Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Thirteen 




Time passed quickly after classes resumed. Doppel spent his time reading and taking care of Howie, seldom picking up the phone to call. I chose not to confide in him about my illness, mainly because I didn't want to disrupt his equilibrium. There was no reason for me to tell him other than selfish reasons. Other than my swollen hands there were not yet any outward signs of my sickness. Part of me was proud I didn't lay it on him but another part cursed at my lack of will. I now created a need to see him again but I was too weak to travel, particularly by airplane. The chances of stroke were too great. But my chance to see Doppel again arose.

That following summer in August we were both invited to an old friend's wedding. I had decided not to go to the wedding but since Doppel was going to be there I decided to attend. I had called Doppel before to tell me to bring gear to take a bike trip. I would bring two mountain bikes to Kingston so we could take a ride together. I told him to bring his "kit." I packed accordingly. The wedding was fine and the party was festive. At the reception party afterwards, Doppel was his old self, gregarious and loud, but I was subdued so I suggested that we take a trip to see our father in Montreal the following day.

"It's better to cycle to Montreal than drive because of the weather and because we have time," I said. The weather was perfect, with no rain forecasted. "A bike ride would do me good."

"You look pale. Are you okay?

"I'm tired that's all. My hands are sore but I can cycle." He saw it in my eyes. I could never lie to Doppel and it was plain that I wasn't up to par. "It's something I've wanted to do since I was an undergraduate here."

"Me too, remember? We used to talk about biking to Montreal?"

"I do remember that. We were sitting at the fort. So it's something I want to do before I die, and this seems like the right time."

"We're here aren't we? I thought you might suggest an overnighter somewhere, but to Montreal? That's 300 kilometers I bet."

"That's about right." The tissue-connecting disease I had hardened my limbs, such as my hands and wrist and knees, so I wondered if I could ride at all. But another side of my was thrilled to ignore the heavies of my limited time left and cycle like we used to do as boys. Maybe it would even loosen up my hands.

"There are some things I want to add to the handbook and you're the only one who knows it well enough to understand," he said.

"Should I be flattered?" I kept my clawed hands in my pockets.

"No, not really."

"I'm not really in to more socializing after tonight so I was thinking we could leave tomorrow morning. We can follow the old Heritage Highway along the St. Lawrence River and see those forts." Since I hadn't seen him since Taipei I thought it was a good opportunity to talk to him about our trip through Toroko Gorge. And it was comforting to be in Canada with my brother because it brought back memories of our childhood.

I retired early to my Bed & Breakfast and met Doppel the next morning as planned at Fort Henry in the exact spot we had spoken about taking this bike trip 25 years ago. I was sitting on the rocks on the shore of the St. Lawrence River where the mouth of the St. Lawrence opened up to the open space of blue-green water and blue sky of Lake Ontario. Sparrows darted in and out of fluttering branches, poised for prey above the water periodically diving to the water and swooping their way back to the air. Pelicans tried to blend in with the seagulls but were too conspicuous. Doppel arrived a bit late but that was expected. He was, after all, a master of his time.

"The culmination of opportunity is one of the most inexplicable phenomena that can happen to a man, and when it does, one wonders if there is a God."

"Like the earthquake?" I said.

"Perhaps the underlying symptom of fate is the timing of coincidence." There was more nodding. His hair was shorter and his beard longer. He pulled out a map and pointed out the path along the easterly St. Lawrence flow.

"There should be a number of forts between here and Dad," he said. "In a way, it's the epicenter of Canadian culture along the St. Lawrence. A long ride, no?"

"A beautiful ride, my brother. It's maybe 280 kilometers east-northeast." I was sweating from just being there.

"Man, that's a ride."

"But you have to see Dad. It's been too long. He's 67 now." Doppel hadn't spoken to our father in over teen years.

"So it's more than another exploit?"

"Well, yes."

"The best exploits are the ones with the most meaning." He stood up and sat on his mountain bike. "Good you brought the bikes."

"I'm assuming you brought the required equipment?"

"Yep, you?" I could only nod. I knew I was fully self-contained with my knapsack full with tools, food, clothes, the handbook, compass and an assortment of miscellaneous items. My tent was on the rack above my back wheel, same as Doppel's. I purchased a 4-fluid ounce bottle of Phil's Tenacious Oil for the trip, and had tightened the toe-clips so that the straps gripped my foot snugger.

"I see you have the same rack as me. Smart call," he said. "Panniers are overrated and cumbersome. And anything on the front wheel drastically alters the performance and coordination of the ride. Putting panniers on your front wheel defeats the purpose of riding at all."

"Yes, the quality of the ride is diminished."

As we left old Fort Henry and the Royal Military College and rode toward Gananoque, we reached the paved shoulder of the Heritage Highway. Within the first hour I had settled into a triangular balance between the weight of my back wheel, the weight on my back, and the weight on my front wheel through my arms.

I stopped to readjust the height of my seat. It was as if my legs had shortened.

"Biking posture is crucial over the long run," said Doppel, keen on explaining the mechanics of his new vehicle. "Finding ones equilibrium takes time. Seat height should be adjusted to maximize energy output by the rider's legs. In theory it seems plain but actually finding my geometrical equilibrium in practice will take all afternoon the first day."

