I often enjoy travel memoirs, especially those that have to do with long-distance hiking, motorcycle travel, and cross-cultural travel...but only if tI often enjoy travel memoirs, especially those that have to do with long-distance hiking, motorcycle travel, and cross-cultural travel...but only if they are well-written. Quite frankly, this one both bored me, and made me wonder at the immaturity and thoughtlessness of the protagonist. She seemed to go from crisis to crisis, interspersed with small soliloquies on various topics. I battled my way through the first half of the book (just over 50% on my Kindle), hoping it would get better, or at least that she would actually begin her journey, to no avail. I'm glad it was a library book!
Following my "rule of 50%," I stopped reading it to use the time for more interesting books. YMMV....more
Fun reading about some of the adventures and experiences of the contributors. Some of the sections were better written than others, and all were relatFun reading about some of the adventures and experiences of the contributors. Some of the sections were better written than others, and all were relatively amateur in tone - they are mostly not accomplished authors, I think, but something else first and writers second (or third or fourth). Still, I enjoyed some of their experiences, and they led me to think about other places I would like to visit some day, and even more, about how I would like to travel in those places.
Enthusiastic travelers may appreciate this book, most others probably not....more
Among the collection of hiking/backpacking travel books I have read, Wild is far from the best, but neither is it the worst. The account couldn’t be oAmong the collection of hiking/backpacking travel books I have read, Wild is far from the best, but neither is it the worst. The account couldn’t be other than honest, because it shows an astonishing lack of common sense, preparation, or forethought given by the author, not just to her hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, but to life in general. She is open about her (then) promiscuity and substance abuse, and I was glad to see that toward the end of her journey, she seemed to be getting strong enough to take a different direction with her life. Nonetheless, at least at this stage in her life, she comes across as self-indulgent, often unprincipled, inconsistent in her decision-making and behavior, driven by her wants and emotions, and generally messed up. She continually finds herself in mild to serious difficulty because she has acted impulsively. I’m a planner, cautious by nature, and as I progressed through Cheryl Strayed’s account of her journey, I found myself alternately bug-eyed at her antics, and then shouting (mentally) with frustration.
A good portion of the book was really about her progress toward greater maturity, and not about the trail. The actual account of her travels, though, was fairly interesting, and Strayed is, IMHO, a competent writer. She meets bears, loses her hiking boots (for a short while, fortunately), encounters other friendly hikers, escapes ill-intentioned locals, and has other adventures. I learned a few things, and had other ideas about hiking the PCT confirmed. She seemed to get stronger and healthier (emotionally and physically) as she hiked the trail, except for the blisters. Not so self-centered and irresponsible, more self-disciplined and committed to her goal. I looked up a bio of the author after reading the book, and she seems to have continued to make strong improvements throughout her life, which was good to know. ...more
First time author, Pastor Joseph Fehlen, has authored and self-published a fine little book that is an extended series of metaphorical explorations abFirst time author, Pastor Joseph Fehlen, has authored and self-published a fine little book that is an extended series of metaphorical explorations about what he has learned about living a faithful life from riding his motorcycle. As a biker myself, and one who also seeks to live a faithful life, I was at first intrigued, then instructed and uplifted by Fehlen's thoughts. Some of them paralleled my own over the last few years, such as seeing the Savior as the hub of the wheel of my life, rather than the fun but ultimately unnecessary chrome farkles. Riding through the cold and rainy stretches, so as to better appreciate the perfect temperatures and beautiful vistas of the spring and fall is another. Other include:
1. Enjoying the ride, and getting lost in the moment, because there is no timepiece or clock keeping me "on task" or focused on the passage of time. When I ride, I find that I am more completely mindful than at most other times...I smell the fragrances carried on the breeze, I see things I miss when I am in the car listening to the radio or worrying about being late to my next appointment. I feel present in ways that I really don't much of the time off my bike. Nothing seems more important to me than the current moment when I am riding. Similarly, the Savior did not seem overly concerned about the passage of time. As Fehlen says, he did not carry a sundial around with him. Rather, he strolled through the countryside, paying attention to the people surrounding him. He was fully engaged in what he was doing, and in every situation, he was physically and emotionally and spiritually present.
2. Any biker traveling long distances learns to get along with less than the typical traveler. We learn what is really essential, and what is an unnecessary luxury. Less clutter = less burden. When I think about the unnecessary luxuries that have too often cluttered my life - favorite TV shows, books, activities, goals, and so forth - I begin to realize that what has brought them into my life is the pressure of uncritically examined assumptions about what is important. It is then that I realize that the real luxury is simplicity.
3. "Most things, in and of themselves, are not bad. It is the priority we give them that is the problem." ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this account of the Lahman's experiences riding together at IBA rallies and learning about each other and building a strong relatI thoroughly enjoyed this account of the Lahman's experiences riding together at IBA rallies and learning about each other and building a strong relationship. It hit all the sweet spots for me...wonderful descriptions of the rigors and rewards of their rides and contemplative and thoughtful explorations of their relationship. I appreciated the phrase they came to use whenever they needed to talk something out in their relationship..."we need to sit on the sidewalk and talk."
I've often thought how fun it would be to participate in some of the IBA events...a Saddlesore 1000, the Bunburner Gold, the Iron Butt Rally, and so forth. Sadly, I would be a danger to myself and others because I get sleepy too easily. One day after I retire, though, I will do the National Park Tour (50 NPS sites in 25 states), because it can be done over a two year period, and doesn't involve the risks of sleepiness. Despite that limitation, though, I enjoy reading about others' accomplishments in these rallies, and Lynda Lahman's account was a good one....more
Chicken Soup for the Traveler's Soul is an eclectic, often delightful, collection of short stories with a common thread of travel. The travel elementChicken Soup for the Traveler's Soul is an eclectic, often delightful, collection of short stories with a common thread of travel. The travel element is sometimes thin, and the stories sometimes venture a bit far into philosophy, theology, or ill-considered opinion, but it was still an interesting read. I enjoyed the occasional glimpses into the observations and thoughts of the travelers. I also found several stories that I will someday use in class or in a talk at church (the story of Josef and Rebecca, for example). There were also occasional thoughts that inspired me to think more deeply, to ponder on their application to my own life, such as:
1. "I asked her (a blind woman in South America who had not seen a mirror in many years) what it was like not to see herself regularly. "I know who I am inside, " she replied, "and that's what I see every day." For several days after reading that story, at odd moments, I pondered upon how my life would be different if I had only my internal self to look at each day...I wonder if I might be more humble, and more...integral. And how different would the world be if no one had mirrors? Someone once said that "fashion is the art of appearances, and it inspires one to seem rather than to be." Perhaps we would all be less focused on what is real, rather than on what seems real.
