O n the exterior, Jill Homer’s new book, “Be Brave, Be Strong,” is coated with a thick layer of grit; her tenacious approach to a variety of obstacles, both happenstance and otherwise, is evident on nearly every page.
But beneath the stories of tire-sucking mud singletrack, of white-knuckle lightning storms on a barren plain, Homer weaves a tale of sorrow, heartbreak, growth and survival as she traverses the spine of the Great Divide on a mountain bike tour from Banff, Canada to the southern border of the United States.
Homer, a former Juneau resident, describes herself as an average-type athlete who relishes in challenges prescribed by Mother Nature. Her chosen mode of transportation: a bike. Her endeavors prior to signing up for the Tour Divide race, in 2009, included multiple 100-mile bike races in Alaska’s interior and two stabs at the Iditarod Trail Invitational, one of which she finished, and one that ended with dire consequences.
The book begins as Homer sets out to start her second tour of the Iditarod trail on a bike. Amid a scene of white and ice, Homer is forced to drop out of the race when her foot becomes immobile with frostbite. Her boyfriend at the time, Geoff Roes, who was traversing the same trail on foot, drops out as well due to pneumonia.
Homer then follows a journey that echoes one many have followed before: heartbreak. In the subsequent chapters, she pulls in readers with her frank description of a relationship that ends after nearly a decade.
It’s not pretty, as breakups rarely are, but as the journey takes Homer and Roes from the shores of Southeast Alaska to the fog of San Francisco, a heroine begins to emerge.
As a reader, I found myself rooting for Homer. Her next endeavor in the memoir was to be the Tour Divide. Would she find the strength, both mentally and physically, to survive the rugged uncertainty of the trail? Was there any flicker left in the dying relationship with Roes? These questions kept the pages turning.
As the book unfolds, Homer launches from one jaw-dropping description to another, leading the reader from the majestic peaks of Canada, over the passes of “Big Sky” Montana, across the plains of Wyoming and down into the parched landscapes of the Southwest.
But the book is also steeped in drama. Like any wilderness adventure, the unexpected rules. And somewhere in between a surprising mentor, the kindness of strangers and the tenacity of a survivor, Homer emerges with a tale that proves battles are worth fighting.
“Be Brave, Be Strong” is Homer’s second self-published book. The book, published by Homer’s own independent publishing group, Arctic Glass Press, will be available locally this week in hard copy at the downtown Hearthside Books. E-versions are also available at amazon.com and at goodreads.com.
For more on Homer and her adventures, follow her on her blog arcticglass.blogspot.com.