In a few days, according to the societal predisposition of my awesome country Canada, I will be classified as a Senior.
Random stuff that leaks from the cranium on occasion
In a few days, according to the societal predisposition of my awesome country Canada, I will be classified as a Senior.
How it all began...
Circa A.D. 1979 / Canadian Olympic Track & Field Trials Winnipeg Manitoba
10.15 seconds. Personal Best Time - 100m sprint
20.9 seconds. Personal Best Time - 200m sprint
48 seconds. Personal Best Time - 400m sprint
63 seconds. Time taken to get back to a resting heart rate after running 3.5 km
Circa A.D. 2008 - Canadian National Shito Ryu Itosi Kai (Japanese) Karate Championships - 2nd Place
Back in the Post Ice Age era of 1979, I was 17 years old. Bolstered by a high metabolism and ridiculously low body fat, Track & Field was inherently one of the best ways I legally acquired a true high. In 2008 I chronologically gained 30 years; along with a few squatters of added poundage. In order to evict said squatters from my personal domicile, I decided to take up Shito Ryu Itosu Kai Karate with my then 17 year old daughter.
It’s funny, but when I was 17 years old, coordinated, concentrated, physical exertion seemed to come more naturally than when you are in your 40’s. That was proven when my daughter won the National title for her age and rank in her first ever Karate tournament. We had only been training for 12 weeks before our Sensei, in his dry, inimitable matter-of-fact style, informed us that we were to be competing in the Canadian National Karate Championships. This is not something normally told to people who have never even tried Karate before. Especially if you have witnessed the Mini-Me Bruce Lees going at it in your Dojo. I guess it was a testament to the training received that allowed us to comport ourselves well enough to rank well. But not without the requisite bruising, beatings (what happens when you do not block properly), and blood (skin breaks on contact even when pulling your kicks and punches).
That was eight years ago. Now it begins again. This time however I will not be competing against an opponent who is shorter than I, has reflexes faster than the speed of light, and who is less than half my age. No Siree. This time I am going to go up against someone even more daunting….Myself.
Circa A.D. 2016 - Learning how to beat my own body into submission - hopefully in a good way.
This year marks 8 years since I purchased my first motorcycle; the same year I started training in Karate. I did not realize it at the time, but that rigorous training regimen prepared me to handle a type of machine I had never utilized before. I have always half-jokenly stated I am glad I started riding motorcycles after most of my testosterone took an early sabbatical. If I had started riding motorcycles during my muscle-tuned, teen years of Track and Field, I may not have had the opportunity to be publicly upstaged by some pimply-faced Karate Kid wannabe.
So what exactly am I beginning again after all these years, that involves competing with myself? A healthy balance of mind and body, for a Road Trip!
Specifically a Cross-Canada motorcycle trip, slated for Summer 2017. I am giving myself one year to get my mind, soul and body in the best possible shape; not only to make the trip, but to enjoy it to the fullest extent possible. It is going to involve draft notices being sent out to unused muscles, compelling them to report for active duty; along with Cease & Desist orders served to other itinerant body parts that, well, are just not welcome anymore. Oh, and throughout this whole process, I will be documenting my efforts (or lack thereof) for public consumption on my Personal Blog - http://www.swedwards.com.
There will be great potential for whining; feeble excuses; moments of self-recrimination; heck, even flat out states of denial. In short, it is not going to be pretty. The process of physically preparing for this adventure is only one aspect of the plan. One element of incentive will be my research into acquiring a newer and larger motorcycle for the trip. I will be articulating that part of the equation along side my efforts at regaining balance, energy and strength to my mental, musculature and skeletal carbon-based unit.
So if you have any tips, or advice pertaining to long distance, trans-continental type motorcycling, (expectations; warnings; planning etc), please feel to share them. Just as in times past, before I had ever ridden a motorcycle or tried Karate, I am very eager to see what the outcome of this Bucket List endeavour will be.
So, the seasonal cold weather threatens to hang around longer than your body's core temperature would like. Depending on where you reside in Canada, the evil Ninja twins, Win & Min (Winter and Motorcycle Insurance) conspire to settle in for their usual six-month, in-your-face mockery of all that is decent and warm.
Well, if I cannot ride my bike due to my seasonally challenged, geographic location north of the 49th parallel, then maybe I can offset some of the sub-zero doldrums by practicing how to rise above the weather; literally, figuratively and well....virtually.
Take a gander at the video clip below.
