Sunday, August 16, 2020

"The Buddha and the Bee: Biking Through America's Forgotten Roadways on a Journey of Discovery" - Cory Mortensen

It's difficult to describe the experience of reading Cory Mortensen's "The Buddha and the Bee: Biking Through America's Forgotten Roadways on a Journey of Discovery," a never less than engaging collection of roadside musings and nostalgic factoids that meanders nearly as much as did Mortensen himself during his 2001 solo bicycle trip from Chaska, Minnesota to Truckee, California.

The truth is that "The Buddha and the Bee" is more an entertaining read than an inspiring one, Mortensen's charismatic personality shining through his written pages as we join him on a journey that would have likely been ill-advised by just about anyone with a lick of common sense.

Aren't those the best kind?

I couldn't help but reflect upon my own life while reading "The Buddha and the Bee," a life that has been certainly less far-reaching but a life that has included my own weird journey when in 1989 I embarked on a 41-day, 1086-mile wheelchair ride around the border of Indiana with a handful of zigzags included just for fun. It was the first of what would become a 30-year journey in social justice for me, while Mortensen's journey led to a detoured life and a semi-impulsive but lifelong commitment to living life on his own terms.

At times, "The Buddha and the Bee" feels like what would happen if Jeff Spicoli, Sean Penn's iconic anti-hero from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," had taken up biking and set his sights on San Francisco.


"The Buddha and the Bee" sort of turns the idea of the inspirational memoir upside down, a few obscenities here and there joined at the hip by an occasional joint and near daily rural roadside Chinese dinners and overnight stays in forgotten America's roadside motels.

It is true that the journey that unfolds here was incredibly impulsive and lacking in what most people would consider common sense or adequate preparation, though it's worth noting that Mortensen was no stranger to bicycling and he had adequate personal funding to allow for overnight motel stays when available and ample restaurant meals and bicycle repairs for which he'd been woefully unprepared. Granted an extended leave of absence from his employer with certainty of employment if he so chooses, it's zero surprise when the experience of riding across a good majority of America changes the directionless young man and sends him off toward a more meaningful life.

The truth is that you root for Mortensen throughout "The Buddha and the Bee," though you really don't get to know him all that well. In a certain way, this is actually rather refreshing as "The Buddha and the Bee" is devoid of the usual self-congratulatory narcissism that often accompanies this type of book. Mortensen has an almost dry humor throughout "The Buddha and the Bee," from snarky memories of personal encounters to not always so gentle opinions about these roadside destinations where sometimes the stranger isn't exactly always welcome.

For the most part, "The Buddha and the Bee" is quietly endearing. Mortensen is that rare soul who embarks on a weird journey and learns from it in tangible ways that impact his life. While the book itself doesn't expand upon Mortensen's life beyond this journey, a quick web browse reveals that Mortensen has ridden his bicycle over a million miles throughout his lifetime while traveling to over 55 countries and completing marathons on five continents. With an entrepreneurial spirit and a thirst for adventure, it's clear that Mortensen has lived a life far beyond that for which he was destined prior to this 2001 trip including being in rural America when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

"The Buddha and the Bee," which was released just this week and is Amazon's #1 new release in Sports Travel," is more likely to appeal to the adventurous spirit than those seeking another pure-hearted inspirational tale. It's an honest sports travel memoir, Mortensen unreservedly sharing his impulsive behaviors, equipment breakdowns, unusual encounters, body odor, and aliens.

Of course, there are aliens.

You might be inspired anyway, but for the most part "The Buddha and the Bee" will engage you and entertain you and cause you to reflect on your own life journey and, just perhaps, your bucket list of life experiences and personal/professional goals. You can't help but appreciate Mortensen's sharing of a wide variety of small-town factoids and historical reflections even when they occasionally seem to replace what would have been greater character depth and a greater connection with the man who serves as our guide in a weird and wonderful way.

With ordinary insights and a strong sense of gratitude, Mortensen has created a not so inspirational memoir filled with humor, insight, honest reflections, and the knowledge that sometimes it's those unplanned moments of uncommon courage that define us for the rest of our lives.

"The Buddha and the Bee: Biking Through America's Forgotten Roadways on a Journey of Discovery" is available now and most certainly worth your time.

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