Earthquake Puppy

Debris on the Central Mountain Highway after the Sept. 21 earthquake of 1999

A Novella by Peter Higgins

Published 2001

©Copyright MMXX

Time is not recyclable

“In knowledge imagination serves the understanding,

whereas in art understanding serves the imagination.”

– Immanuel Kant





Chapter 1 – The Earthquake

Chapter 2 – The Rescue Mission

Chapter 3 – Time Beef

Chapter 4 – The Art of Motorcycling

Chapter 5 – 21st-Century Man

Chapter 6 – The Havamal

Chapter 7 – The Rockslide

Chapter 8 – Toroko Gorge Tunnel Riding

Chapter 9 – Slumber beside Toroko River

Chapter 10 – The Earthquake Puppy

Chapter 11 – The Will

Chapter 12 – The Long Trek Back


Chapter 13 – Twins Reunited

Chapter 14 – Mountain Bike Maintenance

Chapter 15 – Zeitqualia

Chapter 16 – Mountain Bike Logic

Chapter 17 – Inspiring the Next Generation

Chapter 18 – The Bookstore

Chapter 19 – A Man-in-Full

Chapter 20 – Loyalty

Chapter 21 – The Inflected Matrix

Chapter 22 – Experiencing Zeitqualia

Chapter 23 – A Dying Man




Despite two people taking very different paths through life, it is possible for them to reach the same conclusions using different reasoning. For example it is common for brothers to live different lives through their life: one taking a somewhat domestic path to provide security and to lay down roots, and the other brother taking a path of swashbuckling adventure and reckless irresponsibility to provide inspiration and enlightenment by creating an original life philosophy.

These were the two extremes that logically lead to the distance that grew between my identical twin brother Doppel and me when he was overseas working and traveling for more than fifteen years. I on the other hand remained in Toronto working at a local newspaper trying to save money and build a life. Varying degrees of success kept me there longer than I expected all the while knowing my brother was off on some grand adventure. I both ridiculed and envied the life he had chosen, causing me anxiety and some distress when viewing my own life and accomplishments compared with his. But when an opportunity arose to visit him, I seized it with alacrity.

Most people believe they’ll live out their lives ‘til old age but it doesn’t always work out that way. And this truth is seldom reflected in the study of philosophy. This book addresses this issue, particularly as it related to my brother and me.

I might want to begin by establishing the reasons for this document. Firstly, I wanted to capture my emotional journey with my brother during our time together to try to find solace from our time on motorcycles in the mountains of Taiwan, as well as the intellectual journey we took together. The other reason was to record the main points of a book Doppel (as I called him) had written (and not published) himself. He said it was a summation of his journal entries that he called The Viking-Poet Handbook. I read it all in one night and dismissed it as mad hyperbole, but somehow and for some reason I didn’t know, it lingered in my mind and pried into my thoughts. It upset me at first; causing me to be more forceful in my dealings with others.

Like me he had been a philosophy major at university, but unlike me he had kept with it, reading the big names and applying their ideas to his life to see if they were valid and sound or not. In the process he developed his own life philosophy he called Zeitqualia.

It was when I informed him he would be having a visitor in Taipei that he immediately sent me a copy of this self-written book The Viking-Poet Handbook.

The book was never meant to be published. It was Doppel’s personal effort to come to grips with who he was and what he believed. It was the supreme distillation of hard-earned conclusions that began when he was studying philosophy at university. He had always been a bit of a maniac so I wasn’t that surprised that it was an extreme attempt at being a disciple of Friedrich Nietzsche. But I would also say it was Pirsigian – an effort to establish a system of morality (like Robert Pirsig) that bites holes in the traditional moral commandments of our era. Most of all though, the handbook was brave and honest, and that’s why I liked it.

Of course he had sent it to me so I would read it and discuss it with him, which was all right with me since I did want to understand it. I also wanted to know how he had come to believe in it. I wanted to hold a mirror up and see my own true thoughts on the matter.

The Viking-Poet Handbook was a collection of philosophical insights with interspersed poems and aphorisms, and was about fifty pages. He warns in the Forward about the content of the handbook:

Distanced from academic argument, I labored ahead and discarded all that was unneeded, digesting all that fit into my own web of belief. Truth expressed herein is seen and understood and adopted for the betterment of self despite the currents of injustice and delayed fruition in our zeitgeist.

When I first read these words, I could tell he had been reading Nietzsche. We both took an existentialism course at university so I knew the language and could sense it in the undercurrent of his tone.

Wisdom was the main theme in the opening chapter, but there was a ruthless undercurrent to the sharpness of his words. It was like an enter-at-your-own-risk feeling that cautioned you to go on carefully, making sure you didn’t miss a step.

It started out with these lines:

An artificial handle holds until you splash literate,

First instinct shoves the fruit of spent skepticism aside,

Liberation from the overseer reminds the soul of empowerment,

And all of life’s conundrums land into an open palm.

Some understand but don’t do,

Some want to do but are unable,

Some begin with an open field,

But loose balance from the middle.

Confidence comes from fullness,

Centeredness springs from balance,

Experience dictates endurable perspective,

But talent wins all wars.

Maybe my twin brother had found that life in Taiwan was a fit for him, and this book was his song of celebration of that discovery. Maybe Taiwan had given him the space to become who he was without the hindrances of western morality and conventions. My feeling was that having that Yamaha 135cc motorcycle of his had something to do with it. After seven years in the mélee of Taipei, if you read some of Nietzsche’s more empowering work you can end up in a pretty extreme corner with a severe need for expression.


Taiwan, Republic of China, 1999

Chapter One

The Earthquake


He had changed. I could see it in the strength of his person but I couldn’t tell what it was that had changed. Something in the eyes. I hadn’t seen my brother since he left for Asia seven years ago but I could sense a new aspect to him, and since I was his identical twin it bothered me that I wasn’t able to identify what it was that had changed. 

It was certainly in character that he didn’t meet me at the airport. Just wasn’t his thing. Think he said he was teaching. But I found his apartment up in the mountains just on the outskirts of Taipei, a penthouse with balcony. Rustic. Concrete. Paint peeling just like the other buildings around it.

“Stüffle! Long time, bro.” Brotherly hug. “Look at you, all clean shaven and clean cut.” Doppel had long hair and a goatee, almost a hippie. They must be pretty desperate for English teachers if he has a job. Or he’s a damn fine teacher! He wore Birkenstock sandals and a stained t-shirt, his shorts cut-offs that were once beige and pleated dress pants. He had become part of the local culture and had dispensed with the clean-cut button-downs and polished presentation of the west.

“Well it’s all relative. Never seen your hair so long. Look, you have some white in your beard.” He seemed taller somehow, bigger. Had more gravitas.

“Must be thirsty after that always-lovely twelve-hour flight. How many movies did you get to watch?” Shook my head.

“A couple. Crappy Hollywood formulaic fluff. Read instead and then slept, but those earphones hurt my ears.”

“Argh! Gotta toughen ya up a bit, non? Taiwan is full of earphones that hurt your ears. Lots of things are barely functional, just part of life here.” Stepped into his top-floor apartment and it was a mess – an organized mess. He had Pingying characters plastered to the walls in an effort to learn Mandarin. No TV. Nothing but a couch, a desk, a functional kitchen, bathroom and bedroom with a mattress. Very no frills.

“Never seen so many scooters and motorbikes in my life,” I said. “Seriously, I saw a family of five on a scooter.”

“Sounds about right.” Smiling at the culture shock.

And so it went that night during our visit, but after a number of beers and talking, I was preparing for bed when an earthquake hit.

“What is that? A subway going under us?” I said.

“It’s an earthquake. They happen all the time here. No big deal.” Casual. But I was riveted to the couch amazed at what an earthquake felt like. After about ten seconds the shaking gained momentum and sent the fear of death into me because it felt like the apartment began to sway.

“Shouldn’t we…” I ran to the doorway at the balcony but was convinced the apartment was about to buckle. I grabbed the threshold but went back to the couch because it felt like the entire balcony was about to crack and fall five floors down to the street.

“It’s a long one, man. Wow!” The shaking lasted twenty seconds, the last ten seconds were really rough.

“You’re saying that was normal?”

“I enjoy the earth shaking under my feet.” He was hardly rattled from what I was to learn the next day, was one of the world’s worst earthquakes of the year.

“I think at about the 15-second mark that I thought the house might cave in!” I said.

Map of Taiwan

Chapter Two

The Rescue Mission


Tired from the plane ride I slept-in the next morning. Doppel had gone to work but was back within the hour.

“Von Schöngait, everything is shut down because of the earthquake,” he said. “No work today or tomorrow for me. Schools are closed because the city has lost power, so there’s only one thing to do.” Using my nickname for the first time in years, I knew he was up to mischief.

“And what’s that?”

“To take a road trip.”

Road trip? What are you talking about? And what do you mean there’s no work?”

“With the schools closed and no one out on the streets, it’s a chance to ride into the mountains and try to help out with the rescue effort in Puli, which is where the epicenter is. Puli I reckon is about 200 kilometers south from where we are here in Taipei. It’s right in the middle of the island.”

I looked outside noticed a complete lack of traffic on the main street. In fact there was an eerie silence, which contrasted with the non-stop buzz I had been exposed to since landing in the country.  

“Um, you’re talking about motorbikes right? Well I don’t have one.”

“Well you’re in luck. I have my old one sitting out there that I haven’t sold yet. Works fine. Front shocks are a bit stiff but it runs well and it’s comfy.” Like Doppel, I rode motorcycles but I hadn’t been on one in many years.

“Does it have valid papers and a license plate?”

“It does have a licence plate, yes. But I don’t think they’ll be any cops out there ‘cause the streets are closed. The highways are closed. Besides, they don’t pull over foreigners here. I’ve been pulled over maybe five times since I’ve been here and every time when they see I’m a foreigner they’ve let me go.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because they can’t speak English and don’t want to lose face. Besides, it’s too much paperwork for them.”

