Book Review
The World from My Bike
Anna Grechishkina

Wow! This is one of the most captivating books I have ever held in my hands. It is the product of one of the most determined woman I have ever met on one of the most exciting adventures I can imagine. Claiming to have met Anna  Grechishkina is actually something of a stretch. At the 2014 Route 66 Festival in Kingman, Arizona, she joined some festival attendees for dinner. Our “meeting” consisted of a second or so of eye contact and a group hello. But I learned of her dream and her plans to fulfill it and I have followed her journey from that point on.

That journey had started just over a year before when she left her home in Ukraine to travel the world on a motorcycle. In that time she had traveled east through Russia then south through Asia and Australia. From Kingman she would cover much of the US then turn south and ride along both coasts of South America before jumping across the Atlantic to Africa. I believe she was in Tanzania when The World from My Bike was completed. As I write this, Anna has just reached Sudan.

I confess to being surprised by the book even though I certainly should not have been. Pre-publication descriptions made it clear that the book was not organized either chronologically or geographically. I know I read that, and have to think I understood it, but it apparently didn’t really sink in. Until I actually opened it and started “reading”, I foolishly expected a standard model travelogue with dates and miles and maps and such. As Anna herself explained in those pre-pub descriptions, The World from My Bike is organized “…according to the emotions I felt at different stages of my journey.”

On the other hand, maybe I intentionally resisted that understanding. I must also confess that I might have turned away from a book I thought was nothing but personal emotions. But regardless of whether I accidentally or intentionally sidestepped the description, I’m sure glad I did. My silly preconceptions might otherwise have caused me to miss out on something wonderful.

There are 365 photographs in the book. I didn’t count them. That number is given in the book’s preface. That three paragraph preface is just about the largest collection of words in the entire volume. It might be exceeded, but only slightly, by the five paragraphs that appear on the back cover. A date and location is given for every photo and most are accompanied by a bit of text. Sometimes the text relates to a specific picture.

The town was alive, rich and arrogant. But diamonds which were the main reason for the town’s existence started to deplete , and the town of Kolpanskop in Namibia eventually turned into a ghost town as its inhabits left all their possessions behind and rushed for another shaky hope. Little by little sand took over what was once the subject of admiration and luxury

But more often it expresses a thought that is augmented by the picture.

Everywhere I go I am a stranger. Well respected, welcomed and even admired, but a stranger. No matter how many interesting stories I tell, I am a passer-by and observer, and soon I will be gone. The most I can expect is to leave good memories behind me.

And sometimes it simply provides some practical real-world advice.

If you wait a few more minutes and don’t rush back home straight after the sun went down you’ll see kaleidoscope of colors and forms which might surpass even beauty of the sunset.

The photographs are beautiful by themselves. There are, of course, numerous images of stunning scenery, but there are also street scenes and photos of people including several riveting portraits. The word “exotic” popped into my American mind many times.

There are 150 pages in the book. Those I did count. They are not numbered. There are four sections — Happiness, Challenges, Lessons, and Fun — but there is no table of contents. It would be meaningless without page numbers. This is not unique. In fact, the organization is very similar to that of Hues of my Vision by Ara Gureghian, another motorcyclist. It no doubt registers more with me here largely because of my own faulty expectations of something linear. This organization is clearly the correct one. There are a few places where two or three pictures work together to complete a thought but, for the most part, the book can be opened anywhere and happily experienced without turning a page.

The book can be purchased at The World from My Bike and I absolutely encourage you to get one. It’s a dandy.

My Wheels — Chapter 28
1978? Yamaha 400

In the previous episode of My Wheels I mentioned that both that chapter and this one would suffer from foggy memory regarding timing. I also mentioned that in this installment I would try to at least explain how the vehicles were related even if I couldn’t explain when. That I will and I’ll even tie up a loose end from several chapters back.

Once again the vehicle I actually owned is not the one pictured. I’m not even sure it’s the right year. The photo shows a 1978 model and it looks about right so the model of the motorcycle being discussed must have been within a year or so. The bike was a gift of sorts from my oldest son. Regular readers may recall that the Mazda in the previous chapter came into my possession when that same son could no longer handle a loan I had cosigned. When he moved to California he presented me with the Yamaha more or less as payment for dropping the Mazda in my lap, etc.