2. And this excerpt from an account of an African villager who had qualified for tools and materials for a fish pond to help feed his family and bring in more income, but who had to complete the work himself...which he would have to do alone and by hand. "His hand was on fire one morning when I arrived and shook it. 'You're sick," I said. 'I know," he said, and resumed digging. "Then quit working and get some rest." "I can't," came the reply, "I've got a pond to dig." "And on that day when we finally stocked his pond, I knew that no man would ever command more respect from me than one who, to better feed his children, lifts and throws fifty thousand shovel-loads of dirt. I had a hero." Me too.
3. From an account of an old Vietnamese barber, clipping hair outside one fine day. "As he finished up, the barber told me he cut fifteen to twenty heads a day, every day, and he never missed work because of illness. Quite a record for a man his age, I thought. What was the secret? "Never sleep late," he said. "Eat when you're hungry. And always help people. Always love people." Sounds like excellent advice for a joy-filled and meaningful life, no matter how long, and no matter one's occupation.
This was a good book to dip into occasionally while traveling. Most of the stories were just interesting or humorous, but a few were thoughtful, and thought provoking. A good way to travel....more
Untamed Spirit II is the continuation of Doris Maron's motorcycle journey around the world. It was mostly an enjoyable read, just as her first book, bUntamed Spirit II is the continuation of Doris Maron's motorcycle journey around the world. It was mostly an enjoyable read, just as her first book, but for two things. One was the very one-sided view of her troubles with her riding companion. It appears that she made little effort to explore the problems, to reflect on them, or to try to understand the issues, nor did she seem to make any effort to resolve them with her friend. A journal (which is essentially what her book was) is the perfect place to ponder upon such things, preparatory to trying to work them out for real.
Second, most of her ride through South America was simply a very quick and very simplistic chronology of where she went and how long it took, with little or no insight into the people, places, cultures, etc. I have lived and worked in SA, and know it to have a vibrant and rich culture, and I was disappointed that she didn't seem to see any of that. She is not an anthropologist, but anyone can observe, question, consider, and report, and she did very little of that. Perhaps it was the same in the rest of her books, but I noticed it much more in this final section. Too bad...she missed a real opportunity to take her writing up a notch. I enjoyed reading it once, but I probably won't go back to it as I have some others....more
Typical amateur adventure travel memoir. It is autobiographical, describing the experiences Doris Maron had when, in her mid-fifties, she sold everythTypical amateur adventure travel memoir. It is autobiographical, describing the experiences Doris Maron had when, in her mid-fifties, she sold everything, and went off to tour the world on her motorcycle (downsized from a Honda Gold Wing). The writing is about average for the genre...not at all bad, but not inspiring. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it enough that I also bought (and am currently reading) Untamed Spirit II, the second half of her travels around the world. Being dedicated to family, church, and other commitments, I will probably never take a trip like this, so i enjoy seeing it through others' eyes. I think it would be an amazing experience, but I will have to make do with shorter rides around the United States. ...more
This fourth book in The Walk series by Richard Paul Evans introduced some new challenges for the main character. He still seems a little shiny and selThis fourth book in The Walk series by Richard Paul Evans introduced some new challenges for the main character. He still seems a little shiny and self-absorbed to me, but then I haven't experienced the problems he does in this fictional tale. This installment takes him off The Walk to deal with some challenges, and then back on again. Thus, it uses more space in his interactions with his father and others than did previous books in the series. Nonetheless, as did the first three books, it rekindled my desire to travel and see the country. It was an enjoyable read, and like most of Evans' books, quick one....more
I first encountered Charley Boorman in Long Way Round and have followed his adventures ever since. His enthusiasm for travel, new experiences, and lifI first encountered Charley Boorman in Long Way Round and have followed his adventures ever since. His enthusiasm for travel, new experiences, and life itself is contagious. In Extreme Frontiers he and his crew traverse Canada, setting Charley up for one trial after another. From riding a cow at a rodeo to piloting a glider, climbing the second highest mountain in North America to descending 70 meters into a cave, Charley faces his fears and finds the fun in everything. He seems to have carved out a real niche for himself in these travels, and though I'd rather be on my bike riding alongside of him, if I can't, it's still fun to read about it. ...more
The Road to Gobblers Knob is a hilarious account of the real life adventures of Geoff Hill and his companion, Clifford Paterson as they ride their motThe Road to Gobblers Knob is a hilarious account of the real life adventures of Geoff Hill and his companion, Clifford Paterson as they ride their motorcycles from Chile to Alaska along the Pan-American Highway. This is a trip I would love to take myself if I had the time, and it was fun reading about their experiences. It doesn't hurt that Hill is an award-winning humor writer and journalist, and he certainly knows how to write.
