Sunday, May 6, 2012 | Categories: Michael's Essays
The islands of Haida Gwai, far off the northern end of Vancouver Island, lie in the direct path of an ocean current called the Kuroshio, running from Japan's east coast to North America. After the Gulf Stream, it is the strongest current on the planet. In the middle of last month, a local beachcomber named Peter Mark was puttering along the beach on Graham Island on his ATV.
Turning his eyes to the ocean, he saw a large white cube, just below the high tide mark. The door had been ripped off. Mr. Mark moved closer and looked inside.
Inside the cube was a motorcycle, a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
The license plate, number 428, was clearly visible. Mr. Mark reported his find and the number. It turned out that the bike was registered in the Miyagi Prefecture of Japan.
The Miyagi Prefecture was the worst hit part of the country by the tsunami and earthquake. More than 11,000 people are dead or missing.
To read about a floating motorcycle from Japan at the very time riders, me included, are getting their bikes out of winter storage, kicks up eerie feelings.
And questions. How did it get here? Who owned it? Was the owner alive or numbered among the tsunami dead?
People who ride motorcycles tend to be a broody lot, using the bike as a way to think about things, sometimes the big questions in a kind of rolling meditation.
In his 1974 classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Persig writes:
"You spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them. On sights and sounds, on the mood of the weather and things remembered on the machine and the countryside you're in, thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried and without feeling you're losing time."
I've discovered those moments on the motorcycle when everything converges, when all the elements come together at high speed in a way that rarely happens in daily life.
The weather, the topography, the vibrating tickle of the grips, the speed, the push of wind against the chest, the rush of sudden acceleration.
The danger in all of this, of course, is the temptation to over-romanticize the riding of motorcycles.
And to forget the miserable times of riding into the teeth of horizontal rain and howling winds. Or when the reserve tank dries out in the middle of nowhere.
In addition to being one of the very great American poets, Frederick Seidel is an addicted motorcyclist; especially of high performance Ducati racers.
Writing in The New York Times in November, Seidel raised the disturbing possibility that the era of the motorcycle might be coming to an end.
Young people, he said, seem to prefer the cool, passive elegance of technology over the roaring blast of the cycle ... the iPhone over the Vee Twin.
This concern from a poet who once wrote:
The best way not to kill yourself
Is to ride a motorcycle very fast;
How to avoid suicide?
Get on and really ride.
Which I'm sure is something known by the rider of the ocean-floating Harley.
Mercifully, the owner of the bike, license number 428 is alive.
His name is Ikuo Yokoyama and he is 29.
In the tsunami, he lost his home and three members of his family.
The Harley-Davidson company has said it will return the bike to Mr. Yokoyama in a restored condition.
I hope Mr. Yokoyama will be up and riding fast before the season ends.
After all, with a motorcycle that floated 5,000 kilometers on ocean tides, he owes it to himself.
And in a strange way, to the rest of us as well.