On its surface, Pull Back or Die is a glimpse through the dusty windshields of converted vans into a world of freestyle BMX sessions, contests, filming and road-tripping. It’s a peek behind the curtain at the adventures of the book’s heroes, including such well-known names as Corey Walsh, Matt Cordova, Jason Watts, and Cody Pollard. Penned by BMX legend Kris Fox, the book takes the reader on trips through North America, Spain, and Australia. The feeling is one of constantly being on the move; the reader is never in one place for more than two or three chapters.
The general tone of much of Pull Back or Die is one of controlled, joyful mayhem. The stories are gritty and humorous in the way that only young men can make them, and someone’s van is breaking down at least once every few chapters. The pages are full of energetic banter and the slight ick factor of twenty-something men living in close quarters for long stretches. Fox and friends are infinitely likeable characters:
“We’re broke, harmless, and like to keep to ourselves. We live out of vans, buses, quaint apartments, or single rooms of full houses. We pick mold off our bread and eat cereal out of Tupperware containers. We always make room for one more and use our wallets as lower back shims while we drive from time to time.”
That’s on the surface. Much, much more than that, Pull Back or Die is an introspective glimpse into the psyche of a deep thinker who happens to be making a living from an extreme sport. Fox’s existence in the book is characterized by extended periods of intense and dangerous effort, punctuated by some partying, and counterbalanced by stretches of inaction plagued by ennui. It’s a lifestyle full of extremes, and requires a toolbox for coping both with the raging of endorphins and adrenaline and the total lack thereof. Kris Fox has chosen to pour his heart onto the page.
He is deeply observant, soaking up life lessons from his fellow travelers and those he meets along the way. There are meditations on psychological pain, the future of his career, and heartbreak (“women check into every hotel room in a man’s memory,” he laments). These musings often occur while admiring a view in some beautiful corner of the earth, but also in strip clubs and Wal-Mart parking lots. His voice is honest and vulnerable, that of a sentimentalist and a philosopher. His words, both in my battered copies of Pull Back or Die and Mental Slam, his poetry collection, have spoken volumes to my newly lonely soul over the past couple of years. “Pull it from the shelf,” Fox says of the book in the introduction, “and sit with it in an unfamiliar new apartment in an unfamiliar new town and let it bring you home.” I did exactly that, again and again.
Fox summed up my love of BMX racing in this heartfelt paragraph:
“Find that hobby that you can’t live without and complements your style of love and don’t let anyone take it away from you…Use it to see things, feel things, learn things…Let it cause madness, let it cause struggle, then let it pick you up and dust you off. Although there’s a starting line, there’s not a finish line, and it’s never too late to start. It’s not a contest. There’s no trophy at the end of all this. Personal gratitude and growth for the better are all we have, and from there the virtuous things in life will magnet themselves to the areas within you that are just and tender.”
Pull Back or Die has appeal for a wide variety of audiences. The book is dedicated “to those who don’t know what they’re doing either”, which I think characterizes many people these days. If you crave a candid glimpse into the day-to-day lives of professional BMX athletes, this book is for you. If you’re looking for a source of inspiration, this book is full of them. And if you’re looking for universal wisdom and a whole lot of hope, they’re in there too.