Waiting outside a bookstore for my wife and kids, I was working to keep my patience in check. We were, after all, on vacation in Tours, France, and had endless cafes and cobblestone streets to explore. After about 20 minutes, I finally walked into the store and was instantly blown away by how wonderfully quaint it was. The kids were lost in books, and my wife was in conversation with the friendly staff. I found myself suddenly interested as I meandered to the back of the shop, where I found the graphic novel section. I am not a huge graphic novel fan, but one book seemed to stand out amongst the violent vampire novels and almost seemed to sing to me. Simply called "La Ride," I was drawn into the wonderful illustrations and warm colors of the book's cover. I purchased it on the spot.
In the following days, I immersed myself in "La Ride" and had an amazing time doing so. Despite growing up as a French Canadian, reading French has always been a challenge for me, and I needed my son, who attends a French school in Canada, to help me with it. Without giving away too much of the plot, the story opens with a bike courier who realizes that the distance he covered delivering food would have taken him from Paris to Nepal. He immediately calls a friend who works at an ad agency (which hit a little too close to home for me as I spent years dreaming of being out there on my bike). Together, they decide to take control of their lives and embark on a 500 km route through France.
"La Ride" is replete with insightful reflections that any long-distance bikepacker or tourer would relate to. It touches on the common observations on modernity that keep most of us pedaling and searching for adventure in the tranquility of nature. The conversations, agreements (and disagreements) between the characters are reminiscent of those that invariably occur between riders after arduous battles in the saddle. A particularly amusing scene is when they encounter a group of road cyclists who are perplexed by their attire, bags, and bikes, leading to an impromptu race. All of these elements are drawn from real-life experiences, making the story all the more engrossing. Florien's fluid illustration style complements the narrative perfectly. It's challenging to put into words, but there's an inherent accuracy in the portrayal of action in the characters, the contours of their bikes, and the curves of their drop bars and brake levers.
The bookshop graciously provided me with Simon Boileau's Instagram account, allowing me to contact the author of "La Ride." I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about the story and ask questions. As I suspected, many of the anecdotes in "La Ride" are based on Simon's and Florent's personal experiences. The book initially began as an Instagram account that chronicled their adventures in cartoon form, and as interest grew, a publisher approached them about creating a book. It took two years of writing, storyboarding, and illustrating for "La Ride" to be brought to fruition.
"La Ride" is a stunning and contemplative exploration of the activity we all cherish. While knowing French can certainly enhance the experience, it is not a prerequisite for appreciating the novel's beauty. Even without a translator, one can still relish the artwork and glean the story's essence, making it an excellent addition to any bookshelf or coffee table.
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