I had previously read his other book, Way To Go, about two previous motorcycle trips, and enjoyed that one just as much. It's not a how-to, or travel advice book...it's simply a wonderfully funny description of their experiences across South and Central America and through the western United States. Highly recommended. ...more
Non-fiction, but definitely humorous. Geoff Hill is a newspaper humorist in the UK, and his experience comes through Way to Go. He had me chuckling ofNon-fiction, but definitely humorous. Geoff Hill is a newspaper humorist in the UK, and his experience comes through Way to Go. He had me chuckling often, partly because I have experienced some of what he did on two wheels, but hadn't quite seen the humor in it at the time. Like another reviewer, I thought the first of his two accounts was better than the second. I began to think that he might have a little chip on his shoulder about the U.S. and its culture...that came through in the occasional snide remark. For the most part though, I enjoyed his style, and it made me want to get back out on the road again. ...more
In Women, Motorcycles, and the Road to Empowerment, Liz Jansen provides a thoughtful and inspiring account of the experiences of fifty women (includinIn Women, Motorcycles, and the Road to Empowerment, Liz Jansen provides a thoughtful and inspiring account of the experiences of fifty women (including herself) as they built on the base of motorcycling accomplishments to strengthen their confidence, skill, and self-efficacy in other areas of life. Many insights into the important things of life and life experience, most of which are consistent with my own understanding achieved in several decades of hard-won experience. Consider the following:
1. Liz Jansen: “Negative thoughts and behaviors deplete us; positive actions affirm and grow our power base…So, it’s important to act from a position of love and gratitude rather than from fear and negativity. Whichever we use spreads, so why not spread goodness.” True dat!
2. Liz Jansen: “Looking for what we have in common creates harmony and strengthens us all.” I hate to admit it, but at least in this sense, Hillary Clinton was right when she said “it takes a village.”
3. Liz Jansen: “Giving challenges too much stage time can camouflage success.” In other words, don’t dwell any more on difficulties, weaknesses or mistakes than is necessary to learn the lesson and make the needed changes. Then move on.
4. Liz Jansen: “I really didn’t care what others thought of me, but I was under the mistaken impression that they knew more about what was best for me than I did.” Been there, and still struggle with it from time to time, but I’m becoming more comfortable in my own skin, and more willing to (metaphorically) tell others to take a hike when what they want me to do is inconsistent with my vision for myself. Learning better confrontation skills (e.g., dialogue) has helped some with that.
5. Rebecca Herwick: “Choosing when to put your decisions first and knowing when to take the back seat cultivates a good leader. You have to look at the impact you have around you, the trail you leave behind from the things you’ve done.” ‘Nuff said.
6. Sue Slate: “You’ll always find challenges along the way, and success breeds success.” Definitely…one of the great lessons I learned from my early years of studying career success. Early successes support, encourage, and lead to later successes.
7. Gwen Roberts: “When something really bothers me while I’m riding, I need to pull over, take a break, regain my confidence, and go again.” This is, it seems to me, analogous to life in general. Often we get in trouble simply because we don’t take the time to slow down, think about what’s going on, build strength (of whatever sort needed), and then move on again. The late Stephen Covey called it “sharpening the saw,” and it is essential for all of us.
8. Deb Grey: “…if it’s just a matter that you’re going to talk, talk, talk about it, stop talking and go live. Do it. You don’t want to live with regrets.” In other words, get out in the world and do, don’t just be an observer. As an academic, that is a big temptation, to just be an observer, but the important questions more readily become apparent as one gets out into the world.
9. Deb Grey: “My whole life philosophy is that we become more of what we are…Go to the old folks home and find the miserable old cranks who are there, squawking about the food, the nurses who never come on time and nothing is ever good enough. Guess what they were like when they were twenty-five?...you better think about who you want to be or who you don’t want to be a little later on so you can do something about it now. I’m going riding.” I like that…I’m going riding too!...more
Amateurish, prurient, purports to be semi-autobiographical, but that's hard to believe except in the most ambiguous way. quit reading at about page 30Amateurish, prurient, purports to be semi-autobiographical, but that's hard to believe except in the most ambiguous way. quit reading at about page 30...it was just too riddled with problems to stay with it any longer....more
I'm torn about my rating for this account of Bill Bryson's travels along the Appalachian Trail. There were stretches of entertaining reflections and mI'm torn about my rating for this account of Bill Bryson's travels along the Appalachian Trail. There were stretches of entertaining reflections and memories, and even occasional moments of brilliant writing. However, for me, those (as for some other reviewers) were overshadowed by the overall tone of negativity and his often incorrect and biased views. These latter included a seeming inability to avoid putting his negative views of southern folk into play, his downbeat (albeit sometimes correct) views of the National Park Service, his antipathy for the Corps of Engineers, and even his frequent disparagement of his travel companion (Stephen Katz, a pseudonymous name for someone who apparently is, or was, a friend who accompanied him) and the Appalachian Trail itself. Of the encounters he mentioned with others on the trail, few seemed to be mentioned with any positive regard, and most appeared simply as brief two-dimensional blips on his radar; he seemed to take quite a self-centered view of the whole experience.
I often found myself wondering, "What did he expect? That it was going to be a walk in the park?" In fact, it sometimes seemed as if that is exactly what he hoped, as he compared the AT unfavorably with his more comfortable and civilized walks in Europe, with good restaurants and comfortable places to sleep at the end of each day. With any research and planning at all, he would have known not to expect such things of the AT, and would have been better prepared for the adventure.
I wondered at times (and still do) if his account wasn't some strange combination of fiction and fact that only Bryson aficionados would understand. Clearly I am not one of those, and I don't plan to read more of his work. For those who may be interested in a more realistic, as well as a more even-handed account of thru-hiking the AT, I highly recommend AWOL on the Appalachian Trail>, by David Miller. ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this account of the author's experiences - unvarnished and detailed - hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). I found myself wonderingI thoroughly enjoyed this account of the author's experiences - unvarnished and detailed - hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). I found myself wondering about the possibility of doing it myself one day, but work, family, and church duties preclude that, so I will need to content myself with others' experiences. Miller's descriptions of the trail, of the blisters, sprains, and other incidental injuries that afflicted him (and others) his notes about other hikers, and his thoughts and feelings as he hiked all combine to bring to life the AT experience.
It seems that, in the decade since he wrote AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, Miller has become something of an expert on preparing for and hiking the trail. Yet, as his experiences show, it isn't necessarily equipment, but attitude, that makes the difference. He continues to use essentially similar equipment as what he used then.
1. "I am glad that I write. Experience is enriched by reliving it, contemplating it, and trying to describe it to another person."