I wondered how long it would be before power was restored, but it didn’t matter. Doppel was one of those guys who didn’t think about tomorrow. He was a man who saw only the day in front of him formulating a way of making the most of it.

“I must say it would be cool to take a trip on the bikes together.”

“We’d probably take the Central Mountain Highway right through the mountains. Good ride, but there could be some aftershocks.”

“But it’s closed?”

“Yep, but no problem. If they have put up any roadblocks we can ride around them on our bikes. I spoke to someone who was also at the school this morning and heard that there is an international rescue effort underway. We could help the rescue crew that is supposed to be landing today in Taichung. Most of the crew is from Europe so it would be fun to see some Europeans for a change. It might be a good adventure. What else are we going to do?” What was funny about what he said was that I knew he was more interested in riding the highways as the aftershocks hit rather than rescuing anyone trapped in buildings in Puli. He was always after the adventure first, before the rescue.

“I can’t think of any reason why we shouldn’t,” I finally said. “Any idea of the severity of the quake?”

“I heard it measured 7.6 on the Richter scale,” he replied.


Not small. Apparently there have been over a thousand deaths reported.”

It was only then that I realized the seriousness of this Act of God. It might take a couple of days before things were up and running again.

“Your old bike is safe?”

“Of course it is. You in?” For a moment I didn’t know why I was resisting the opportunity.

“Yes, count me in.” What else am I going to do, wait to die?

“Bring warm clothes. It could be a few days, this trip. You never know. Bring that book I gave you so we can talk about it during the trip.”

“The Viking-Poet Handbook?”

“Yes. But by all means make sure you bring enough warm clothes. Mountain riding can be chilly.” September in Taiwan was hot. More hyperbole?

“Do you have an extra jacket?”

“I do. Do you have a decent pair of sunglasses?”

“I do.”

“Good. Crucial piece of equipment. And I think I have some gloves.” Doppel packed all that we required for the road trip: compass, sleeping bags, gloves, bungee cords, map, wool sweaters and other items. Motorcycling in Taiwan had taught him what we needed. I watched him pack the items neatly into his knapsack.

“Actually I heard from another dude when I parked my motorbike that the body count is higher than a thousand. It’s something like 1500 dead right now.” Just then, as we both stood in the apartment, an aftershock hit. It lasted for four or five seconds.

“That’s creepy,” I said.

“There may be a lot more of those before the trip is through. Should make the riding more of a challenge.”


Once packed and outside at the motorcycles, I admired his bike. Doppel had just purchased a second-hand Yamaha DT 175, and on/off road motorbike with knobbies and big front fender.

“Snagged it for a steal,” he said. “This American teacher left the school and gave me the bike to sell but I kept it ‘cause it’s so much fun to ride. I shot him some cash but he didn’t care. But seriously, that bike you’re on is great. I’ve ridden it for seven years. Very reliable.” It was a full-size bike but it was only 135cc. But it fit well.

“Power interruptions have happened before from past earthquakes and typhoons, and they tend to take a few days to get back online, so my intuition tells me that it could be the rest of the week before I have to return to work.”

“Sounds good bro. I’ll be following you.”

“I’m glad you’re here my brother,” he said, eyes sparkling in the sun, his hidden youthfulness now emerging in the light. “Ready to push off?” I wish I could have seen us from a distant perspective: us twins, tall and strong, standing there in this foreign land about to ride through a battered and scattered road through the heart of Taiwan’s mountains.

“Yes, all set.”

We rode through the empty streets of the capital. Market stalls were desolate except for skinny dogs nibbling at leftovers from the previous day. Streetlights were without power and stores closed. It was surreal. Finding a gas station open, we filled up and then left for Highway 112. In minutes we were outside of the city, forest patches thickened that spread out over the growing steepness of the mountain steppe. Rocks and broken branches littered the road. Doppel stopped at the end of a bridge and waved me over.

“Listen, there will be lots of fallen branches and debris on the road so let’s take it easy. Stay well behind me so you can see what’s coming up, okay?”

“Will do.” Swift current below the bridge could be heard above the engines, its water cold that I could feel against my cheeks. I was wearing an old helmet but Doppel wasn’t. He had attached his helmet to the strap on his knapsack so it dangled beside him as he rode, sufficiently out of the way but there in case the police pulled him over.

“This road leads to the Central Mountain Highway which should be closed so the traffic will be non-existent. So let’s relax and cruise baby!” The sun was reaching its midday arc.

“Wait. I need to take my sweater off.” I put it into my knapsack that I had bungeed to my back seat. I then glanced at my watch. “Yes, it’s time. Let’s do it bro!” I let out the throttle and rode beside him.

“There are people trapped under fallen buildings in Puli and they need our help!” he yelled. We set out on the highway riding south for the epicenter.

The bridge leading to the Central Mountain Highway through the heart of Taiwan’s mountains

Chapter Three

Time Beef


At the foot of the mountains were a labyrinth of intermittent riverbeds carved out over centuries to handle the spring runoff. My engine hummed like mechanical poetry up and down the meandering mountainside road, past waterfalls and fallen rocks. There were no foothills to ride up; Taipei was built amongst the steep mountains that defined the island. The road just started penetrating the exposed rock of the mountains within minutes of leaving Doppel’s apartment. We splashed through puddles as we followed a river with water the color of sand, taking snug turns and rolling through tunnels, cool and shaded. Low clouds kissed the green slope of mountain range too steep for the foot of man but covered in trees. The toxic tongue of the city’s exhaust didn’t reach the flourishing fauna here in this part of the country.

I trailed ten yards behind Doppel along the spine of Isle Formosa through shantytowns like Tahsi and Fushing and across bridges and past temples nestled in nests of bamboo and palm trees. September in Taiwan was a time when the vegetation was dying and the rich smell of fall was thick. I sensed a laziness in the mountains as if now resigned, waiting for the cold of winter to arrive, a resignation to the inevitable, which made me feel like we were moving into the forbidden shires while no one was looking. Eerie. But thrilling.

After a few hours on the road I saw the first open crack in the pavement from the earthquake. We stopped to look at it where a steep creek ran into the river we had been following. The scene was so beautiful it had to be savored.

There hadn’t been one vehicle on the highway.

“I think the rocks are the most dangerous thing right now,” said Doppel. “But you can benefit from my lead. Just follow my path and it will be safe for you. Don’t forget I know these roads. I come up here after the pubs close just to ride.”

“I can,” I said, laughing. We walked to the fissure in the pavement and had a smoke. “Mini San Andreas Fault.”

“There should be more of these the closer we get.” The terrain was rugged and ancient, and there were whispers in the ethers that I could sense but not hear.

We refilled our water bottles in the mountain stream and splashed our faces. Drying in the sun only took a few minutes so high up. My hands were already stiff from the throttle and the maneuvering. I was used to pushing pencils, not handlebars up mountains dodging fallen debris.

As we were drying in the sun I spoke thus:

“So about your little book you did. It’s all pretty hard core you know. All that stuff about Viking morality.”

“What? The Viking theme? Or should I say, the philosophical importance of an exploit to a Viking?”

“Yes, that’s what I was thinking. That voice.”

“Well, I used that because the Viking character symbolizes all that is healthy in man. He is in touch with his hearty instincts and is not afraid to affirm his own morality onto the world he sees. And besides, we happen to be a Vikings only we’re living a thousand years after our heyday.” We both stared at the glistening water in the river.

“Have you read it?” he asked. “The whole thing?”

“I’ve read it, yes.”


“It ticked me off a little actually, to be honest. Some of these rules you have for members of this Viking-Poet Club seem a bit… a bit polemic.”

“Well, if you read it out of context it might seem that way. Like if you flip it forward and read parts without reading the parts before, because the whole thing evolves like one long equation in a series of deductions.”

“You mean like Wittengenstein’s Tractatus?

“Yeah, a bit. All I wanted to do was to distill the wisdom of life. That’s it. And how the getting of wisdom enhances our ability to enjoy the art of living.”

“Sounds pretty innocent, but some of those passages aren’t. They’re forceful.”

“One should never write in the passive voice.” He grinned. Always been like that. Didn’t ever respond cowardly to suggestion or innuendo. Or ridicule veiled as honest feedback.

Restless on the deserted road, Doppel rock-hopped up the fast-moving creek with me following behind him. Out of breath after a short distance, he stopped. Took out a smoke and lit it as he stood on a stone with the running clarity of water underneath his feet.

“This is beautiful dude,” I said. “Didn’t know this country had such beauty.”

“Here, give me the handbook for a moment,” he said. I rustled it out of my jacket and handed it to him. “Here, read this part.” He held up the book as if it were the Bible.

Opportunity and circumstance provide the template;

Situational pressures test the fat of successful employment of the Golden Mean.

The delicate application of wisdom is the Mean’s actual progression that begs no fanfare because wisdom has its own indigenous humility.

Wisdom ceases to be a medal or trophy once it is attained;

Indeed it becomes a primary guiding force in life, like extra IQ.

The wise carry an extra stick to fight all that wisdom dislikes.

Having that which commands respect is something that forever removes the wise from the ordinary.

Those who have wisdom look for this Mark of Cain in others,

And those who have yet to solidify that insight shun the wise,

For fear of exposing their foolishness,

And their unfounded notions of close-minded epistemology.

Wisdom, in short, is that which separates all men from each other,

And places them either at odds with or in sync with others and the evolution of self.

Hearing about wisdom beside the waterfall was surreal, but it deserved a reply. I stroked my chin and looked up.

“I’ve always looked at wisdom as the conquering of one’s natural antagonism towards the passing of time.” Doppel nodded.


“Once the insight into what is wise and what is foolish is attained, all decisions and actions adhere to the bird’s eye view of time. This affects how one governs their life because they exist in a new frame of time reference.” The sound of water was the only thing I could hear for a moment as he thought it through.

