Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Seventeen

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            We camped at the site of Iroquois that was buried under the St. Lawrence River. I tried to spot some evidence of the village but couldn't see anything. Fascinated me. Protected by trees from the road but the morning was chilly in the covered inlet where I sat beside my tent. Doppel was off somewhere on his bike so I walked and ate some peanuts and drank some water. I sat right beside the roar of the water and stretched out my legs.

            I thought hard of how Doppel believed it was just him and God who saw the brushstrokes of his life and those two who judge on his deathbed. It was perhaps the only piece of knowledge that he was certain of and that he had always had since his childhood. It was the undisputed foundation of his entire belief system, and the reason why he was passionate about time utility. It had been his awakening. He saw that the size of his canvas was equal to the amount of time he had to live, and that the colours he could paint on his life canvas were left to him to find for himself out in the world. Doppel was sure the heavens were littered with uni-coloured and incomplete canvases with very few that contained any degree of art. Fewer still were fully painted and only a select few were hung at the pinnacle where all heaven could appreciate the poetically executed exploits of the exclusive Viking-Poet Club.

            Doppel still wasn't back so I left on my bike for a ride. There was little traffic and lots of birds. I bumped into two kids walking along the side of the road. The bigger one said: "Good trip?"

            "So far," I replied. I told them I had started in Kingston. They looked at my bike and packs.

            "No way you came from Kingston," said the younger one.

            Doppel appeared with a bag of food coming from a store. Joined in. They said they weren't from Iroquois so they didn't know the area.

            "He wants me to carry the pack with all the books," the bigger one said to me. Looking at the smaller boy I saw a flicker of fear and fragility. Glancing at Doppel, he saw it too.

            "Ah, it's good for you. It builds character," Doppel said back to the bigger kid. "Trust me." His eyes caught a glitter of meaning.

            We said good-bye and cycled back to the tents. I sat hunched over some bread feeling weak. I noticed his worn shoes, worn from action, and his bushy beard. He was a man who was seldom concerned with cosmetic tweaking for the sake of what others may think or to conform to the latest fashion trends, particularly when dragging a sharp razor blade across your skin only to go through the same thing the following day, and the day after that and so on. Called it The Myth of Sisyphus., about that man who pushes a rock up a mountain everyday only to have it fall down at the end of the day. ‘Same thing' he said. Since becoming a philosopher, who is more concerned with life's truths rather than all things trivial, Doppel had let his facial hair grow into its natural state.

            "From adventure all wisdom springs," he said, drinking a Coke. I could see him looking at the circles around my eyes.

            "Are you up for riding today? We could take a day off you know."

            "Didn't sleep well last night, that's all."

            "Well you certainly slept in."

            "Just a little stiff." We packed up and sorted ourselves.

            "Time takes a backseat as I slumber and dream as time is eaten, nonchalantly and clean. Best way to work out the stiffness in weary limbs is by moving," he said and was gone. I followed at a leisurely pace into the new town of Iroquois where I bumped into the same two kids. We were accosted by them so we rode to a picnic table. Doppel bought four Cokes and they talked our ear off.

            "Are you brothers?" the older one asked.

            "Yes, we're identical twins."

            "You have a beard and you don't," he replied.

            "That's because I'm a philosopher," Doppel replied. "Did you know that once in Greece 2500 years ago there lived a philosopher who was convicted of a crime and was given a choice in his sentence. Since he was a philosopher and beards were part of the pedigree of a philosopher, he had to choose between three years in prison or cutting off his beard. You know what he chose?"

            "His beard," said the boy.

            "That's what I would have thought too but no, he spent three years in jail. He loved his beard that much." The kids looked to Doppel as if to a favorite uncle, still not understanding the story.

             Finally Doppel interjected and asked the younger kid: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

            "I want to be a racecar driver." The older boy laughed but Doppel kept his eye on the young boy and said: "Go for it man. I can see you racing cars. I race motorcycles. You can do it." Just like that his eyes lit up when he smiled. His buddy had stopped laughing. The young boy had had the last laugh.

