What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Bookshelf: The Buddha and the Bee

Biking through America's Forgotten Roadways on an Accidental Journey of Discovery

It is said that people travel to see the world, or to run away from something behind them, and in his entertaining book, “The Buddha and the Bee,” author Cory Mortensen discovers that perhaps his reason for wanting to ride his bicycle from Minnesota to California was not really what he first intended.


Subtitled “Biking through America’s Forgotten Roadways on an Accidental Journey of Discovery,” the book delivers on its promise. The events recounted take place from late August to late September 2001, when much of the world would change but over the 34 days of his rather epic journey the author’s world shrinks down to following the road, refuelling at filling stations, locating impressively cheap hotels and pigging out on Chinese food every evening if he can.

There is a small print disclaimer near the copyright information that reads: “This is the author’s story. It is not intended to be a guide or how-to manual for a similar trip. No claims are made as to legality, suitability, safety or efficiency of any route, road, service,, establishment or method of travel.” This proviso is unique, not ever before being present in any of the hundreds of cycling-related books we have reviewed, but it becomes understandable as one travels that long road west with Mr. Mortensen.

We are living in the grand new era of “bikepacking” it seems but in 2001 there was plenty of bicycle touring, with bicycles and equipment fit for purpose. The author is honest about what he calls his “lackadaisical approach to life” and his planning for a 2000 mile journey by bicycle is getting some road maps from the AAA and spending half an hour to look at them, so no route really planned, no overnights booked. His bicycle was a 1998 Specialized Allez he had ridden once at an event in 1999. He figured that four inner tubes and a pump would be enough to see him through mechanically. His sleeping bag and tent were fastened to a rear rack. Setting out on Day 1 with a goal of a 98 mile ride (further than he had ever ridden before), his other gear—a panoply of stuff that included a stove, five shirts, three books and a dictaphone—was in a backpack that weighed in at 42 pounds loaded.

While perhaps not the person you would ever want to manage your own cycling trip, the author shows that he can be very pragmatic. At the end of Day 1, shoulders chafed and butt aching, he distributes most of the contents of his backpack to various destinations in packages sent from the Redwood Falls, Minnesota post office. Although he had run marathons, he is quickly aware of the difficulty of what he has taken on and undergoes a genuine crisis, looking for an easy way out. Taking the bus or getting picked up by family, even planning where he could leave the bicycle in plain sight so it could be retrieved.

But in the end he proceeds and steadily makes progress as his world becomes that narrow one of the open road, really terrible hotels, Gatorade and all that MSG for dinner. As he rides into September, he is made aware, but only in the most vague sense, of the terrorist attacks on the United States on the 11th but he is so isolated as he rides across the middle of nowhere that it fails to register as reality.

There are some quite notable episodes. Seemingly not totally dedicated to riding all the time, he hitches a ride with some Hispanics who bring him to their trailer park and attempt to proselytize and while the account is written with the self-deprecating humour that suffuses the book, it still seems very creepy.

As he rides along the seemingly endless roads and conquers some epic climbs, all the while dealing with equally epic bicycle mechanical issues that threaten to derail the whole enterprise—has anyone in the history of the bicycle ever had as many flat tires in 34 days?–his thoughts turn more and more inward. The nondescript towns he passes through fold into each other, although he often likes to recount stories about their one moment of fame including crimes, and his brief interactions with people, far from the fast-paced Interstate, make his think about his own life and its meaning, or lack thereof.

By the time he reaches California, where he will attend a wedding as well as meet up with the person he terms his “rebound girlfriend,” he is determined that he will not return to his job in Minnesota. He writes:

    “I’d return and be slammed with calls, emails, and projects that never ended. The routine would wait for me.

    On the road, no one asked anything of me. I was quiet—pedaling, coasting, looking, hearing, smelling, seeing. I picked and chose what was important.. I had never before had such control over who I was or wasn’t.”

It seems that after this epiphany, the author has moved onward in his own fashion, with travels to over fifty-five countries, running sixteen marathons on five continents, building up and selling a business and gotten a lot more adept at cycling, having ridden over a million miles in the years since. And he became an author in 2020 too.

The title of the book is based on a quotation from the Buddha: “As a bee gathering nectar does not harm or disturb the color and fragrance of the flower, so do the wise move through the world.” We all try to come to wisdom as best we can and “The Buddha and the Bee” is one man’s very entertaining account of self-discovery on two wheels.


“The Buddha and the Bee—Biking through America’s Forgotten Roadways on an Accidental Journey of Discovery” by Corey Mortensen
336 pp., paperback (also available as a hardback or e-book)
White Condor LLC, 2020
ISBN 978-1-7354981-2-6

Available through Amazon.com

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