2. "Thoughts are the most effective weapon in the human arsenal. On the upside, it is powerful to realize that goals are reached primarily by establishing the proper state of mind. But if allowed the perspective that ogoad deacons are propped upon nothing but a notion, we falter."
3. "Anything that we consider to be an accomplishment takes effort to achieve. If it were easy, it would not be nearly as gratifying. What is hardship at the moment will add to our sense of achievement in the end."
4. "I am complacent about the struggles of the day. I am just making miles through the long, wet green tunnel. I knew there would be monotonous stretches. Hike on -- that's the solution to which I keep coming back." Not a bad thing to remember for those days when work...and living...seem to be drudgery...
5. "Difficulty on the trail, like this long and rainy day, is usually reflected upon fondly. There is the soothing, rhythmic beat of rainfall, the feeling that the woods are being washed and rejuvenated, the odors of the woods awakened by moisture. There is appreciation for the most simple of things, such as a flat and dry piece of ground and something warm to eat. There is satisfaction in having endured hardship, pride in being able to do for myself in the wilderness. There is strength in knowing I can do it again tomorrow."
6. "I have come to recognize that most of what is memorable and pleasing about my time on the trail is ordinary moments...My fond recollections of my hike are full of unremarkable moments..."
7. "Months of scrutinizing everything that I carry have conditioned me to view possessions as burdens." Reminds me of Thoreau in Walden: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberatel, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life..."
8. "We can better relate to the budding aspirations of our children if we follow dreams of our own."
It's time to start walking and hiking again...as soon as the temps in TX drop below 100!...more
What a terrific book! Drawn from the journals and amazing photography of Dick Proenneke, it is his account of his first year in the back and beyond ofWhat a terrific book! Drawn from the journals and amazing photography of Dick Proenneke, it is his account of his first year in the back and beyond of Alaska. After retiring with a modest nest egg from his work as a diesel mechanic (and a highly regarded one at that), Proenneke retired to the shores of Twin Lakes, Alaska. His friend and bush pilot, Babe Alsworthy, took him and his equipment there, and visited him occasionally, bringing supplies and letters. During the sixteen months he was there, he carefully crafted a log cabin, a woodshed, and a cache on stilts for food stores and other materials he wanted to keep away from animals.
When not working on these and other projects, he kept careful records of his observations of nature and the flora and fauna of the area. These became valuable records for others interested in the botanical and natural sciences.
Most of all, though, I thrilled at his description of the time he spent there, and I have pondered long on the wisdom of his observations about what is most important in life.
1. “Anyone living alone has to get things down to a system – know where things are and what the next move is going to be. Chores are easier if forethought is given to them and they are looked upon as little pleasures to perform instead of inconveniences that steal time and try the patience.”
2. “To look around at what you have accomplished in day gives a man a good feeling. Too many men work on parts of things. Doing a job to completeness satisfies a man.“
3. “Steady going is the way to do it. Each time you stop to rest, it is harder to go again. One careful step at a time and eventually you’re there.”
4. “I thought of the sights I had seen. The price was physical toll. Money does little good back there. It could not buy the fit feeling that surged through my arms and shoulders. It could not buy the feeling of accomplishment. This great big country was my playground, and I could afford the price it demanded.”
5. “Needs? I guess that is what bothers so many folks. They keep expanding their needs until they are dependent on too many things and too many other people. I wonder how many things in the average American home could be eliminated if the question were asked, ‘Must I really have this?’”
6. “Most people don’t work hard enough physically anymore, and comfort is not easy to find.”
7. “What a man never has, he never misses…I just season simple food with hunger…I enjoy working for my heat.”
8. “I do feel a man has missed a very deep sense of satisfaction if he has never created or at least completed something with his own two hands. We have grown accustomed to work on pieces of things instead of whiles. It is a way of life with us now. The emphasis is on teamwork. I believe this trend bears much of the blame for the loss of pride in one’s work, the kind of pride the old craftsman felt when he started a job and finished it and stood back and admired it. How does a man on an assembly line feel any pride in the final product that rolls out at the other end?”
9. “News never changes much. It’s just the same things happening to different people. I would rather experience things happening to me than read about them happening to others. I am my own newspaper and my own radio.”
10. “I have found that some of the simplest things have given me the most pleasure. They didn’t cost me a lot of money either. They just worked on my senses. Did you ever pick very large blueberries after a summer rain? Walk through a grove of cottonwoods, open like a park, and see the blue sky beyond the shimmering gold of the leaves? Pull on dry woolen socks after you’ve peeled off the wet ones? Come in out of the subzero and shiver yourself warm in front of a wood fire? The world is full of such things.”
Later on the day that he left his cabin behind for the first time in sixteen months, Proenneke recorded this in his journal: “That night during a gathering at Babe’s place, I felt a civilized cold germ taking hold.” He didn’t stay away long and spent most of the next thirty years in the cabin on Twin Lakes. I don’t blame him, and somehow I yearn to do the same.
Note: In a few months, an unedited collection of Proenneke’s journals from 1970-1984 will be published. I am looking forward to it....more
It was OK. I was expecting something more like Neil Peart's Ghost Rider, and it began that way. Pretty quickly, though, it turned into a rather gloomyIt was OK. I was expecting something more like Neil Peart's Ghost Rider, and it began that way. Pretty quickly, though, it turned into a rather gloomy commentary on life alone. His wife, who suffered from cancer, had recently passed, and his grief infused every aspect of the book. He didn't seem to be looking for a way to move on with his life so much as for a way to wallow in his grief. Well do I know that grief from the loss of a loved one can affect people in wildly different ways, and no one should judge another for how they handle it. But the way he lost it with a man and his child who were admiring his bike? And then dropping into a puddle of tears right there on the ground? He didn't need a tour on his motorcycle; he needed some serious grief counseling. And the last third of the book wasn't even about motorcycling at all, but about a canned tour of Egypt. He writes well, but his real audience is his family and friends, not people who don't know him....more
Vincati: A Vincent engine installed into a Ducati frame. In Big Sid’s Vincati we have the story of a troubled father and son relationship brought togeVincati: A Vincent engine installed into a Ducati frame. In Big Sid’s Vincati we have the story of a troubled father and son relationship brought together by their joint effort creating a hybrid bike – the fabled blend of the hard charging Vincent engine with the buttery smooth Ducati ergonomics.
