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Kari Loya
Conversations Across America
Kari Loya, author
Conversations Across America is about a father-son journey of a lifetime: a 73-day, 4,600-mile cross-country bike trip Kari took in 2015 with his 75-year-old dad, Merv, who had early-stage Alzheimer’s. Their adventure reminds us of the power of perseverance and adaptability in the face of uncertainty. It’s also a heartwarming example of listening and discovery, including 300 short conversations with people who approached them along the way, providing a rich snapshot of America, especially rural America. Conversations is a mix of Blue Highways, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Humans of New York… on a bike. As you read, you can’t help but reflect on your relationship with your own father and children, while gaining perspective on Alzheimer’s—which now afflicts more than six million Americans—and getting a sense of the TransAmerica Bike Trail and America itself. Above all, you will be inspired to seize-the-day with someone you love—whatever that means to you.
Loya tells the story of cycling with his father, Merv, across America on the TransAmerica route, an odyssey undertaken when his father was 75 and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Loya relates the ups and downs of their own journey (literal and metaphorical), but also, as the title suggests, shares the hundreds of interactions that they had with people they met along the way. From servers (“What can I get you, sweetheart?”), hikers (“My trail name is Race”), police officers (“I’m on the SWAT team here in Idaho County”), to the costumed staff at Colonial Williamsburg (“I have the rare ability to look at your plate of food and tell your fortune”) he shares their cheerful essences, offering photos and brief accounts of their conversations, giving a broad view of America, coast to coast.

Loya’s focus is on the relationships he uncovered on the journey, both between him and his father and with others they met, but he still includes a helpful appendix with information about cycling gear, Alzheimer’s and the technical aspects of the trip. The photos and anecdotes provide an encouraging snapshot of an America where people cheer on Kari and Merv and their feat. Kari’s stamina is remarkable as he took these photographs, recalled these conversations, navigated himself and his father and traveled the continent. As a recollection of the journey which brings the reader along, Conversations Across America succeeds admirably.

The most moving conversations, though, come between father and son. From difficult nights spent in the cold to healing discussions of Merv’s health and his future, the emotional heart of the book is deeply moving. Travel readers may wish for even more descriptions of the vistas, challenges, and memorable moments of the trip itself. The journey proved healing for both men, and readers of travel and family memoirs will grow invested in their adventures and relationship.

Takeaway: A travelog of American characters, an epic cycling journey, and a touching father/son relationship.

Great for fans of: Robert Cocuzzo’s The Road to San Donato: Fathers, Sons, and Cycling Across Italy, Jedidiah Jenkins’s To Shake the Sleeping Self.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A