Disclaimer & Statement of Accountability: Any and all incorrectly described procedures or phraseology contained in this video, are my responsibility alone, and should not be construed as currently authentic in the real world. It has been a while since I actually flew as a Commercial pilot, (over 25 years), so rules and regulations have likely changed....not to mention any degradation in my actual knowledge, aptitude and skill level. Just sayin'.
Ever since that Tower of Babel incident way back in history, we of the human race have been engaged in diverse forms of racial, religious and socio-economic one-upmanship. Some subtle, some overt.
The perennial question: why is race is such a lightning rod? In the USA, it has been debated ad-infinitum and unfortunately may not be answered for yet another generation. One would expect more mature, reasoned thinking and acceptance of this unavoidable and patently obvious fact; we are all interwoven with DNA strands that distinguish (all of) us as being from the same human race. Apparently some individuals beg to differ.
One notable case in point. Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America in 2014. Her plan was to follow her family tradition in medicine and become a cardiologist. She also happens to be of East Indian descent. Interestingly there are those who have chosen to denigrate her based on culture, but somehow adroitly miss the substantive fact that she is highly intelligent and was born in the USA. One online writer (The Thinking Housewife) even stated that because of Ms. Davulri’s appreciation and promotion of diversity in the pageant, that must mean “…she is proud that she is not a white American.”
In a word….."Wow!"
In North America, certain "official" elements of authority, admit to profiling whole people groups, mainly because they “look the part”. All this in an inane attempt at fostering public security. This unfortunate response has been adopted by hate-filled, ideologically stunted individuals; arguably, those with less officious mindsets. They categorize people out of fear, and by doing so, culturally castigate them out of ignorance. This not only diminishes a person's humanity; it strips us all of human dignity.
Here in Canada, racial issues are no less real and can appear to be less in-your-face; at least in contrast to our neighbours south of the 49th parallel. Yes, I am aware many in Canada have been, and continue to be, on the receiving end of overt expressions of racism. While that may be an uncomfortable truth to digest, at times I wonder if subtler forms of racial intolerance are more insidious than those that usually motivate a person to go eyeball to eyeball with identifiable, intractable narrow-mindedness.
February has been set aside as Black History month. Ostensibly to celebrate and honour the achievements of those past and present who have an African ancestral line. While I applaud the intent of the accorded honour, there are those who wonder if it really accomplishes what it sets out to do. Some argue that it is just a method to assuage any latent colonial guilt of the majority who oversaw unfortunate things like the early African Slave Trade, or legal segregation, (schools, public transport etc). There will always be those who look with disdain, suspicion, or outright hostility on certain indigenous, cultural, or religious groups, without having one lick of understanding about who they are, or what their life is like.
This year will mark my 37th year in Canada after emigrating from Jamaica in the West Indies. I left a country where I was in the majority. Arriving in Canada, I attained minority status. I was still the same 16 year old who left Jamaica, wide-eyed and fascinated; eager to embrace a new culture, but a 3.5 hour flight adjusted my geolocation sufficiently to render me "different" in the eyes of some. Thankfully I had parents who had grounded me in the realities of life. I was taught that not everyone would accept, or in some cases even acknowledge me. Solely based on the fact that I did not have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to travel to destinations to acquire a tan, which would eventually fade 2 weeks after returning. But if truth be told, I have had way more good than bad happen while living in Canada.
While I am grateful for the country of my birth, proud and not ashamed of my heritage, Canada, of which I am a citizen, is my home. My French Canadian wife and I have taught our (now adult) children that character traits such as integrity, compassion, forgiveness, courage, among others, go a long way in defining who they are. External differences such as skin colour, hair type; the shape of your nose or lips, among other readily recognized physical features that differentiate the global populace, also affirms and promotes what I like to refer to as the “unique cohesiveness of diversity”.
I pray that February is not a once-a-year crutch for some to appease guilt; or others to foster guilt, by always throwing the racial horrors of the past into our faces. While I will always advocate the need to remember history, let us seriously try to learn from it; by not staying in the past, but embracing the future with all people groups, so that our next generation will take up the mantle of inclusiveness and acceptance with more understanding and awareness than their predecessors.
Arabian & Jewish Children - Image sourced from zazzle.com.
Family image - mine
Those who know me well, are all too aware of the fact that I have a thing for all things aeronautical.