Though much of the book is about the bikes, that story is really the “frame” on which hangs the deeper story of the rescue of the relationship. That story is best summed up in Matthew’s words on p. 230 of his book: “Now I was struck by the odd connection…in that moment, with the Vincati before us, I realized for the first time what we’d really been up to. We were putting the heart of the father into the body of the son.”
This has been one of the best books I’ve read this year, and not alone because of my appreciation for motorcycles. Anyone who has ever looked askance at their own relationship with a parent or child can see in this account that, though the surface issues may seem to overwhelm the relationship, enough commitment, love, and honesty can heal the rift.
For the gearheads out there, the end of the story is followed by a short section with the technical details of all of the modifications that went into the creation of Big Sid's Vincati.
Take a look at Jay Leno’s interview with Big Sid and Matthew, and the footage of his ride on the Vincati. Opportunities like that are the only reason I would care to be rich and famous…how cool would it be to have a ride on a one-of-a-kind bike like the Vincati! ...more
The Geography of Bliss is a fascinating exploration of two of my favorite activities: travel and the pursuit of happiness. As a self-acknowledged “gruThe Geography of Bliss is a fascinating exploration of two of my favorite activities: travel and the pursuit of happiness. As a self-acknowledged “grump,” Eric Weiner travels to ten different countries in search of a better understanding of what brings happiness. In each place he finds thought-provoking ideas and artifacts that seem to be (more or less) antecedents or correlates of happiness. He also writes in a fun loving and descriptive way about his experiences in his travels, which sometimes overshadows the core search for happiness, and makes it more superficial than it might otherwise have been. He seems to be trying to accomplish two objectives at once, and both suffer for it a bit. The countries he visited include The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and America. Some summary insights follow.
Aristotle’s thought that “Happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul.” A scholar who studies happiness, Ruut Veenhoven, finds that, with some few exceptions, people of most countries tend to be happy. And their happiness seems to have little to do with wealth (or even income distribution), political structures, diversity, or other things commonly thought to predict happiness.
Proximity to nature seems to enhance happiness, perhaps one reason why the keeping of pets is found all over the world. The Swiss know how to “linger.” I have found that also in my own travels in Spain, France, the U.K., and Latin America, where long meals are social events, and people are happy to linger over a cup of hot chocolate or a pastry at a sidewalk café. From a blog Weiner set up to solicit comments from the Swiss: “Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else. Maybe the current conditions in Switzerland…make it simply easier to ‘be’ and therefore ‘be happy.’” Others have called this mindfulness.
Unique among other nations, Bhutan measure GNH – Gross National Happiness. In a moment with his two year old daughter, Weiner realizes that she wants his love, but in pragmatic terms, love translates for her as undiluted attention…maybe, just maybe, love and attention are intertwined, another nod to mindfulness. “Attentive people, in other words, are happy people.”
But what about our high expectations? Perhaps unrealistic expectations are destroyers of happiness. Karma Ura, director of a think tank in Bhutan, says “My way of thinking is completely different. I have no such mountains to scale, basically, I find that living itself is a struggle, and if I’m satisfied, if I have just done that, lived well, in the evening I sigh and say, ‘It was okay.’”
The Bhutanese, “do things that don’t make economic sense. Like forsaking millions of dollars in tourist revenue or refusing to sell valuable timber. The Bhutanese, poor as they are, do not bow to the gods of efficiency and productivity.” As E.F. Schumacher put it, “The richer the society, the more difficult it becomes to do worthwhile things without immediate payoff.” I see that too much in our own materialistic society. Weiner again: “Money is a means to an end. The problem is when you think it is an end in itself. Happiness is relationships, and people in the west think money is needed for relationships.” And, of course, that is not true.
Social scientists estimate that about 70 percent of our happiness stems from our relationships, both quantity and quality. So the greatest source of happiness is other people – and what does money do? It isolates us from other people. It enables us to build walls, literal and figurative, around ourselves…We think we’re moving up, but really we’re walling off ourselves.”
Researchers have found that leisure isn’t happiness…indeed, people who are too busy are happier than people who aren’t busy enough. But it seems to me that being busy isn’t enough…we must be busy with things that matter, “anxiously engaged in a good cause.” And, our careers and the acquisition of material wealth for its own sake, where we normally spend the majority of time in this country, is not the cause of happiness. As Weiner suggests, “it is only when [we] are old and tired, entombed in the corner office, that the realization hits like a Biblical thunderclap. The God Ambition is a false God and always has been.”
Having multiple identities (not multiple personalities) is conducive to happiness, but this runs counter to prevailing wisdom in the US and other western nations, where specialization is considered the higher good. We spend our time learning more and more about less and less. In Iceland, people learn more and more about more and more.
In Iceland, failure doesn’t carry a stigma. If you are free to fail, you are free to try.
How we pursue the goal of happiness matters at least as much, perhaps more, than the goal itself. In this rare case, means and ends are one and the same. As Aristotle taught, a virtuous life leads to a happy life.
Moldova is a land of unhappiness. Why? In a few words, greed, envy, immorality, sloth, etc.
Thailand seems to be more of a land of superficial happiness…pleasure-seeking behavior without regard to consequences or cost. As one Thai said, “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.”
In the end, Weiner summarizes the essence of what he learned in his pursuit of happiness:
“Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.”
I would probably have only given Miles To Go three stars, but I really enjoy stories about extended travels. Otherwise, this is a good solid three ofI would probably have only given Miles To Go three stars, but I really enjoy stories about extended travels. Otherwise, this is a good solid three of a novel. I like Richard Paul Evans’ stories, and enjoyed the first novel in this series. Really the only complaint I have about the second is that it crams a lifetime’s worth of “coincidental” meetings and involvements into a few short months. But then, that is what makes for an entertaining, and occasionally inspiring, novel.
