Award-winning writer, teacher
and scholar

What a Bicycle Can Carry

What a Bicycle Can Carry

Cover Photograph by Adam Wagler
Interior Design & Typesetting by Geoffrey Gatza

On a cross-country trek to gather roadside treasures, Laura Madeline Wiseman, set out to do what her dad had taught her: leave a place cleaner than she found it. This is her journey of discovery by bicycle, told through the stories of what we lose, discard, or abandon to the road. Supported by a friend driving a rental car with supplies and maps for this nearly 4,300-mile ride, Wiseman began the search for objects worthy of repurposing. When she found something good, she carried it on her bicycle.

Maybe trash, but better when treasured—ball cap ticker-taped by mowers, clip-on tie swirled with oil, fork in the middle of the road—like her rides beside her dad when she was a kid as he combed the curbs for what seemed obsolete or unusable, Wiseman’s finds are prized. In this continental discovery ride, there are fellow bikers with feisty banter, sweet welcomes at the end of the day’s miles, and rare gifts in what’s saved from the highway when it’s held to the light again. As a teacher who knows the power of the long lesson, Wiseman’s journey for real treasures teaches what can be found on the road when we reexamine what can be carried, held, and pedaled along beside us.

Laura Madeline Wiseman’s What a Bicycle Can Carry shows the beauty that can be made by attending to what’s been disregarded, overlooked, and cast off. Though the structure of the book – a trek across America by bicycle, with sections giving the names of states and poems defined by the day of the trip and the miles covered – may seem straightforward, the book probes a deeper interior journey. One poem, which finds the cyclist-speaker perched briefly at a pull-in in Colorado, trying to catch her breath in the thin mountain air, leaps from the specifics of the journey to bigger questions about identity, asking “Aren’t most things like this – lovely / climbs among others with better kit, wheels/ bodies, class, birth, that privilege of air.” This book examines, with Wiseman’s keen eye for detail and precise turns of phrase, both the tiny particulars of the journey – the bicycle toolkit, discarded scrunchies and other roadside detritus, the rest stops which alternate between luxurious and horrifying – and the broad cultural issues of who belongs in this land and how we occupy it. In a moment when our nation feels divided and strange, Wiseman’s authoritative, sensitive guide provides a bicycle-eye view of a beautiful, complicated country. —Nancy Reddy, author of Acadiana

Praise for What a Bicycle Can Carry