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Metal Cowboy - Book Review

"As I waited, an old rancher ambled up to the intersection. The fur collar on his long coat was tattered, crusted with tobacco stains, and faded. As his cane tapped its way over my bike, I noticed for the first time that he was blind. One eye drooped shut like that of a tomcat that had seen too many late-night brawls, while the other, still open, was cloudy and distant….The old rancher continued to work his cane over me, tapping as he went….When he was done, the old rancher stood back, grinned through a ruin of teeth, and said, 'Ah, metal cowboy.'"

And so in 1990 Joe Kurmaskie is baptized “Metal Cowboy,” a moniker he adopts as a perfect description of himself. Over the next 10 years, Joe rode his bike and wrote about his adventures for various newspapers and magazines. He chose a selection of those writings and published them as a collection of essays in Metal Cowboy. The version of Metal Cowboy I read was the tenth anniversary edition of his first book, and included an introduction as well as epilogues to some of his most popular stories.

Many of the stories in Metal Cowboy take place in America, primarily in the West or along the east coast. He travels farther afield in others, however, taking the reader with him to ride with an Italian barber in New Zealand, an adventurous female friend in Aruba, and a bicycling artist in Baja, Mexico. No matter where they occurred, his tales share stories of the unexpected, the humorous, and the touching.

While many cyclists focus on the physical travails of their adventures, Joe’s focus is primarily on the fascinating people he encounters along the way. He talks with two brothers who are trying to buy back their family rodeo; he sees a man on a home-built tricycle whose clothing is covered with badges and buttons sporting a variety of slogans; Elvis rides his bike in the parking lot of a cheap motel near Las Vegas; and he meets his future wife. The sheer scope of human variety is captured in the pages of these 40 essays.

There are more than just people, though. Joe also relays his adventures with guard geese, the enthusiasm with which a cycling tourist eats, and long, tiring grinds up mountain passes. He learns that he’s not meant to be a racing cyclist, and that’s okay. He also learns that the worst form of public transport for a cyclist is the interstate bus.

Since the publication of Metal Cowboy, Joe has written other books about his adventures, but this collection of tales is a wonderful way to meet this cyclist. Buy yourself a copy and be inspired to ride.

Ride safe and have fun!

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