Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lessons In Minimalism

  As I write this I am sitting on the shore of the Lower Lake in Kananaskis with my partner watching the water, the mountains, and the clouds moving across the sky. I love to watch as the jagged mountain peaks as they seem to pierce the clouds and tear them into jagged edged pieces. Our camp site behind us is little more then a tent, a couple of sleeping bags, a couple of fold up chairs, and some cooking supplies. The sites around us are occupied with trailers of all shapes and sizes, RV s larger then buses, a few tents, and everything in between.

   It is amusing to hear different peoples view of “roughing it.” More then a few have commented on our meagre accoutrements but travelling by motorbike has been, if nothing else, a lesson in minimalism. It is truly amazing just how little we need to get by from day to day when we put our minds to it. We spend so much of our lives and resources gathering and acquiring and storing “things” then working for the space to store those things only to fill it up and find we need more space.

   Never was this so obvious to me as it was earlier this summer when two of us set out on one motorbike for an almost 5000 kilometre journey (3000 miles for those not on the metric system). Saddle bags and a tail bag was our total allotment of space for almost two weeks of travel. At the end of that trip there was never a point that we went without. Well that is not completely true as we went without all of the nic nacs and junk we would have bought at each stop to remember our stay there since we didn't have room to carry it (which eased up on our trip budget!). We had to do a load of laundry on the road and wash a few other thing in the hotel sinks but it was a stark contract to the loads of laundry we would have generated at home and an eye opener to just how many of those gadgets we could do without.

  Our week long trips to the Kananaskis have required using our small bike trailer. By the time you put in the tent, sleeping bags, cooking supplies, and food, it is pretty much full. A lot of room is freed up just not having to bring along our electronic gadgets like laptops and phones and power supplies since we camp where there is no power or cell phone service. The thing is if you don't have them you don’t really miss them. There is so much...Life... to occupy your time.

   Travelling like this by bike reminds me of a trip I took when I was young. My friend, his father, and his grandfather took a couple of canoes deep into Algonquin Park and we carried with us only what we could carry on our backs at portages. There were few times I found myself so at peace and at one with the world around me. I suppose that is one of the reasons I enjoy my motorbike so much – the similarity between my bike and a canoe.

   I know some of you think that is a stretch but if you think about it there are many similarities;
  • A motorbike exposes you the the environment around you – so does a canoe.
  • A motorbike is at the whim of the environment around you – so is a canoe.
  • A motorbike limits what you can travel with – so does a canoe.
  • A motorbike requires your constant attention to your surroundings – so does a canoe.
  • A motorbike lets you see more, smell more, and interact with more – so does a canoe.
  • A motorbike makes you part of the world around you – so does a canoe.

   These trips have been an exercise in minimalism and all the more pleasant because of that. If you want to know what you really can or can not do without then take a long trip on a motorcycle – the truth shall set you free


Ride your bike like you live your life -
No final destination in mind
Just take as long as you can to get there
and enjoy and learn from each moment of that journey!


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Perfect Place To Roar

  A recent ride took me up to Roger's pass as part of my 4500 kilometre (or 2800 mile) journey through Alberta and BC. Getting there wasn't exactly an easy task. Sure, all I had to do was make the drive but making that drive took some preplanning, mapping out my route, taking a few rest breaks and side trips on the way, and dealing with whatever elements mother earth felt like hurling at us as we rode up the mountain side.

  The ride was enjoyable for the most part, despite the cold rain that pelted down. The scenery of course was incredible. The favourite part of this part of my trip though was not the scenery, but the tunnels carved into the sides of the mountains and concreted over to protect fortunate souls from avalanches and rock slides.

  Why were the tunnels my favourite?

  Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents would drive the car through a tunnel and you would jump up and down encouraging them to honk their horn? Can you not still here the sound in the depths of your memory as the horn reverberated through the tunnel to sound ten times louder then it ever was? That's why!

  I love the sound of my bike. It has a nice rumble to it. Not ear splitting like some enjoy and not hard and rough, just a nice, low smooth rumble. As I drove through those tunnels I dropped down a gear, opened up the throttle, and let my bike roar like it never had before. It was a sweet sound as those pipes sang a song that reverberated through the confines of those tunnels. Then, before you could truly loose yourself in that almost heavenly sound, we were out of the tunnel and back in the pouring rain.

