November 17 2011 by Jason Fogelson
You will probably never ride a thousand mile day on a motorcycle. Neither will I. But if you're eager to understand why some people ride a thousand miles a day and more -- indeed, if you're eager to understand why people ride motorcycles at all, The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing by Melissa Holbrook Pierson gives valuable insight into the practice of long-distance motorcycling.
Ms. Pierson is an essayist and non-fiction writer. I have recommended a previous book of hers, The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles (1998), many times.
It seems that Ms. Pierson took an extended break from motorcycling some time after writing that book. Now, a decade or so later, her life's circumstances have changed. She finds herself as the divorced single mother of a ten year-old boy, and contrary to convential logic and familial preference, drawn back to motorcycling.
The Man referred to in the book's title, The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing, is John Ryan. In Ms. Pierson's portrayal, Ryan is part Chuck Yeager, part Mad Max, riding extraordinary distances on his Frankensteined Yamaha FJR. Men want to be him, women want to be with him. He just wants to ride. During the course of the book, Ryan attacks great personal, financial and physical challenges to attempt greater and greater achievements in long-distance riding. He becomes Ms. Pierson's inspiration and mentor toward her own re-entry into motorcycling, and the gateway to her immersion in the world of long-distance riding.
The fabric that binds the book together is the Iron Butt Association, the international organization of long-distance motorcycle riders. Ms. Pierson begins as an observer, then finds herself embraced by the club members as she attempts to complete her own SaddleSore -- a documented and officially-sanctioned 1,000-mile ride within a 24-hour period. What starts out as a scholarly, objective dissertation on a strange phenomenon becomes a story of liberation and personal growth as Ms. Pierson reclaims her life on two wheels, and in the process becomes part of a rich, nurturing community.
I highly recommend The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing: Long Distance Motorcycling's Endless Road. I now have two new heroes -- John Ryan and Melissa Holbrook Pierson, and I feel like I have a better understanding of why I ride motorcycles.