“Phaedrus Was Insane:” Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert Pirsig died yesterday, at 88.

“We live in topsy-turvy times,” Pirsig wrote in Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He was right then, and he’s right now.

You could write a whole book–you could spend a whole career–digging into Zen, and you could probably be pretty successful. I have neither the time, nor the energy, nor the talent, to do that, so I’ll just say that Pirsig wrote an extraordinarily fascinating book, one that I recommend to anyone, and one that I want to re-read, hopefully soon.

I’ll conclude, not with an insightful quote about the Nature of Quality, but with an insight of another sort: Pirsig’s packing list for his motorcycle chataqua.

I like lists.

Clothing

  • Two changes of underwear;
  • Long underwear;
  • One change of shirt and pants for each of us. I use Army-surplus fatigues. They’re cheap, tough and don’t show dirt. I had an item called “dress clothes” at first but John penciled “Tux” after this item. I was just thinking of something you might want to wear outside a filling station;
  • One sweater and jacket each;
  • Gloves. Unlined leather gloves are best because they prevent sunburn, absorb sweat and keep your hands cool. When you’re going for an hour or two little things like this aren’t important, but when you’re going all day long day after day they become plenty important;
  • Cycle boots;
  • Rain gear;
  • Helmet and sunshade;
  • Bubble. This gives me claustrophobia, so I use it only in the rain, which otherwise at high speed stings your face like needles;
  • Goggles. I don’t like windshields because they also close you in. These are some British laminated plastic goggles that work fine. The wind gets behind sunglasses. Plastic goggles get scratched up and distort vision.

Personal Stuff

Combs. Billfold. Pocketknife. Memoranda booklet. Pen. Cigarettes and matches. Flashlight. Soap and plastic soap container. Toothbrushes and toothpaste. Scissors. APCs for headaches. Insent repellent. Deodorant. Sunburn lotion. Band-Aids. Toilet paper. Washcloth. Towel.

The shop manual for the motorcycle. A general troubleshooting guide containing all the technical information I can never keep in my head…Thoreau’s Walden.

Camping Equipment

  • Two sleeping bags;
  • Two ponchos and one ground cloth. These convert into a tent and also protect the luggage from rain when you are traveling;
  • Rope;
  • U.S. Geodetic Survey maps of an area where we hope to do some hiking;
  • Machete;
  • Compass;
  • Canteen;
  • Two Army-surplus mess kits with knife, fork and spoon;
  • A collapsible Sterno stove with one medium-sized can of Sterno;
  • Some aluminum screw-top tins. For lard, salt, butter, flour, sugar;
  • Brillo, for cleaning;
  • Two aluminum-frame backpacks.

Motorcycle Stuff

A large, adjustable open-end wrench. A machinist’s hammer. A cold chisel. A taper punch. A pair of tire irons. A tire-patching kit. A bicycle pump. A can of molybdenum-disulfide spray for the chain…Impact driver. A point file. Feeler gauge. Test pump.

Spare parts include:

Plugs. Throttle, clutch and brake cables. Points, fuses, headlight and taillight bulbs, chain-coupling link with keeper, cotter pins, bailing wire. Spare chain.

No shoelaces.

Wherever you are, Robert Pirsig, I hope you’re happy there.

Robert M. Pirsig, 1928-2017.



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