In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig explores the metaphysics of quality. He sees the motorcycle as a collection of systems and describes two approaches to the bike: classical and romantic. His journey took 17 days to ride, the book four years to write. I think it takes that long to read it (I’ve not made it all the way through even after three tries).

I take the romantic approach. Rumi wrote all of his poems to his beloved teacher, Shemsi Tabrizi. Pirsig wrote his book to his own past self, whom he called Phaedrus, after Plato’s dialogue. I shall dedicate my travelogue to Odysseus, the greatest adventurer of all, whose cunning, patience, and fabulous body always brought him back home to his true heart. My journey will take 50+ days to ride, and the book? Well, that’s for you to decide, my dear.

In many ways the trip has already started.

This is the view from Steve's shop on Lake ChamplainThe day at the mechanic was grueling and arduous and also terrific. Steve has the kind of shop that specializes in BMW 650s and he loves to teach people (mostly men) how to work on their bikes. 650 fanatics hire him to fix their bikes outright or rent out his shop and his expertise (and terrific tools). He taught JMc and me how to change tires, oil, coolant, filters, etc. His mom, Marie, made us lunch. The shop is right on Lake Champlain.

Very long day, lots learned. Knuckles barked, muscles pressed into service, heads scratched…Still greasy under my fingernails, days later. The smells took me back to my childhood (my mom had a motorcycle shop in Ann Arbor) as if Proust had written Zen and the Art of M/C Maintenance (maybe in Sanskrit).

Finn, Steve's shop dog.I love that kind of work. Greasy problem solving, mechanical things speak to me as if they had souls of their own. There was a problem with the coolant system on JMc’s bike. I was in the process of changing the coolant and filters (on both bikes) and the fluids in his were not draining properly. Steve and I dismantled part of that system to figure it out. We did not in the end figure out why the fluids did not drain. But upon putting it all back together, Steve struggled for 30-40 minutes with the thermostat. He needed a third hand and asked for my help. Once I understood what he was doing, I took a different perspective and found the solution. I was quite proud of myself. He was also delighted to have a woman in the shop, and one who could see things he could not. Very refreshing, indeed, to be treated as ‘one of the guys’ in this environment.

Tomorrow we are off to UMass to witness Emmett’s college graduation. This trip is a celebration of his efforts.

Our motorcycle gang is called Free Rangers.
We ride at Dawn! We ride at 7:30! We ride at 9-ish!