"Yes, ones coordination of hand and toe diminishes when ones seat is out of kilter."

"Finding your range of balance is Aristotle's Golden Mean."

"You mean an optimum balance between too much and too little?"

"Well, yes. To quote Aristotle, ‘Thus a master of any art avoids excess and defect, but seeks the intermediate and chooses this - the intermediate in the object but relatively to us.' Some are taller than others."

"Just as some are more equal than others?" I replied.

"That's funny." It was good to see that ironic laugh again. Doppel was more stoic than before, almost resigned. His speed on the bike was slower than I had expected. He was a man who was not in a rush. I knew I wasn't going to going fast.

We had left at a late hour so the time to find a place for the night was soon upon us. Using his special instinct for finding safe places to sleep, Doppel chose a place on the west side of the river overlooking Wolfe Island in the east. We cycled to the sandy tip of a small peninsula where we watched the sunset and pitched our tents. It was a place where sailboats anchored for the night that were passing through to the States.

"That's the same route I think Robert Pirsig did on his boat," he said, pointing at the waterway going around Wolfe Island.

"In his second book, yes." We found an old campfire by a tree on a flat beachfront where you could walk a hundred meters out and still be standing. The sunset from just beyond the point from where we were camping was immense.

"The orange ball reminds me of a Caribbean cantaloupe," he said. The constant breeze from the vastness of Lake Ontario kept me cool.

"So what are these additions to your handbook?"

"Just a polishing of it, that's all. You're scientific approach gave me an idea to round out and balance my thinking. It's good to see you again brother."

"I wish we could spend more time together. It's one thing that has really bothered me. So it's good we're having an adventure. It's exactly what I wanted to do."

"Something always comes up, you know?"

"Well, we're here, now."

"True. Howie's with my neighbor this week. He's been great to have in my life. I genuinely love my dog. He's grown into a fine doggy."

"My last memory of Howie was watching him sit on your gas tank as people slowed down to stare at the crazy foreigner with long hair and a beard and a little puppy on its gas tank. You had it in top gear the whole way back."

"That was fun."

"It was an amazing achievement; that's what it was."

"It was a good road trip. I hope you learned something from it."

"Yes, you could say that. It's a great memory. As you would say, it was a good exploit."

"Yes. Exploits purify the will. And philosophy is experience and thought, not passive study and not enough leg work."

"The biking was a good call."

"It's the built-in trusted horse that's always ready to take you where you want to go. The same Viking-Poet principles apply on a bike as on a motorcycle. In fact the mountain bike may have the upper hand in touring performance, even long journeys." It was a moment later that I fell asleep.


Chapter Fourteen 



It was a good first night but when I woke up in the morning I lay motionless, trying to wake my sleepy senses into gear. I was stiff, had difficulty standing up and then heard the sound of shuffling sand. My tent was surrounded by hooves and the sound of snorting. I got up slowly and saw a cow's nose pressing against the flap of my tent. For a moment I tried to recall if I had seen any bulls the night before.

I undid the zipper and a big cow sniffed at me. I didn't move. Moments went by until one of them began to chew my tent. I yelled and gingerly ran over to the other side of my tent to startle it. The sound of hooves woke up Doppel, who opened his tent. He glared at a big bull in front of him standing in shallow water. The cows were looking at both of us with their ears alert staring wide eyed. I thought I might have a skirmish, but the cows soon moved away except Doppel, who kept staring at the bull. It wasn't until I approached the bull that most of the other cows left. That's when we both darted to the fence where we hopped over and started to laugh. We were safe.

We watched the cows stare at us, puzzled. Then I had the sudden realization that all the cows were the same.

"Look, all the cows have equidistant spaces between their eyes. Just a little too wide. And all the eyes are exactly the same."

"Oh, that is weird. See, the grain on their cowlicks on their forehead is also the same. Same ear size."

"Same fur quality."

"All the same."

"Genetically engineered cows."

"I wonder if they're all thinking the same thing?"

"Telling from their expressions, they are." The same guttural laugh came from Doppel.

Then it was us who realized at the same time that we were thinking the same thing: the cows were all identical twins like us. But neither of us mentioned it. We simply outlasted the cows until they buggered off. We returned to our tents, packed and then cycled off.

We cycled all morning and soon I reached a buoyant balance of equilibrium. As we rode we came upon a plaque on the side of the road. We stopped and read it:

As you travel along the Thousand Islands
Parkway, you will pass through an ancient
mountain range worn down & scarred by time.
The Thousand Islands were created when the
roots of an ancient mountain range were
flooded after the retreat of the last ice
age, 10,000 years ago.


"Ten thousand years is but a moment in the history of our planet, but many hundred of lifetimes to a Homo Sapien," he said. "That's why for this exploit, which may be our last for some time to come, I want to add to the Viking-Poet Club handbook. If we have the moral code of this philosophy, then we need to come up with the logical structure of the philosophy. I want to give you something back for sharing with me your thoughts on this work."

"And I'm guessing you have some ideas about this, do you?"