  There are several tunnels in which I got to press the replay button on this sweet song but soon enough it was just the open road, wind, and rain calling our name. As I made the drive down the other side of the mountain it occurred to me how much like life this was. We set out a plan for ourselves and head on down the road. Occasionally we make a stop and perhaps a little side journey or two but eventually we return to that planned route, a goal in mind. As we work towards that goal we face challenges and forces that try to push us back but we forge ahead and then you find it! You find that place where you can let your pipes roar! That place where you can be the biggest sound or the brightest light in the place.

  It is over before you know it as the forces beat against you again. If you are lucky you will find that place again. Whether you find it again or not you know you found it once and you can make it back there. It is that hope that keeps you moving forward, searching, striving, for that perfect place where you can shine.

Friday, June 29, 2012


You know how you leave your computer on for hours, days, even weeks at a time.  You install new programs, uninstall old ones, search the web, watch videos, read email, and download updates until your computer becomes so slow that you wonder if an abacus wouldn't be faster.  At this point you scroll down to that little window icon and ask your computer to do a soft reboot, hoping and praying that this action will clear out all of the cobwebs from your technological wonder and restore it to its youthful vigor. You wait cautiously during that pregnant pause where your computer is silent until it kicks back on, the fan vibrating away, the upgrades installing and then... The home home screen.

I find myself in that "pregnant pause" phase of my life.  I hit the soft reboot switch about 11 o'clock yesterday morning when I hopped on the motorbike and hit the highway for an 11 day road trip.  After a very long year filled with 18 hour work days between two jobs, moves, and so much more I can't remember most of it, the time had come to hit that reboot button.  This time thankfully it is a soft reboot, not the hard reboot that started his blog a year and a half ago.

The bike and the road was calling my name. So I am now cruising the highways, wind in my.....helmet, clearing out the cobwebs.  From Calgary to Victoria to Telegraph Cove to Jasper and then home.  No time line.  No schedule.  I am where I am when I am there.

Once I return home it will be time to install the upgrades.  Out goes the teaching software and midnight shift software as I upgrade into a new - regular hour work week position.  I will still keep some of the old software like blacksmithing version 2 and farrier version 2.5 as software like this is always useful and fun but I will be upgrading to writing version 3.0 since obviously, from the lack of posts on this blog in a while, crashed at some point.

If you see me and the lovely woman with me at one of our stops feel free to stop and chat with us.  We hit Banff yesterday (which is just basically a high-end Calgary mall where you pay more for less) and spent the night in Golden which is a nice little town.  Great food and people were found in a restaurant (whose name I can't remember) in a log building in front of the Century house - and by great food I mean really great!

Today I am making my way to Langley.  Maybe I will meet some of you on the way

Tuesday, February 7, 2012



   Before you run to get a bar of soap to wash my mouth out with you should know that pulchraphilia is not a bad word. If you try looking it up in the dictionary you are not likely to find the word there since the word itself is a rather new creation coined by a Jason McLennan sometime in 2010. I tried Googling it and as near as I can tell the exact definition is still somewhat fluid so I will go with the definition provided by a brilliant man and long time friend.

  Pulchraphilia (noun): The innate need to be surrounded by beautiful and well-designed environments with a particular connection to nature.

   It was this definition posted on Facebook by my friend that got me to thinking how those who design motorbikes and ride them are probably pulchraphiliacs at heart. (Hey if someone else can create a word, Why can't I?) . Now given that the word “pulchraphilia” has it roots in the latin with ‘pulchra’, meaning ‘beauty’, and ‘philia’, meaning ‘love of’, pulchraphilia would be a love of beauty. This would of course be in direct opposition to those who design enclosed environments that seal us of from the world around us, which based on my minimal command of latin would be coerceophilia, and those who lean towards those environments would by extension be coerceophiliacs, or as bikers know them, cagers.

   With my little aside on the entomology and creation of words aside, there is a point to this blog post that does have to do with one of my favourite things, motorbikes.

