Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: Chapter 4, of checklists and early risers

As chapter 4 begins, the intoxicated, mysterious vibe of the previous evening is a distant and spooky memory.

Apparently last night’s boozing was well-contained because hangovers don’t appear to be in abundance this morning, especially on the part of the Narrator who springs out of bed at dawn. Early enough to begin the chapter by compiling a compulsive list of items all good bike riders must carry as make their way “across the Dakotas.”

Furthering the painstaking nature of his list, he breaks it into 4 parts: Clothing, Personal Stuff, Cooking and Camping Gear, and Motorcycle Stuff.

While taking the time to share the list’s items with the reader, one by one, the Narrator hapens to mention the fact that it is very early and Chris, John and Sylvia are still comfortably asleep. In fact, he was about to roll over and go back to sleep earlier but that damn rooster crowed and it was over. Once roused and privy to the bright morning, he could no longer sleep. He tells us that he sees no use in sleeping on vacations. Vacations are for exploring and enjoying one’s freedom and to sleep is to squander a wonderful spiritual opportunity (my paraphrasing and opinion, but then the Narrator and I see eye to eye on a lot).

The list continues.

Underwear, boots, helmet, goggles, gloves, a Chilton Guide for Motorcycle Repair, and curious….Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. He asserts that a classic piece of literature is a travel necessity. It allows him to read aloud while giving Chris the opportunity to listen and question. He reads the classics as if conducting a literature class. While on a bike ride across the Plains states…a curious character indeed. Yesterday he spoke ethereally of a faceless and invisible being who haunted the countryside ahead of this approaching group, and expounding on his belief that reality is a figment of our imagination.

Finally having run through the list of travel items that he has proudly stuffed into his motorcycle’s metallic bowels, he lurches back to present reality. If there is one thing the Narrator has demonstrated in the first 3 chapters, it’s that he is quite capable of losing himself in thought, and this morning is no exception. Now that there is nothing more to list, he notes with seeming annoyance that everyone is still asleep. The nerve!

Unable to tolerate happy, restful sleep in the others, he shakes Chris awake. Once the damage is done there, he steps outside, realizes just how freaking cold it is, and commences to pound on John and Sylvia’s door, eliciting sleepy grunts.

The Narrator seems mesmerized by how sunny and clear the morning is and seems inevitably determined to make everyone else experience it at the expense of peaceful dreams. There is a borderline sadistic, drill sergeant callousness to his restless actions as he essentially drags these people from bed so early on a cold morning. But the air “is invigorating!” They don’t know what they are missing.

As it might say in a movie script…cut away to the next scene as they barrel down the highway at about 6:30 in the morning.

The Narrator vividly describes the icy weather. It is cold and he can’t stop shivering as the wind cuts through his clothes. In fact, that is the word of the hour…shivering. Man, the description made me shiver. I can’t imagine flying down a highway at 75 mph with the icy wind cutting me in half. Especially early in the morning before breakfast, before my body temp has even had a chance to stabilize itself in the face of freezing temperatures. And according to the Narrator’s watch, they arrive at Ellendale (the beacon of warmth!) about 7:15. They drove 45 minutes in frigid temperatures in an open motorcycle. Brrr.

Once they pull into Ellendale, John and Sylvia are giving him the major freeze-out, so to speak. Silent treatment, baby.

You dragged our ass out of bed this early on a vacation day so we could fly through this weather with a wind-chill factor that sapped us of all physical sensation. The Narrator tries vainly to re-befriend his friends but they will have nothing to do with him. Breakfast is uneasy and there is very little conversation.

No wonder…earlier the Narrator pointed out that a couple of shaded thermometers in town read 42 and 46 degrees.

Apparently, the food and the warmth loosen John and Sylvia up a bit, and before long they are talking and laughing and goofing around as if they just stumbled into the room from the French Riviera. You’d think they hadn’t nearly frozen their asses off just a few minutes ago. Earlier the Narrator wandered outside where he drew some interested local stares as he wandered aimlessly and he asked himself how John and Sylvia possible managed the Minnesota winters. And he determined it was technology that kept them warm…they didn’t venture outdoors, they secluded themselves from the elements. The anti-technologists were the ones in the most serious need of it!

In one strange moment of levity, John returns from the bathroom, pissing and moaning that it is too cold in there, and he decides to change clothes in the restaurant dining room (granted, they are alone). In the process he jumps around in his long underwear and play acts some goofy super action hero. Just minutes ago they wouldn’t even acknowledge the Narrator but now that technology has enveloped them in warmth and nourishment, they resume displaying their good natures. A damning statement about the capricious nature of modern man when faced with loss of his precious civilzation.

After John’s post-breakfast show, they jump back on the bikes (with much improved spirits) and proceed down the highway. The sun happily rises and the day warms and the icicle memories of the morning are now distant memories.

They pull over and rest in a grassy field amidst the green countryside and blue sky. They survey the beautiful landscape and talk of photography, of missed shots and lost images. Chris urges his dad on, he wants to leave, but the Narrator tells him they need to rest, and that this is as good as it will get. No need to search further. But it’s not said in a manner which demeans their current view; rather, it’s proclaimed proudly as a statement of bold acceptance. Be happy, you have a great view, accept the wonder and look no further.

While resting, the subject of camping comes up. Chris is obviously in favor of it but the Narrator holds back in light of this morning’s reaction to the arctic conditions by John and Sylvia. John shrugs his shoulders and the decision is made…they will camp tonight! And thus ends chapter 4. An early, sleepy and icy morning gives way to a calm, grassy afternoon beneath blue skies with future plans unfurled.