            They left and we bought some food and supplies at the local store before moving off towards Cornwall. Jumping on my bike, I slipped the balls of my feet into the toe clips. Swinging the toe into the clip comes from rhythm, angling at the bouncing revolution of the crank to catch the entrance side of the pedal. Holding the bottom half of the pedal by the toe, I momentarily caressed the top of the strap before the foot falls into the full pedal space. Even in this there is a time factor at play so the logic must have a temporal structure. It's a skill of toe and timing.

            Doppel slowed because I was falling behind. My focus on toe clips made me go faster but I kept fumbling my toes with the toe clips. I was beginning to lose control of my feet. The nerves soon destroyed, I won't be able to walk. For the first time I found riding difficult and it scared me to the quick. I rode very slowly until I found him waiting for me eating water and peanuts.

            We walked our bikes to a small café in the village past Iroquois, leaving our bikes leaning against the patio. When I walked into the café I realized I looked silly. I had my water bottle in my left pocket in my knapsack so I grabbed the empty plastic bottle to fill it up. Sitting, I stretched out my legs and relaxed. The warm, sweet coffee hit the spot.

            "Hot today," he said. I took out a brick of some cheddar cheese that I had bought in Iroquois, broke off a piece and handed it to him.

            "It's the best cheese I had ever tasted," I said. "The expiry date is something like six months from now."

            "So then it's fresh."

            "How's your bike running?"

            "Very smoothly thank you. I checked the rack's stems to see if they need tightening. Tire pressure is near perfect. Both brakes are crisp. The axel has stabilized from flexing due to the weight. When standing up to pedal, it puts a strain on the rear axel."

            "Sure."

            "The back rack, the rim and the axel should not be ignored."

            "I'll make note of that."

            "Irony, the cornerstone of the Viking-Poet humor."

            "That's not in the handbook."

            "Many things are not. Like bike maintenance, though it should be. A mountain bike, if you think about it, is really simple. An oiled chain is first on the list. I'm now a fan of Phil's Tenacious Oil. The chain is silent with that stuff. Secondly, the gears must be tight. One doesn't want sloppy gear changing with a loose chain that skips off the teeth of the back sprocket. When the gears are loose the derailleur sits in between gears thereby putting strain on the chain. A loose chain breeds skippage."

             "Yes, it does breed skippage."

            "Thirdly, one needs full confidence in ones brakes in order to stop at the flex of a finger. The strength of the brakes must be able to handle the mass of the moving entity. Checking the crank to see if it rotates in all three crank gears is also important, as is adjusting the handlebars to suit the posture of how you ride."

            "So this is your mountain bike maintenance?"

            "Well, it is. The key concept when dealing in mountain bike maintenance is to keep the back wheel clean and crisp. The art of maintenance lies in the cleanliness of form. Attuning ones ear to the intuneness of ones bike is a learned thing; the crisp click of a gear change and the clean brake without rubbing rims are an indication of a good bike."

            "The ear is the voice of mountain bike maintenance."

            "Yes."

            "I believe it was Hume who said: ‘causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason, but by experience.'"

            "Indeed, it is the case here. As is why we know the sun will come up tomorrow."

            My leg was asleep from sitting so long but it took time for the feeling to come back. There was a moment that I thought it would never return. I felt the urge to tell Doppel of my disease but I didn't have it in me. He paid for the coffees and he waited with me, sitting quietly at peace. Eventually I limped to our bikes and we were off.

            There were no clouds in the royal blue sky of the late morning. As we journeyed alongside the river, all I saw were islands of rocks, and red and white lighthouses in the middle of the seaway. Small scraggly trees peppered the circumference of the rocky island. Looking south at the United States across the river, I saw a dark red brick building on the island. There was a plaque where Doppel stood.

            "What does it say?"

            "It says that building out there on the island was a key safety port for the British during the War of 1812, when they sailed up the St. Lawrence from the ocean with cargo."

            "I love it: Canadian history comes alive."

            We kept moving, the current almost ushering me along through it force. Doppel might see the War of 1812 but I can't shake the feeling that the Mohicans were the ones who lived amongst this beauty and played hide and seek along the Thousand Islands. For miles we passed exposed Canadian Shield rock and lighthouses at every turn. The landscape had become an AJ Casson painting.