I initially shied away from riding the bike because of brakes. My Wheels — Chapter 21 concerned my 1979 Chevy Van and ended with the phrase “until a trade opportunity came along.” This was it. A mechanic friend put new brakes on the Yahama in exchange for the abused Chevy. I rode the bike some after that but not a whole lot. It really wasn’t the bike I would have bought for myself had I gone shopping for a bike which I hadn’t.

Before long another trade opportunity came along. I had ignored the RX7 so long that the rotor became frozen in place. I knew a fellow who was familiar with Mazda rotaries having raced them for awhile, and we worked out a deal to get the idle Mazda running in exchange for the nearly idle Yamaha. He did get the rotor free and cleared up some other issues but did not have complete success. The friend who bought the car had to pay someone to get it running. I clearly wasn’t the winner in either of those trades but there was a lot of that sort of thing going on then. It was the season of my second divorce.

My Wheels – Chapter 23
1972 BMW R75

For once I didn’t have to snag a picture from the internet to show what my vehicle looked like. Plus, unlike the previous My Wheels chapter, there’s no need for paid models to spice things up. The photo at right shows my future ex-wife riding my future ex-motorcycle.

I hadn’t been exactly eager to sell the Chevelle and I was less than comfortable with a truck being my only transportation. My ears perked up when I heard that a neighbor’s brother was selling his motorcycle. In some corner of my mind I’d always wanted a BMW. I started to make that seem more generic by saying I’d always wanted a touring bike but the truth is that a BMW is the touring bike I had in mind. I remember seeing my first Beemer when, as a high school junior or senior, I stepped outside the school as a shiny black one rolled past. I recall its windshield and teardrop saddlebags. The slightly futuristic looking bags might have been part of the attraction but I believe what impressed me the most was how purposeful it looked. That bike was made to go places. It may have been the first vehicle that produced the phrase “road trip” in my mind. I took one test ride on the proffered three-toned motorcycle then bought it.

The motorcycle itself was blue. The after market faring and saddlebags were white and the trunk was black. With all that luggage space and the “made to go places” thinking of the previous paragraph, you might reasonably expect me to spend the next summer touring the country on two wheels. If that’s what you expect you will be disappointed. I did and I was.

I had a nearly new van that functioned as a camper which made it a natural choice for overnight trips. It was also a good people hauler and was a popular vehicle for group outings. That left the BMW with only solo journey duty and, since I was heavily involved with the lady in the photo, there weren’t many of those of any length. I crossed the river into Kentucky several times and made it to Indiana once or twice but the BMW spent almost all of its time in Ohio where I often did take the long — sometimes really long — way home from work.

I laid it down once. I was off to visit a friend living on a gravel road. I moved slow in the ruts that previous travelers had made. It was dry and those ruts had been pretty much cleared of gravel. I let my speed creep up. By the time a gravel ridge did appear, I’d let it creep too much. I shoved the bike away from me as it went down. In my mind’s eye, it rose high in the air while spinning over and over waiting for me to slide under it and be crushed. In reality it was probably never more than a foot off of the ground and flipped exactly one and a half times. It was enough to snap off the windshield and leave scratches on both bike and rider. My scratches healed and the bike’s weren’t bad enough to worry about. A new windshield was purchased.

I also got one ticket. A small group of friends were spending the weekend at one of the group’s family cottage near Indian Lake. I was taking one of the wives on a tour when flashing lights appeared behind us. I stopped and was told I had failed to stop at a stop sign. I really believed that all forward motion had ceased for a second and the officer seemed to agree. “But your feet didn’t touch the ground”, he said. We weren’t far from the cottage so my rider simply walked back while I followed the officer to the unmanned station which he unlocked. I was able to pay the fine which means it couldn’t have been more than $25 or so. As he wrote out a receipt, I commented that if they stopped every motorcyclist whose feet didn’t touch the ground they were probably making a lot of money. He looked up with a smile that stopped just short of a grin and said, “We do alright.”

The last story is about a malfunction. The clutch cable broke on the way to visit a friend in Cincinnati. I don’t recall whether it snapped as I pulled up to the light or started to pull away and I don’t recall whether it was panicked braking or a panicked key removal that killed the engine. Whatever the specifics, I found myself without a clutch at the bottom of the last hill to my friend’s house.

