NEWS, WEATHER and SPORTS

June, 2011

Photo by Brutus

Singletrack Minds in the Sceptered Isle

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself,
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Shakespeare, Richard II

 

 

That was Will talking through John of Gaunt, set six or seven hundred years ago, and he obviously liked his country. These days, Brutus and I like it, too. The motorcycling is fantastic, through lovely and occasionally magnificent scenery, and the day-off destinations, the country hotels, are wonderful. The weather can be . . . variable (I once described “the three Rs” of motorcycling in Britain as “rain, roundabouts, and the wrong side”), but that’s one lesson I learned from the English, living there in my youth. If you make plans for an outing, a picnic, a hike, or a motorcycle ride, whatever the weather on that day, you go.

That was a valuable life-lesson, among the many I have learned from other people, other cultures, in my travels. That kind of “press on regardless” attitude is not only particular to Britain’s rainy climate, but powerful as a metaphor—about pursuing happiness and enjoying life even when the conditions seem unfavorable.

In those weathered isles, the relatively small and densely populated countries of Great Britain and Ireland, it is wonderful to discover how much open space remains to be explored. Most notable for us Scooter Trash types, a multitude of tiny one-lane roads wind through the lush forests and farmlands, and across the stark beauty of the rolling moors and barren mountains. The British call those little roads “singletracks,” and for thousands of miles they weave through the countryside of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

For three European Rush tours now, R30 in 2004, Snakes and Arrows in 2007, and Time Machine in 2011, Brutus and I have been doing our best to explore as many of those singletracks as we can. This tour would also be our first European ramble in spring, which naturally gave us a whole new palette of landscapes. In a story that now lives in Far and Away, “Shunpikin’ it Old Skool,” I explained the word for the deliberate avoidance of all major roads: “shunpiking.” It could be said that this pursuit of singletracking represents Extreme Shunpiking.

In an area like the North Yorkshire moors pictured above, you can ride miles through vast open country, on a network of paved singletracks. Occasionally you might have to stop at a livestock gate like that one, open it, pass through, then close it again (to keep the sheep on one side or the other), but traffic is rare, and villages and crossroads far between. In farmed or wooded areas, the narrow lanes were often tightly hemmed by stone walls or tall hedges on both sides, so the riding was necessarily slow. We would putter along in first or second gear, often in the rain, ever watchful for sheep, cows, equestrians, their droppings (you don’t want to hit cow pats or horse buns in a rain-slick corner), occasional cars or Land Rovers, and gigantic tractors towing fragrant manure spreaders.

Photo by Brutus

When any kind of oncoming traffic appeared, animal or mechanical, we would stop and pull over as tight to the hedge as we could (on days with a lot of that kind of action I called us “hedge-huggers”) to let the cow, sheep, horse, car, or tractor through. One time a tandem-wheeled tractor towing huge fertilizer wagons so completely filled the lane that Brutus and I had to turn our bikes around, with difficulty, and retreat to a driveway to let the monster by.

Many times I reflected on how nerve-wracking it would be to travel those roads by car, but our singletrack motorcycles were perfect for it, and we have come to love traveling that way, over hundreds of miles of those little lanes. The scenery could range from delicately pretty to breathtakingly vast, and the riding was often technically challenging. Experienced motorcyclists know that riding slowly can be difficult, especially near the edge of balance, and it requires deft smoothness on the controls and body movements on the bike. For Brutus and me, the necessarily slow pace could make a more relaxing journey than the kind of “sporting” speeds we would adopt on larger, faster roads.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either—we also like the so-called “B” roads in Britain, the next step up from the singletracks, but not as big or busy as the “A” or “M” roads (motorways). I particularly remember some of the B-roads in Wales as entertainingly twisty, framed in spring woodlands, and lightly traveled.

North Yorkshire B-road

Photo by Brutus

Brutus had done his research on famous motorcycling roads in Britain, too, and he routed us along one called the Cat and Fiddle Road, after a pub at its peak, in Derbyshire and Cheshire. Winding and fast, it is regularly listed as “the most dangerous road in Britain”—though the sad fact is that if you subtract the motorcycle fatalities, it’s actually one of the safest. So the real danger, alas, is the motorcyclists, not the road itself. Riding into that area, I had never seen more warning signs for motorcyclists, including many gruesome posters placed by an organization called “The Shiny Side Up Partnership.” I noticed their website address at the bottom of their posters, and it says they are “working to reduce the number of sportsbikes involved in crashes on our roads.” (Brits say “sportsbikes,” while North Americans drop the middle s: “sportbikes.”) Their yellow, black, and red signs pictured fast-moving motorcycles with slogans like “To Die For?” and “Bends—Dead Ahead.” Anywhere Brutus and I rode in England with that kind of high-speed, winding roads popular with sportsbikers, we saw those signs.

