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Thursday, March 05, 2020

Review: Ghost Rider (audio book)

I'll admit to never having listened to Rush before auditing  Ghost Rider, which was released for free by Amazon to commemorate Neil Peart's death. The book opens with Neil Peart telling you about how in the space of a year, he lost his 19-year-old-daughter Selena to a single-vehicle car crash, followed by his wife dying of cancer. That is the kind of loss you would never wish upon anyone, and of course, he does what any man would do in that situation, which is to go on a bike tour.

Well, he doesn't ride a bicycle (but he apparently used to, prior to his wife buying him a motorocycle), but a BMW touring motorcycle, and he heads off North from his home in Toronto up to Alaska, takes the ferry down to Vancouver, and then meanders and weaves all over North America, down to Mexico and back again, to Nova Scotia, and then somehow back in LA.

The journey is composed of narration, interspersed with letters to a motorcycling partner who's ended up in Jail. I normally think of rock musicians as being non-intellectuals, but unlike the stereotype of the drummer found in say, Spinal Tap, Peart was also the lyricist of the band. He reads extensively all through his journey, Jack London, Edward Abbey, all the desert and mountain classics. He's also ridden through much territory that I've explored, Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Sonoma, Sonora pass. Obviously on a motorcycle things go by much faster --- 600 miles a day wasn't uncommon for him, but he never seems to find solace except when being on the move, whether on the bike, or hiking, or visiting friends.

There's a certain romanticism in the book, and poetry, where he discusses caring for his little baby soul, a symbol of his rebirth after his loss. His personality traits he splits amongst a community of minds: the eponymous Ghost Rider, who's only happy while touring, a 14 year old girl, James Ellwood, his wanna be rock star and womanizer, and James Elwood Taylor, who would like nothing better than to write a story about his travels. All in all, I enjoyed the travelogue and his letters.

Both Pengtoh and Arturo have commented on my trips that I never seem impressed by people riding (or driving) motor vehicles. This book didn't change my mind: sure, there's adventure in having to siphon out all the fuel in your tank after someone mistakenly puts diesel in it, or having to get help righting your bike after it's been dropped (those motorcycles are too heavy for a single person to lift). But I certainly don't consider those problems on the same order of magnitude as those faced by a bicycle tourist on a long distance trip (and now that I've done it, the challenges faced by a family with young children on even a short bicycle trip).

Nevertheless, as something to listen to on a commute or to revisit places you've long forgotten about, it's not a waste of time. Lightly recommended.


Alison said...

Hi Piaw,

I can't remember how I stumbled onto your blog, and, admittedly, I don't check it often, but when I do, you've always posted something interesting! I love your diverse interests, but I think how I found you was through cycling.

When I saw your review of Neil Peart's "Ghost Rider" I thought I'd write you a quick a comment. My husband and I are cycle touring collectors. My husband is a bicycle historian. We found a book of Peart's (that you may not be aware of) of his cycling in West Africa. "Masked Rider" which preceeded "Ghost Rider" (hence the related title names). He was a huge cyclist! It seems, after the lost of his daughter and wife, he's given up cycling.

But you may find his book about cycling in West Africa interesting. (As an aside, the part that is most amazing and incredible for me, is that my husband and I were going on that very cycling trip in West Africa. But I cancelled at the last minute. When you cancel a trip, the thought is often -- what did I miss? Then I found this book!! It was eerie and almost voyeuristic to read about the trip we "should" have been on.) I had never heard of Rush when I read "Masked Rider". Now I just enjoy his writing. Never have heard his music.

Thanks for your review!
Best to you,

Alison said...

What I forgot to add is that I read Ghost Rider when it first came out and it moved me a lot. I "got to know" Peart in his earlier book, and then to have these tragedies happen, nearly back-to-back, was heart breaking. Cycling and motorcycling do have a lot in common and I often found myself thinking he was on his bicycle, not a motorcycle. Thanks again for reviewing his book.

Piaw Na said...

Hi Alison! Believe it or not I'm actually auditing "Masked Rider" right now. It's a very different book, and Peart was obviously a very different person prior to the tragedies that afflicted him. I wasn't aware that there was a very specific cycling tour that he was on (he was obviously on a guided bicycle tour, but he neglected to name the company, etc).

Alison said...

Piaw, the trip in West Africa was put together by an ex-peace corps guy by the name of David Mozer. It wasn't a company, as such. It was VERY loose. It was a way for Mozer to stay connected to Africa, support himself and bring the African cycling experience to others after he left the PC.

As you have discovered, this wasn't Peart's first trip there with David Mozer. Traveling with Mozer was only one step removed from striking out on your own. I think that was a big part of the appeal for Peart.

Hope you enjoy it. It's too bad you weren't able to experience the two books in sequence. To "know" Peart before and after his life-altering tragedy.

Piaw Na said...

Alison, I just found David Mozer's site; It looks interesting, though again very pricy. I wonder if he's had to cancel Tunisia because of COVID19.

Alison said...

Yeah, David Mozer is still at it! The trip in Peart's book was in 1987 - definitely early in the curve of Mozer's experience "organizing" (and I do use that term loosely) trips for people. He has a niche market for sure. COVID19 has affected nearly everything, everywhere, travel especially. But it wouldn't surprise me if Mozer carried on no matter what!

Piaw Na said...

We just had to cancel our Spring break sailing trip in Antigua. The US State Department just issued the highest level of travel advisory. I'm having to tell my son probably no summer bike tour either. This is shaping up to be a shitty year.