Shifting a moving motorcycle is no big deal and neither is getting it into neutral for a stop. Getting a motorcycle moving without a clutch is significantly more difficult. One way is to start the engine then get things rolling enough to slip into some gear. It’s rather easy going down hill, kind of tricky on level ground, and essentially impossible going up hill. I had my choice of the latter two. There was an empty parking lot about a half block way where I could get the bike started and ride it abound in circles. The reason for the circles was to time my arrival at the the light with it being green. I failed at least once but made it on the second or third attempt.

There were a few more malfunctions and probably a minor adventure or two but nothing big. As I recall, there were some electrical issues with the bike when I changed residences. I left it in a storage area at the apartment complex I was moving from and other things in my life kept its retrieval a low priority. It eventually just disappeared.

Cannonball Lunch Break

mccb16_01It was just over a week ago, on the tenth, that ninety old motorcycles pulled out of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and set off for Carlsbad, California. Yesterday, most of them pulled into Dodge City, Kansas, where the riders get a day of rest before continuing west on Monday. This is the 2016 version of the Motorcycle Cannonball and these motorcycles are not just old; They’re very old. And that, of course, is one of the reasons only most of them made it to Dodge City. The newest of the entries was built in 1916 and stuff happens when hundred year old machines are called on to perform mile after mile and day after day. The photo is of event leader Dean Bordigioni on his 1914 Harley Davidson. I’m fairly certain that Dean is not using his cell phone to see if he needs to bring home milk. My guess is that he’s making use of its GPS function or possibly just checking the time. The modern technology that keeps riders safe and on course can seem like it’s from a very different world than the technology propelling them.

The first Motorcycle Cannonball took place in 2010 and I was a spectator as participants approached and departed their overnight stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My journal for that outing is here. The competition has been held every two years since then but I completely missed both 2012 and 2014. This year the route passed through Ohio with a lunch stop at Powder Keg Harley-Davidson just a few miles from my home. That’s where all photos in this post were taken.

mccb16_02Bordigioni wasn’t the first rider to reach the lunch stop. He was just the first to reach it after I did. I had missed the arrival of Jeff Tiernan. That’s his 1913 Henderson in the picture with Bordigioni’s Harley behind it. The Cannonball is not a race. It is an endurance run with points awarded based on miles traveled. The motorcycles are divided into three classes with lower classed motorcycles ranked higher than others that have covered the same distance. Bordigioni started and ended Tuesday in first place by virtue of being the only Class I (single cylinder, single speed) entry to cover every mile. Tieman started the day tied (I believe) for fourth and end the day tied (I believe) for third.

mccb16_05mccb16_04mccb16_03The bulk of participants arrived over the next half hour or so. Most were in small groups of five or six. A few riders took advantage of the stop to make adjustments or small repairs but most headed inside for lunch and a seat that didn’t bounce.

mccb16_06mccb16_07mccb16_08What space the competitors didn’t require was filled to overflowing by other motorcycles. Modern Harley-Davidsons comprised the majority but other brands were represented and many spectators arrived on decidedly non-modern machines. There were plenty of HDs among the older bikes and I’ve included a picture of one along with a Triumph, a BSA, an Indian, and a good looking “snortin'” Norton.

mccb16_11mccb16_10mccb16_11Here are a few more or less random shots of riders returning to the road after their little break. That first one isn’t all that random. Doc Hopkins’ 1916 Harley-Davidson is hooked to the only sidecar in the Cannonball which makes Dawn Hamilton the only passenger. The other photos are of Rick Salisbury on a 1916 Excelsior and Australian Chris Knoop on a 1915 JAP.

mccb16_12Yeah, this photo is out of sequence. It’s not a Cannonball entry and I don’t know who the rider is. It’s a HarleyDavidson but I don’t know its vintage beyond knowing that it is too new to enter this year’s competition even if its owner wanted to. I’m posting it as the day’s last picture because I really agree with the assessment of the guy riding sidecar. Thumbs up Cannonballers and Powder Keg  HD. Nicely done.

Dean Bordigioni on that 1914 H-D was still leading when what I take to be 72 entries arrived at Dodge City yesterday afternoon. 22 competitors have covered every mile and have perfect scores. Among them are Jeff Tiernan and Doc Hopkins who are mentioned in the article above. Jeff is listed in 4th and Doc’s in 16th. Also mentioned above are Rick Salisbury and Chris Knoop who are currently listed in 53rd and 46th respectively. All the riders appear to be having entirely too much fun, sore butts and all.

