Book Review: Nobody Rides for Free-John Francis Hughes

I’ve never read on the road by Jack Kerouac, but I’ve often wondered about this pioneer of the beat generation and his care-free meandering through a wide open America. Of course the setting of this book was back in the 50’s when it seemed as if one could just pinch a tent anywhere and easily thumb a ride…and a cup of coffee cost a nickle right? The idea of hitch hiking seems so dated, obscure and down right dangerous today, but I was recently given a novel, written by former Vancouver bike courier John Francis Hughes who did exactly that. The setting is in the 90’s and Hughes finds himself stuck in Florida, with less than $100 bucks, dazed and looking to get back to Canada after a drunken, bike trek through South America.

This is Hughes first book, published by Canada’s Book Thug. The story jumps back and forth from Hughes adventures in Central and South America to his attempts to get back home from a Miami airport.
It all starts when Hughes decided to leave his courier days and travel to Latin America, intrigued by it’s peoples deep rooted political struggles and hell bent on adventure, destined to avoid a mundane existence and a checkered alcoholic father’s upbringing. He takes his bike with him and travels though various countries having misadventures with bandits, drunken gringos and coke feinding Europeans. It’s an honest tale of travel, meeting local cultures, observing various nationalities and being free to roam in post revolution societies.

The US is no picnic either. Trying to decompress from a wild journey he has trouble getting around. He abandoned his bike before arriving in the states (his first mistake) and is forced to hitch rides on rapidly expiring funds. From desperate characters dressed in drag looking to score to silent potential serial killers…Hughes brings clear meaning to the title: Nobody Rides for Free.
I really enjoyed this book and its well written honesty. It’s not trying to hard to make deep sense of the world, rather the audience is along for the ride of a young persons need for escape. Its a nice contrast of the light and dark sides of the open road in both North and South America.

Here is more about the book from Book Thug’s website:

Nobody Rides For Free: A Drifter in the Americas chronicles former bike courier John Hughes’ rambles through Latin America on a bicycle. In this gripping mosaic-travellogue, readers are introduced to banditos, artists, grifters, would-be wives, dope fiends and attacking monkeys: a cast of characters who conspire to reduce him to alcoholic destitution. His last remaining $400 is spent sailing the Amazon, flying to Miami, and then hitchhiking across some of the most frightening highways in the United States with the goal of making it safely home to Vancouver. Throughout his adventures we learn about con-artistry, fear, and kindness set against the imposing backdrop of everything we think we know about the Americas. Nobody Rides For Free sheds light on obscure 1990s road culture while gearing itself to the needs of anyone with a desire to run from their demons on the open road.

Read a sample here.

About the author:

John Hughes was born June 22, 1970. He is a long-time bike courier, reporter, adventurer, and now first time author. Reporting gigs at CBC and at Co-op Radio in Vancouver sharpened his pencil to a fine enough point that writing Nobody Rides for Free became inevitable. Travelling across India, riding boxcars across the United States and working alongside the strangest people in the world have primed the powder-keg for another swath of unusual chapters.

ISBN 9781927040041

I want to thank Book Thug and the author for the free copy. I’ll be giving a free copy away through twitter at the end of the week so stay tuned.

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