Sean of the South takes a road trip | DON NOBLE

Don Noble
Don Noble

Sean Dietrich, “Sean of the South,” has become a very popular author/entertainer here in Alabama. His recent show at OLLI in Tuscaloosa was a big success. He continues with his blog and collections of blog posts.

I was not crazy about his novel, “Stars of Alabama” but really enjoyed his memoir “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

In that book, he writes of his difficult childhood, and how much he owes to his wife, Jamie, a vivacious, energetic teacher who, among other things, got this dropout through junior college and college, especially tutoring Sean in math. Sean writes here “This woman saved … my life.”

One can imagine the horror then when Sean and Jamie learn that she may have cancer of the ovaries and breast.

His terror is palpable. This would be the end of his world. There are tests, biopsies, the full gamut of fearful medical procedures. By chance, Jamie happens onto a magazine article that describes taking a long bike trip through the GAP, the Great Allegheny Passage, and perhaps continuing down the C&O Canal Towpath, from Pittsburgh to Washington, D. C.

Sean Dietrich
Sean Dietrich

If all goes well, she wants to do something fun and something unimpeachably BIG. They are not outdoors people, especially Sean, but she makes him promise. Not a casual promise.

She insists “Swear to God.” Reluctantly, he does and his readers know this promise can’t be broken.

Well, of course, Jamie’s medical crisis is a grotesque false alarm and sometime later she decides the moment has come. There is no way out for Sean.

Jamie buys the equipment they need: a tent, bike saddlebags, dried food, beef sticks and Kit Kat bars, cooking gear and a bicycle for herself and, ridiculously, a recumbent tricycle for Sean, who is afraid of bikes and tends to fall off.

The adventure begins and, honestly, even though the reader knows this is going to be a horror show, this book, "You Are My Sunshine," carries one along. Dietrich’s prose is sardonic, whiny, funny, sometimes touching.

They bike first through dangerous city streets, then mud and rain. They encounter snakes, insects of every irritating kind. Their phones get drowned, they get separated, lost, hungry, wet, exhausted, frustrated.

Some so-called shelters are awful and some inns foul.

But there is magnificent scenery from time to time and a huge satisfaction in finishing, which they do.

Sean’s three-wheeler is not built for this and keeps breaking down.

Sean is not a mechanic.

As one would expect, they meet a variety of odd and interesting people on their journey, including a Roman Catholic priest, twice, and he is something of a mechanic.

The first time the priest helps put Sean’s derailleur — whatever that is — back together.

The second time they meet, Sean seeks spiritual advice.

Sean’s father had committed suicide when Sean was still a boy, and his Catholic family believed he had of necessity gone to hell, to eternal torment, AND they cut off all relations with Sean’s mother and Sean.

Sean wants to know: Is this what Catholics believe? Is my father in hell?

The priest wisely, gently tells Sean about Psalm 139, verse 8.

“If I ascend into heaven … thou art there. And if I maketh my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”

“God doesn’t send people to hell, he goes there with them, lays right down beside them, and he brings them through it.”

“The psalmist wrote that. And I believe it.” The priest was a mechanic and a healer

Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.

“You Are My Sunshine: A Story of Love, Promises, and A Really Long Bike Ride”

Author: Sean Dietrich

Publisher: Zondervan Books

Pages: 224

Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Sean of the South takes a road trip | DON NOBLE