Three for Me and the DAV

dav5k2015_01A veteran buddy talked me into walking with him at the inaugural National 5K Run/Walk/Roll/Ride in 2013. We both signed up again last year but, when I called from near the start line to see why he was late, I learned he had forgotten and was half way across the state. This year he is living out of state so I knew when I registered that I would be doing it alone. Just me and more than 3,000 strangers.

dav5k2015_02dav5k2015_03Just before the hand-cycles lead off the timed entries, the motorcycle contingent rolls by the starting line. This large group, mostly veterans, will cruise the course then park near the end to greet and cheer every participant.

dav5k2015_05dav5k2015_04The picture at the top of this article is a capture from a video posted as part of the results. Participants can view a clip of their finish based on bib number. I finished in 1:04:26. That’s 4 minutes and 3 seconds faster than last year and a mere 47:31 behind the fastest runner. I’m obviously closing in.

In 2013 the only event was the one in the DAV’s home town of Cincinnati. In 2014 an event in Dan Diego was added and this year an Atlanta event joins the other two. With a perfect attendance record to maintain, I intend to be back next year. Blog posts on the previous events are here and here.

Book Review
Hues of my Vision
Ara Gureghian and Spirit

homv_cvrWhen I previewed this book in April, it was with the hope that a Kickstarter campaign would result in a bargain priced offset printed version. Ara had turned to the crowd funding site to facilitate pre-ordering the book in support of a cost saving bulk order. As noted in a mid-May update to the preview, the campaign failed resulting in the price of a hard copy more than doubling from $40.00 to $92.99. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is beautiful.

For those unfamiliar with Ara and Spirit, here’s a quick introduction. In 2006, following the death of his son, Ara Gureghian left his job as a personal chef and, accompanied by a rescued pit bull named Spirit, hit the road on Old Faithful, his BMW motorcycle. Since then, they have crisscrossed the country and spent lots of time in some of its emptier areas. Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash tells the story of those travels. Hues of my Vision contains a selection of the many photographs taken along the way.

There are 61 photographs; Each on its own page accompanied by a quote and a map. The maps mark the location and direction of the photo. The quotes are some that Ara has personally found meaningful. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kahlil Gibran, John Muir, and Dan Aykroyd are among those quoted. Most of the quotes are unique but, whether by accident or design, a few are repeated. The paper is high quality and the pages are large. It’s a real coffee table book from a man and dog who haven’t had a coffee table in quite some time.

homv_intNot surprisingly, many of the photos are of America’s open spaces. Ara has visited and camped in some rather isolated spots and has captured some of their beauty. Canyons, lakes, and improbable shapes carved by wind and water are masterfully recorded and there are many gorgeous sunsets. A quote from Jo Walton really resonated with me:

There is a Sunrise and a Sunset every single day, and they are absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.

Ara hasn’t missed too many during the last nine years and I’d like to think that I’ll not be missing so many from here on out.

Landscapes are in the majority but people and buildings appear, too. Some of those landscapes make marvelous backgrounds for photos of Spirit, Old Faithful, and even Ara himself. Subjects also include other people and animals and an occasional building. In these pictures, Ara has skillfully and artfully recorded the world he has been immersed in for nearly a decade. It’s largely a natural world that most of us only catch short glimpses of from time to time. He continues to report on that world through his blog, The Oasis of my Soul.

The book is available in electronic form for about $20. Is the hard copy worth the more than $70 premium?.I thought it was and am quite happy that I have the “real book” to hold in my hands. However, with the exception of size, I believe that everything I’ve said about the print version applies to the electronic versions as well. They might be just the thing for those without a coffee table. All formats are available here.

Hues of my Vision, Ara Gureghian and Spirit, Ara Gureghian (May, 2015), hard cover, 13 x 10 inches, 62 pages

Book Review
No Room for Watermelons
Ron & Lynne Fellowes

nrfw_cvrI don’t recall exactly when or even how I first discovered Ron Fellowes’ blog. It was early on. The trip was just starting and the Old Bloke on a Bike, which is both the name of the blog and Ron’s description of himself, was somewhere in India. I followed him out of India, through Pakistan, and onto Belgium. Just the route was enough to make it an epic journey and that was merely one challenging aspect of a trip few can even imagine let alone consider attempting.

