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Breaking the Limit: One Woman's Journey Through North America    by Karen Larsen order for
Breaking the Limit
by Karen Larsen
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

St. John of the Cross said that 'Delight in the world's good things, at the very most can only tire the appetite and spoil the palate; and so, for all the sweetness will I ever lose myself.' With poetic finesse, Karen Larsen takes readers on a journey across North America from New Jersey to Alaska. Beginning on June 2nd, 2000, Larsen travels 15,000 miles through eighteen States, four Canadian provinces, and the Alaskan terrain on 'Lucy', a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200cc. There are tense moments in the bike's acceptance of roadway conditions - mud, clay, gravel, potholes - and in crossing metal grate bridges. With tenacity and a keen sense of self-preservation, Lauren encounters varying weather temperatures, heavy downpours, lightning, and hail. She tells us that 'to listen more to the rumble of a motorcycle and the beating of my own heart was something that I needed to do.' A tent, hostels, and motels become her overnight homes.

The beauty of Breaking the Limit lies in Larsen's poignant, expressive descriptions of people she meets, routes traveled, and experiences of the senses - the 'smell in a forest canopy of Douglas fir trees'; 'sunsets of pink, orange and gold, then the sky turning violet, blue and burgundy, exposing bright stars.' Riding through deep valleys, she is surrounded by glaciers, mountain peaks, alpine meadows, lakes, and streams. Scenery includes Denali's summit stretching 20,320 feet skyward. There's the splendor of Liard Hot Springs, where the 'flora and fauna' is unique to northern Canada. 'The Loneliest Road in America', located in Nevada, is the original, still visible path of the Pony Express of the 1860's. Eureka, Nevada is designated as the loneliest town. Larsen describes majestic black bears, 'youngish bruin ... sat on a small rise ... deep black coat, fuzzy-cropped ears ... wide paws ... bulging shoulders. He was a beautiful animal.' Crawling out of her tent one early morning, she comes eye-to-eye (literally) with a friendly campground occupant - a young elk!

Larsen was born in Ontario, Canada, adopted and raised in Massachusetts, United States. Her 'sense of nationality has always been dual.' In Kaleden, British Columbia, Larsen visits her biological mother Gloria, whom she has known for some years. For the first time, she meets her two half-brothers and grandma Isabel. Her journey takes her to Innisfail for a first-time meeting with her biological father, Dave, stepmother Colleen, and three half-sisters. On the return trip, Larsen detours to Sturgis, South Dakota where the largest annual motorcycle rally is held in August, boasting as many as 400,000 bikers. Karen Larsen expresses her reflections of the journey - 'On the open road ... I learned to accept each day for what it brought and each turn for what it revealed ... Rather than looking to find myself, I learned to lose myself in the road, to take each moment for what it was, open my eyes and heart to surroundings.' 'How fortunate we are when we can understand and value what it is that we have in a given moment, and what an additional gift it is when we can carry that understanding and those values with us as we travel through life.'

The author speaks in support of bikers, talks of negativism toward motorcyclists and female drivers. She points out that there are many more car accidents than motorcycle accidents. Myths about the latter, as well as the reputation of all motorcyclists, are affected by the actions of a few. She takes a strong stand against the stereotyping of women who drive motorcycles as 'biker babes', wearing bikini and high heels, draped over a motorcycle with a muscled man (often hairy) as the driver. Breaking the Limit is an enjoyable, expressive read, whose author says, 'In a car you drive a road, on a motorcycle you feel it.' She shares her glorious, adventurous journey with those of us who can only imagine such an experience.

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