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Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration

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Sara Dykman made history when she became the first person to bicycle alongside monarch butterflies on their storied annual migration—a round-trip adventure that included three countries and more than 10,000 miles. Equally remarkable, she did it solo, on a bike cobbled together from used parts. Sara Dykman writes about her great adventures, riding her bicycle, chasing butterflies, and sharing her insights into the wonderful world of the Monarch butterfly. Bicycling with Butterflies is one of my favorite books that I have read in the past year. Genuine, inspiring, and enlightening. Her effort and consistent drive help us understand an important figure in the air and in plant life. She researched all of her places to visit while communicating with other experts. Her presentations of butterfly stories to kids and teachers make her journeys more worthwhile.

The author’s account is peppered with events and encounters both memorable and humorous. Her story comes alive through descriptions of details of life on the trail: ensuring her tent will not flood when rain is on the horizon—and dealing with it when it happens, setting up camp in places as unlikely as a commercial parking lot, finding her own brand of “sandwiches” (ingredients eaten one after the other instead of combined between two pieces of bread) less time consuming to prepare after a long, exhausting day, and doing laundry in a shower stall. You don’t need to be a cyclist or a field biologist to enjoy reading Bicycling with Butterflies. All you need is the interest in learning about another human being, a humanist, and her hero-journey, for it is exactly that. Ms. Dykman’s quest to learn more about this very special butterfly is bound with her own very special search for self-knowledge and a desire to understand life, philosophically, interpersonally and ecologically. These intertwining perspectives enrich the narrative so much—and make her story so very special.The challenges of the cold are most acute for ground-stranded monarchs. As temperatures drop, ectothermic monarchs become unable to move and can’t seek out microclimates, such as tree trunks. Monarchs must be at least 41 degrees F to crawl and 55 degrees F to fly (known as their flight threshold). Thanks to NetGalley, Timber Press Inc., and the author, Sara Dykman, for the opportunity to read a digital copy in exchange for this review. People have long been fascinated by the monarch butterfly's migration across the North American continent. Thanks to this book, readers have a better idea of what that incredible journey entails [...] Dykman's enthusiasm will motivate others to be more thoughtful about their decisions." Dykman's story is very inspiring, and while reading this book I found myself researching which species of Milkweed was native to my area and how I can plant some in my garden. I also want to plan a trip to the Monarch reserves in Mexico as soon as I am able. Her descriptions about the monarchs and their cyclical life are magical and captivating. The point of this book was to spread awareness about Monarchs and to make people care more about their plight, and it definitely achieves that goal.

The book is just as much a poetic travelogue as it is informative about monarch butterflies. Dykman's research keenly supplements her experiences on the road [...] it may be one singular bicyclist's word, but represents a collective cry for climate action." Author Sara Dykman’s first-person narrative of her remarkable trek is an eye-opening account of an even more extraordinary journey: the autumn flight of monarch butterflies to their overwintering grounds and their return north in the spring. Her description of her subjects’ awareness of changing seasons, navigational skills, and knowledge of appropriate egg-laying spots is a fascinating look at a system amazingly sophisticated for such a tiny creature. Half lost at dusk, trying to avoid the main highway, I wandered through a partially built housing complex. I passed through the gates boldly, unimpressed by subdivision names like Prairie Villas and Meadow Oasis. No one was outside to stop me. No one was awake enough to see what we were losing: true prairie in exchange for a “prairie villa.” We were trading a real prairie’s treasury of life for a toxic monoculture of sterile green grass." Did you know that monarch butterflies leaving Mexico in March are not the same ones that return in fall, or even the ones that we’ll see in our gardens and around town? Last October, when I spotted this one on Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’, fueling up for the next leg, I wondered where it started its life cycle.After decades of pursuing the pleasures of cycling, I’m convinced that riding with an intent, an objective of some sort, adds meaning and value. This conviction is clearly shared by Sara Dykman, a serious cyclist and inquiring environmental scientist as well. And it’s clearly in evidence in the story of her engrossing cycling adventure, which she shares in Bicycling with Butterflies.

I found deeply touching the moments Dykman spent having personal connections with creatures encountered along the path. In those passages, I found the invitation to look into the mirror Dykman was holding up, to show us how we can find ourselves in every living creature and become motivated to take action.Also- I enjoyed how she touched on what it was like to ride solo as a woman, and how she was discouraged by many people from doing so because it was 'dangerous' yet most of the people and situations that she encountered were friendly. She didn't let fear-mongering get in her way. She was smart about risks and made good choices along the way. The group estimates that the population of monarch butterflies in North America has declined between 22% and 72% over 10 years, depending on the measurement method. In just one season, Kathleen Scott’s native passion vine fed generations of Gulf fritillary caterpillars to populate her garden with stunning adults. The passion vine will grow new leaves in spring.

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