“And why does man have a natural inclination of antagonism towards time?”

“Because time is finite: it’s the most expensive thing a man can spend. It is the one thing that we cannot control and yet is passing all the time. And because it can’t be controlled, it is regarded with a mild form of resentment.”

“Well, yes. I can see that.”

“Most importantly, the bigger decisions involving one’s destiny march to the sound of a different drum. Employing a time-friendly frame of mind encourages the calmness of a sage; an ease of being that is based on a fear that has been overcome. All becomes attainable in the wise man’s world. Each action is deliberate and calm and done with purpose. That fear of missing out and making mistakes is quelled so a peace of mind can rule with foresight. The philosopher-king can finally take his throne and conduct life in adherence to what will be tomorrow and in the years to come.” I hadn’t ever expressed this idea before, and I was thankful I had someone in this world who wasn’t afraid to listen to my preachy words.

And also put his philosophy training into practice.

We walked down to our motorcycles.

“Sounds like you have a time beef with your idea of wisdom,” said Doppel. “Maybe that’s a difference between us? I think I’ve always had a benevolent relationship with Lady Time for she is the master of all things.”

He started his motorbike with one kick and grinned, slipped it into gear and let out his clutch, leaving me there in the dust.

Cracks in the road

Chapter Four

The Art of Motorcycling


Back on the highway and taking tight corners twisting up the mountain, we rode beside what was becoming a gorge. Valleys and lagoons tantalized the eye, artwork of geology’s hand was fingerprinted in every curve. The smooth hum of the engines became almost tangible as my four-stroke Honda climbed up the mountainside like a snake slithering and weaving. I relegated my helmet to an out-of-the-way position attached to my knapsack strap the same as Doppel, the wind now flowing through my hair. 

As I rode there were two things on my mind: Doppel’s ‘Viking Exploits’ and the proper functioning of my motorcycle. Of more importance was the engine not breaking down, but I was more fascinated with the ‘Exploit Chapter’ in the Handbook because this was precisely what we were doing right now: an exploit. I recalled some passages. ‘For the Viking-philosopher an exploit is like candy: it’s a piece of knowledge to be unwrapped upon perpetration.’ This was the line that was ricocheting in my mind. The deeper I rode into the Hsientun Mountain Range, the more I ruminated about what this meant.

‘Exploits call forth the best in the Viking, inviting a chance to see hidden abilities and dormant gifts. For a Nietzschean Viking, another exploit inches him closer to the much-coveted notion of objectivity. For the Religious Viking, it is an opportunity to toy with fate as well as come into contact with God. For the Viking Scientist, it is an opportunity to test hypotheses and witness the laws of nature in play.’ Each line throughout the chapter simply opened another door inside my head.

‘For the Loner Viking, an exploit is a time of reflection-and-mulling while laughing-and-doing in a peaceful silence. For the Carpe Diem Viking, the given adventure is always an once-in-a-lifetime occurrence special for its uniqueness. For the Bored Viking, it is the ideal slot of experiential time to explore new colors and regain the magic of novelty.’

Ah Doppel, what have you done? So crazy and extreme, and yet the truth resonated deeply within my brain.

Let me say that the Handbook was an attempt to define those qualities most desirable to be admitted as a member of the Viking-Poet’s Club, so there are chapters set aside to outline what it is to be an acceptable candidate. It explained the moral code that best exemplifies that which is held highest to the Viking. It is the moral ideal, like Nietzsche’s übermensch but more adventuresome and poetic, without the needless politics.

It was a document that expressed the morality best suited for character to flourish and achieve in this world.

Both being fans of Schopenhauer, I knew it was his own World as Will and Idea.

The club motto was “Live your life like a work of art.” Yes Doppel, this was true. And this was art: this motorcycle mission in the aftermath of what would be remembered as the 9/21 Earthquake (because it happened on September 21, 1999).

Doppel’s accumulation of knowledge and his nurturing of ideas had led him to need form of expression. His seclusion in the mountains was a retreat from a dangerous societal collectivism that stunted originality and flourishment of the individual. So to ensure the survival of his own soul he had become a man of solitude in a foreign country where he didn’t speak the language. This work was the result of this life apart and in the mountains. It was him screaming from the rooftops to those who screamed within for meaning in a world void of excellence and individualism.

I was jolted out of my revelry and ruminations by the aftershocks that rumbled under my wheels again and again, moving around my back tire as if it was momentarily flattening. It was dangerous not because of the movement of the earth and losing control of your motorcycle, but because of the falling rocks. The greatest potential for disaster was after an aftershock beside a rocky mountain slope. On one occasion a rock whizzed by my ear so close that I could hear it. Still I didn’t put on my helmet, but it was enough for Doppel to signal and pull over just out of reach of the rockslide.

“We’ve been working the engines for four hours so we should giv’em a rest.”

“Sure,” I said. “My brakes are losing their grip a bit. A few of those corners were kind of scary.” I could feel the red burn on my cheeks from the sun. I chose not to share my close call with the falling rock that just missed my head moving as fast as a speeding bullet.

Doppel relaxed on a rock facing the valley. The roar of nearby waterfall seemed to shake the stone that I sat on.

“I’ve been thinking of the Viking Exploit chapter of your handbook.”


“Some of your points have taken root in me and I cannot seem to shake them loose.”

“Such as?”

Looking at the Handbook, I selected a few of the Viking passages and read:

“’For the Old Viking, an exploit is a time to recover lost youth through the timeless thrill of challenging adventure.’” Shook my head and smiled. “’For the Artist Viking, it’s a bouquet of multi-colored images in symmetry, mise-en-scene and the angle of light. For the Adventurous Viking, it is an opportunity to push the envelope, cover new ground and graduate to the next level.’ Wait,” I said, “isn’t an ‘Adventurous Viking’ a synonymous double whammy?

“It’s true. Yes, it is.” His eyes opened a little wider for a moment when he looked at me. “I think you’re the only person who has ever read my book.” Didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest.

“You could say it’s sort of growing on me a bit.”

“You mention the Viking exploit?” He raised an eyebrow now keen to disseminate. “Exploits are the Viking’s bread and butter. Both meaning and art are rich when the Viking undertakes an adventure. A crucial source of personal identity and self-esteem, exploits provide the means for acting on healthy instincts. They are actions where he makes his own rules and acts under no overseers other than God, or Odin in this case. I would say that the freedom of how to execute an exploit feeds the creative need of the beautiful blonde beast, to quote Nietzsche. The exploit is his vehicle to express that which he considers play.”

“Yes, I’m gathering that.”

“See? Even for the Morose Viking, an exploit is a time to try to get at the root of his sadness while pumped up about the playfulness of the adventure. And for the Student Viking, it’s when he can procrastinate and still better himself in mind and body, and forget about his exams.”

“You’re a strange guy Ace.”

“No matter how you slice it, an exploit is always a chance to improve your situation. It’s a blue-chip positive. Without the playful flourish, the child within the man becomes dormant; without the lightness of spirit, actions are perpetrated with lead shoes. The spirit of poetry is demoted to the mechanics of war and cold execution. Without the exploit outlet the man soon becomes sick in spirit and unable to smile.”

“And what about our present exploit? How does that fit in?”

“In every way I’ve mentioned. It is, in a word, a healthy road trip. It is in the art of perpetrating an exploit that the Viking can realize his full potential.” He took out a smoke. We both listened to the engines creak as they cooled down in the mountain shade and breeze coming through the valley.

“Turn it to page 38,” he said. “‘Road-tripping Rules.’” I flipped it to the list on page 38. I hadn’t read the full list but was confident I was aware of all the equipment needed for such a motorcycle trip.

“Shall I?”

“Yes. These are the tools required for a motorcycle exploit properly executed.”

I read like a student to a professor:

Road-Tripping Rules

Can never have too much tissue, water, bread or nuts

Always bring an extra wool sweater

Always be in the appropriate gear

Always give passing trucks wide berth

Never push a bad position

Always carry extra engine oil on long tours

Always bring rain gear – tops and bottoms

Always bring extra pairs of wool socks

Always wear eye tackle

Always wear long sleeves and long pants despite the heat

Always have emergency phone numbers

Always bring a reserve wad of cash in small bills

Always have a decent map

Always bring a Zippo lighter and a candle

Always keep an eye and ear peeled for au naturale music

Always wear multiple layers

Never bring a bulky jacket

Always bring a journal and reliable writing utensil (pencil)

Always take the scenic route

Never feel like you’re in a hurry

Always have a pair of gloves for mountain riding

All terrains are desirable except sand and volcanic ash

Never climb when you could be one gear lower

Always be on the lookout for side roads leading to lagoons

Always sport a posture that aligns with the form of the bike

Primary responsibility is to be considerate to your motorbike

And always carry a compass on your watchstrap

“Question. Eye tackle?”

“Well, yeah, eye tackle, kind of like wedding tackle.” Still, I was perplexed. “Eye wear.”

“I must admit, there were a few items on the list I hadn’t thought of.”

One thing I didn’t know before I came to Taiwan was how his motorcycling had become a source of great meaning. It was as if his riding was a composition and he was the composer. I had always loved riding ever since Doppel and I had minibikes as kids growing up. Like life itself, motorcycling was a thrill that could only be experienced alone. Doubling someone on a motorcycle trip was cumbersome and took away from the ride. Alone on the bike one could follow their own way without infringement.

“What you should have in the handbook is an overview of what you need on a motorcycle journey to make sure your vehicle doesn’t break down.”

“So it doesn’t break down. Hmmm. Such as?”

“If I were to have a list, the primary item of top importance is oil. This is the oil that lubricates the walls of the two-cylinders that enables the pistons to work at their most efficient and reduces friction on the cylinder walls that directly cut down the heat generated by the pistons.”