Start with the “old bloke”. It’s an accurate description. Ron was born and raised and is once again living in Australia so is eminently qualified to be called a bloke and, while 68 may not be horribly ancient in these days of increasing lifespans, it is enough to justify being called old. And the bike that the old bloke is on is far older. It was built in 1910 by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium. Ron acquired the bike around 1970 though what he actually acquired was a rusty frame and engine of unknown make and vintage. After identifying the motorcycle’s age and origin, Ron told its former owner “I’m riding the bike back to Belgium for its centenary”. Plans to ride a hundred year old motorcycle to a country half a world away might sound like something born in a bet at the end of a night of drinking but Ron was sober and serious. He had four decades to reconsider his boast but he never did. It became a goal and a dream as he slowly turned the Belgium basket case back into a running motorcycle.

Ron didn’t make it for the centenary but it wasn’t his fault. He and wife Lynne were living in Bali at the time where a convoluted and corrupt bureaucracy made it impossible to get the paperwork for the restored motorcycle together in time. Ron adjusted his schedule by two years and he and Lynne moved back to Australia to make it work. Instead of Bali to Belgium in 2010, it would be Kathmandu to Herstal in 2012.

No Room for Watermelons is the story of that 33 week 14606 kilometer trip. In one sense, Ron Fellowes makes the trip solo. Other motorcyclists may ride with him here and there for a few minutes or a few days but he and the old FN, which he calls Effie, are alone for much of the time and it is just the two of them that cover the entire route. But it doesn’t take much study to realize that the trip is very much a team effort. It is Lynne who does most of the planning and travels around on trains and buses sometimes dragging hard to find parts and supplies. And it is Lynne who, via telephone, frequently provides an outlet for a day’s frustration and injects valuable encouragement for the next day. And it is Lynne, the experienced writer, who forms blog posts, and ultimately this book, from Ron’s reports. Both names are on the book not only because both participated in telling the story but because both participated in making the story happen.

It’s a story of sights and people. Yes, there are serious dangers and insane regulations along the way and crippling problems can crop up with the old motorcycle at any time. He is nearly pushed over a cliff by a truck whose driver is completely oblivious to his presence. He learns what having a gun held to your head feels like. He suffers through hours and even days of delays while incompetent and/or corrupt officials shuffle paper. It takes an uncommon amount of ingenuity and every one of the skills learned during a lifelong career as a diesel mechanic to keep Effie operating. But mixed in with that are sights like the Golden Temple of Amritsar in India, Pakistan’s Bolan Pass, or the Bam Citadel in Iran. Modern technology not only provides that invaluable, but not always reliable, link to Lynne, it enables Ron to capture images of these and many other remarkable sights along the way. The book includes over a hundred color photographs to let the reader see a little of what Ron saw. And then there are the people.

Some of the people Ron sees on his trip were already known to him and their meetings were planned well before he left home. Others learn of the trip through the blog and arrange meetings via comments and email. Meeting each of these friends, both old and new, gave Ron’s morale a boost and often included a chance to relax and recover. Assistance with a repair or locating a needed part were also common contributions. These things often came from complete strangers as well and those were possibly even more appreciated. Food, fuel, and shelter were frequently shared and payment refused almost as frequently. Many times Ron could not even say thanks in any words that would be understood but smiles and hand shakes worked. Near the end of the book, Ron and Lynne make this observation: “Yes, there are bullies and thieves, but they are just as often found in boardrooms, offices and in schools as on the highways of Iran and the back roads of Turkey.”

nrfw1Both paperback and electronic versions of No Room for Watermelons are available through Amazon and I suppose that is the quickest and cheapest way to get a copy of this adventure. On the other hand, if you’d like something a little more personal and meaningful, signed copies can be had directly from the author here.

No Room for Watermelons: A man, his 1910 motorcycle and an epic journey across the world, Ron and Lynne Fellowes, High Horse Books, January 28, 2015, hardcover, 9.2 x 6.2 inches, 238 pages, ISBN 978-0646931418

Did It Again

dav5k2014_01I have now participated in every one of the Cincinnati DAV 5K events. All two of them. Entries were up a little in the second 5K Run/Walk/Roll/Ride and it now has a companion event in San Diego. Cincinnati’s second DAV 5K took place yesterday, November 8. San Diego’s inaugural DAV 5K is scheduled for today, November 9.

dav5k2014_02dav5k2014_03This year, a long line of motorcycles roared past the waiting runners and walkers a few minutes before the starting gun was fired. Most, if not all, were ridden by veterans most of who would park their bikes and stand near the end of the course to cheer and thank those on foot.