   There isn't much I haven't driven or rode in from a horse to a horse and buggy, to bikes (manual and motorized), to cars, to trucks, to big rigs and tractors. The equine modes of transportation provide you with a real connection to nature of course but the next best thing to me are motorbikes. As soon as you close yourself in a car, or truck similar modes of transportation you loose that connection with nature and the environment around you. These vehicles are designed to surround and enclose you (coerceo) and “protect” you from what is outside. They close you off from the sounds as radios blast while you are driving down the road. They close you off from the scents as closed windows and dangling air fresheners lock you in a private world of odours. They close you off from sights as your vision is obscured by both the size of the vehicle and the structure surrounding you.

   There is of course a trend among some bike designers towards coerceophilia as they create shrouds to surround and enclose you on your motorbike, add stereos that blast so loud the biker and every vehicle within 100 yards can hear the music, and embed ipods and phones into helmets. Perhaps I am a purest, but that feeling of the wind blowing by me, the sound of it rushing by and the sounds of the environment around me, the smells of the fields and forests as I pass through (the smell of smog and exhaust perhaps not so pleasurable), and the unobstructed sight of everything around me – these are the things that make riding my motorbike a truly spiritual experience.

   The realization that I am not surrounded by a wall of protection encourages me, perhaps even forces me to be aware or my environment and engage it and interact with it. When a passenger joins me on my bike I have to react and respond to their small movements, creating communication and interaction on a level totally different from everyday communication. As I cruise down the road I am forced to analyze and assess the possible actions of those around me in their mobile cages, a level of thought and concentration as we normally move through our environment.

   Could motorbike designers have anything but pulchraphilia in mind, even though their creations were launched long before the word? Pulchraphiliacs of the world unite – let those coerceophiliacs of the world know what they are missing. Or perhaps not. Maybe we should just keep the secret to ourselves.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Our Homeless Are The Log In Our Eye

   As our temperatures reach -30 celcius with windchills into the -40's I find my heart heavy. Not because I can't be out enjoying my motorbike, but because there are those out, on the streets, with no place to go and stay warm. It was close to a year ago that I had found myself in a very similar situation, although I did have the shelter of a car. Despite having that car when that car shut off while I was sleeping I was closer to freezing to death than I care to admit.
   I have kept a close eye on programs and services available to those without homes since that time and not much has changed. There are good people still trying to help, but so many still fall through the cracks. New programs have been announced but what I don't see are programs being developed with the input of those that are homeless. Sure some of those being consulted were homeless at some point in their lives, but much of what is being done is being decided by people who “know what's best” and are telling the homeless what they need. Programs like this have failure written all over them.

   There is something else that really bothers me, and though it may offend many, the fact that it happens offends me enough that I will risk the ire of some of my readers. In this city, and citys throughout the country there are churches – massive structures designed to hold numerous people with the heat running and, sadly, the doors locked! I personally don't know that God, any god, says leave your poor and suffering out in the streets, hungry, cold, and with no shelter.

   I understand that in times such as these there are dangers, both health and physical, in bringing strangers into your own home. I am also aware that governments, local, municipal, and on up, have put in place limitations and restrictions on what and were these individuals without homes can be gathered and housed, so the fault does not lie within the churches or the people of the churches alone. It is the general malaise of society that has us directing our leaders to herd and house the homeless away from everyone else as though they are lepers and the dregs of society that need to be separated and isolated.

   Any one of us could find ourselves among this group. Many of us live one paycheck away from being on the street. Disasters can hit anyone of us at any moment leaving individuals and communities without shelter or food. And none of us can control the actions and behaviours of other individuals that can leave us reeling and without resources.

   While this may sound like a rant against the churches and society it is not. It is merely the observations of an individual who has been on both sides of this picture. My observations also tell me though that there are many good people out there to. People on both sides of the picture. Individuals who know that actions speak louder than words. Whether motivated by their religious beliefs, or merely by their sense of responsibility for their fellow man, there are those who are open, and understanding, and non-judgemental who will help where they can, when they can. People who realize that while we are trying to cure the ills of the world in other societies, we leave others to falter out our own back doors.

   There is a quote in the Bible that says something to the effect of “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” Our homeless are the log in our eye (at least they are one of the many logs in our eye).

