There are few travelogues that can be read repeatedly but which provide the same satisfaction each time. Good Vibrations is one of these and it does not purport to be an ‘adventure’ title. It doesn’t need to be. The writing is terrific, the descriptions better than photography and the blend of prose and dialogue wonderfully balanced. There is simply no need for crisis to bolster this tale.
First published in 2000, this is the story of a 3 month return trans-America haul on a couple of Harleys with his partner Roz. Tom Cunliffe is a lifelong adventurer, a pastmaster of independent travel, much of it with Roz, but almost all of it at sea and on reflection, it’s no wonder that when he’s discussing the weather, he’s able to provide such a compelling narrative.
The US is a remarkably diverse country and for many in Europe it’s a place of celluloid inspired dreams; the home of the romantic road trip. This book just adds to that mystique but it does so without skimming the surface of the nation and commenting only on the geography. Tom joins the lives of people in all parts of the country: music-making hillbillies in the south, crop harvesting teams in the prairies, nomadic war veterans. Of course there’re visits to the now iconic centres of music and hippy culture, New Orleans and San Francisco (where Tom spent some of his formative years), but I can’t think of another title that paints such a beguiling picture of Nebraska, and with such ease. Or indeed one that can socially comment without judgement.
There are flashbacks which help ground the story on occasion, and there’s the honesty of travelling partner dynamics, especially considering Roz had a whole day’s riding experience before setting off, but this is travel inspiration as it should be: desirable, enjoyable, achievable. Tom has been riding bikes since the 1960s, I just hope he finds another excuse to saddle up and head off into the sunset.
This book was reprinted in 2012 with a different, Stars and Stripes’ cover and 352 pages, but the original is available here.
Paperback 381pp, 8pp colour images, £7.99
Published by Summersdale (2000)