Gary Paulsen is a man in his late 50s who discovers his own mortality in his “heart disease” (we never really know what that means). In order to “suck the marrow out of life,” Paulsen buys a Harley-Davidson and rides from New Mexico to Alaska with his buddy Larry. It’s a bit like On the Road (although I haven’t read it!) meets The Bucket List.
I’m not sure what it was about this book that drew me to it, and eventually to enjoy this moto-journey, as I have no interest in Harleys or even road trips. I felt similar about an earlier book I read, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. I enjoy reading what others say about such an arduous undertaking. As for Paulsen, he is an interesting storyteller, Hemingway-style. I loved his young adult fiction, Hatchet, in how it addressed serious issues told in a powerful way. Zero to Sixty captures a man zooming towards the end of his life, finding new memories to add while reminiscing on ones that are already real and vivid and permanent.
One of the stories Paulsen recounts is the time when he was caught trying to break into a neighbor’s garage. He was caught by the local cop, a salty-tongued man named J. D. As a young hoodlum, Paulsen was tossed into the back and driven out of town. When a few miles out, J.D. made Paulsen walk back in the cold, following behind him slowly from the warmth of the automobile. When they arrived back in town, J.D. bought Gary a meal, and thus a friendship began. The cop became a father-type in Paulsen’s life, and they met for regular dinners together. After Paulsen went into the army, he received word that J.D. was killed when he was shot in the chest with a high-powered rifle fired from a drunken teenager. Chapter four of the book is the strongest, as it demonstrates the power of personal connections that we have with those around us.
Zero to Sixty is a good read about the journey and life. Whether it’s on a motorcycle, a walk in the Appalachian Mountains, or Forrest Gump’s marathon jogging session, Gary Paulsen says it best in his last line of this book: “The run would never end.”