Friday, January 1, 2016

Once Upon A Chariot Book Review

The book Once Upon A Chariot is about Norma Jean Belloff who established the USAWomen's Record for Cross Country Bicycling in 1948. Written by her daughter, Iris Paris, and published in 2008, the book chronicles Norma's 2 self-supported cross country bicycle routes in the post war era.
There is no lycra here; just a Pendleton jacket, Keds tennis shoes, jeans and flannel shirts. No helmet, no gloves, no ultralight composite frames, no clipless pedals, just a 19 year old woman travelling alone a couple years after World War II had ended, on a fat tire single speed bicycle weighing 65 pounds with gear.
Norma's route east was just along local roads through the south to avoid winter weather. This was years before heavy national traffic, Interstate highways and the multiple 4-lane roads of our time were built.

Norma Jean Belloff on the return trip
The gear was simple; sleeping bag, green canvas tarp, change of clothes and a towel, toothbrush, tool bag, flashlight, canteen, and her new bible. The bicycle was named Chariot 1. It was lost in the Colorado River (you will have to read the book). Chariots II & III carried her the rest of the trip and she returned home in San Diego riding her fourth bicycle, a black Schwinn racing bike with canvas rear panniers, fenders and a flashlight that she set the cross country record on.
Norma's trip was the definition of "unsupported". She stopped along the way, staying with strangers and worked for her food, lodging or cash.  Except for accepting some cash mailed from home, she paid her own way across America.
Norma also fought some mental demons along the way, her own fears came to light many times and the interesting parts of the story is how she dealt with them and her relationships with her parents and family. She did trust her instinct and got herself out of trouble. Reading her bible daily offered help, created new questions, and guided her in a good direction.
Norma's first goal was to bicycle to her grandmothers home in Baltimore, MD. She made it by Christmas 1947 and enjoyed her stay there. She continued bicycling on to New York and finally to her birthplace near New London, CT, before touring Washington DC.

1947-1948 bicycle route
The return trip had her leaving New York and following state highways to reach Route 66, then following that back to LA/San Diego. She averaged 70 miles per day while wearing a white oilcloth sign across her back that said "New York to San Diego", spent a week recuperating from leg cramps in Arizona and still set a record. Starting on June 23rd, she made it home in 53 days.

Winning third place at Women's National Bicycle Races
Norma finally met President Truman in California, placed third in her only race at the Women's National Bicycle Races in Wisconsin, attended College, married and raised a family.
The author really didn't know about her mom's accomplishments until 1989, when she received 5 trunks from her deceased Grandmother, which contained her mom's trophy and documents about the 1947-48 bicycle trip. Using her mom's journals, maps and notes, she recreated the route and wrote the story.
I found another story written by the author entitled "What ever happened to Norma Jean Belloff?" I included the link for your understanding of the whole story.

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