Brendan Leary, assigned to an Air Force photo squadron an hour from L.A., thinks he has it made. But when the U.S. invades Cambodia and he joins his buddies who march in protest, he is shipped off to an obscure air base in upcountry Thailand. There, he finds himself flying at night over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in a secret war that turns the mountains of Laos into a napalm-scorched moonscape. As the emotional vise tightens, his moral fiber crumbles and he sinks ever deeper into a netherworld of drugs, sex, and booze.
When a visit by Nixon looms, Brendan dreams up an all-squadron bicycle race to build morale, win hearts and minds in rural Thailand, and make him and his underpaid buddies a pile of money. The Big Buddha Bicycle Race is a last gasp of hope that turns into a unifying adventure—until the stakes turn out to be far higher than anyone imagined.
The Big Buddha Bicycle Race is a new take on the Vietnam War. A caper on the surface, it is also a tribute to the complex culture and history of Southeast Asia and a sober remembrance of those groups who have been erased from American history—the brash active-duty soldiers who risked prison by taking part in the GI antiwar movement, the gutsy air commandos who risked death night after night flying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and the people of Laos, whose lives and land were devastated in ways that have yet to be fully acknowledged in Western accounts of the war.