In times past and in another era when I was flush with testosterone, and with little guidance as to what to do with such a virulent chemical coursing through my veins, I somehow convinced the Government of Canada to legally certify me to slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings. The fact that I was officially sanctioned to strap on thousands of pounds of metal, rubber and aviation gasoline at will and then bodaciously launch said contraption skyward in defiance of gravity, still amazes me today.
It all started at conception. Mine that is. Well, that is how I have come to romanticize it. Apparently I entered life's centre stage during a time when my mother worked in the Air Traffic Control system in Jamaica. That in itself I find more than interesting, as I too ended up working in the Canadian Air Traffic Control system in my later years. I have no idea if it had anything to do with latent avgas fumes, or if the principles of jet propulsion, suck - squeeze - bang - blow (intake - compression - ignition - exhaust) had anything to do with it.
I have had some interesting adventures during my initial flight training days; some thrilling and some scary. My training took place on the west coast of Canada all throughout the mountains of British Columbia. There is nothing like waking up to a bright sunlit morning, heading down to the local airport to preflight your aircraft for a jaunt up the coast, or a hop over the channel to land on the beach in Tofino on Vancouver Island’s Pacific-facing coast.…something that will probably get me arrested should I attempt that now. I have adjusted somewhat, my adventurous spirit to now accommodate motorcycles. While I may not find myself airborne as much as I once did, (an admittedly life-limiting move if hanging on to a motorcycle), I nonetheless still relish the opportunity of being out in nature’s element. Some of my riding compatriots favour headgear that allows for the steady pitter-patter of insects against their grinning facade. Me? I am allergic to all forms of pain-inducing stimuli and therefore tenaciously hide behind a full-face helmet.
Riding a motorcycle for me is akin to controlling an aircraft in many ways. One aspect of these two modes of transportation that always registers with me is the freedom I experience. On the one hand, one provides the opportunity to actually take a machine and manipulate all associated parts working in concert to enable it to leave terra firma and then facilitate its return to earth. Hopefully with the ability to walk away with a smile. Or in the colloquial vernacular of anyone living west of Manitoba, a sh*t eatin’ grin!
On a motorcycle, the same hormonal responses are initialized. To a non-rider, anyone who voluntarily straddles a piece of equipment with sufficient power to weight ratio to threaten dislocation of arms from shoulders, needs to have their cerebrum analyzed. But there is an element that is too often missed with that sort of thinking. The assumption is made that those who ride are reckless thrill seekers without a modicum of sense about what they are doing. There is another name for that. Profiling.
A motorcyclist needs to be acutely aware of his or her surroundings, at all times, given that we are more exposed than those sheltered in 4-wheeled vehicles. The freedom of being able to control this type of vehicle while absorbing the enjoyable sensory perceptions of the environment at any given moment, requires our level of responsibility to be directly proportional to the power band at our disposal. It is not something to be trifled with. So, whether I am intercepting high altitude jet airways over Wyoming's Crazy Woman navigational beacon, or navigating twisty mountain roads at ground level through Spuzzum British Columbia, the focus is always freedom and fun tempered (nay, mandated) by safety.
The passion of freedom that battles life’s drudgery, never fades on a motorcycle.
I am often amazed at the quality of rendered custom motorcycle artwork showcased by talented artists. I also find it equally intriguing that the majority of representative themes created, for the most part tend toward the dark or macabre. Dead Heads, skeletons, and copious amounts of unusual creatures from the underworld, all seem to have principal sway in their portfolios. Granted while these depictions are usually extremely detailed and in a lot of cases, quite lifelike, I have often wondered about the influential sources of inspiration for designing them in the first place.
I do not mean to disparage the obvious talents of the aforementioned creative individuals, but the ingrained societal stereotypes that are attributed to motorcyclists and their rides, only get more entrenched when an unsuspecting, non-riding person, comes face to face with something that could easily have followed Meatloaf's iconic Bat Out of Hell. Conversely, any self-respecting bat-loving biker would probably argue that creating a Tinkerbell-themed airbrush rendering, does not lend itself to showcasing a bad-ass looking bike. I guess the fear may be that it would take away from any real or perceived mystique.
At the risk of sounding too philosophical, the fabric of passion that is motorcycling, can in some small part, weave itself into the canvas of life. Tastes will differ, since all of us have our preferences. Whether you ride a cruiser or a sport bike; wear chaps or a full leather body suit, our individual differences and choices, can either enhance or detract from (your own, or any) person's perceptual experience as it pertains to this chosen two-wheeled culture.
For me, I enjoy diversity. While I may not share your particular preference or predilection for a certain style of bike or riding attire, I thoroughly enjoy the fact that I get to engage with you, and learn about something that gives you a sense of motivating identity. If it were up to me (meaning if I could afford it), I would have a cruiser for the laid back riding style; a sport bike for aggressively leaning into curves, and a dual purpose/adventure bike, for those days when I feel like taking the road less travelled.
The thing is, the older I get, the more I am learning to appreciate the differences that give meaning to life's adventure. Especially those things that challenge established preconceived notions and the perpetual creep of the status quo.
Well I have somehow deluded myself into thinking that I can write a novel. Time will tell I guess.
Below is an excerpt from a chapter in my manuscript (historical fiction no less - whatever was I thinking?) that I have been plodding along with for over a year. Have a read, but go easy on the newbie writer!
He stood a short distance from the cross where a young man hung dying. He did not know his name, but knew that he had been found guilty of treason and therefore was summarily sentenced to death. It was all too easy to be charged with treason in Roman occupied territory. Ridiculously easy; and Judea was no less so than in Rome itself.
As First Javelin Designate, Darius Vitus Tacitus was the Chief Centurion under the banner of Caesar Agustus’ 1st Imperial Calvary; arguably the most battle hardened Legion in all of the Roman Empire. Initially Darius thought the deployment of an entire compliment of 6000 seasoned troops to this backwoods piece of land was overkill; but time spent here had proven otherwise. Almost three years ago, he had received orders from Rome to march from Caesarea, their headquarters on the Mediterranean coast, to Judea; ostensibly to maintain law and order, due to rampant insurrections within the Judean borders.
The additional responsibility for carrying out the decrees of punishment for convicted criminals also rested with his detachment. It was unpleasant business; not that he was in any way squeamish. He had risen through the ranks of the Legionnaires as a lowly foot soldier, surviving countless brutal and bloody campaigns on diverse fronts to get to his current position as an Imperial Roman Officer. No, the distaste he felt was borne out of the fact that he was trained as a warrior. His skills were wasted as an executioner. Where was the honour in that? He had lost count a long time ago of how many crucifixions he had overseen. Since being assigned to the Garrison at Jerusalem these past three years, Pontius Pilate had kept them busy by greasing his unchecked lust for power and dominance with the blood of these people.
He had just given permission for the convicted man’s family, consisting of an older woman, and one young man, to stand close by for his last moments. He looked up at the man on the cross, more of a boy than a man, thought Darius, and felt a mixture of sorrow, and no small amount of anger. Sorrow at the loss of another wasted young life. Anger because for the life of him, he could not see how he could make a lasting difference in this wretched land. A land whose people, against all reason, he had grudgingly begun to love.
As he gazed up at the dying boy, Darius came to a decision. Later in retrospect, he would likely consider his action rash, but watching the grieving family members suffering while a loved one died in such a horrible manner before them, prompted him to act. He walked over to the man and woman, gesturing for them to follow him a few paces beyond the hearing of the guards he had stationed around the cross.
They followed him tentatively. The look of misery etched on their faces, compounded by the constant undercurrent of fear most of the local population had for the occupying Romans. He easily read the questioning suspicion on their faces as he turned to face them.
“I know you will not like what I am about to say,” Darius said bluntly, getting straight to the point. He was not one to quibble. “But I feel compelled to at least offer an option to you. The boy may die shortly, or linger for hours. I know it will soon be the start of your people’s Sabbath, but I would rather not order his legs broken to hasten his death. You do not want to witness what he will go through if it comes to that.”
He paused, and continued in a softer tone;
“If you wish, I can offer him a quick end to his suffering, but I would prefer you not be a witness to that either.”
Their haunted expressions spoke volumes and he did not think their faces could become any more stricken. He looked up and noticed his men furtively watching him from where they stood. Why am I doing this? This may not have been one of my better ideas.
“You are a Roman soldier,” responded the old woman with tears streaming down her face. “What prompted you to suggest such a thing to us? What profit is there in this for you?”
Darius blinked in surprise at the old woman’s quiet directness. Truthfully, he was not altogether sure himself what moved him to make such an offer. He had seen numerous scenarios of families watching loved ones executed. Looking into her face, he uncharacteristically felt only heightened respect for her; even more unexpectedly, he thought he felt the same, from her in return; albeit in a limited fashion. He glanced at the younger man beside her; who although obviously nervous, summoned enough fire in his eyes to radiate hatred at him. Despite the circumstances, Darius appreciated the man’s courage. He had known very few with the fortitude to attempt to stare down a Roman Centurion. Looking back at the old woman, he saw no such acrimony in her expression; just unbearable heartache.