In this continuation, Alan Christofferson finds himself in hospital after being beaten by a gang, and then rescued. He goes home with a woman whose flat tire he changed, and then changes her life. Then he moves again on down the road, and like an ambulatory Jim Bronson (oh, go look it up…Then Came Bronson) finds himself saving another life and then setting it on a better path.
More than anything, Miles To Go makes me want to get back out on the road. Only my preferred form of “putting-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other” is on two wheels, though walking, bicycling, or just about any mode of slow travel are fun also. I love getting out on the open road, with a destination in mind, but plenty of time to meander on the way there. When I can’t do that, reading about someone else doing it is an OK substitute. ...more
Well, this was a disappointment to me. The writing was...different. It felt to me as if here was a guy trying to be thought of as a biker, and verballWell, this was a disappointment to me. The writing was...different. It felt to me as if here was a guy trying to be thought of as a biker, and verbally putting on the leathers and patches and so forth, but not quite making it. His word choice was awkward and pseudo-real, and at such a level of superficiality that I found myself skipping large chunks of it as I neared the end. I've read many first person accounts from people who are first bikers, second some other profession, and only later came to writing, and I've never read anything quite so dull as this. He says almost nothing about the context, people, conditions, or any of the details of his rides.
That having been said, I don't think it is really intended to be a journalistic account. Rather, in style and format it is really a coffee table book, mostly comprised of photographs. The idea, to have arial photos of the same areas he photographed while riding is an interesting one. I'm not much of a photographer, and I don't know the finer points of how best to use light and so forth, but the photos were mildly interesting to me. Many are not labeled, though, and there was no way to see how they were connected to his rides. That might have been photos taken of anywhere and anywhen, and without the context of rich writing detail, they just didn't seem to matter as much as they might have otherwise. And, like his writing, they seemed impersonal. Few of them included people, and I saw none that included photos of himself.
It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but that has not been my experience unless the picture is connected in some way to the experience. Too bad...I had really hoped to enjoy this book, but I felt no connection with it while reading, or afterwards....more
Fred O’Brien, author of The Chrome Horse Chronicles, lost his life while on his next trip following those he wrote about in his book. He was killed whFred O’Brien, author of The Chrome Horse Chronicles, lost his life while on his next trip following those he wrote about in his book. He was killed when a teenage girl with no driver’s license pulled out in front of him. Online messages from some who should know indicate that she may have been on a cell phone. When will drivers learn they are piloting inert missiles that do real damage to flesh and bone?!? Subsequent to his death, his wife, Carol, was able to have his book published, which had been Fred’s dream. More about Fred and his adventures can be found here, at the Chrome Horse Chronicles website.
In The Chrome Horse Chronicles O’Brien journals about six trips he makes around the country, each one showing greater and greater degrees of confidence in, and understanding about, long distance motorcycling. He writes in the present tense, which though unusual, I found oddly engaging, almost as if I were traveling with him. I found his description of his ride to Alaska especially enticing – someday I’d like to make a trip like that! The hard part is finding a month and a half with no other commitments…
The writing style is fresh and engaging, the juxtaposition of O’Brien’s internal musings with his descriptions of events and locations is fascinating, and on the whole, this was one of the better books about motorcycle travel I have read. I do love to travel, and though my work and other commitments often make it difficult to get away, these kinds of adventure travel books help to fill the void. I recommend it....more
In Live to Ride, Wayne Johnson has given us a terrific historical look at various “categories” in the motorcycling world: dirt biking, track racing, oIn Live to Ride, Wayne Johnson has given us a terrific historical look at various “categories” in the motorcycling world: dirt biking, track racing, outlaw bikers and riding clubs, adventure touring, hill climbing, speed trials on the Salt Flats in Utah, and others. It’s a fascinating look at the people, events, and technology that have been important at various points in the history of motorcycling. Johnson himself is a lifelong lover of all things motorcycling, and has participated (if occasionally at the periphery) in most of the different types of motorcycling of which he writes. His passion for it all comes through clearly in his writing.
At the end of his book, Johnson writes in a way that touches my heart, that resonates with me:
“There is something profoundly lonely in all this, but necessary. Years earlier, you avoided stopping on rides alone, because, always, your Self came crowding in then. Always insistent, wanting something. To be somewhere else, doing something different, being someone else.”
“But now you’re not canyon racing, trying to navigate winding roads at speeds that were never designed to be negotiated. Nor are you blindly pushing on, as if you’ll find yourself up ahead. Some quiet joy has taken you here, and on this bike it could take you just about anywhere. Alone, like this, or with others…”
“But here, alongside this river…comes this moment of quiet, of – just this moment – satisfaction. So you don’t want to be anywhere else but here, right now, in this canyon…”
“Rarely is going also being, but it is so on a motorcycle.”
I’m often interested to hear how people find amazing treasures in unexpected places, such as a copy of the Declaration of Independence behind a picturI’m often interested to hear how people find amazing treasures in unexpected places, such as a copy of the Declaration of Independence behind a picture bought at a garage sale, or a painting by a famous artist found in someone’s attic. There's something about the excitement of discovering something significant and rare that fascinates me. So, when I heard about The Vincent in the Barn it was an easy decision to read it, given my passion for motorcycling. Tom Cotter has brought together the stories of many great motorcycle “barn finds,” many written in the first person.
Numerous stories of Vincents unearthed (including Rapides, Black Shadows, and the ever elusive Black Lightning), Harley-Davidsons, Indians, and so forth. Other less well-known models are also highlighted, such as the Brough Superior that T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia to those of you whose education has been neglected) was riding when he crashed and died. These stories are fascinating, in part because many of them are about normal everyday people, not just the wealthy with plenty of money and time. They also include a generous dose of history in telling the stories behind the bikes and the people who rode them. The stories, whether penned by Cotter or by the people involved, are well-written, carefully edited, and quite entertaining. The entire book is printed on high-quality photographic paper, so the numerous pictures of the motorcycles are clear and sharp.