dav5k2014_05dav5k2014_04As I did last year, I started (and finished) near the back of the pack. This year, however, I was alone. Dave, who had sort of recruited me for the first event, was on his way to Akron. A couple of weeks ago, when we last spoke, Dave told me he would be dashing off to something as soon as the walk was over and that it would be best if we drove separately. I sent a text when I left home to start coordinating a starting-line hook-up only to learn that he had forgotten the walk and had started his dashing early. I was left all alone except for the couple of thousand runners and walkers surrounding me.

dav5k2014_06As expected, those bike riding veterans were lined up near the finish encouraging and thanking everyone that passed by. As I explained last year, I walk similar distances often enough that I didn’t really need the encouragement but I still appreciated it and, even more so, the shouted “Thank you”s. I exchanged hand slaps and thanks with many of those standing by the road. But there were several people, especially in the trailing part of the herd I traveled with, who no doubt welcomed and benefited from the words of encouragement as well as the cheers. Quite a few people were pushing wheelchairs or strollers or walking with a cane and for them a 5K outing was far from easy. Those people were not, incidentally, all behind me.

dav5k2014_07There were 2147 people who crossed the finish line this year compared to last year’s 2035. A fellow in a hand-cycle covered the course in 14:01. The fastest runner did it in 17:14. I did it in 1:08:29. That’s a little quicker than last year’s 1:12:41 but I can explain. Part of the difference is that it was noticeably colder than last year and I was probably moving a little faster. But I have little doubt that the main reason for the more than four minute difference was that Dave wasn’t there setting the pace and giving me the proper motivation. There were almost forty people behind me this year. I can do better.

dav5k2014_09dav5k2014_08The brief closing ceremonies included a few awards and some words from DAV National Commander Ronald Hope. Bigger — and no doubt warmer — post-race celebrations immediately followed with different Banks area bars set aside for “reunions” of the various branches of the military. This draft dodger slipped away feeling a little better about myself and with a deep appreciation for our veterans.

Book Review
Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash
Ara Guregian and Spirit

fobeoth_cvrI really looked forward to the publication of this book. I certainly enjoyed reading it and expect to enjoy reviewing it once I get started but reviewing a book that is near impossible to describe isn’t all that easy. Saying it is the story of a man and dog traveling around the US on a motorcycle isn’t wrong but it sure is incomplete. The man, Ara Gureghian, and the dog, Spirit, have been traveling around the US on a motorcycle since November of 2006 with no plans to stop. I’ve followed their blog since April, 2007, and I have no plans to stop, either. When they started their journey, they were not leaving a home where they planned to someday return. They did acquire some land fairly early on and they do spend winters there but even it is more of a base camp than what most would call a home. From the beginning, Ara had called his online journal The Oasis of My Soul and the ten acres of Texas that his mother bought for him instantly became known as The Oasis. One definition of oasis is “something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast” and that is something both man and dog needed. Ara had suffered the painful loss of his son and Spirit has suffered abuse from a previous owner. Almost everything — the riding, the writing, the sunrises, the stars, the sunsets — is therapy to some degree but the writing is particularly therapeutic. Ara wrote, and continues to write, his journal for himself. He writes about his travels, his surroundings, and his thoughts. This book is something of a “Reader’s Digest” version of the journal. Neither book nor journal actually tries to be a travel guide or provide insights into living. Nonetheless, they do both.

In an introductory section of Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash called “About Us”, we are told that “This book has no chapters, a continuous life story.” That is one of two big differences, in addition to the major condensing, between the journal and the book. The journal, by its very nature, is broken into pieces clearly marked by dates while the book isn’t broken into pieces at all. In Ara’s words, “There really is no beginning as there will be no end.” The story is told in chronological order but with no artificial breaks or numbers or headings. The other big difference is the photos. Ara started his journey as a very good photographer and developed into an even better one. Journal entries almost always contain several photographs. They typically aren’t directly tied to the text but provide an often stunning view of what Ara was seeing during the time he composed and posted an entry. I believe Ara’s decision not to include any photos in the book is a good one. Trying to do justice to the photos would have really complicated an already complex task and they would not have really illuminated the text in any case.

Ara Guregian was born in France and spent time with relatives in Egypt and other parts of Europe and North Africa. Although he is quite fluent and comfortable with it, English is not Ara’a first language and he is not an English wordsmith whose product one devours for its own sake regardless of content. On the other hand, he can describe a sunset or a valley view in a a way that not only allows you to visualize it but that makes you want to go to that spot and experience it the way he did. That’s impossible, of course. There is too much of Ara in his experiences for anyone to have a shot at duplicating them.

