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February 22 , 2011

A HALF-CENTURY'S RIDES: A Bicyclist Celebrates Fifty Years in the Saddle


Bob Austin was likely the only person to ride a bicycle down the West Coast in the summer of 1961. If he wasn't, he is surely the only one to do it alone, at the age of 16 and in 14 riding days. And he is surely the only one to have repeated the ride a half-century later.

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In 1961, Bob kept a diary of his high-speed Odyssey. That diary, written in blue ball-point pen on a pad of complimentary Union Pacific stationery, survives and serves as one of the two main sources for his book. The second main source is the daily blog of his 2011 ride, as posted on

The bulk of the book is organized into 19 sections, representing the number of days Bob took to do the repeat ride in 2011. Fourteen of the sections include the 1961 diary page corresponding as closely as possible to the 2011 day's ride. The closing sections of the book are an account of the months and early years following Bob's 1961 ride, how it impacted him emotionally and physically and how it changed him. An Epilogue, including the year and a half between the end of the 2011 ride and early 2013, brings the reader full circle.

The daily entries include further comment on the author's 1961 diary account and the 2011 blog entries. Bob reports and opines on the changes on the West Coast and in bicycling over the 50 years between his two rides, examines what motivated him to do the 1961 ride, as well as the still-nagging question of why his parents allowed him to do it, and reflects on subjects as diverse as the genocide perpetrated against Native Californians by European settlers, the destruction of the coastal redwood forests and the phenomenal diving ability of elephant seals.

Bob talks about people he met on his rides, including his first love, Marylou and their three-day romance in 1961 Big Sur and Morro Bay, California, and his three days of riding in 2011 Northern California with pot-smoking Colin.

Salted throughout the book are six sub-sections telling of Bob's unique and often humorous experiences riding in the six foreign lands in which he worked and lived during his foreign service career.

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