Cotter has also written about barn finds of other items, most notably The Cobra in the Barn, about rare cars unearthed in odd places. I bought that one for my son, the car fanatic, and he has enjoyed it. ...more
Hmmm, what to say about Lance Oliver’s first book, The Ride So Far? Very humorous, often inspiring, frequently instructive, always entertaining…it wasHmmm, what to say about Lance Oliver’s first book, The Ride So Far? Very humorous, often inspiring, frequently instructive, always entertaining…it was all of the above and more. It reads like a collection of articles, though the feel I get is more that of well-written memories. The chapters come in two main parts. Part one consists of “Great Places and Memorable Rides,” and each chapter describes different experiences, locations, travels, or events in which Oliver participated. He has a comfortable, easy writing style, and I often found myself leaning back in my chair and letting myself simply imagine the people and places of which he wrote. In fact, several times he was able to put into words what I feel when I ride, or even when traveling by other means:
This is the difference that travel makes: On a trip back home, I’d be annoyed to be stopped because of a parade, fuming about where I needed to be. Here, nearly two thousand miles from home, I was just pleased to have a front-row view. That, for me at least, is the transforming magic of foreign surroundings. The ordinary can become memorable, and even mundane tasks become learning experiences. An inconvenience becomes an opportunity to peer into other lives.
Like Oliver, I have often traveled foreign regions for work, service, or pleasure, and my memories of those experiences are bound up as much in the culture and everyday lives of the people I encounter as in the events and sights that I am “supposed” to appreciate. A few moments bargaining with a Mapuche woman in a Chilean village marketplace. Ten minutes playing hide and seek with a seal in the Sound of Raasay off the Isle of Skye. Talking with a very intense young protestor at a political rally in London. Reminiscing (in Spanish) about Latin America with the owner of an Italian restaurant in Cologne, Germany. As Oliver suggests, the people and cultures and experiences somehow stand out much more clearly than the supposed wonders and sights of a region. The same holds true for my motorcycle travels.
I enjoyed all of Oliver’s stories, but among my favorites were Slow Way Around, California Dreaming, and Characters.
His second section waxes a little more thoughtful, occasionally even philosophical, but no less enjoyable. Who doesn’t remember their first bike, or the uncertainties (and risks!) of learning to ride for the first time? His are the memories of everyman, and he writes well of them. And I especially appreciated his thoughtfulness in the final chapter, on the future of motorcycling. Somehow, though the technology will undoubtedly change, I believe that two-wheeled travel will be around for my great-grandchildren. I think Lance Oliver would agree.
This is a book I will keep and dip back into from time to time. This was Oliver's first book, but I sincerely hope not his last. I recommend it to riders everywhere....more
For years, I enjoyed reading the stories of Louis L’Amour, and sometimes I still dip back into them. Part of why I enjoyed them so much was that theyFor years, I enjoyed reading the stories of Louis L’Amour, and sometimes I still dip back into them. Part of why I enjoyed them so much was that they generally accorded with my own (admittedly limited) knowledge of the history, anthropology, sociology, and geography of the times and areas about which he wrote. He once said that if he wrote about a spring, it was there and the water was good to drink. On at least one occasion, I tested that general assertion, and found it to be true. I believe that, to the best of his ability, and with the prodigious amount of research he did throughout his life, he was able to write fiction that was more fact than most novels written by others.
Now, in his autobiographical Education of a Wandering Man, we discover how and why his own life became a research forum for his writing. In his engaging style, he writes mostly of his early years as a wanderer and student of the world. Seafarer, prizefighter, miner, soldier, woodcutter, hobo, all became grist for the mill of his writing. As I read of his own experiences, it became easy to see how they showed up in his novels, and how his own life (and what he learned from old timers whose friendship he cultivated) became almost inseparably intertwined with his fictional characters.
Throughout Education of a Wandering Man, Louis names many of the books he read, the impact they had on him, what he learned from them, and why he read them. He also frequently moves sideways into brief, but fascinating to me, insights into his thoughts and conclusions about various matters. For example:
1. “I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself. Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness. No one can “get” an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with methods of study and research, methods of pursuing an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue.” 2. “Do what thy manhood bids thee do; From none but self expect applause; He noblest lives and noblest dies; Who makes and keeps his self-made laws.” (Sir Richard Francis Burton) 3. “One is not, by decision, just a writer. One becomes a writer by writing, by shaping thoughts into the proper or improper words…and by doing it constantly.” 4. “We do not at present educated people to think but, rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different.” 5. “I think the greatest gift anyone can give another is the desire to know, to understand. Life is not for simply watching spectator sports, or for taking part in them; it is not for simply living from one working day to the next. Life is for delving, discovering, learning.” 6. “What so many of us who abhor violence often forget is that we have peace and civilized lives because there were men and women who went before us who were willing to fight for our freedom to live in peace.” 7. “I learned that when I was in charge I should keep my eyes open and understand the situation before I moved. And I learned it is also risky to break up teams that are used to working together. No matter what seems to be gained, much is also lost.” 8. “A book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.” 9. “Nations are born, they mature, grow old, and almost die, but after some years they rise again, and we in this country, as in all nations, need leaders with vision. Too few can see further than the next election and will agree to spend any amount of money as long as some of it is spent in the area they represent. H.G. Wells wisely said that ‘Men who think in lifetimes are of no use to statesmanship.”
Though Louis L’Amour was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a writer of classics, he was in my opinion as impactful on American society as any other novelist of his time. I believe that is why he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1982 and in 1984 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan. In early 1988, he came to Santa Ana, CA while I was living with my family in Irvine for a book signing at a local bookstore. I wanted to go simply to see the man whose writing I had enjoyed for so long, but it conflicted with a class in which I was enrolled in my Ph.D. program. I debated with myself about skipping class to go to the signing, and finally decided to “do the responsible thing” and go to my class. He died just a few months later, and I have regretted that choice ever since. Sometimes, it seems, the right thing is, in fact, the wrong thing....more
In The Old Man and the Harley, John Newkirk provides us with a well-written book of genealogy, history, values-based philosophy, patriotism, and familIn The Old Man and the Harley, John Newkirk provides us with a well-written book of genealogy, history, values-based philosophy, patriotism, and family love. It’s about forgiveness, courage, caring, and appreciation for the outward and inward journeys of a man. Though it was what attracted me to it in the first place, the motorcycling is really more of a vehicle for relating the rest of the story.
