground, would certainly have shunned me. Or, at the very least, they would have called me cruel names, like plonker and wank, before letting me buy them a pint.

I was too cold to shed my blue Gore-Tex shell and pants. When I glanced in the mirror behind the bar the image staring back resembled a bulky blueberry as painted by Keith Haring—practically glowing. Had my rain suit always been so loud, or did the sea of muted jackets surrounding me raise its reflective properties to clownlike proportions? One of the patrons, about my age, noticed me noticing myself and leaned over. “What do ya call an Irishman in one of them spiffy rain suits?”

I shrugged.

“You call him a tourist. We wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that shite.”

He smiled, a good-natured grin. The rest of the pub must have been listening, because the place broke into hearty laughter. I joined in. What the hell—it was a good joke even if I happened to be the punch line.

Clearly, my reaction suited them, because an open stool quickly appeared and handshakes were exchanged. The comedian’s name turned out to be Brian, and his friends were damn near everyone in the place. When the second round arrived I realized a sip too late that I was participating in my first genuine “session.” To leave at this point would have been beyond rude. Having heard that these things could last indefinitely, I ordered myself a substantial amount of grub, hoping it might absorb some of that potent beer as we went.

“Ease up, lad,” Brian said as I inhaled a thick bowl of soup and tore at something called a doorstep sandwich. “The potato famine ended years ago.” This brought on another round of laughter and more drinks. At least I’d peeled off my blue rain gear by then. If I passed out and hit the deck, I’d seem less like rotting fruit without the blueberry suit.

At some point, between stowing my bike and losing much of the feeling in my cheeks, I reviewed the blind spots in my life, as a young man verging on the edge of drunkenness is apt to do. Everyone has such spots—not obvious shortcomings, but the hidden flaws and conspiring circumstances that duck under the radar, usually until it’s too late. Growing up in suburbia, the land of Wonder bread, Campbell’s soup, and cul-de-sacs, I harbored a nagging suspicion that my blind spot was somehow tied to a vague feeling of rootlessness. Can anyone really claim a genuine sense of place when the landmarks of their youth are a series of strip malls, golf courses, and 7-Elevens?

A childhood of summer evenings spent floating weightless and womblike in a backyard pool regulated to the temperature of blood . . . for a time I cherished my little monocultural world, taking stock and feeling something close to pleasure in its sameness. The way the automatic sprinklers popped up from hidden turf-builder bunkers each day of each month of each year smacked of utter permanence. A manufactured history, but the only one I’d ever occupied. Mine was a community of Tupperware pioneers making damn certain no one would want for anything they couldn’t order from a catalog. I was parochial, insulated, and restless.

It was the writings of a bunch of wayward comrades—London, Conrad, Steinbeck, Twain, and Kerouac—that broke my hermetically sealed (for freshness) world, and all the king’s men couldn’t put it back together again. For the record, I would have fought them to the death if they’d tried. My outward appearance remained unchanged. I continued to float in the pool, swing in the hammock, pedal the streets, and skate the rails and curbs after class, but a virus had entered my bloodstream. Go get your MBAs and fast tracks—I’ll take the road.

Brian asked if I’d buy the gang a shout, and I nodded. God help me, this session was in full swing now.

My first long-distance bicycle adventures were taken out of something close to fear: of growing old before my time, of not seeing and feeling and tasting enough of the world around me before I left it or, worse, grew too jaded to care. I was a middle-class white boy on the road to find out. Sure, I was a cliché. I wanted to say I’d left my zip code and then some. Still, long after the other guys turned in their Eurail passes, stopped writing that Dutch girl they’d met in France, and knocked off the slight British accent, I pedaled on in search of nothing more than moments like this one: a boothful of Irishmen telling lies and teaching me how to pour a proper pint of Guinness.

Act as if you have faith and faith might just find you.

Over the years the road showed me that your place in this world is where you happen to be standing at the moment. Or, in my case, teetering.

Someone stepped into the pub, and I noticed that it was dark outside. When had that happened? I eased back in the booth and tried to focus on the poor sod asleep at the end of the bar. In Ireland the joke goes that Alcoholics Anonymous means a guy who happens to be drinking alone.

“On yere bike,” the bartender hollered in the direction of this seemingly comatose fellow. The scuttered gent stirred, found his footing, and wandered for the door.

“That guy’s not really going to try to ride a bicycle home, is he?”

This brought such a roar of laughter from the gang in our booth that you’d have thought I’d just goosed each and every one of them.

The expression had caught my attention several times already during my Irish jaunt, but alcohol and other lively conversation had distracted me from further investigation. I was certainly thrown by it, since none of them appeared to be avid cyclists.

“It’s a clever way of telling someone to get off their arse and on with their life,” Brian explained. “Out the yard, up your socks, on yere bike.”

On yere bike . . . it was the very battle cry I’d been reaching for these many miles in the saddle. My eyes practically filled with grateful tears as I hoisted my glass.

“Gentlemen, on yere bike!” I toasted.

While not moved to my level of emotion, these newfound friends looked plenty amused as our glasses touched. Clearly, I was the only one at the table for whom the phrase carried untold depth and weight. And in the sober and thankfully gray light of an Irish morning the day after, it had only grown more valid as an evocation, rite, fight song, and prayer. Not the sort of thing you’d expect a Tibetan monk to offer up as a mantra, but who would argue with the clarity and simple wisdom of “get off your arse and on with your life”?

Some days I have to coax it from myself as a whisper. Other times I belt it out so loud and strong along lonely stretches of road that quail are flushed from the bush. As long as it rings true, I’m sticking by this as my operating instructions.

On yere bike!

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Customer Reviews

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( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 24, 2011

    Great read

    An excellent book of short stories. Each story highlights the best of a trip somewhere in the world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    My favorite book of the last 10 years!

    I love a good character story and I love to travel. Joe Kurmanskie was interviewed on the radio once and I jotted down his name and the title of the book as I sat at a red light in traffic. Once I got my hands on the book I blazed through it and hungered for more. So very happy was I to discover that indeed there were other volumes! Yay! I have given this book as well as Metal Cowbow to many coworkers, relatives, friends, and travel enthusiasts as gifts. Some of the best stories are in here. Imagine the show "Cheers!" staged on a series of bike trips versus in a single pub in Boston. Oh if this could only get made into some great TV. The series would be hilarious in the right hands, with the right actors. Anything less than utter brilliance in execution would not do this work justice.
    Go buy this book. Actually, buy three and give the others away. You and your friends will be glad you did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2003

    Twisted and timely on two wheels!

    The Metal Cowboy should have thought about stealing Lance Armstrong's title - 'It's Not About The Bike.' but he's too original for that. 'Riding Outside The Lines' is perfectly named for where it takes readers. But when it comes to this new collection another description that sums it up is 'It's More Than The Bike'. More twisted and sharp in its comedy than even his first book, it's a tribute to what the road can provide one's soul. It strikes me as what traveling on the fly, no agenda but to just keep it interesting does to a person's perspective. It seems to have twisted Kurmaskie's viewpoint in a way that makes me want to know where he will take us next. Ride on, Cowboy - we'll get on our metal steeds and follow or maybe follow from our armchair ponies.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2012

    Poorly written

    It reads like a list. Anyone could have written it.

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  • Posted October 22, 2011

    Pedal Junkie

    It was a great book lots of humor and entertaining. I love the subject of traveling the world on two wheels.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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