Wednesday 19 October 2011

Unbroken - A book review

This book has absolutely nothing to do with motorcycles, but I know a number of my followers are avid readers and this is such an incredible book I just had to share it.

This is a true story.

UnbrokenLouis Zamperini started life as an unlikely hero. He was a wild child, constantly getting into trouble. Angry neighbours and local police were regular visitors to the Zamperini house until a particular bout of trouble resulted in him joining the high school track team. Soon he was winning every local race and eventually competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His times continued to improve and some reporters were predicting he might be the first person to break the 4-minute mile at the 1940 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.

But World War II had other plans. The German-Soviet invasion of Finland resulted in the Helsinki games being cancelled, and Louis signed up with the Army Air Corps, eventually becoming a bombardier on B-24s in the South Pacific.

After returning from one sortie with 594 holes in their aircraft, the crew was assigned a new plane and sent off on a search and rescue mission. The mission ended badly with the plane and most of its crew being lost at sea. Louis and two other crew members survived the crash and spent 47 days in a raft with no food, no fresh water, harassed by sharks and strafed by Japanese planes until they eventually reached land and were subsequently captured. Then life got considerably worse for Louis as he spent the next 27 months in Japanese prison camps, subject  to daily abuse, brutality and extreme deprivation until the war ended.

Returning to the US a broken man, both physically and mentally, Louis struggled to regain some form of normalcy in his life. He eventually discovered his faith and conquered his demons, even finding it within himself to forgive his Japanese tormentors.

It took a long time but Louis got his life back and continues to live it to the fullest. Climbing mountains in his sixties and skateboarding at 82, Louis’ story is a true inspiration to all of us and a testament to the resilience of the human spirit under the most trying of circumstances.

Highly recommended.

Sunday 9 October 2011

O’ Mice An’ Men

I had a plan.
Every few years nature blesses us with an incredible Indian summer - warm, dry, and spectacularly colourful. This has been such a year. So on this Thanksgiving weekend, with nothing but sunshine in the forecast and the temperature projected to hit a high of 27C (81F), possibly breaking a record set in 1949 (appropriately, my birth year), it seemed like a good idea to go for a nice, long ride.
Where to go? Well Merrickville has always been a favourite destination, and if I remembered correctly, there was an ice cream stand on the main drag. Merrickville for an ice cream. Perfect. It’s about a 2-hour ride from here so 4 hours there and back would be a great way to spend the day.
Then I looked at the map. Going through Calabogie wouldn’t be that much out of the way and I’d get to ride one of my favourite roads, Highway 511. I could cut across to Perth, then up to Smith’s Falls, and across to Merrickville. Yep, I had a plan.
First stop – a little pull off beside the Mississippi River (yes, we have one too) just outside Calabogie. A popular spot to picnic, launch a canoe or kayak, or just toss in a line to see if anything is biting. I did none of those, just a quick stop to stretch the legs and take a couple of snaps.

And then on to Perth. Lots and lots of bikes on the road today, everyone getting those last rides in before the nasty weather arrives and holds us hostage for 5 long, dreary months. This group I caught up to included a bike that sported one of those convertible trike getups. I followed them for a while hoping they’d stop so I could get a closer look and talk to the rider about what it was like but they turned off on a side road before I had the chance.

In Perth I stopped at (where else?) Timmy’s for lunch and parked among probably 20 other motorcycles in the parking lot – not a large group, just a whole bunch of 2’s and 3’s out for the day. (Sorry Bobskoot, no pictures of my BLT.)
After a slow drive in heavy traffic through downtown Perth (need to make it a destination trip one day – lots of cool little shops to check out) I swung south to loop down to Westport and over to Portland, where I managed to gas up a full 8 cents a litre cheaper than in the city – about 40 cents a gallon difference. And they say the gas companies aren’t gouging us. Right!
Then I got lost. I didn’t have a map and was working from what is becoming an increasingly unreliable memory. So I wandered the back roads for a while finding some that I didn’t even know existed, and a few I’d be happy to never see again. It wasn’t until after I’d traversed a few kilometers of gravel, a couple of dead-ends, and passed through Forfar for the second time (albeit from a different direction) that I realized I had no clue where I was exactly. I knew the general area, so I just headed roughly north until I came to something I recognized. Which turned out to be North Gower.
Now that I had my bearings once again I headed north-east and crossed the Rideau Canal (thank you, War of 1812) where I took these shots of boaters out enjoying their bonus day on the water. Normally most would have put their boats up for the winter by now, so I expect there were more than a few happy procrastinators out there today.

But by this time I had missed Merrickville and my ice cream. I debated backtracking but decided instead to press on. A quick little detour through Osgoode (No ice cream there either. Also got lost again.) and I headed into the city. I stopped at the Chapters where the spousal unit was working today and got an iced latte from the attached Starbucks. It wasn’t ice cream, but it sure hit the spot on a hot day. Checked out the books, bought a couple of videos on sale (Bonnie and Clyde and The Last Picture Show) and headed out into the setting sun on the last lap homeward.
Westport loop
So as Robbie Burns so poetically mused in his 1785 poem, To A Mouse:
“The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley”
I didn’t get my Merrickville ice cream, but I did have a great day in the saddle and logged another 370 kilometers (230 miles) riding some great local roads on a truly beautiful day.