 


 

Chapter Eighteen

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        The sun was hot and we're both thirsty so we decided to go into the town of Morrisburg. We rolled down the main road past the legion and post office. We could see the water from the top of the hill where tall Maple branches ruffled in the brewing gale. Victorian homes sprawled every corner with turrets and bay windows and front porches and big front lawns with mature trees. We picked up speed going down the hill where we could see white caps on the river. There was a sign "YE OLDE BOOKSTORE," that caused us to stop.

        "I'm a bit tired so let us rest here," I said. We leaned our bikes against the limestone coach house. When I dismounted my bike and drank some water, I felt like I was going to faint. 

        "Every individual has his own speed and direction," he said, sounding old and wise like a sage. "A higher speed does not necessarily mean better quality since each rider has their own comfort level. It is at one's natural speed when one may have synergy of parts, which of course would have the highest quality. Since each individual is unique, each rider must find their preferred way and flow."

        I drank more water and breathed deeply. I think he could hear rattling in my lungs but he ignored it.

        "Let's go in."

        The hardwood floors in the main office enhanced the old English motif with the antique desk and ink stills on the windowsill. Old hardcover books covered the walls with unimposing grace. We both gravitate to the philosophy section where I look for a book about Heraclitus.

        "I see the staples of the old school here: Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and maybe a Descartes or a Hume thrown in there but I'm stunned to see this." He picked out a small copy of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. It's so small it can fit into his breast pocket.

        "The Kaufman translation. Score."

        I realized I'm tired of philosophy so I browsed in the poetry section where I find more than a dozen books on Byron. I looked for a copy of Walt Whitman but instead I spotted an old painting in the corner of the poetry section behind another smaller picture leaning against the wall. When I picked it up I see it's a painting of a classic photo of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond.

        "Thoreau at Walden, that's also a score. Nice one."

        "Think I can fit it into my knapsack?"

        "If it's meant to be I'm sure there's a way." The words sound familiar.

        "I was wondering if this painting was for sale?" I asked the woman behind the counter.

        "Yes, I believe it is." When I mentioned that we were riding our bikes to Montreal from Kingston, she asked me if I would like her to send it ahead to Montreal.

        "That would be easier actually, in case it rains. Minimize wear and tear." She said she understood so I gave her the address in Montreal.

         Outside, Doppel is sitting beside his bike reading through his Portable Nietzsche.

        "You don't look well," he said. "You're pale."

        "Strange, I thought I had a burn."

        "You do but you're pale too."

        "Is that possible?"

        "Seriously, what's wrong?"

        "Ah, I just need some more water." I drank again from my water bottle. 

        "Let's have lunch at that café. My treat."

        "I'm not hungry but I'll take a Coke." We sit underneath a Moosehead umbrella and drink Pepsi. The sun shone off the bright white tablecloth that came through in waves surrounded by the splashing aura of water. I order some chocolate milk too for both of us.

        "Good choice chocolate milk. Taste and nutrition double hit." He flipped through his book.

        "Not surprised you're still on Nietzsche," I said.

        "After years of study, I've considered how each contributed a chapter to the development of Western thought, how Hume had broken through and plainly said that all knowledge was unsure because it was based on experience, and how Kant contributed one of the most extraordinary sketches of how man thinks that had ever been attempted before. And how Schopenhauer took the apparatus and built on it until Nietzsche arrived on the scene with his hammer and smashed the edifice down with undeniable style. But it was the anti-German German who had a way of speaking to my soul unfettered."

        "I know what you mean when you say unfettered."

        "It's as if it's all a flowchart leading up to the best, the rebel who bent the rules and wrote artfully as he put his finger on an endless string of insights that I can see plain as day. When I first started reading him it was non-stop jaw dropping. I saw the Viking and the monk, and how a true philosopher was difficult business but also the only choice for those who loved truth. Nietzsche brought rock'n roll to writing philosophy. In him I found a soul mate that had been dead for a hundred years."

        "Right around the time you went to Taiwan."

        "Yes, about then. It was Nietzsche who made philosophy interesting and almost single-handedly stretched my mind to the point of permanent damage. I spent days, weeks reading night after night. I shut off my television and wanted to read it all. Those were sledgehammer days."

        "Yep, serious nihilism."