“Well, yes. Overheating is indeed a potential problem along the peaks and valleys we’ve traversed across the mountain range already.”

“Also, oil quality is a factor,” I said. “Instead of half-miling it, go to the Honda dealership and buy the factory type four-stroke, two-cylinder engine oil that was made for this specific engine.”

“Yes, good point. I see you have found an exploit that interests you.”

“Just as important is the oil for the gears. Lubricating the transmission from the copious gear shifting we’re doing to negotiate these peaks and dips. Simply put, without sufficient gear oil riding a motorcycle could turn into a truly painful experience.”

“We should add this under ‘Viking Motorcyclists.’ I might have missed that grouping.”

“Of other primary importance,” I went on, “is having the front and back brakes tightened. A small wrench is required.”

“And we shouldn’t forget oiling the chain.”

“No, we shouldn’t.” I drank some water and looked across the valley and saw a corner in the road a few kilometers away.

“Also, with constant turning, especially downhill turns, tires need to be filled up to a firm pressure. They shouldn’t be too low so the tire could actually fold or crease during the pressure of a turn, or too high that it would pop if it hits a pothole or bump in the road.”

Doppel swung his arms around, getting the stiffness out of his body. “Go on,” he said.

“The clutch should be tight so as not to strip the gears.”


“Other things of consideration are the tightening of the steering column, wheel alignment, and effective front mirrors, functioning lights and blinkers.”

“Of course.”

“I don’t know about you but my back tire pressure is the one thing I’m aware of most right now because of the aftershocks. It feels like it’s loose, like riding on bubble-gum tires, especially when I’m taking a corner and the aftershock hits. A loose back tire could cause the back wheel to shift onto the rim causing a possible tire blowout. The fact is that I may have a slow leak. It’s a pretty old bike. How old is this baby by the way?”

“Twelve years old. Seen a lot of action.” Having a possible slow leak made me think of the possibility of becoming stranded on the mountainside with a flat tire and unable to speak the language. I kept the concern in the back of my mind because there was a fine line between worrying about something that in fact may never occur and being cognizant of a potential occurrence.

“Well, do you think you have a slow leak then?” he asked.

“It’s a possibility I’d say, unless there have been many aftershocks.”

“There have been many dude.”

“Pretty hard-core.”

“Well, riding requires clarity of the moment and sharpness of perception. And this is hindered by anyone who worries about unrealized phantoms.”

“I see your point, certainly.”

“These are the demands of excellence in motorcycling.”

“And enjoying the smells and colors and mountain views.”

“Very important point, yes.”

Self-contained and easy to maintain, the motorcycle was my instrument to write the verse of my adventure. It was an entity of freedom without glass windows cutting off my immediate intimacy with the world. The smells and temperatures intermingled with side winds that disheveled my hair was the ‘why’ of motorcyclists. I knew from the look in his eye that Doppel too was in his element on a motorcycle because like his life, the danger was indivisible from the ride. Doppel had come to regard danger as the ingredient that enhanced the thrill. Without danger an exploit was flat, like life without death. He thrived on danger as a reminder of his mortality.

The motorbike

Chapter Five

21st-Century Man


I rode with one eye on the road and one eye on the old villages and pagodas we passed, the steep precipices enticing a fever of recklessness within me. Fresh mountain air and a sprinkle of rain against my face, I carved my corners through hazardous civil engineering and saw why the Portuguese called Taiwan ‘Beautiful Island.’ Everywhere I looked it was a scene of natural beauty. No pollution. No traffic. No buildings. Only Mother Nature’s portrait of a peaceful mountainous island. But the road was now showing severe signs of earthquake debris. Despite this Doppel and I cruised through damp tunnels past barking dogs and swift streams. The obstacles on the road didn’t slow us down because we rode in third gear, dodging the rocks and broken boughs with poise. I witnessed Doppel’s riding prowess and realized he had become an artist on his motorcycle, that he used it as an instrument to enhance and evolve his person, his spirit and everything related to the nurturing of his soul.

A Robert Browning line came into my mind:

My stress lay on incidents in the

Development of the human soul,

Little else is worth study.

This was Doppel’s primary dictum, and why he chose to spell out the moral code for membership to the Viking-Poet Club. For example, in the Handbook he writes that it is strongly recommended to locate in a foreign country so that a new culture forces you to adapt yourself to your new environment. This begins the process of tapping into your instincts. Viking-Poet members choose books over television, art and philosophy over science and technology, and continually strive to build their knowledge about all facets of life. A member should have the inherent equipment to survive in all corners of the world without the help of others so that not one place but rather the planet itself is your home where you are comfortable in all geographies. He states that top-level task of all members is to earn wisdom upon completing an exploit in which he has freedom of movement using self-sufficient means.

Execution of all exploits must be done poetically.

And while endeavoring in an exploit, members should remember the Viking-Poet Club mission statement: “Become who you are!

I slipped it into fifth gear going down a hill and curving through a small village passing a huge temple painted with green dragons, and Gods holding their long beards in their hand. We stopped there to refuel.

“Anything you want to say about exploits before we move on to the next chapter in the Handbook?” I asked.

“Well, yes. Some basic stuff,” he replied. “First, what is an exploit? It is an act or a deed, especially a brilliant or heroic one, from the Old French word esploit. In Latin it is explicitum, neutral past participle of explicare, which means to unfold. The verb of explicare is explicate: to make clear the meaning of; explain. To unfold.” He spoke as if he were a hippie professor as he stood beside his Yamaha DT 175. “So you see an exploit is an action whereby something unfolds that also explains, perhaps something about the character or the nature of the deed. Regardless, at the end of every exploit is something gained and explained.”

“That’s not in the book.”

“No, I didn’t put definitions in the book. It’s too time-consuming.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, yes. Every exploit needs a primary objective that serves to satisfy one of man’s natural instincts. When perpetrating the steps toward the completion of your primary objective, it should be executed with the utmost incorporation of your own style that can be interpreted as ‘poetic motion.’ When completed each exploit should yield wisdom – a moral or aspect of enlightenment that you can apply to the rest of your days. As an absolute master you should tackle exploits that yield insights that you can use to paint your canvas.”

“Life as a work of art. As in painting on a canvas?”

“Indeed. Strong strokes of the brush.” When his tank was full, he screwed on the cap and parked beside the temple. There was a large sculpture of Buddha in the middle of the temple with incense burning.

“What I call the key to the Viking-Poet Club that all prospective members are told is: all individuals are given the same opportunity to live a life that is extraordinary.

“Yes, that’s key.” The temple was one of countless temples that were built into almost every nook and cranny in the landscape since we had left Taipei. This country had the highest temple-per-capita rate in the world I was to eventually learn. And sitting beside the Buddha I was still intrigued with picking Doppel’s brain.

“What’s the first principle?” I asked. “I think I remember reading that there was something about a first principle.” We stood beside each other looking at Buddha.

The marrow of strength is born from the healthy expression of instincts. That’s the first principle, though I like to think it’s to promote one’s originality at all costs.” He looked like he was making a comment about a pebble in his shoe. “See, there is an art to be had in all aspects of living, so that all Viking seekers are artists in how they do what they choose to do. Flourishment of self comes from the self-affirming enjoyment of overcoming obstacles that litter our path.”

“That’s very proactive of you,” I said. “Doesn’t it also say somewhere that the first warning to members is: always beware of time-stealers.”

“You did read it. I was hoping you had.” He smiled at me with such sincerity it shook me to the core. I was glad I hadn’t watched that film on the plane and instead read the whole Viking-Poet Handbook.

“What exactly is a time-stealer then?” We both moved into opposite corners of the temple courtyard, he stroked his chin and pondered a definition.

“Time can be defined as a period during which something (as an action, process or condition) exists or continues: an interval comprising of a limited and continuous action, condition, or state of being; a measured or measurable duration. So you could say a time-stealer is something that takes away potential action.” Doppel seemed to find this of interest. “I suppose one could also say time is a unit of duration as a basis of poetic meter.”

“I would say it is the length of the period required for or consumed in performing an action,” I added.

“Ah! In the words of Henri Bergson: ‘…life is a matter of time rather than of space, it is not position, it is change; it is not quantity so much as quality; it is not a mere redistribution of matter and motion, it is fluid and persistent creation.’”

“An exploit as a creative endeavor.”


“Speaking of rescue action as a creative endeavor!” We both bowed at Buddha at the same moment.


Out on the road the turns were tight because as the landscape didn’t allow for wide berth, tall bamboo shoots sprouted outwards into every given space, especially into the path of the motorcyclist. Now, deep into the Central Mountain Range the steepness was a sight of awe. In the middle of nowhere was a village built around a creek with small homes supported by concrete stilts dangling over the water. Vegetation thick off the road, ferns so tall they looked like palm trees; even the most zealous jungle trekkers couldn’t penetrate this foliage. But it was the roar of the water under the overhanging concrete homes that made it so unique.

Down the road and over a ridge we found an odd sight. Nestled atop one of the tallest mountains was a university, a colony of academia perched in the middle of the range. We rode up to the school but couldn’t see anyone.

“When one yearns for peace and quiet, quiet can be very quiet,” he said. “For someone who is a tad scared of heights, this has to be the highest university in the world.”

“It’s a far cry from the atmosphere of a big American school with its fraternities and pub crawls.”

“This is monastic solitude.”

Hua Fan University was built in the plain functional style indigenous to the Chinese of Taiwan, resolute in its purpose to indulge in the art of teaching. What was most striking was its remoteness.

“What do students do up here?” The dorms were quiet and halls barren, a stagnant pond unmanicured, like a ghost town. We sat on the small terrace and looked out to the expansive mountaintops. 

“Recently built, it’s here for the overflow of students from the island,” said Doppel. “It’s for all those students who didn’t get into one of the big ones around Taipei. Only 30 percent of those who graduate from high school get into post-secondary education. There simply aren’t enough schools.”

