The cover of Orr’s Island resident Judy Arndt’s memoir, “Crown Thy Good: Across America by Bicycle, 1986.”

Orr’s Island resident Judy Arndt was never a serious bicyclist, although she always harbored a fantasy of biking across America. It wasn’t until she was 47 years old that she decided to take on the challenge. It was her twin brother, Tom Arndt, who inspired her to finally realize her dream.

In 1985, Tom, with whom Judy was very close, died suddenly of a heart attack. Tom was an adventurer, a director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Sri Lanka division who loved sailing his 35-foot yacht across the Atlantic Ocean. 

“It was at his funeral that I made my decision,” Judy says. “I was going to take this adventure in Tom’s honor.”

Early this year, Judy published her memoir, “Crown Thy Good: Across America by Bicycle, 1986,” describing her two-month odyssey through the American countryside, starting on the coast of Oregon. She arrived at her Orr’s Island home in August of that year to a crowd of family members and friends with a huge sign reading “Congratulations, Judy!”

The book is well written and enjoyable to read. Judy makes heavy use of the journal she kept throughout the trip, impeccably describing the beautiful scenery, the danger, the people she met along the way, even what she ate. “I couldn’t have written it without that journal,” she says. “By the time I started writing the book it had been over 30 years since my trip ended.”

The result is a tight narrative that places the reader right there with her, encouraging her along. “Judy’s prose is such a pleasure to read — witty, conversational, and fast-paced so it never drags,” writes Michael Arndt, Judy’s nephew who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (“Little Miss Sunshine”). “One of the trickiest things about writing is deciding what to leave out, and Judy has trimmed her story down with admirable discipline so that the pages turn themselves, as she captures so well her own voice of trepidation, doubt, exhilaration, gratitude, and defiance.”

One of the most fascinating parts of Judy’s memoir is her recollection of the people she meets along the way. She is helped by many people she calls her “angels,” and she believes that Tom is looking out for her, sending these helpers to her just when she needs them most.

And she does need help, especially at the outset. She doesn’t train for the excursion. “I didn’t have the luxury for all that,” she says. “I had to work and I didn’t have much money.” It is highly unusual for a cross-country biker to prepare so little. “I was determined,” Judy says. “I knew I had to do it for Tom.”

These “angels” freely offer meals, showers, and even a place to stay for the night, even though Judy is a stranger to them. She often shares her sleeping space — for example, with youth groups in a parish house of a local Catholic church, or fellow campers who come to her rescue when there are no other spaces available. Garden hoses come in handy during the hot summer months; even when no one is home she avails herself of the cool water that she pours over her head.

Judy finds fellow bicyclists along the way, like Vera, another lone female rider. Both women are nervous when reading a warning sign upon entering Wyoming: “It is not advisable to ride alone in the long, open stretches of Wyoming. There have been incidents of harassment of lone riders in this area.”

Her story piques the interest of several local newsrooms along the way. She includes articles from the Marshall (Illinois) Independent Newspaper and the Wesleyan University Red & Black Magazine in the back of her memoir.

Was she ever scared, or did she want to quit? “Not really,” Judy says. “I just felt Tom right there at my back. The coincidences just kept coming. Like one time I lost my sunglasses and I stopped my bike to look for them in my panniers. No luck. But I looked down on the road and right there were a perfectly good pair of sunglasses just lying there, not damaged at all. At times like those I’d look up and say, ‘Thanks, Tom.'”

The title of the book comes from the patriotic standard “America the Beautiful.”

“During my rides I saw firsthand the truth of that title: America is truly beautiful. I was totally awed by the beauty and strength of nature as I drove through each state,” she says. She has always liked the line “crown thy good with brotherhood,” which reminds her of her brother.

The book can be found at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop in Topsham and Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick, as well as on Amazon. Judy published the book through Maine Authors Publishing & Cooperative, which supports independent authors through the publishing process.

Janice Thompson is the author of “Dry Tinder: A Tale of Rivalry and Injustice in Salem Village.” She is a co-founder of Harpswell News and serves as its director of development and operations.