Ara and Spirit cover a lot of territory. There are multiple visits to Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and beyond and between. At one point I thought I would describe their rides as going from here to there without, in many cases, any real idea of where “there” would be. Then, when I really thought about it, I realized that most of their rides were from here to here. It seems as if a majority of their camps are base camps from which they explore the surrounding area extensively by both motorcycle and foot. The exploration is not just to see different things but, perhaps partly because of Ara’s photographer’s eye, to see the same things differently.

Early on I referred to this book as “near impossible to describe” and four paragraphs of not describing it very well bear that out. It’s a little bit Blue Highways and it’s a little bit Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but it is, of course, neither. On the other hand, anyone who enjoyed either or both of those books will most likely enjoy Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash. The book is available from Amazon and other sources at a discount or, for a few dollars more, signed by the authors, through Ara’s Oasis of my Soul website.

Freedom on Both ends of the Leash, Ara Gureghian and Spirit, Ara Gureghian (May 26, 2014), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 216 pages, ISBN  978-0996083706

My Wheels – Chapter 13
1966 Suzuki

suzuki1966Dates from this period are a little fuzzy but I think it was not long after the Falcon Futura breathed its last that I acquired the Suzuki X-6 Hustler. A friend had bought it new then gave me a good deal on it when he went to New York to work his way to Europe as he had done once before. The working passage never quite came together and he returned after a few months and I offered to return the bike. He declined and I’m pretty sure part of the reason was pure kindness as he knew how much I was enjoying it.

The X-6 was a rather advanced and interesting motorcycle. The ‘6’ in the name referred to the unusual for the time 6 speed transmission. The engine produced 29 HP from only 247 CCs. It was a 2 cycle but had an oil injection system so that fuel did not have to be pre-mixed as with most 2 cycles. A top speed of 90 MPH was advertised and, while I never quite reached that, I did have mine above 80 MPH.

A friendship that continues today was started partially by this bike. John Nawrocki and I worked at the same company and he had an X-6 Scrambler. The Scrambler was an almost identical motorcycle with up-swept exhaust and a few other modifications for off-road use. It seemed natural for the two of us to ride our Suzukis together despite the fact that John’s bike was bright red and mine a sedate black.

I worked downtown and parked the Suzuki on the sidewalk in front of the building whenever I rode it. After work one day, I stepped outside to see a policeman checking parking meters or something similar. Although I had reason to duck back inside, I quickly decided it was too late and nonchalantly mounted the bike. Either helmets were not required at that time or they were and I had one. Either way, I was not in violation of a helmet law. Before I could start the bike, however, the officer approached and asked, “Where’s your eye protection?”

I don’t think I even knew about eye protection being required but I sure didn’t have any and my unsatisfactory response to that first question led immediately to another. “Let me see your license.”

The license thing was what had made me think about ducking back in the building. A law requiring a motorcycle specific endorsement on drivers license had been passed some time back and I didn’t have one. I was cited but got my endorsement before my court date. That plus a promise to wear sunglasses got me off with just court costs.

I rode the Suzuki quite a bit although the longest trips were probably several sub-100 mile rides to Darke County. One day the drive chain broke and I pushed the bike just a little over a mile to a Honda dealer. I doubt I could push a dead motorcycle much more than a yard today. I bought the needed replacement link but had no money to pay for installation. I did it on the sidewalk beside the shop with tools that a mechanic, careful not to actually hand me anything, laid just outside an open door. Kindness like that is remembered a long time. Then one day the engine just died.

This time it stayed by the side of the road while I hitched a ride home then went with the band I was in to audition an organist. Once that was over, we could pick up the bike. The audition did not go well (He was much better than us.) and we couldn’t muster the energy to unload the equipment so we could fit in the bike until the next day. By then, the bike was gone.

About a year later, at something like 2 AM, the phone rang. It was a policeman calling to tell me the Suzuki had been found. I was pretty sure that, after the bike being gone for a year, I could have waited until daylight for the news but the police were so excited about recovering a stolen motorcycle, which NEVER happens, they just had to call me immediately.

I think I got the bike started — I remember something about the coils — but I don’t think it was ever quite right again. Before long, it was one of the pieces involved in a car purchase.