I can always feel the invisible tether bound permanently around my ankle. In the gym, I am bound by the clock, at home, by the schedule. Even while driving, I am reminded of the cord’s length – the seven seats of my mini-van enumerate the responsibility, recall the fact that I am not a one, I am bound by responsibility to a group. Closing my eyes, I feel a connection with the tether of the 1900’s Western woman, bound by social calls, teas and escorts. Both of us lead somewhat privileged, yet limited lives. Both of us are content, yet yearning.
On a bicycle, the tether unravels. My escort, the gas pump, fades, and my only limits are those proclaimed by my muscles. The gears overcome my handicaps of fatigue; my destination knows no lane or parking spot. My horse requires no feed or rest. For me or against me, the wind and sky are my only escorts. I can visit sites unreachable by car, too distant by foot. Exploration and speed are rivals to the high of complete freedom attainable by this assembly of simple machines.
Author Suzanne Joinson takes these sentiments and gives them life in the bicycle-propelled mystery, Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. Two British women, attempting to break both their real and perceived bounds of family, find escape in the two-wheeled vehicle. The bicycle functions as the liberator and the gateway. Through cycling, these women push the boundaries of social norms to their limit. Alternating between the 1920’s and the present day, this novel takes the reader across Europe and into remote areas of Asia and raises questions that resonate for women across time. Where does freedom end and chaos begin? Is it possible to hold the security of the family unit in one hand and the wings of freedom in another? Does motherhood necessitate the end of exploration?
I read Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar on the heels of the 2012 Franklin Omnium. In Franklin, VA, the untethering rides to a new level. This series of races offers women a unique opportunity: serious competition in Southeastern Virginia. But why cycling for women?
Brooke Miller, multiple women’s national cycling champion, has repeatedly reported that women’s average late entry into the sport allows women to compete at ages beyond men’s typical burnout age. In her 2009 Examiner interview, Miller states, “In endurance sports, women peak much later in life… It is true that there are often not a lot of opportunities for women to continue their athletic pursuits- but their bodies are often much more capable than they were when they were in college.”
Not yet fully embraced by women, cycling offers an undiscovered road. The cyclist finds speeds unattainable in a foot race, urgency unparalleled in a tennis match and precision rivaling golf. Women may find inspiration in Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. The exhilaration of legitimate competition past college may be found on the open road.
Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar