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Gears for Queers by Abigail Melton and Lilith Cooper - Review

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

I have to make the full disclosure to begin with that I know Abi and Lilith, a little. I've read their zines and we've met at a couple of zine fairs and follow each other on Twitter and so on. I knew that they had done a long cycle tour through Europe and then I saw that they were writing a book about their experiences and wanted to read it. When I saw this on Netgalley I immediately requested it, and was really pleased to get approved. My thanks go to Sandstone Press for the opportunity to read it. I was given an electronic copy of the book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

So two things you may not know about me are that I like cycling and camping. Not that I do much of either, really, but I like people who do and I like reading about them. I have a very lovely bike which unfortunately needs some work doing on it to make it rideable, but I do love the cycling I managed to do a few years ago. I also really love camping. After a childhood spent in caravans, I didn't think I liked camping and then in 2014 I got to love it and got my partner to like it too. We have a gorgeous tent and like to go away a few weekends a year. I really want to do a driving tour through Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands (although who knows when that will be feasible ever again). So even if I didn't know Abi and Lilith, I would probably still have been interested in a book where two people cycled through a lot of Europe, camping along the way.

They are a queer couple who at the time that they set off in August 2017 were living in Cambridge. Abi is from East Anglia and commented at the beginning of the book that the Netherlands were a lot like East Anglia in terms of flatness and so on. They got a ferry to the Hook of Hollan and set off cycling. They went through Germany, Switzerland, France, and finally into Spain. They cycled around 2000km, camped most nights, but used hostels or hotels when needed.

Each of them takes it in turns to narrate chapters of their journey. There's a lot in the book about navigating their way both literally and metaphorically. There's a lot about being a queer couple and deciding when and where it was safe enough to be visibly such. There's a lot about being "real" cycle tourers and how each of them felt about whether they fitted or not, about whether they were doing it right. Abi (pronouns she/her) is plus size, and talks a lot about her changing body and how that feels - stuff that I could really relate to and liked reading about. Lilith (pronouns they/them) has had mental health problems and talked a lot about how the cycle tour pushed their limits. I suffer from anxiety myself and could understand how Lilith felt. I felt like a lot of the book was relatable, even if you've never done a huge tour like this.

There's also a lot of description of the countries the two were travelling through. I've never been to Holland so loved the descriptions of it. I've been to the very west of Germany so could understand what that would look like. I liked the descriptions of the Swiss lakes. I have been to Strasbourg so enjoyed that part. But my very favourite was once they crossed from Switzerland into France and began the journey south to the Pyrenees. I love that part of France and could really picture the routes they took and the campsites they stayed at. I loved those bits.

There's lots of lovely bits to the book, and loads of bits where I really wanted to know what happened next. I would really recommend the book, and am giving it five out of five. It will be released on June the 4th.

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