On the Cat and Fiddle Road, the local authorities have posted their own warning signs, lowered the speed limit, installed many speed cameras, maintain aerial enforcement, and something called an “average speed detector.” They even claim to have “motorcycle-friendly barriers” (yikes). But the grim toll continues—thirty-four motorcyclists killed on that one road between 2006 and 2008 alone.

A large part of the motorcycling culture in Britain centers on superfast repli-racers, purposeful, cutting-edge machines that really belong on racetracks. As such, they require expert, even professional riders. Like those professionals, these wannabes of varying talents and experience wear bright-colored and armored leather racing suits, helmets, boots, and gloves—but even those are little enough protection for the riders who miscalculate the combination of speed and angles, and throw themselves down the road.

As I know myself, having once owned a Ducati 916, riding a high-performance, competition-focused motorcycle seemingly compels you to ride it hard—but it’s easy to get over your head. (One reason I don’t have that bike anymore.) Racetracks these days are relatively safe places to go fast, on a bike or in a car, but on public roads, bad things can happen really fast.

Add to that the tendency for the British sportsbike boys, like the cruisers in the U.S., to go out and ride in bunches. One can imagine the peer pressure and testosterone-driven egos when the boys hit a famous motorcycling road like the Cat and Fiddle, and try to “outdo” each other. Leaning way over in corners to rub the “chicken strips” off the edges of their tires, maybe even trying to “get a knee down,” like the racers do. But they are not racers, and they are not on a racetrack.

Each of them who loses it big leaves a terrible wake of pain behind—for their companion riders who watch them die (how awful to carry that for the rest of your life), and for the families that have to hear it later, from the police. All of those individual tragedies are sad to contemplate, and one reflection I often had on the singletracks was that if anything bad did happen, it was going to happen very slowly.

In the same way that racebikes make their riders want to race, our adventure-touring bikes make us want to, well, adventure-tour. So a sign like the above is a challenge, not a hindrance. Ahead there may be broken pavement, gravel and stones, rutted dirt, water crossings, puddles of mud and/or manure—but we can usually get through.

Another name I came up with for our unhurried but highly “detailed” mode of singletrack travel is “Slow Touring.” Like the Slow Food or Slow Blogging movements, it reflects a focus on quality and character over speed and masses of “content.”

And where the riding is smooth and easy, with good visibility ahead, it gives you time to think. One day in the mountains I was thinking about all of the barren peaks in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, wondering why they are not forested. It finally occurred to me that those mountains were not always barren. It is apparent from thick stands of spruce in manmade plantations that trees willingly grow there, but when the original forests were cut down, centuries ago—even millennia ago, back when the Romans occupied the British Isles—the trees didn’t grow back. Those bare mountains remain spectacular, carpeted in low grasses and heather, and the millions of sheep obviously like them, but it is melancholy to imagine the towering canopies of oaks that must once have graced those peaks.

Photo by Brutus

These are the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, on our way to the band’s first-ever show in Dublin. The plantations of pulpwood are dark patches in the distance, while the foreground is a rare photograph of me taking a photograph—one of my “Action Self-Portraits,” with the camera held out in my left hand. Brutus tried taking a few shots looking forward from his bike, a series he called, “Got Your Back.”

The focus of my camera angle is the yellow-blossomed shrubs at the roadside, which I had been noticing since we landed at the southeast corner of Ireland, on a ferry from France (after the first three shows, in Finland and Sweden). Like the redbud trees in the Eastern U.S. that sent me on a botanical quest in the previous story, “Eastern Resurrection,” these yellow blossoms stood out so brightly against the greenery around them, in hedges and along the roadsides, that I wanted to know what they were called.

When we crossed by ferry from Northern Ireland to Troon, Scotland, and I noticed them along the golf course in front of our hotel, I asked the young bellman what they were called. He shrugged and said, “We just calls ’em ‘jags,’ like when we lose our golf balls in ’em and that.” Next morning I asked the hostess at breakfast, and she didn’t know either, but must have called the groundskeeper. As we left she handed me a little note reading “gorse,” as well as what must be a local name, “wind bushes.” (Later I learned it should have read “whin“ bushes, which is another ancient name for gorse.)