"Bug doctors love swamps. So yes, I do happen to have a few ideas."

"Wasn't there something in the handbook about choosing an exploit with oxygen?"

"Yes. The best strategy for the Viking-Poet to use in choosing an exploit is that it has plenty of oxygen for him the breath. Oxygen is that which feeds the Viking-Poet's anima. That is, his source of animation. His energy. As you can see, motorcycling and mountain biking are the best forms of no-walled transport for a maximum oxygen quotient. But one must have a good machine. Yours looks okay."

"It's served me well."

"Next stop I'm going to do some maintenance."

As I rode along enjoying the scenery, I could hear the well-oiled hum of the chain on my bike; only the soft, happy hum of an efficiently run derailleur and back sprocket. It sounded to me like the same hum of a Zen Buddhist working in the fields.

One of the things I discovered quickly about Doppel on a mountain bike was that he stopped at every church he saw. There was a 19th-century Presbyterian church beyond a dock on top of a hill. It was made of wood painted white, in the style of the colonists settling North America only 150 years ago. It was empty.

"I believe there is but one witness who sees all these extraordinary lives of adventure and poetry, and that's God. It is the omnipresent overseer with the long white beard who is witness to this ancient club of men who had created masterpieces in how they had used their brief time on earth. It is Him who kept the catalog of paintings in His library in Great Mead Hall for all eternity. It is in the eyes of both me and God that I paint my brushstrokes just as it is us who judge how well I lived while on my deathbed."

"Why are you talking about death in a church?"

"Where else would you speak of death?"

"Why are you speaking about death?"

"I'm not really. But the deathbed scenario is important. We all have that moment to live."

"Yes, I suppose you're right."

Outside Doppel put his bike upside down on its seat and handlebars and began working on it.

"Here, use some of this," I said, offering my Phil's Tenacious Oil. Doppel loved an attentive audience so I watched. And he spoke.

"Each part has a functional part of the whole. There would be two poles of thought approaching maintenance of a mountain bike. One way would be to give yourself, say, one hour to work on oiling and cleaning the chain, derailleur and crank. You would only have one hour to clean. The other way would be to clean and oil the bike as you analyze the bike, ensuring the brakes and gears are tightened, brake pads in line with the rims of the wheels, tightening the chain if it needs it, and any other adjustments that are needed, regardless of time. Seldom is high performance attained when maintenance is not maintained."

Doppel first loosened the dirt on the chain and crank with Phil's Tenacious Oil, working the gears as my bike lay upside down. He discovered his back brake pad was worn to about 1 to 2 mm from the base on one side, so he took it off and repositioned it so the unworn side was now closest to the rim, competent enough to last a 280 km trip to Montreal. He ended up cleaning all the dirt off the chain so that even the dirt existing between the links was scraped off with an old defunct pen. When he was done I did the same with all three sprockets on the crank. We were like bike dentists, just like cleaning the plaque off the teeth of the crank.

After he was done, Doppel held up the small 4-fluid ounce rubbery turquoise bottle.

"Behold Phil's Tenacious Oil in its purity of quality," he said.

"Yes, it's good stuff. "

"How's you water supply?" I guessed he noticed the red circles under my eyes when he handed me back the bottle.

"Good. The road is flat and smooth. It should be good riding. Use it to define the apparatus I want to analyze."

"Shall we?"

"Born poets sprout, like water and sun; nurture and warmth and Brussels sprouts," he said into the wind. Only God and me and Doppel heard it.

Back on my bike I cruised like Chaucer except not on a horse. I begin to see more easily what Doppel means by the importance of ones perspective of time. If ones conception of time varies from individual to individual, it is likely the root cause of the difference between people's own personal philosophies. The way Doppel rode his bike as he were spending his whole time viewing the mighty waters of the St. Lawrence River, or looking for a break in the field where he would pull over and smell the grass. I was riding slowly anyway but he was maximizing and savoring.

When we approached the town of Gananoque, it was me who spotted a corner pocket on a farmer's field. I hung a right and we cycled incognito to behind some shrubberies and small bushes. The grass had been freshly cut and the land looked accommodating.

"Behold, qualia is the coldness of water refreshing my parched throat," he said as I pitched my tent. "It's part of the piece too. Qualia is the key to the experience. The chocolateness of chocolate; the redness of red; qualia is the hue of sweat under the hairline."

I lay on my spongy mat beside the candlelight looking up at the stars savoring this moment with my twin brother.

"A Viking-Poet needs his open spaces, his sounds of nature and his visual textures to feel a sense of belonging."

"Yes. Nature's bosom."

"He continually feels the urge to ride, to sail, to go on an exploit, to make the most out of his short time. This is what makes him restless: the diminishing availability of his remaining elixir of life. Lost time is the crime."

"Lost time is the crime indeed," I said, mulling.

I blow out the candle and lie back under the stars, glaring at the dancing sparkles glittering in the blackness while Doppel keeps his light on in his tent. The array of sounds from crickets and cicadas produced a symphony bringing me to sleep and drowning me in a dream.



Table of Contents


Part Two begins with
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,
"Southern Cross"

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