“I am a soldier, yes, but my offer was not for any ulterior gain, although I understand why you would feel that way. I have no way of proving this to you, and in as much as I am able to, my goal was to lessen the boy's suffering and in doing so, hopefully offer some semblance of the same for yourselves.”
The old woman’s eye’s grew wide at this last remark. The younger man momentarily exchanged a look with her; his body posture still emanating suspicion.
Darius, was not only a veteran of military campaigns; he had also been forced to become adept at navigating the tortuous roads of political intrigues and nuances that went along with his position as a high ranking Roman officer. He had caught the brief look between them, and recognized unspoken communication when he saw it. The countenance of the woman subtly changed and in spite of the tears, her eyes took on an even more intense shine.
“Are you of the Way?” she asked simply.
The Way? “I am afraid I am not familiar with that term.” Darius replied with a puzzled expression.
The old woman looked searchingly at the Centurion’s face for few moments longer. Darius was about to ask her to explain what she meant, when one of his sub-lieutenants started walking toward them. He turned to face the approaching soldier and immediately surmised the reason why. He looked beyond the soldier to the boy on the cross and noted that he was now too weak and in too much pain to push up on his nailed feet to facilitate breathing properly. It will not be long now.
Part of him was relieved that he did not have to carry out what he had offered the family. Dying by crucifixion is as much about suffocation as it was about pain, blood loss and trauma. Surely his method would have spared the boy the lingering, excruciating pain. He was not particularly proud of the fact that Rome had always been creative in the production and implementation of instruments of torture and death. He wondered if things would be so different if soldiers made the rules instead of politicians.
He heard the woman’s sharp intake of breath behind him and turned to see the young man supporting her. She had collapsed into his arms when she caught sight of the boy’s condition on the cross. There was not really anything left for him to say, so he turned to the soldier who had by now stopped in front of him with salute.
“Commander, the criminal should be expiring soon,” reported the soldier in a clipped tone.
Knowing that the boy’s family could hear him clearly, the sub-lieutenant demonstrated no hint of remorse in his voice. Darius shook his head slightly.
The old woman behind him began to sob uncontrollably. Darius turned again and glanced at the duo in time to see the eyes of the young man lock onto his with a slightly puzzled look, but still projecting wariness. He turned back to the soldier and said to him;
“Prepare your men and ensure he is dead before you take him down; but whatever you do, do not break his legs!”.
The soldier seemed surprised at this last remark.
“But… ?” the soldier began with uncertainty.
“That is an order sub-lieutenant! I am not accustomed to repeating myself; and when you take the body down, handle it with respect when you hand it over to the family. Is that understood?”
“Yes Commander!” responded the soldier standing rigidly at attention.
“Good! I am leaving you in charge of the take down and clean up. You and your men report back to me at the Garrison when you are finished.” I have had enough senseless bloodletting for one day.
Darius turned, not waiting for a response, confident his orders would be carried out to the letter. He started in the direction of his tethered horse when he heard a faint, hoarse whisper from the old woman;
That momentarily brought him up short in mid-stride, but he did not turn towards her. He continued walking again, thinking about the twenty years of slogging through foreign fields of battle which he had survived through hard training, cunning and no small measure of good fortune. In all that time he had never been as unsure of himself as now.
What was it about this place that pulls a man inside out? What makes this patch of arid land so different? I am hated for who and what I am. By Diana, I probably would hate me as well if I were a subjugated people. Yet I am falling in love with this hellish place and Caesar help me, I am starting to care for the people as well! What is going on? I must be going soft, or getting old...or both!
He reached his horse, grabbed the reins and climbed into the saddle and took one last look at the scene before him. The man and woman were now at the foot of the cross and his sub-lieutenant and another soldier were already up on ladders leaning against the cross, preparing to remove the retraining ropes and the nails from the boys hands and feet. By normal standards the boy had passed on quickly. It had been just over four hours. These things sometimes took too long for his taste.
I hope you found peace with whoever your God is lad. Peace seems to be in short supply for those of us that remain alive in this desolate place.
Darius looked away and let his horse have the reins. His horse, also intimately familiar with blood and death through war, seemed just as eager to leave this place behind.