Further research taught me that they were also called “furze,” and a light went on. In Thomas Hardy novels and such, there were characters called furze-cutters, and apparently the wood is oily and burns very hot when dried. In areas where the trees were already clear-cut, shrubs like that would have been the only available fuel. Archaeological studies in Britain have shown that the Romans burned gorse 2,000 years ago, for industries like refining salt. When you see those images of peasants with bundles of sticks on their backs—like that Led Zeppelin album cover—it’s gorse, or furze, they were gathering. In another twist, the shrubs were brought to the Pacific Northwest as an ornamental, and soon spread out of control. Like the similarly bright yellow Spanish broom I have written about before, gorse bushes are now considered a pest—a “noxious weed”—in that part of the world.

It seems that throughout Britain, the various strains of gorse are almost always flowering to some degree, leading to a cute old expression, “When the gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion.”

Northern Ireland, yellow gorse in foreground and behind me

Photo by Brutus

Time and again in our travels around England and Wales, the Roman occupation was brought to our minds. A simple piece of information like the name of a plant, gorse, and learning of its use by the Romans in their local industries like mining, and reflecting on all of those deforested mountains, somehow made the ancient history of Britain seem more real, more relatable—the Romans were destroying the environment for economic reasons 2,000 years ago. They were also building towns and roads, and many place names evoke that era (“castra” is Latin for “military camp,” thus all of the English towns ending in “caster” or “chester” had Roman origins).

For almost 400 years, starting around 43 AD until their empire crumbled, the Romans controlled, exploited, and developed England and Wales, their forces only repelled along a shifting northern border by the “Caledonians”—the Scots. The famous stone wall the Romans built across the width of England, Hadrian’s Wall, had the same purpose as the Great Wall of China—a barrier against the “northern barbarians.” (In both cases, those “northern barbarians” may have been equally happy to see that wall go up.)

Little is known about the Roman occupation of Britain, surprisingly, except through archaeological studies. (The Britons were not yet churning out their elegant histories and literary fiction.) However, one may also reflect that 400 years of Roman occupation meant 400 years of slavery for the locals, in the Roman mines, foundries, building projects, roadworks, camps, and farms. That long period of suffering and humiliation may help to explain the continuing distrust of Continental Europe by the British.

At a remote mountain pass in the Lake District, Brutus and I paused for a break at a wide spot in the road. I read a sign describing the ruins of a nearby Roman fort that had housed a “cohort” of fifty soldiers. The fort was built there to command the Eskdale Valley, still a wild and lonely part of England, and I thought about all of those soldiers sent thousands of miles away from their homes in sunny Italy to hold so many distant corners of the empire, stationed in fortified outposts amid a hostile local population, and often hostile weather, too. On a practical level, I wondered how the Roman emperors had been able to find enough reliable and capable governors for all of that territory. (A similar thought had occurred to me earlier in our travels this May, in Scandinavia, when I thought of the Nazis overrunning all of those countries and more—how difficult it must have been to administer so many far-flung countries with hostile populations.)

Roman singletrack, with distance marker, North Yorkshire

Some of the oldest tracks in Britain predate the Romans—with their penchant for engineering wide, straight roads, and plenty of slave labor to build them. The country lanes wind narrowly through valleys and across mountainsides, simply laid on top of the landscape, like a ribbon, rather than cutting and blasting through it, in the modern fashion. Those roads were designed to allow two horsemen to pass, no more, and most of the traffic would have been on foot—two legs or four. Still today, animal traffic could be more common than vehicles on such country lanes, and I collected a series of “roadblock” photos, when our progress was halted by herds of cows being driven across the lane to another pasture, sheep wandering across in their “free range” areas, and one time in Ireland when a pack of hounds came along, fanned out across the lane from hedge to hedge. Their keepers smiled and waved as we pulled over to let them by.

A quality I have ascribed to roads in North America applies equally well to Europe—perhaps to anywhere: The best roads are the ones no one travels unless they live on them.

Photo by Brutus

Another collection I began in my journal and with photos of signposts was of amusing English place names. It is easy enough to look at a map of England’s villages and find such examples, but these were ones that Brutus and I actually passed through, or near—like Dingle, Wincle, Froghall, Glutton, Swineside, Much Marcle, Middle Wallop, Hutton-le-Hole, Winkhill, Tintwistle, Bottomhouse, Foxt, Leek, and Wookey Hole.

