Five Stars for Hell on Two Wheels!

I was dazzled by this book! Amy Snyder ushers us into the remarkable world of ultra-distance cycling with her documentary narrative about the 2009 Race Across America. The RAAM destroys its competitors, plunging them into a surreal world of sleeplessness and intense pain, and endless hours of brutal, soul-searing physical and mental exertion as they cross the deserts, mountains, and plains of America. Some of the competitors end up with blown-out calf muscles, pulmonary infections, searing saddle sores, and hallucinations induced by 9-10 days of sleep deprivation. Others develop a debilitating condition known as Shermer’s neck, where the neck muscles fail and the riders are forced to cycle without the ability to raise their heads (there are photos of some of them with their heads propped up by self-devised scaffolds and neck braces — unbelievable!). 

This race itself is unbelievable, but Snyder makes it seem both fascinating and inspiring as she delves into the personal triumphs and struggles of some of the men’s individual race leaders: Jure Robic, Dani Wyss, Marko Baloh, Jim Rees, Franz Priehs, and Christoph Strasser, and the four women competitors: Janet Christiansen, Daniela Genovesi, Michelle Santihano, and Ann Wooldridge. Many of these riders don’t finish the race, but all of their stories are remarkable. Snyder was with the riders the whole way, driving back and forth along the course for first-hand information from the cyclists and their crews. She provides exciting race details, where competitors battle it out through baking desert heat, soaring mountainous climbs, and bone-chilling Midwestern rain, and intersperses the race story with relevant background history about the racers and their crews.

The RAAM is a long, lonely, grueling event and, sadly, it’s one that receives little attention in the sports world. But the winners and losers each have amazing stories to tell about how they got there and why they choose to participate in this soul-crushing sport. Snyder does a wonderful job of presenting both the brutal reality of ultra-distance racing and the life-changing sense of accomplishment experienced by the participants who survive it. And the mind-blowing ending is followed up by an epilogue that was so shocking and stunningly sad, I actually yelled out loud (which scared the heck out of my kids!).

The book includes photographs, acknowledgments and notes, and an appendix that lists the entire 2009 solo riders field, along with their bios and race results.

Hell on Two Wheels reminded me of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Whether you’re a cycling buff or a reader who enjoys true adventure stories that grab you by the neck, you’ll love this book. Note: I read an Advance Review Copy.


About Paula Margulies

Paula Margulies has over twenty years of experience in communications, marketing, and public relations for all types of products and services. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she earned her master’s degree in Language Arts and Literature, Margulies also holds degrees in marketing communications and education. She has served as the marketing and publicity director for large companies and small businesses and is an instructor in business communications and public relations at community colleges throughout Southern California.