‘Keen to see some of Europe, queer couple Lilith and Abigail get on their old bikes and start pedalling. Along flat fens and up Swiss Alps, they will meet new friends and exorcise old demons as they push their bodies – and their relationship – to the limit.’
Gears for Queers follows Lili and Abi as they travel across Europe on their bikes and charts the challenges that they encounter and overcome on their journey, whether they be mental health, differences of opinion, illness, the various language barriers, or the physical side of attempting to travel so far while carrying everything essential for day to day survival with them. They largely rely on campsites as places to stay, which don’t always turn out to places that seem as safe or comfortable as one might hope, and brave staying with strangers where necessary, which often opens up the question of how much of themselves and their relationship it is safe to be open about, knowing that there are those who may choose to judge them.
I read much of the book in one go, as I was enjoying following their journey through different countries, and particularly liked their travels through Germany, as I’m admittedly much more familiar with it than I am with the UK! At this time in particular, knowing that it is highly unlikely I will be returning to Germany in the near future, it was nice to read about someone else’s experiences with the country and culture. The incident with the fizzy water, which is most often the default, was one I could sympathise with, if not for quite as serious reasons as it impacts Abi. I’ve never been a fan of anything fizzy and detested fizzy water and drinks as a child (I’ve grown to tolerate them), and used to spend summers in Germany drinking apple juice as it was one of the only things available that wasn’t usually carbonated as standard.
What I found most refreshing about Gears for Queers is that it doesn’t shy away from the reality of the situations that Lili and Abi find themselves in. A good deal of books and the media like to suggest that to be in a relationship is to never disagree, argue or become frustrated with your partner, and while we get these insights into their relationship, we also get to see them move past disagreements and look after each other, even when they are struggling to look after themselves. Yes, they do snap and shout at each other when pushed to their limits, but they also understand themselves enough to show they care through gestures and other things when words are difficult, and, ultimately, they don’t give up on each other even they feel that they can’t go on. They find ways through and work out how to make adjustments to make things manageable, even when the urge may be just to keep going until the point of destruction. Their journey is presented in a manner true to their feelings as they experienced it, right down to their worries about being inferior travellers and cyclists compared to those who are sharing their own journeys on Instagram (which I think we all know we need to understand is a heavily edited environment). Their experience isn’t perfect, but it is real, and the reader gets a brutally honest look at mental health and the impact of the physical challenge of cycling so far, for so long, in an environment that isn’t home and very rarely feels ‘safe’. The issues that they face are not presented in a manner that focuses solely on the achievement of having met and overcome them, but in a way that does not sugar coat and focus on success: it is as much about what they endure and learn as anything else.
Gears for Queers is out on June 4th from Sandstone Press! If you’re looking for a read to take you on a journey during this time of lockdown, I really do recommend picking up a copy, primarily for its honest look at travel, identity, and mental and physical health. The book also includes some vegan recipes you could try out! Thank you, Sandstone Press, for sending me an ARC!