Those names have a quaint cuteness that is still characteristic of the English, giving each other nicknames like Gazza, Dickie, Deedee, and Pippa. But seriously, if you lived in a village called Blubberhouses, or Uckinghall, or—I swear—Wetwang, wouldn’t you change it?

Welsh place names have a different distinction: most of them are inscrutable to the foreign eye, or tongue. In previous journeys and writings I have listed some scary examples, and this time Brutus and I stayed in a village whose name seemed a little easier at first—Llandrillo, which could be said in an English or Spanish way. However, we learned that it is properly pronounced “Clan-drith-low.” So . . . we give up on Welsh!

Devon thatched roof

Photo by Brutus

Perhaps nowhere in England are history, quaintness, and beauty blended as richly as the western shire of Devon. Viewed from the singletracks, the countryside seems manicured, low hills and cozy valleys in an ancient patchwork of rich green fields bordered in stone walls and hedges, dark, fairy-tale woodlands carpeted in bluebells, and tiny villages with thatched houses and pubs, intricate gardens, and apple-cheeked denizens. Except for the utility wires and cars, it could be 500 years ago.

Outsiders might think of England as London, Manchester, Liverpool, and so on, but away from the cities, the scenery can be richly varied, and unexpectedly grand—the North Yorkshire moors and Dales, the Lake District, the Peak District in Derbyshire, and many other pockets of picturesque countryside. Famously, there are spectacular areas in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but the variety of landscapes in England is what sets it apart. Places I’d never even heard of, like the Cheddar Gorge (yes, birthplace of the cheese, traditionally aged in the caves under that gorge), proved to be unexpectedly impressive—and called for an immediate halt for Brutus and me to do some riding photographs through it.

Photo by Brutus

Another pleasant aspect of Brutus’s and my Slow Touring approach this time was that Brutus designed our daily routes to be fairly short in distance, so we always had time for photographs. We also tried a few different techniques for the inevitable motorcycle-in-landscape shots—including the long view pioneered by Greg Russell in the photograph that ended up being the cover of Far and Away. Brutus and I called those the “far and away” shots, and tried to capture such panoramas in places where the scenery was big.

Lately I have also been finding that I often prefer shots of landscapes with the rider pictured riding away, rather than toward the viewer. That way the viewer is seeing what the rider was seeing at that moment, and it seems easier to imagine yourself into the scene—following that rider.

Photo by Brutus

However, here is one place where you might not want to be following this rider—me—along this rainy singletrack. (You can see the rear tire splashing water, and me leaning right, trying to see around the stone wall ahead—a typical posture on those curving one-lanes.)

The signpost, in the Lake District, points the way to the Wrynose Pass, which cuts off on a road known as “The Struggle” to the high, narrow switchbacks of the Hardknott Pass­—the steepest road in Britain. The exclamation mark denotes a warning (someone has scrawled “sheep” in the dirt beside it), and the sign under it reads: “Extreme Caution, Wrynose and Hardknott Passes, Narrow Route, Severe Bends, Gradients Max 30% (1 in 3).”

Imagine a length of wood three feet long, with one end raised a foot high—that is a one-in-three gradient, and it is steep. The actual switchbacks climbed even sharper to their apexes, slick with rain, and that short stretch of Extreme Singletracking was a severe test of riding technique. It demanded delicate balance, throttle control, clutch feathering, gentle rear-wheel braking, and careful leaning and steering to negotiate the nearly 180° bend toward the next sharp incline and turn.

When we had made it, and paused for a breath on the other side, I said to Brutus, “That took everything I know.”

Brutus replied, “It took some stuff I didn’t even know yet!”

Photo by Brutus

Across the Hardknott Pass was the Eskdale Valley shown above (“far and away”), and mentioned earlier, where I had read about the Roman fort. It was a much gentler decline, the track looping down the mountain beside a waterfall (in the center) and slopes of grass and rock.

It should be noted that most of these photos were taken by Brutus. He had a new camera that produced great results, especially in the dim light of these rainy or overcast days, and we coined a new motto: “I pick the spots; he takes the shots.”

Sometimes my camera and I got lucky, and captured “the one” of the day—like descending into a Yorkshire village on another rainy day (a different rainy day—we had more than our share). This kind of view often worked well in practical terms, too, because I would be leading (following Brutus’s route on the GPS), and if I saw a fetching scene coming up, I would wave Brutus to a stop behind me. Parking at the roadside, I would pull my camera out of the tankbag, then wave him ahead of me when I was ready.

I call these the “Along For the Ride” views, and there’s a lot of “English spring” in this one, too.