        I studied the same philosophy degree as Doppel at a different university and came across the names he said but most of it had been forgotten, but in Doppel's life their words were still resounding and echoing in everything he did. It shamed me that I hadn't retained more from my undergraduate work.

        With all this talking, I ordered another coffee and was busy stroking my unshaven chin. I looked out with Doppel at the blue sky against the flowing water. A bright red and white sailboat passed us with the swift surety of purpose. I open my Whitman and read some lines, remembering my own university days as distracted with the voice of poets like Whitman and Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley.

        "I never cared for Whitman," he said. I flipped back two pages and read him a line:

        Long enough have you dream'd contemptible dreams,

        Now I wash the gum from your eyes,

        You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light &

        of every moment of your life.

 

        I mulled over Whitman's words for a moment in the breeze. A family sat a few tables away eating cheeseburgers and French fries.

        "Sporting some philosophy in there, isn't he?"

        "I believe you could say he is, yes."

        As I was thinking of wiping gum out of my eyes, I saw another forty-foot yacht sail by. I took off my sunglasses and closed my eyes under the magnitude of the sun and heard melodious laughter from somewhere.

        Doppel smiled. I kept looking for the source of the laughter. Then it disappeared.

        I paid for the coffees and we pedaled for Cornwall before the sun became too hot. The road was quiet as we passed more islands. My twin and I biking side-by-side on the quiet road, very slowly. Major zeitqualia. A Cessna flies overhead puttering under the hot Promethean sun. As I changed from low to high gear, I adjusted my sprocket gear by millimeters, enough to rid the chain from rubbing against the sprocket changer. In the back of my mind I thought this was the final time we would ever ride side-by-side like this is such peace.

        "You have the older Deor full range adjustment gears that don't click into place according to a predetermined grid," he said as were cycled side-by-side.

        "That's right. They don't click. Fully manual. Not like the newer mountain bike styles."

        "The new ones you're talking about aren't as good as the old ones like you have. These new clicking gears loosen from hard riding and flex of the cables and of course the bending in the frame. Loosening can be very small, like a few millimetres, so micro-adjustment is crucial to crisp gear changing."

        I tried to keep up but I was out of breath. It was as if my lungs had become solid, hardened and now totally closed like a pistachio. Withered and dried. Hands in a permanent state of claw. Wrists swollen and purple, skin scaly like a dinosaur. Knuckles gnarled, knotted. Upper back in spasm. Headache. Ankles like balloons. I must have got this because I never went back for that second tetanus shot when I was cut. Lock jaw with the lower left neck. Sinews under attack. Knees red. Kidneys failing. Liver shot. Heart palpitations. Water in the elbows. Downhill ride.

Must seek major zeitqualia action.

         "The stretching causes the gears to fall just off kilter so that the gears end up out of line with the teeth of the sprocket. That's why it makes that noise. It's God's reminder that the machine is not in tune."

        The river was out of sight. Only mature Maple trees lined the road as we took as small hill down.

        "The new clicking lever-pressing type of gear changer represents the antithesis of artful poetry in motion."

        "With my old changer, I can make the micro adjustments," I said.

        "And thus achieve a coordinated flow."

        We spotted another historical plaque so we pulled over.

 

FORT DE LEVIS 

Last stand of France in Canada. Fort de Levis, on Isle Royale, (Chimney Island), was built by captain Pouchet in the Spring and early summer of 1760. It's garrison surrendered after a gallant defence, on 25th August 1760, to the British army commanded by Sir Jeffrey Amhearst. Siege batteries were established on this point and on adjacent islands.

           

        Near Jamestown where there was a long bridge going to the American border.

        "The poor French lost everything, even Pierre Radisson, their shining light."

        "That's right. I remember, when you went tree planting that summer." The summer of Doppel's second year university he went north of Timmins in the bush sleeping in a tent, swatting mosquitoes, a marked change. Spent time wandering on his mountain bike with his tree-planting beard looking like Jesus in Vancouver, and then to Australia until he was struck down with arthritis in the ankles and knees. That was when my brother became humble.

        "So where do you reckon we are?" Doppel took out his map from his breast pocket and then checked his compass. I rubbed my knee.

        "Near Prescott. Sore knee?"

        "Right in the middle of the bone it feels like a bruise, that seems to be getting worse."

 
 
 
 
 

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