His backpack tells a different story

- Dec 21, 2014

Academia is one of the few regions of North America that is not awash in a holiday frenzy in December.  In fact, the campus, which is a beehive of activity around Thanksgiving, is basically a ghost town by mid-December.  The classrooms are dark and quiet, there is hardly a hot cup of coffee to be found, and even UBC's parking ticket militia are nowhere to be seen.  So, I park in the carpool spots now and I haven't gotten a ticket all week in a space that would normally attract howling infraction officers like a wounded deer attracts wolves.

So, at the university it's just me and the tumbleweed.  I've got an important semester in the New Year, so I've been making good use of this opportunity to utilize a roomy, quiet workspace to finish up all of my program requirements for January.  I've got my nose to the grindstone.  

At least that's what I tell people I'm doing here.

However, a quick inspection of my backpack might tell a different story.  Obviously, there are notebooks and textbooks (there is a pretense to maintain) and my laptop is there as always.  But there are also some motorcycle magazines and look into my browser history would reveal the breadth of my working research…Yamaha, Honda, BMW, Ducati and Moto Guzzi count as research, don’t they?  In addition, I also have a great book by Peter Egan that James lent me.  This collection of articles from Cycle World is not only accessible and articulate; but he writes with a genuine enjoyment of motorcycles and riding that even someone as inexperienced as I am can relate to.  I like to read it as a way of clearing my head between projects.  However, reading a bit of Peter Egan is like leaving the house early on a summer morning for a quick ride.  See you around dinnertime.  Or maybe tomorrow.

There is some great motorcycle literature out there.  Yes, literature.  Books aren’t just for the library anymore—they're also for the garage.  I've already mentioned Peter Egan.  But my first foray into the world of reading and riding was with Ted Simon in Jupiter's Travels.  Times and borders have changed since Ted Simon went around the world on his Triumph.  And so has technology—we are undeniably connected in unprecedented ways.  Nevertheless, nothing can probably ever replace the experience of sputtering into a village, away from all that is familiar and safe, and wondering just how in the world one finds parts, or gas, out here.  And, one way or another, things work out.  Mostly because there are good people where ever you go, whether it's across a street or across an ocean.  When you ride with Jupiter you might find that a waning faith in humanity is somehow restored.

As someone who has spent more hours in academia than are worth counting, Ted Bishop's Riding with Rilke is close to my heart.  A professor from Edmonton, Ted Bishop is what you get when you combine a Virginia Woolf manuscript with a Ducati Monster.  I bet his garage is infused with the enchanting aroma of musty archives and gasoline. Sounds like my kind of firetrap.  Among other things, he muses on what bikes various authors would have ridden as well as how he might find a way to convince the university to fund a research trip to Austin, Texas so he can ride his Ducati; after all, it's only about 5000 kilometers.

Of course, at this point I would be not only remiss, but almost heretical if I didn't acknowledge Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  It was written in 1974 and I heard that it was rejected by over a hundred publishing companies before being picked up.  I'll confess that I have never read it.  Scandalous, I know.  It's a little bit like being an English major and not reading Shakespeare.  Still, there are some long, dark, winter evenings ahead of me and a few more "work" days on campus, so I'll probably squeeze the time in somewhere.

For me, what it boils down to these days is this:  if I'm not riding I'm thinking about riding.  And if I'm not thinking about riding I'm reading about riding.  And if I'm not reading about riding I'm looking at bikes.  And if I'm not looking at bikes I'm talking about bikes.  And sometimes I'm doing a few of these at once.

Of course, I don't fritter away all of my daytime hours vicariously poring over motorcycles from an unoccupied classroom at the university.  Sometimes I have important meetings in town…Motovida opens at 10 and I need a new pair of boots for the spring.

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