Generally, though, it was Brutus who really nailed the riding shots this time. One of the most difficult techniques for us amateurs to capture is the “panning shot,” taken from the side with the rider sharp in the foreground, and the background blurred by the motion. I have watched professional photographers work on those panning shots, say of racing cars or motorcycles, following their passage with their cameras again and again, just to capture one image that works. So I rarely even try that technique, knowing it is practically always doomed to failure. Brutus, though, is more daring and determined, and one day on a B-road in Staffordshire, he managed to get the best panning shot any of my riding partners have ever taken.

Photo by Brutus

The Romans once claimed, “All roads lead to Rome,” and coincidentally (or not), the English have long said the same about London. That makes a good segue to where all of these singletracks (and B-roads, A-roads, and occasional M-ways) were leading us: to the cities where I had to show up and play the drums with Rush.

(Why, some people actually thought that was the reason we were there!)

After the initial shows in Helsinki, Stockholm, and Malmo, Sweden, we played that first-ever show in Ireland, in Dublin, and that was a thrill. (In the comic movie that opens our Time Machine shows, I have a minor role as an Irish cop named O’Malley, and I was delighted when the audience cheered when O’Malley said, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—sounds like the damned howling in Hades,” and they cheered again when Alex’s “Slobovich” mentioned the name “O’Malley.”) Then came some good shows in Glasgow, Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, and finally London. Rotterdam and Frankfurt would follow, and I always explain that every show is important to a dedicated professional, but somehow London, like Toronto, is always “a big one” for me—a kind of home-town show.

Perhaps the most significant time of my youth was spent in London, when I was nineteen and twenty years old, living away from home—so far from home—for the first time, and making my own way. I played in a couple of bands around the London pubs, and even the famous Marquee, as well as some of the universities and dance clubs around the country. (Every time I visit the Lake District, I remember playing in Kendal and Whitehaven back in 1971 with a short-lived band called English Rose—just prior to my “starving artist” period, when that band ran out of work.)

And the shows I saw there in those years—like The Who at the Oval Cricket Ground on their Who’s Next tour, with Rod Stewart and the Faces, Pink Floyd at the Rainbow Theater, and Tony Bennett at the London Palladium. (“One of these things is not like the other”—I know. But that was a great show, and the drummer, Kenny Clare, was brilliant.)

There were some great bands who seem long forgotten, like Hookfoot, made up of several of Elton John’s frequent studio musicians, including another great drummer, Roger Pope. My flatmate Brad and I saw them backing Al Kooper at another famous venue, the Roundhouse, and Brad later bought their LP, and we both liked it.

In another connection of memories, on that ride into London from Devon Brutus and I had a distance to cover, and were forced to take the motorway most of the way. (As in the U.S., the “mileage disposal unit.”) Out of nowhere I saw the giant stone circle of Stonehenge loom up to my left, right beside the motorway. The memories stirred started with Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, I guess, and its melodramatic conclusion in that setting. Then Hookfoot’s song “Coombe Gallows” began to echo in my head, with some lines about Stonehenge—“Not too far from the Salisbury Plain/ Where the Stonehenge relics, stand in vain.” I haven’t heard that song in nearly forty years, but the link was immediately forged.

(Naturally the Spinal Tap song was in that mix too . . .)

On our first tour of the U.K., around 1977, my bandmates and I got our driver, Bert, to take us to Stonehenge when we were traveling nearby. It was twilight, just before they closed the gates, and no one else was around. In those days you could still walk right up to the stones and touch them, and stand in the middle of them and sense their immensity and mystery. The place had the kind of power—of energy, if you like—that I have felt at the Mayan ruins in Palenque, the massive pyramids of Teotihuacán near Mexico City, the ruins of the Greek city Ephesus in Turkey, a chief’s secret council house in West Africa, and even at NASA’s Mission Control at Cape Kennedy or Houston—a lingering vibration in the air that “serious events have passed here.”

Around that time, in the late ’70s and into the ’80s, the band often recorded in London for weeks at a time, and I would commute across the city by bicycle, getting to know it even better. In the late ’70s, we played several times at the Hammersmith Odeon, before graduating to the “big barn” at Wembley, where we played many memorable shows. This time we would perform at London’s new venue, the O2 Arena, for the first time.