“I guess you’d either excel in this noiseless setting or go crazy.”

“That’s why the keen ones study English, to try to get into one of the under-attended schools in the West.”

“Or this one. Leave it to the Chinese to build here. They seem to be a very determined race.”

“No one can ever accuse them of not being industrious. May not have the cream of the crop but they might nurture a philosopher or poet or two. Hiking could enliven the instincts.”


“’Life is short, but truth works far and lives long; let us speak the truth,’ to quote Schopenhauer.”

“Didn’t he also say ‘symmetry is rhythm standing still’?”

“I’ll take your word for it,” said Doppel. Identical twins who both studied philosophy at university, and were still chewing on its aphorisms and nuggets of wisdom, even here at the top of a mountain at an abandoned Taiwanese university.

“You mentioned instincts. How exactly would you define ‘instinct’?” I could tell definitions were tough for him because he took them so seriously.

“Instinct is a natural or inherent aptitude, tendency, impulse, or capacity. As an adjective it’s to instigate, to incite; impelled by an inner or animating or exciting agency; profoundly imbued instigation; to implant as animating power. Instincts are largely hereditary and unalterable.”

“A blueprint for behavior.”

“That goes back millennia. Sure. The instinct in man is what governs our behavior during our earliest years of development. And it should continue to aid in more complex decision-making in adulthood. It’s a suitcase full of inclinations that contain an entire system of built-in action. An integral part of our biology.”

“And you argue in your book that the repression of instinct is the source of all psychological problems.”

“True. Man today, who I refer to in the book as ‘the 21st-century man,’ epitomizes that repression of instinct. Ignores his instinct; thinks it’s base.” He shook his head. “That really gets my goat.”

“Yes, there’s a chapter about that in your piece.”

“The 21st-century man thinks mountain bikes are for children and thinks anything to do with the ‘spirit’ or ‘philosophy’ is a form a mental instability!”

“Ignores all that he doesn’t understand,” I said.

“And hasn’t read a novel since high school.” Doppel nodded.

“Most measure their lives as a countdown to cashing in his pension.”

“Fluent in the games people play with each other using deception and manipulation.”

“Always follows rules. Believes everything he reads in the newspapers.”

“Completely unable to understand the ‘NOW’ in time.” This one made us laugh finally.

“Lives in constant fear of the unplanned, like a typhoon.”

“Or earthquake.”

“Avoids debates. Distrusts those of higher education.”

“Has never gone through the metamorphosis of boy to man.”

“Does not have any opinion that differs from the general consensus. Prefers to follow rather than lead. Acts primarily to please others.”

“Regards his time as something to get through and endured rather than to be valued and enjoyed.”

“Measures all activities in monetary terms first, and thinks instinct is the urge of lust.”

“Believes Affirmative Action is fair.” That broke him up. When he was laughing it was the first time the deep sadness of our separation hit me. How I had missed this! Seven years!

“Sounds like we both know who we’re talking about.”

Just then a helicopter flew overhead.

“It’s flying in the direction of Puli,” he said, checking his compass on his wristwatch. “I think we’re close to Wushe.” The sun was now falling into the western sky.

“Where are we staying tonight?” I put on my wool sweater.

“Who knows? We’ll play it by ear.”

We eased out the clutch at the same time but he took the lead.

Entering a mountain tunnel guarded by stray dogs

Chapter Six

The Havamal


The sky darkened fast after six in the mountains with no sign of life I could see.

Seven years ago Doppel had made a choice to get away from the world of the 21st-century man, a decision that led directly to his current state of existence. He quite seriously regarded himself as belonging to a different epoch in history, closer to the sea-faring Norwegians a thousand years ago than the soft-bellied TV-watchers of our current age. So many men today have been lured away from a passionate life of action, which has caused the 21st-century man to have withered limbs and a sickly pallor.

It had always saddened and frustrated Doppel to see so many of his old friends fallen weak in their indolence.

I think the root cause of Doppel’s choice not to conform to the 21st-century sickness had its birth when he came across the idea of time utility. He realized that if he had fame or fortune or both, time would still be the most valuable commodity in his life. He didn’t want to be on his deathbed looking back on his life seeing things he didn’t do. Each person is given the opportunity yet so many fail to see the wisdom in seizing time to experience the riches life has to offer. He had declared war on the fool’s life, and in doing so had discovered the poetry inherent in time. And that, he believed, was the key that unlocked the gates to wisdom.

Doppel had evolved into a philosopher – not an armchair philosopher but a man-of-action philosopher.

As I face my own life decisions and the opportunity cost of security over adventure, I can now grasp the profundity of his choice. I hadn’t utilized my time like him. I hadn’t spent it wisely. And this, more than anything pained me about my own life. It was the tragedy of my life. Where my brother would be riding a motorcycle in Asia I would be watching a hockey game in Canada with friends. Doppel hungered for the cusp of the blade to remind him that he was living dangerously, a reminder that he was still alive. Boredom and normalcy were always and shall forever be the pillars of his bane.

The fog began as a brief patch of low-hanging cloud that kissed the cheeks of trees but soon the small cloud patch blossomed into a blinding mountain fog. The darkened upper reaches two kilometers above sea level presented us with our most challenging element to overcome: lack of visibility. I wasn’t able to follow my headlights to the road so to ride at all I had to look straight down at my front wheel to check for the centerline. And debris. There were no street lights up here so far away from civilization. Without any traffic the risk was reduced to either riding off the road at an unseen corner, hitting a fallen rock or getting my wheels caught in a large gap in the pavement.

I heard Doppel downshift in virtually zero visibility. I slowed too but instead of being scared of crashing I was filled with zeal. By using the sound of my engine bouncing off the rock on both sides of me, I navigated my bike through the dense fog along the top of the pass. It was one of those unforeseeable situations on a given road trip that called for an off-the-cuff solution. Something in my stomach began to sing with the danger all around me.

Then we hit a tunnel. I slowed down to second gear sticking my legs out to feel for the sidewalls in the tunnel, looking at the growing dusk light near the end of the tunnel. In the tunnel was a separate world void of anything other than the dampness of the concrete, the smell of spiders and bugs, and the danger of a fallen piece of debris. When I finally exited, I found Doppel pulled over at the tunnel’s mouth.

“That was serious,” he said.

We walked down the road enjoying the stiff joints warming after prolonged intensity.

“Better on this side.”

“I was thinking we could throw down a sleeping bag just over there.” He pointed above the entrance to the tunnel. To me, from what I could see under the full-mooned sky, it was the right spot to stay the night. There was nowhere else.

And we were miles from any mountain village.

“Could be all right,” I finally said. We both climbed around the entrance to where there was a flat area protected visually from the road and with some grass. It didn’t take us long to set up camp because the temperature was falling. I put on all my clothes and used my knapsack as a pillow. I could see my breath.

“Do you know what the Havamal is?” I recognized the word only from a reference to it in the Handbook.

“Some type of book?”

“You could say that. It’s the Viking Bible.”

“C’mon. The Vikings had their own Bible? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Not many people know about it, which is surprising considering how common a word like ‘Viking’ is.”

“So, what does it say?” It was a few moments before he spoke again:

“All doorways, before going forward, should be looked to; for difficult it is to know where foes may sit within a dwelling.

Givers, hail! A guest is come in: where shall he sit? In much hast is he, who on the ways has to try his luck.

Fire is needful to him who is come in, and whose knees are frozen; food and raiment a man requires, who o’er the fell has traveled.

“That’s how the three verses go in The High One’s Lay.”

“Fire, I’ll say!” I shivered in my coat. “And how do you know these lines?”

“I studied the Havamal for years. It’s full of tales like the book of the prophets in the Old Testament. So many examples of Viking character.” Wind blew around us stirring the trees.

“Do you know more?” Again there was a silence before he spoke:

“Water to him is needful who for refection comes, a towel and hospitable invitation, a good reception; if he can get it, discourse and answer.

Wit is needful to him who travels far: at home all is easy.

A laughing-stock is he who nothing knows, and with the instructed sits.

Of his understanding no one should be proud, but rather in conduct cautious.

When the prudent and taciturn come to a dwelling, harm seldom befalls the cautious; for a firmer friend no man ever gets than great sagacity.

“Those are the first five verses I know, but there are other ones more applicable to our enterprise.” I gave half a bagel to Doppel and then curled up in a ball, shivered in the growing wind until I warmed up. The ground above the tunnel entrance was hard, and I was suddenly aware that the mountains had snakes.

“Anything in there about your Viking-Poet?” Despite my fatigue, there was no way I was close to falling asleep. There were no more helicopters, only the swirl of the wind coming from below.

“There’s some stuff about the fool that I can remember.”

“Does that mean even Vikings sought wisdom?”

“Very funny.”

“Is plundering an exploit?”

“A miserable man, and ill-conditioned, sneers at everything; one thing he knows not, which he ought to know, that he is not free from faults.

A foolish man is all night awake, pondering over everything; he then grows tired; and when morning comes, all is lament as before.

A foolish man thinks all who on him smile to be his friends; he feels it not, although they speak ill of him, when he sits among the clever.

A foolish man thinks all who speak him fair to be his friends; but he will find if into court he comes, that he has few advocates.

A foolish man thinks he knows everything if placed in unexpected difficulty; but he knows not what to answer, if to the test he is put.”

“How do I know you’re not making all this up?” Doppel had always had the better memory.

“Look it up if want to. It’s pretty easy to remember because that’s how it was handed down for centuries. Only recently did someone bother to write it down in Norwegian. It’s easier to recall in that kind of verse.”

“Yeah but why do I think you’re saying the verses that only apply to me?” A laugh from Doppel. It was the first time in years that I heard my brother truly laugh from the gut. That baritone laugh brought me back to our childhood, a cadence peppered with scheudenfreuden. I heard the laughter go on for some time before it stopped and the dull hum of mild snoring began. I tossed and turned most of the night feeling the earth moan in countless aftershocks, trying to figure out whether Doppel had called me a fool.

