Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reasons to Bike Tour (or Travel)

I just finished up a great book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. In it, the author and his son take a motorcycle trip across country. The author's musings struck home more often than not, especially as I decide whether or not I'm going to head out on a bike tour. Two specific musings capture the idea of why I'm considering a bike tour.

This first one explains why I would choose to bike tour instead of just renting a car and driving around the rest of the South Island that I haven't seen.

"You see things vacationing on a [cycle] in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through the car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and tough it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness."

This second passage talks about a fear of mine. I've always worked for corporate America and it has worked well for me. I've enjoyed the challenges presented to me and the perks have been great too. However, I also see some of the guys who have been there a very long time and aren't happy. I have a fear of becoming like one of those guys who keeps trudging to work just because it is what they 'should' do and not what they want to do. Now, extend that idea to life in general. It hasn't happened yet and I don't want it to.

"I watch the cars go by for a while on the highway. Something lonely about them. Not lonely - worse. Nothing. Like the attendant's expression when he filled the tank. Nothing. A nothing curb, but some nothing gravel, at a nothing intersection, going nowhere.

Something about the car drivers too. They look just like the gasoline attendant, staring straight ahead in some private trance of their own. I haven't seen that ... since Sylvia noticed it the first day [while watching rush hour traffic]. They all look like they're in a funeral procession.

Once in a while one gives a quick glance and then looks away expressionlessly, as if minding his own business, as if embarrassed that we might have noticed he was looking at us. I see it now because we've been away from it for a long time. The driving is different too. The cars seems to be moving at a steady maximum speed for in-town driving, as though they want to get somewhere, as though what's here right now is just something to get through. The drivers seem to be thinking about where they want to be rather than where they are.

I know what is it! We've arrived at the West Coast! We're all strangers again! Folks, I just forgot the biggest gumption trap of all. The funeral procession! The one everybody's in, this hyped-up, fuck-you, supermodern, ego style of life that thinks it owns this country. We've been out of it for so long I'd forgotten all about it.

We get into the stream of traffic going south and I can feel the hyped-up danger close in. I see in the mirror some bastard is tailgating me and won't pass. I move it up to seventy-five and he still hangs in there. Ninety-five and we pull away from him. I don't like this at all.

At Bend we stop and have supper in a modern restaurant in which people also come and go without looking at each other. The service is excellent, but impersonal."

Anyway, that is today's food for thought or more like food for bike touring. Enjoy.


  1. Funny, I happen to have a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance right here...

    I like this one:

    After a while he says, "This is the hardest stuff in the world to photograph. You need a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree lens, or something. You see it, and then you look down in the ground glass and it's just nothing. As soon as you put a border on it, it's gone."

    I say, "That's what you don't see in a car, I suppose."

  2. I like this book that you recommended. I'll add it to my to-read list.

    I have a recommendation for you, too. One of my favorite books is titled My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn by David and Daniel Hays and is written in the same first-person/journal style as the Zen book. I've always wanted to learn to sail...water sports intrigue me.

    From Publishers Weekly:
    As a child, David Hays regarded sailing around Cape Horn as the ultimate adventure. Now, in middle age, he makes the voyage with his 24-year-old son, hoping to regain a youthful perspective on life. Daniel, just out of college, wanted time to think about commitment to a career. Together, they built a 25-foot sloop, Sparrow, and set out across the Caribbean, navigating by compass and sextant. Sparrow carried neither motor nor radar, only a two-way, short-range radio. Father and son take turns giving their accounts of the 17,000-mile voyage. Their course was through the Panama Canal, then south by way of the Galapagos and Easter Islands. On day 179, they passed the Horn, having made 230 miles in 36 hours without being able to search the sky for sights because of the weather; in return for that feat of navigation, Dan became the captain. It is an engaging adventure, and a remarkable story of a father-son relationship.