Brutus, in front of Harrod’s

It would also be the first time I had motorcycled in London. Brutus and I followed our GPS units (Dingus and Dick, in this incarnation) right through the center of town. The traffic was dense and aggressive, so it was “edge of the seat” riding, but we could take in the sights (and a few photographs) while standing at red lights. We rode through Kensington and Knightsbridge, past the splendidly rococo Victoria and Albert Museum and the enormous department store, Harrod’s, past Bond Street and the Ritz, around Piccadilly Circus and down to Pall Mall, passing the tower of Westminster and Big Ben, around Trafalgar Square, and along the Embankment past the Thames, St. Pauls Cathedral, and the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

While we were stopped at a light, Brutus joked, “Is there a sight we’ve missed?”

Obviously, it was quite a contrast from the singletrack lanes of Devon we had left on that morning, or the North Yorkshire rambles of previous days. But we made it to work in time for me to do an oil change on my bike, for both of us to download and edit the photos from the past couple of days (sometimes taking forty or fifty shots each in that time), then to our “real jobs.” Brutus had his route-planning and accommodation-booking for the upcoming days, and loading the bikes onto the trailer, with help from Michael and our excellent European driver, H.P. (for Hans-Peter—an amiable and conscientious German). After an interview with a drum magazine, I would head to the stage for soundcheck, then dinner with the Guys at Work, warmup, and showtime.

In a previous story, “The Power of Magical Thinking,” I concluded with a photograph of the audience I had taken from the stage in Santiago, Chile—the first time in my life I had ever done that, and a memorable occasion to capture that way.

I decided to do the same in London, as another memorable occasion, for all of the reasons outlined above. On my way back up the steps and across the stage to the drums for the encore, I had Lorne hand me my camera, and while Alex and Geddy were tossing out T-shirts to the crowd, I snapped this photograph.

Like the photo of the Santiago audience, this one tells many stories. First of all, it’s of me and my bandmates headlining in front of 13,517 people in London, England—exactly forty years since I arrived there as an ambitious teenager.

To the right of my sixteen-inch cymbal is a girl at the barricade holding a pair of my drumsticks—sent out in response to the sign in front of her, referencing the “Prize Every Time” subtitle of Far and Away. In the middle, a guy holds up a banner reading “Kufi Swap”—one name for the African-style hats I wear onstage, which he is also wearing, wanting to trade. I sent him sticks, and let him keep the hat.

Just out of view to my right were the audience “stars” of the night for me—a man with his daughter, aged around ten or eleven, I’d guess, in the second row. Both of them wore Rush T-shirts, and the girl was holding a sign that began with “My Dad Made Me . . .” but I couldn’t read the rest. During the show I glanced their way from time to time, and noticed that the dad was the obvious fan, while the girl had certain favorite Rush songs—ones she knew and could sing along with. Perhaps the sign referred to the moment during our performance of the “Overture” from 2112, near the end of the show—two crew members, Anson and Doug, appear in gorilla and chicken costumes, and act out some little absurdity. (I have noted before—“we entertain the crowd; the crew entertains us.”)

On May 21, for example, the night of the “Rapture Fail” (some loonies, I mean people of faith, predicted the end of the world and ascension to heaven on that date), the guys presented an absolutely brilliant vignette in Newcastle. A third crew member named Grit, with messiah-like hair and beard, stumbled out onto stage left dressed in a bedsheet, looking bewildered and perplexed, and carrying . . . an oar. The gorilla and chicken crossed from stage right and escorted him away, gently and sympathetically.

Obviously the dad and his daughter were aware of those characters, because as soon as we started that “Overture,” and the lights came up, I looked out and saw the dad wearing a gorilla mask, and the girl in a feathered yellow chicken mask. I guess that was what “My Dad Made Me” do—but that “gameness,” her very presence with her dad, and her appreciation for the music, deserved the sticks I sent her, through Michael.

And you know, in an unprecedented break, I’m going to stop this story right here—with one final, favorite image, from the Vosges Mountains of Alsace, France. It was taken on a wonderful piece of road that made me think, “Why isn’t this road famous?”

That kinetic moment, between the final two European shows in Rotterdam and Frankfurt, can hint at part of the next story, about Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland (ah!)—and the towns and cities, like Bruges, where Brutus, Michael, and I laughingly celebrated the movie In Bruges, and Paris, where Brutus had his first visit to the City of Light. We did honorable battle with the traffic of the Place de la Concorde and the Champs Elysées, and with a seafood feast at La Coupole in Montparnasse.

So, I guess the sequel will cover the “left-hand-drive” part of Europe. That makes a good division point, and an obvious title:

Singletrack Minds: The Other Side of the Road.

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