Chapter Seven

The Rockslide


In the morning we huddled around Doppel’s map. I noticed his hands were swollen and bruised, knuckles a shade of rotting green. He saw that I was looking at them so he put on his riding gloves.

“If this tunnel is the one I think it is, the turn off is right there.” Pointed to where a road faced west.

“That road there? We were so close!”

“Without any traffic we covered a lot of distance yesterday,” he said. “How are you feeling today?”

“My ass is sore.”


“But other than that, I’m groovy.”

Yesterday we had been keeping our eyes sharp for a fork in the road where we would need to turn west to reach Puli. In the back of my mind I wasn’t surprised at the coincidence that the road was basically 150 feet away from the tunnel. A serendipitous coincidence! And it made the previous day’s riding a work of art on its own. It had deposited us right at the turnoff.

My hunger was almost violent. Brought alive the taste of simple food. To have such deep hunger meant that I could savor the bread and nuts I had in my bag as if it were a five-course meal. Under the early morning sun it was a feast that filled our stomachs and put a smile on our burnt faces.

After eating it was still too early to begin riding so I took out the Handbook.

“It says here in chapter three that all members should live their lives based on the second principle of Viking-Poet philosophy: ‘Experience is the source of all knowledge, and knowledge is a catalyst for spiritual health and a queller of ignorance.’”

“Well, yes. Opportunity is a door waiting to be opened to life’s hidden secrets and kernels of wisdom. Since one’s degree of wisdom is the measure of all things, this means a full-time adherence to justice of the soul for the Viking-Poet.”

“And thus the antithesis of phoniness.”

“Indeed. Members soon become aware that truth hardens them – makes them less soft because truth can be harsh – so they should be reminded never to lose their compassion. The ability to maintain compassion even in trying times of extreme difficulty is the one quality that distinguishes Viking adventurers as men of noble character. Members must understand the wisdom: Everyone arrives into the world and leaves the world alone, everything else is a gift, so they should regard all the special things that life offers as a gift, and as such never expect anything from anyone.” I mulled over his words, and then he said: “No offence.”

“None taken.” This, to me, was revealing as his twin. He had truly gone it alone for all these years while I had just considered him on vacation. He had purpose whereas I had just remained the same – in a type of domestic stasis.

“A further deduction is that all Vikings should know that their greatest moments throughout their lives can only be experienced alone. Besides, it’s easier to move when unaccompanied by others.” He smiled. “No offence.”

“So you’re saying that when a Viking-Poet goes on an exploit, he is best to do it alone?”

“I see that was a part of the handbook you overlooked. Chapter six: The Solo Nature of the Exploit. Viking-Poets tend to be solitudinarians – a person leading a solitary or secluded life. To be alone is to achieve. To be with others is to celebrate what you have not achieved. That’s why members are encouraged to always have their own mode of transportation, motorcycle or mountain bike or what-have-you, and are encouraged to develop fundamental skills required for cartography and its derivatives.”

”Speaking of which, where exactly are we?” We both surveyed our morning view. A steep incline went down to the valley to the west where the turn off was.

“I think we’re close to Sun Moon Lake, which means we’re close to the rescue mission in Puli.”

“Okay, so are you up for it?”

“For what?”

“The rescue?”

“I’m ready. Half of life is just being there, so we’ll play it by ear when we get there.” Doppel, always the philosopher.

We let our motorcycles warm up in the chilly morning air. In the morning light I saw the tunnel had a distinct Japanese style with alternating red and white brick weathered over the years. A plaque hung over the entrance. The weathered writing on it was certainly not English.

“Maybe a couple hours it will take us?” I asked.

“About that, maybe less.”

We heard a helicopter in the direction of Puli, a cue that had us both easing out the clutch heading for the turn off. The road was much worse here. Incredible we hadn’t hit a loose rock the night before riding into the tunnel. Steep slopes showed fresh scars of rockslides littered with massive fallen trees revealing a path of destruction.

At a lookout point with a gazebo we stopped. The earthquake had created a four-foot high crack in the concrete foundation of the gazebo, the roof had crashed down into a heap of splinters in utter defeat. Built for the view for a small mountain lake, I sat down on the edge of the opening in the earth and drank some water. The tremors were now hitting every minute or so.

“I can feel the aftershocks better sitting down,” I said. A dozen recent rockslides on the mountain slopes across the lake was a testament of how close we were to Puli.

A tremor hit that caused the deep thudding sound of falling rock across the lake demolishing trees leaving a deep brown path to where rocks splashed into the water. Rock slamming rock echoed off the surrounding mountainsides. A thick cloud of fine brownish dust hung over the path of the rockslide, standing as a proof of God’s exploit.

Doppel sat down on what was left of the gazebo.

“Big pieces.”

Another big tremor hit but this time a different mountainside was the scene of an avalanche. An entire side of the mountain sheared off a layer of rock. Watching the avalanche we witnessed a barrage of rockslides from the surrounding peaks, as if we were at an exclusive avalanche party. Aftershocks continued unabated at semi-regular intervals, shaking rock from the mountain like ice hit by a hammer.

“Behold, the hand of God.”

“Never have I seen such a sight,” I said.

“Standing proof of Odin’s exploit.”

Fear spiked through me thinking the fissure would open up suddenly, so I walked to safer ground.

“Behold the result of extreme pressure by the earth’s crusts,” I said. Such a contrast. I thought of my twin as he sat on a piece of rock that could break off at any moment and fall into the lake. So passionate in his ways. Stubborn but driven.

“As you see it.”

The pile of rocks by the cliff was now the new shoreline.

“Did you see in the code that it states that if a member believes in a Supreme Being, and is respectful and honest in all matters, a Guardian Angel will watch over them?” A helicopter flew over us and turned to follow the river leading west. “Comes in handy while adventuring in foreign lands where littering on the roads with unexpected red herrings is a somewhat common thing.”

“I think I did see that.” I thought about the impact that had on my brother. Since earthquakes, typhoons, tidal waves and avalanches were all deemed Acts of God, Doppel didn’t have the same degree of fear as others. As expressions of the Supreme Being’s power, he regarded His acts as exploits that were full of beauty. Hardly rattled from one of the world’s deadliest earthquakes of the decade, Doppel found himself enjoying its power under his feet, admiring its execution, and digging His show of power. I found the rumbling of falling rock soothing as well, and liked the smell of newly churned earth, but as much as I tried to savor it there was fear in my gut.

“It’s almost like a symphony,” he said, twisting his head to watch the dust rise from the foot of the rock face. “A symphony of forces.”

Seeing it this way, the awesome power of God began to impress me rather than strike fear into me. I breathed deeply and looked at the carnage at the foot of the cliff and soon begin to see it as reorganized to God’s liking.

The gazebo beside the lake


We went slowly on our motorcycles. Huge broken trees laid on the road amid volumes of fresh earth that had dislodged from the crest of the hill. A minute later right after another tremor, a rockslide started beside us. I could hear the rocks tearing through the mountainside smacking trees. Rocks pummeled the pavement in thuds just behind me. We were like bowling pins waiting to be struck down by a flying rock. When I thought I should wear my helmet a small stone flew by my leg and hit my bike, another one whizzed past my ear. The earth was still but broken rocks fell until only dust rose from our feet.

After riding through the stretch of exposed rockslides, Doppel came over and patted my shoulder.

“Ah huh! That was intense.” Laughing, I could see it was more than just watching for him. He was following the loose stones and broken rocks falling down the slope crashing onto the road, the magic of it hanging in wake of dust.

For me being involved in a rockslide so close up was palpable.

“It’s a privilege to witness another exploit by the Hand of God,” he said as if half-crazed. “My kinship with the white-bearded wise man has never before been so full of bounty.” He was in solemn awe.

“The ancients, yes.” My legs were shaking.

I walked to my motorcycle and we rode towards Puli.

I eased out my clutch trampling fresh debris under my wheels, loitering dust stuck to my sunglasses. The thought of a well-aimed falling rock made me consider putting on my helmet but my faith in God’s relationship with me vetoed the idea. I knew that He wouldn’t strike me down in this manner, especially with Doppel at my side. It was too unbecoming of Him. I had not deserved such a fate. But for Doppel, the enjoyment of the ride trumped his safety concerns because of his faith in God.

Or Odin.

We followed the road to Puli until the pavement in front of us caved in where there was a waterfall. The small arched bridge had caved in and landed in the swift-flowing creek and waterfall below it. There was no connection to the other side of the road. The concrete had simply cracked and dropped away.

Doppel and I looked at one another and did a quick evaluation whether it could be passed using skill or daring.

“It’s impassable,” I said, watching the rushing water careening between the rock-covered road with force.

“Hmmm.” The flow of the waterfall over the crumbled concrete was impossible to cross on foot or in a vehicle. Worse still one could easily lose their footing trying to cross. And from the sound of it, the waterfall fell a long way down.

“It’s a sight worthy to halt our quest to help the rescuers,” he said with a sigh.

“And an example of why the main roads are closed,” I said.

When we reached this impassable spot about 30 km from Puli, Doppel wasn’t disappointed because God/Odin was guiding us to an unknown destiny somewhere else, perhaps towards the east coast and the Pacific Ocean.

“I interpret this as a sign to follow our contingency plan, which takes us to the other side of the country through a world-class national park down a gorge to the sea. We just go the other way at the turn off this morning.”

Not a crappy plan B,” I replied, liking the sound of riding to the Pacific Ocean through a gorge. As if on cue, a flurry of black and white butterflies fluttered above us. It was strange moment.

“That’s a high concentration of butterflies,” he said.

“A butterfly colony.”

“We were not meant to reach the epicenter. Time to remount our iron horses and buck outta here. It’s a dead-end with no other way around. Besides, I know a girl who lives in Hualien. Vikings have girls in every port, didn’t you know?”

