Wow. The word that popped into my head most often as I read John Seigel Boettner’s Hey Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America? was “wow.”
A middle school social studies teacher, Seigel Boettner and a colleague had taken small groups of students on two to three week bicycle adventures all over the world, but this undertaking was to be the boldest of them all. Seigel Boettner and his wife proposed to take a group from Washington, D.C. across the country to their home in Los Olivos, California in just four months.
When their plane landed in Washington in June 1986, the group consisted of Seigel Boettner, his wife Lynn, and five 12- and 13-year-olds, three boys (Jimmy, Carl and Ethan) and two girls (Joy and Heather). After two years of planning and training, the group was ready to start their adventure.
Throughout the book, Seigel Boettner’s love and respect for his students is abundantly clear, as is the fact that the feelings are mutual. Their cohesiveness as a group, a family, is what enables them to not only survive, but enjoy repeated thunderstorms, tornadoes, high mountain passes, dangerous highways and four months of constant togetherness. Their travails actually bring them closer together.
Seigel Boettner’s goal for the trip, beyond just completing it, is for both he and his students to learn more about America and Americans than they ever could sitting in a classroom. Although they encounter criticism because the kids are “missing” school, Seigel Boettner’s tale, including excerpts from the children’s journals, make’s it abundantly clear that his educational goals are more than realized. Jimmy said near the end of the trip: America is our classroom, our bikes are our textbooks, and the people we meet are our teachers.” Wow.
Subtitled “Five Kids Meet Their Country,” Hey Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America? testifies that the kids do indeed meet their country. Not only do they travel through over 13 states to see a wide variety of terrain and weather, they also meet uncountable Americans of all stripes. Notable are the Amish family on whose farm they spent the night; bigoted, but friendly rednecks in the south; politicians in Washington, D.C.; and many, many people who got a dreamy look in their eyes as the kids described what they were doing. I know that my trip-planning fantasies ratcheted up a few notches just reading about their adventures.
Hey Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America? belongs on the bookshelf of every person who tours by bike, or dreams about touring by bike, or even just dreams. This well-written tale will have you pulling out your atlases and making lists for your next adventure.
Ride safe and have fun!
Note: this book was purchased by me with my own money and I in no way profited from this review.