A Hole in the Wind
A Climate Scientist's Bicycle Journey Across the United States
By David Goodrich
Pegasus. 249 pp. $27.95
Climate scientist David Goodrich was riding his Trek 520 touring bike along a desolate stretch of Wyoming's Highway 287 when a storm boiled up from the west, catching him out in the open. "I was rapidly folded up in darkness, gusting winds, and lightning flashes," he writes in A Hole in the Wind, a detail-rich chronicle of the half-dozen epic bike rides he has done since 2000, including a 2011 cross-country trip. "There was nothing to do but ball up low on the side of the road, away from the metal bike, and get drenched. I comforted myself that the steel roadside reflectors were a little higher than me." Goodrich makes no allegorical hay of the incident, but it crystallizes his larger message: We live at the mercy of the elements - a dependency that should motivate us to combat climate change.
Goodrich is a good enough reporter - and a sufficiently gifted stylist - to make the miles fly by. And he must have propitiated the cycling gods, for he suffered only one flat tire the entire ride.
Denial seems to be washing in on the tide up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Goodrich shows how climate change - a fact endorsed by 97 percent of climate scientists - has been polemicized by documentaries such as The Great Global Warming Swindle and screeds such as The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future (penned by a certain Oklahoma senator). You can talk about the weather, he concludes, but not the climate.
So how do you avoid boring readers when narrating a lengthy bike trip with a lofty purpose? You can leaven your text with the occasional harrowing run-in - a pack of vicious dogs in Missouri, say, or railroad tracks that toss you over the handlebars in Kansas - but ultimately you must persuade readers they could tag along and enjoy your company.
Goodrich does just that, whether it's detailing his mythic quest for the perfect college-town coffee shop ("Strange music must fill the air, with lots of people talking intently") or describing a camping adventure that inadvertently flaunts his range as poet-scientist-humorist: "That night in Montana's fire-ravaged Boulder Valley, wind blew the smoke away and the sky exploded in stars. The earth turned toward Sagittarius and the center of the galaxy, the brightest part of the Milky Way. I fell asleep listening to coyotes in the draw."
Next morning, he awakes to the sound of water. A dog is relieving itself on his tent.
Fallow is a freelance writer and book editor in Alexandria, Va. This review originally appeared in the Washington Post.