“I didn’t see it in the book.”

“Not everything needs to written down. Thought it was one of those things that everyone knew.” We turned our motorcycles around and headed east for the Toroko Gorge.

Afershocks – riding on “bubblegum tires”

Chapter Eight

Toroko Gorge Tunnel Riding


Riding east across the great divide gave me a chance to see why those people who spoke out against motorcycling were incongruous with Doppel’s philosophy. Sitting in front of his electronic window to the world, the 21st-century man is half-scared of dangers in the world because he doesn’t use or trust his built-in instincts. This separated Doppel from others. Those whom Doppel called his friends were people who showed interest in his way but who weren’t able to dedicate themselves fully like he had. They were tempted by the comforts of technology yet aware of the gulf between the malnourished souls of the weak and the power of a man in full. Overlooked by many but seen by few, Doppel looked at himself as a mountain among hills of sand where the sands of time tested again and again the foundations of all.

I was beginning to see now that Doppel was the last of a dying breed who represented all that was good in man.

Growing hot in the mountains, we took a long corner that curved for a minute and came to vast space stretching to the horizon. The mountain range ran perpendicular to the valley along the Central Mountain Highway, cut by a small river in the valley below. This was Toroko Mountain Valley. It was along this river that I was to know the terrible power of erosion.

And thus the unbeatable fury of time itself.

The vast gulf between mountain ranges narrowed. Descending farther and deeper into the valley alongside Toroko River, the mountains bore the scars of erosion that had cut putty-like mounds of rock. Narrower and narrower we hit a stage dominated by tunnels. Every couple of minutes we hit another tunnel in a succession of engineering mastery. For miles a wall of rock stretched upwards at virtually an 80-degree angle. The civil engineers had simply decided to go through the rock instead of carving out a roadway around the side. Weaving through a labyrinth of tunnels deep in the gorge with no traffic, my motorcycling became a flow of rhythmic maneuvering as I leaned into corners through road-caves with walls of rock above, downshifting and braking in a scissor-kick motion – mastering my mastery on my flying horse.

Doppel pulled over in a jut in the road right beside the roaring mountain water.

“Look at the water,” he said. White putty-coloured water splashed down the gorge.

“It’s gray.”

“It’s like mud. These rocks must be like sandstone or something.”

“Or clay. The engineers only have to carve out each tunnel as if from butter.” The water was high so we were splashed by the mist.

“The erosion is visible,” he said. 

“Small amount of water and an awful lot of time.”

“Actually my brother, it’s an example of how a consistency of purpose, using time as its friend, has divided and conquered the impassible heights of solid rock that rendered 73 percent of Taiwan uninhabitable. Before us is an example of persistence and how it can overtake that which appears beyond conquest. It fits into my life philosophy of time utilization so cleanly. The value of persistence in the attainment of your goal. It’s carved into the mantle of the land for us all to see.”

“With all its Wagnerian excess.” The vastness between rock and swift gray water made me feel small.

“It is a small stream’s victory over the granddaddy range in the South China Sea. Shows how time can be employed to achieve an end. To seek an end by means of time. To exploit time for your own purposes. A purpose for which time is used. This is what Toroko Gorge is to me. Persistence is the trump card. A dream that takes twenty-five years, not two.”

“What if you don’t have much time? Like a year or two? What you would choose to do would change, don’t you think?”

“Well that’s the six million dollar question. Would you? Maybe priorities due to time constraints would change but fundamentally there shouldn’t be a change in what you do. Because you should be doing that thing you like to do the most.” He was exactly right. And to see my failure on that was the cruelest tragedy of my life.

“There’d be a Bucket List wouldn’t there?”

“Definitely. That would be the fun part.” This – motorcycling with my twin brother in a far-off land – was part of my Bucket List I wanted to say.

Back on the misty road in the heart of Toroko Gorge, the canyon walls were loud from the splashing clay-infused water running past us. The edges of the tunnel entrances were rounded like they were clay putty. I trusted the tunnels; they had been done with skill. This was a riders’ paradise. There were some rocks on the road, but with the absence of vehicles, it was like a go-cart track complete with deadly corners and long tunnels as if it were a science fiction film set.

Doppel pulled over again beside the raging river.

“It feels like we’re in a dungeon with that rock there,” I said.

“I don’t know how many more hours of daylight we have in here though. The sun is already blocked off.”

“We have time. This is great riding.”

“The tunnels should continue until we hit the opening at the sea near Hualien.”

“It keeps going on and on.”

“Which is good for us.”

“A lot of taking corners you can’t see.”

“Makes for a more challenging moment when choosing the line of turn.”

“With some various hits of fallen debris.”

“From the earth’s turbulence.”

“Not knowing whether the rock will cave in on top of us.”

“Due to the heavy pull of gravity,” he said.

“The engine vibration just enough to crack a hairline fracture in the rock.”

“And the weight of the machine along the pavement.”


“Hit them.”


“Lightly over them.”

“Is this all in your book?”

“No, it’s experience talking.”

“And fractures?”

“Lightly over at an angle – like a hop.”


“It’s just one big piece of rock.”


“All the roadways are above the water line so far.”

“Darkening light.”

“Good point. Switching from the sunglasses helpful.” I changed eyewear but he didn’t.

“Anything else?”

“The time to ride is upon us.”

Our engines on, we eased back in the saddle. All downhill now, we both sped faster twisting around corners through long passages. In one long tunnel I was in fourth gear when rocks blocked the inside lane. Doppel took the corner in the oncoming lane to have more lean around the sharp corner. The dividers in the tunnels were larger than normal because it was so dark inside the long, turning tunnel. Crossing back into the right lane Doppel’s front tire hit the metal divider dead on, forcing the shock absorbers to max out. His handlebars were pushed to the side. I saw, just in a split second, how he regained his direction and landed the front wheel back down in line with his line of movement.

It sounded like he had hit a curb.

Doppel slowed down and then abruptly stopped at the side of the road outside the tunnel.

“It’s clear that the Great Master in heaven wanted me to understand that one should never jeopardize functionality with any accessory that didn’t contribute to its efficient execution,” he said, pointing to his sunglasses. “I shouldn’t be wearing these sunglasses in these tunnels.”

“These tunnels are so dark because they’re so long.”

“Exactly. Only now with them off, I can clearly see the size of the centerline reflectors and the danger they pose to the operation of my motorbike. It was an act of folly and a blatant violation of the Viking code. It almost took my life.” For someone who embodied bare-bone practicality over gadgets and non-essential equipment, Doppel should have been wearing his eyeglasses like me. He was old school Viking, preferring to innovate with a matchstick and paperclip rather than GPS satellite and a grenade.

We were about to push off and continue riding when he realized that his front tire was flat from the impact with the centerline reflectors. He looked at me and nodded at the justice of it all.

“Clearly there should be some punishment for my faux pas,” he said as if confessing to someone over my shoulder. “And it is just.”

Didn’t need any time to decipher the moral of this brush with death.

Toroko Gorge tunnels

Chapter Nine

Slumber beside Toroko River


I learned that one of the ‘Rules of Engagement’ for the Viking-Poet was the purposeful avoidance of all forms of outright charity. For Doppel, being given something he felt he didn’t deserve, was an infringement upon the integrity of the project. 

As he put it:

“A completed exploit can never truly be regarded as one’s own if any form of charity has been accepted.”

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because it ensures purity of the will.” 

For the immediate situation he faced, it didn’t mean he would walk the 15 miles into the next town. Rather it meant that he would have to be the primary cause for each needed step during the challenge of fixing the tire, so he waved down the next passing vehicle and went to a gas station a few miles down the road, where the waters widened and there was a bridge. He refused the lift from me on the way back, preferring instead to get a double with the mechanic.

Purist indeed.

It didn’t take the mechanic long to change the tire, but it did cost Doppel more than was reasonable. He stoically took the punishment and paid the price.

Back on the road, we moved cautiously through the tunnels that were now dark. The instinct to find a place conducive to comfortable sleep was one that Doppel had exercised before. With my brother’s Handbook in mind, I’m sure it was one of man’s oldest instincts. Like the previous night, the choice of where to spread out his sleeping bag was a decision that would contribute to his quality of being. An unfavorable choice could lead to many problems such as insect bites, encounters with people who can see you from the road or possible arrest by the Toroko Gorge National Park Ranger. Survival over the millennia would have selected those men with a well-developed sense of safety and prudence with regard to this natural instinct, so when Doppel reached an opening beside the river where rocks and sand spread out from the river to trees that formed protection from anyone looking from the road, I followed him on my motorcycle down a small path leading to a secluded, sandy shore.

“Good choice,” I said, surveying as much as I could in the darkness, illuminated by only a shimmering moonlight.

“Private enough from the road. Should be okay.”

After eating and relaxing, I looked up at the full moon. Cold sand soothed my stiff and sore hands as I sat cross-legged across from Doppel beside the river, the chill from the mountain water felt against my cheeks. There, in the silence with only the sound of passing water, I relived how many different branches of skills intermingled at the demand of the terrain that we had just conquered.  

“Good day riding,” I said. “Be thankful you didn’t spill.”

“True. I am thankful. There was a moment there when I was thinking of hopping off the bike. But without the helmet it could’ve been sloppy.” He spread his sleeping bag on the sand by some rocks.

“So many turns. So many tunnels.”

“Well if an earthquake hits then we should be pretty safe here.” Lying there I reached a state of relaxation that took my gaze to the stars. There beside the sounds of the flowing water under the moon, another aftershock struck. It started and then stopped and then went on for ten seconds, but wasn’t as strong as the one two days ago. I lay there on the shaking earth savoring yet another display of geological turbulence.

“It must have something to do with the apocalypse,” he said, unmoved by the earthquake.

“We may have wiped out if we were riding with that one,” I said.