The story begins in the 1600s with the arrival of the Newkirk family to the New World, but quickly moves forward to the early twentieth century. The author writes parallel histories of Scarsdale Jack Newkirk, one of the original Flying Tigers of World War II, and of his cousin, John Newkirk, just a few years younger. At the same time that Scarsdale Jack is preparing for, and the fighting in the war, John takes off on a cross country journey, riding a 1930 Harley VL motorcycle. His goal? To see the country from coast to coast, beginning with the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and ending with the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Through trials and tribulations, he makes his way successfully across the country.
The first two parts of the book deal with these parallel accounts, with occasional present-day inserts and commentaries from the author. The last part relates the author’s personal experiences as he struggles with the emotional baggage of an uncle he never knew, moderated by the values imparted by his family and experiences. He retraces the journey taken by his father in 1939 (backwards), with the 82-years-young “Old Man” on the back of his bike for a good part of the way. The entire tale is told with warmth and humor and appreciation, and with a keen eye for detail and plot and the adventure of lives well lived.
Ultimately, the book is about America…clearly beloved by the author. It is one of the best books I have read in awhile, and brought me to ponder and reflect on my own father’s experiences in that time of economic depression, social upheaval, and war. It is an America that feels qualitatively different from the country we know today, in some ways more backward and lacking, but in other ways a finer, friendlier, and more inviting place than it sometimes seems to be today. Yet the author’s message rings true, that despite the negative voices that would have us think less of our country, there is much more to recommend it, much to admire, respect, and love about this great country of ours. Those negative voices can be quieted by our own positive thought and action, and like that foregone generation it is our duty and our privilege to do so. I recommend Newkirk’s story to anyone with an appreciation for motorcycling, journeying, history, or America. It will be time well spent. ...more
I’ve been a motorcycle nut for the last ten years, after a twenty year break to raise my children. Along the way, I tried riding with several groups,I’ve been a motorcycle nut for the last ten years, after a twenty year break to raise my children. Along the way, I tried riding with several groups, but finally decided I was destined to ride alone. The groups I rode with (which shall remain unnamed) included people with varying degrees of skill, interests at odds with my own (bars and clubs), and more words than action around safety issues. Frankly, I thought most of the rides were either boring or dangerous.
About three years ago, I ran across a newspaper article describing a small, but growing, group of LDS motorcyclists called the Temple Rider’s Association. I looked for them on the Internet, and found their official website at www.templeriders.com. From that, I learned that their “objective is to find additional like-minded riders who prefer not to schedule rides on Sundays unless absolutely necessary, who maintain Christian standards, who do not use alcohol or tobacco, and are free from profanity and off-color stories…The TRA hosts many activities throughout the year including rides, dinners, and events of more spiritual nature, including--as our name suggests--visiting LDS Temples.”
Being LDS myself, and wishing to ride with those who hold to like-minded values and standards, I didn’t lose any time inquiring about how to join the group. Since then, although I live a fair distance from where the bulk of the membership lives, I have enjoyed several TRA-sponsored rides and rallies, and have an ever-widening group of friends in the TRA.
Leaning Into The Curves is a fictional tale in some ways similar to my own, of a man and his wife and their introduction to the TRA. Despite being fictional, though, I think it accurately reflected real life experiences that many have felt, from the joy of the husband at being on two wheels again, to the fear and trepidation felt by his wife, first for him, and then for herself as she overcomes her deep-seated fears to join him on a long ride. I’ve been fortunate in that my own dear wife rides her own bike and enjoys riding nearly as much as I, but I know many TRA members (and others) whose spouses have had to overcome instinctive fears to tolerate and sometimes even embrace motorcycle riding.
As a student of the human condition, both professionally and personally, I also appreciated the authors’ true-to-life portrayal of the relationship dynamics surfaced as the two main characters in the book figured out how to accommodate this new “thing” in their previously stable and staid life together. As one who has worked some with relationships in crisis, again, I believe their portrayal was spot on. Most importantly, it showed the ebb and flow of patience and tolerance that inevitably occurs as two people learn they didn’t know each other (or themselves) as well as they thought. Similarly, the authors’ work shows vividly that a strong commitment to each other is really the only thing that will carry the day through that same ebb and flow of understanding.
As I read the book, I found myself frequently thinking that it gave the same “feel” I have enjoyed at TRA functions and rides. Some of the fictional TRA members portrayed in the book actually put me in mind of real people, not so much because of their descriptions, but again more because of the feeling the authors were able to generate about them. At the bi-annual TRA rally last month, Nancy Anderson and Carroll Morris were in attendance, and I had the opportunity to speak with them at some length. I found them to be delightful people, thoughtful and interesting, as one would expect of the authors of such a book, but more importantly, very real themselves. They themselves have struggled much with the vicissitudes of real life, and have gained a significant measure of wisdom and understanding, which shows through in their writing.
I enjoyed Leaning Into The Curves tremendously, and I recommend it highly!...more
A mildly entertaining little novel about three motorcyclists who follow the fictional Sackett trail, as identified in Louis L'Amour's famous novels. LA mildly entertaining little novel about three motorcyclists who follow the fictional Sackett trail, as identified in Louis L'Amour's famous novels. L'Amour was widely admired for the research he put into his writing, and he has famously proclaimed that if he writes about a spring in his books, the water is there, and it is good to drink. So, as a long-time fan of L'Amour's books, I found the idea of following the L'Amour/Sackett trail intriguing, which is why I wanted to read this book. Unfortunately, the book was only mildly interesting, and lacked the focus or detail for which I had hoped. ...more