   Yes, I am fully aware that I am voicing a judgement when I probably have a few huge logs of my own stuck in my eye. But if one person reads this and takes an action that helps someone else in even the smallest way I have accomplished what I wanted to. As you head into the coffee shop, the restaurant, or the grocery store keep in mind that person sitting out on the street. In this deathly cold weather invite them in with you and buy them a coffee or a meal. Take a few minutes to get to know them. You may be surprised what you find out and even learn. And as you make donations to help individuals in other countries keep in mind that we ourselves are doing the same to our own people.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Self Portraits

  There are artists that have recorded their lives in a series of self portraits painted or drawn over many years. It is interesting to examine these portraits. As you compare the portraits from a person's youth to those of the older artist it often appears as though the images of the more senior artist reflect more of an internal insight than just the simple external appearance. Of course, this may simply be the result of the skills of the artist improving over time, enabling them to transfer that inner person to the canvas.

   All of us though, artists or not, have a self portrait that we try and present to the world each and every day. As children that self portrait is a true reflection of our inner selves, concealing nothing. As we age though we develop this image of ourselves (in a sense a self portrait) and to make that image reality it is what we present to others around us.

   It is just my personal opinion, but I think that for most of us that self portrait we present doesn't really reflect our true selves until much later in our lives, after experiencing life and its many twists and turns and gaining the wisdom that comes with that experience.

  Don't misunderstand me. I am by no means saying that I am wise, though I do hope I have gained some wisdom over the years. There is a school of thought though that states that true wisdom lies in knowing what you don't know, not what you do know. In my case there is a hole lot I don't know which would make me truly wise.

  Eckhart Tolle said “On a deeper level you are already complete. When you realize that, there is a playful, joyous energy behind what you do.” Maybe that is why as a child our self portraits are such a true reflection of our inner self. As children we let that playful, joyous energy shine through in everything we do, though it doesn't take long for the world to start muzzling that. It isn't until much later in life that many of us let the world do what it wants and we return to that childlike state.

  If I tried to remember all the self portraits I would have painted of myself over the years they would be many an varied but in many ways I think I have come full circle. As a child there were a few things that I truly enjoyed. Writing was one of them, and that has stuck with me in some form or another throughout my entire life. Riding my bike was another, though at that time my bike was a CCM pedal bike (just a few less horsepower then my current bike). I travelled the world on that bike – well at least the world of North Bay, for hours on end with my friends, exploring and discovering everything there was to discover.

What would my self portraits look like if I had to describe them? I think if I was to use motorbikes at metaphors for my life I probably started my life as a classic Indian Chief motorbike, basic, typical for the time, good looking, and fun. I went from there to a custom chopper (after-all everyone wants to be cool in their teenage years).
  From there I would have been a crotch rocket, racing ahead in life trying to get the prize.
 At some point I became an old Ural, rode hard, beat up, barely hanging together, but still an inner strength to me for someone to discover.

Now, I picture myself as that Indian Chief again, with the classic soft lines (and getting softer by the day) but easy going, laid back, and enjoying life.

Full circle! I no doubt missed a few versions of myself in there which my friends will remind me about but this is a self portrait.

So what do your self portraits look like?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Calgary Motorcycle Show

We attended the Calgary Motorcycle Show yesterday and as always it was impressive, but lacking a little bit over past years. Other than the throngs of people moving through the Round-Up Center (am I the only person who gets totally annoyed when two people stop to talk in the middle of a narrow aisle forcing everyone to try and navigate around them) there was some interesting things to see.

While the new models are impressive I just don't seem to like the lines of most of them. Perhaps I am old school but I prefer the softer lines of many of the old bikes without all the adornments and gadgets. There were several “custom” bike shops there who all seem to do nice work, but most of the bikes they had were just rehashes of the usual custom rides, nice but nothing that stood out to me.

Calgary Motorcycle Show

Calgary Motorcycle Show

Sadly missing from the show this year was the extensive display of vintage rides. They did have a few out, but nowhere near what has been at the show in the past. The usual display of truly unique and quality custom rides wasn't there either. It is great that so many new people are getting into motorbikes and I understand it is a business so dedicating the space to new bikes makes sense but I think we are missing something by not having the opportunity to appreciate the vintage rides and the unique custom work.

Of course the new Indian bikes were there, and while they maintained some of their classic lines they just aren't the same with all the electronics and modern amenities on them. I want an Indian but what I want is the 1945 Indian Chief. That's not asking too much, is it? I'll take it in parts and pieces if I have to but some day . . .