“Proceed as the way opens” is how William Least Heat-Moon put it in his book, River Horse. The line becomes a sort of mantra for Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth McGowan, a melanoma survivor. Having been given a five-year clean bill of health, McGowan decides to bicycle all 4,000 or so miles from America’s west to east coast. For her, there are multiple reasons for the exhausting trip. She wants to help other melanoma victims, and sets out to use her many miles to raise funds for cancer research in southeastern Wisconsin, where she was treated.
She also wants to better understand her late father, who died of melanoma at the age of 44, when Elizabeth was just fifteen. She rides through small towns and places that she visited as a kid with her dad, mom, and siblings. Her long, nearly 90-day cycling trip across the U.S. continent not only showcases people affected by cancer and more than willing to help promote cancer research, but it personally brings McGowan closer to her father.
Recalling him at different places and times during his short life, she begins to realize that she owes directly to him the ease with which she meets people across her long transcontinental route. She comes to see that, like her father, she is funny, and has the dedication and resilience needed to take on and complete major projects. At the end of her bicycle ride, McGowan’s mother shows her, for the first time, letters about her father received after his untimely death. They open her eyes to the fact that she, too, can move through life with gusto whenever she makes sure that “the way opens.”
Outpedaling the Big C is an anything-but-typical, exhilarating journey story revealing how immersion in the natural world is a balm for the wounded.