“Speak for yourself. I think we’re among the most fortunate anywhere in Nature’s kingdom here on earth right now.”

“Yes, your instinct for location is sharp.”

“That’s our a priori apparatus we are taught by society to repress. The screams of awakened instincts all come from the same ancient cellar of being. Choosing location? That was merely the adventure instinct: the urge to find ever better qualia.” The word ‘qualia’ was one I hadn’t heard before, but I let it go for now.

“While you’re spouting bout instinct, how may I ask is the best way to call forth an instinct?” Twin philosophy talk before slumber under the Taiwanese moon. Surreal.

“Wasn’t it something Dad always used to say to us when we were kids? The light that emanates from the magic of fires awakens the sleepy instinct. Looking at fire. That’s the way to stir the cellar of instincts. Stare into a campfire.”

I was surprised he remembered the saying. That was over 30 years ago.

“You’ve become quite a philosopher,” I said, enjoying the understatement.

“And as a philosopher with both life experience and strength of conviction, I have an inclination to buck authority, particularly with people who impose their authority in such a way that disrupts my flow of equilibrium. The man of originality marches to the sound of his own trumpet, not because he wants to but because if he doesn’t he’d be a phony. A philosopher can’t even fake being phony.”

“Nice one.”

“And this is the reason why the philosopher will always fail under the yoke of another. It will always end in failure. He needs to be the king of his own domain and resist any force infringing his time-and-space kingdom.”

“And as a philosopher, instead of being flexible, you’re stubborn.” He knew I was referring to the insistence on his own transportation to the gas station because of his flat tire.

“In certain situations arising from social convention, Viking-Poet philosophers occasionally find themselves forced into corners that create confrontations usually resulting in questioning, misunderstanding, refusal to submit, and ultimately bad blood. The character of the philosopher is too penetrating to be assaulted by custom or convention.” In a roundabout way he was saying he was stubborn for a reason. But in his own head, it all made sense. He was the painter and how he lived his life was the canvas.

“Heaven must be littered with countless one-colored and incomplete canvases,” I said earnestly. “With canvases that lack any value.”

“True. And it reveals the sad truth that so many miss it, their canvas that is.”

“It’s a shame.”

“It is actually. Death can be so untimely.” With tremendous gravitas these last words were spoken.

“Like today in the tunnel.”

“Life could have been snatched from me.”

“Would you rather know your time of death? Or not. I mean if you had the choice.”

“I bet you didn’t know my twin brother that to free myself from the worry of death, I believe I have a Guardian Angel looking over my shoulder during times of acute danger. There have been lots of close calls with the Grim Reaper but I’ve survived each one in a manner that strongly suggests divine intervention. The split-second impulse to straighten my front wheel today – just within that microsecond – so I could ride over those reflectors at that angle was a reflex from that Guardian Angel. I usually don’t talk about it but you happened to be there today and saw it all.” I did see it. I was witness to a true brush with death. As Doppel said, it could have become sloppy because he wasn’t wearing his helmet.

“And how did you come into contact with your Guardian Angel?”

“It was an offering from the White-Bearded Father in Heaven and it was not meant to be flaunted in front of others. I promised all mention of my divine protector would simply be bad form. But wisdom has taught me the importance of passing down my knowledge of life to those willing to listen, so now you know why my fear is miniscule.”

There was a splash in the river near the rocks beside where the river widened and trees grew. Wildlife here in the mountain wilds of this beautiful and dramatic country. The cold water emanated its chill into my sleeping bag.

“I’m glad you’re still alive brother,” I said.

“Well, I’m happy to have another day to ride. This exploit is not over yet. Remember, for a Bookworm Viking, an exploit is an occasion to come closer to the cleavage between real life and the created worlds of the imagination.”

“And for the Dreamer Viking,” I replied, “wasn’t an exploit a time to live out his dreams and build on new dreams from the new stimuli?” My brother grunted. And then I heard the unmistakable sounds of deep slumber.

It must have been the feeling of being so warm and snug there beside the small rocks of the river and the smell of nature that caused me to despair. If wisdom had taught Doppel the importance of passing down his knowledge of life to those willing to listen to encourage the rebirth of the Viking-Poet, how much effort was required to enlighten those who had become dead already?

I fell asleep under the full moon dreaming not of flat tires and punctured shock absorbers but of the smooth hum of the ride in the Grand Canyon of Taiwan.

Sleeping beide the river

Chapter Ten

The Earthquake Puppy


When I awoke I saw the towering wall of rock stretching hundreds of feet to the sky all around me, I knew I had made it to God’s country. I sat up looking around at my home for the night, the morning air pungent and invigorating with moisture and the smell of foliage. I went to river’s edge where the rock face retreated on both sides and widened into a flat area, the early light of the canyon rising when birds were busy looking for food and dew made the grass sluggish. I worked the stiffness from my left knee and my clutch hand and looked down river speechless by its picture-postcard setting.

“To think of what we would have lost if we stayed in an apartment this weekend,” said Doppel, who had walked over. It said something about his Carpe Diem Viking-Poet Philosophy, like the cold fact that we had traveled over 900km through mountains and tunneled-paths in the gorge just to be here without seeing one other vehicle.

It made my surroundings even more special that it was.

“Yes, it would have been a loss.”

“Opportunity cost and all that. Better for the canvas. And better for one’s objectivity.”

“How’s that?”

“Objectivity is derived from a multiplication of subjective experiences. The more varied experience that is accumulated, the better one can be objective. The more objective, the better time utility.”

“That’s very Nietzschean of you,” I said. I knew this was part of Nietzsche’s idea of objectivity, but he had applied it yet again to his notion of time utility.

“In the context of Western thought, there is a massive oversight many academics have in factoring in the centrality of time in their philosophical arguments,” he said, eyes puffy and without the elixir of coffee to spur on his neurons. But he was talking to me and I was his identical twin so there was no early morning censorship. If he felt like being philosophical at seven in the morning beside some river at the mouth of a gorge, then that was cool in my book. “The problem with rules with regard for time is seldom addressed, Henri Bergson being the exception.”

“Bergson, yes.”

“Think of the few students who truly studied philosophy, not to regurgitate for good marks, but to learn it well and apply it to their lives. They made the time to learn. They became philosophers precisely because they recognized how time can be manhandled.”

I had sat down on a rock and was now putting on a fresh pair of wool socks. A feeling of beauty for more than just my feet.

“I can see you have thought a lot about this,” I said, enjoying his words. In the morning light he looked unusually pale but there was what appeared to be a very specific sunburn on his upper cheeks around his eyes, almost like a rash. Must have had a bad sleep under the stars.

“As far as I see it, it was Kant’s fault. His a priori intuition of time and space had been overlooked ‘as a given,’ which caused scholars to construct their theories on a foundation that did not move, that is, had zero consideration for the finite nature of time in every individual’s life. This was particularly revealing when seen in terms of a young child, old man or man in his prime but afflicted somehow and crippled in some way from the gravity of time.”

“Or the gravity of disease or affliction.” I thought of Doppel’s discolored hands.

“Every thinking person can recognize that they don’t exist in a vacuum of time immune from the demands of life. Truth is a function of time.” Doppel sat across from me changing his socks too and that was when I spotted a puppy coming out of the woods covered in burrs, ears back and wagging its tail. Helpless, abandoned and alone in the world, the puppy was struggling to survive in an environment where it could easily perish. I pointed.

We were both speechless.

We looked around for its master but found no one. That’s when Doppel went up to it and began patting it. The thing was so excited that it couldn’t remain still. The puppy fell over and lost its balance from wagging its tail so hard. It was a girl puppy.

“It’s a unity of flapping appendages,” he said. It was canine demonstration to the warmth of a kind hand.

“Goooood doggie,” I said, smiling.

“Perhaps the All-Knowing One in the Sky has His hand in this chance meeting?”


“It was sleeping by the river like us.” Easy to see the combination of intelligence and curiosity in its green eyes lit by the morning sun.

“I can’t take you home doggy,” he said.

“Take him home! A thousand kilometers in your knapsack?”

“You worry too much. If it’s meant to be then it’s meant to be. And if so, then there’s a way to take him home with us. Good doggy.” Doppel’s compassion found fertile ground to focus on. He picked some of the burrs off his coat.

“She’s a good doggy.”

“See, the allocation of time in terms of stopping to check out an old fort or to save a dying puppy versus passing up the opportunity because it took away from the time it would take to complete the exploit is an important decision,” he said, patting the puppy. “To have the wisdom from life that can guide you to a decision that would weigh the loss of experience by stopping to explore the fort or save the puppy, with the hour saved from not stopping, is crucial. It is this decision-making ability that should be nurtured for the sake of a richer and fuller life to combat against regret from missed opportunities that we all must face when exiting life.”

“Combat against missed opportunities.” That was precisely it.

“It is where wisdom shows its worth.”

“So then you’d like to save the puppy?”

“Well, I don’t think it’s that easy. I want to go check out one part of the gorge we missed last night in the darkness. It’s only about a half hour up the road, but I want to see it in the daylight.”

“So let’s go there first.”

He looked at the doggy by the edge of the forest.

“I’m making a deal with the Great Teacher in the Sky that when we return from checking out that part of the gorge, I will consider it a sign from Him that I should save the puppy from hunger, fleas and sure death.” Looking at the small animal from his motorcycle a few feet away, he said: “It’s not the best looking doggy I have seen, but it does appear to have a lot of soul.”

After warming up the engines we left the little puppy there and moved back west up Toroko Gorge about 5km where there was a place to stop and watch the water take a corner between two tunnels and a bridge.

“Really it is quite majestic, isn’t it? I’m glad we came,” I said. “I don’t know about you but whenever I ride through a place that’s unusual or exotic I always think I’ll be back again one day but I never do.” I stood against the fence and was sprayed with splashing clay water.

“Nietzsche believed that man lives only one life – the only life he has – and that when he dies he doesn’t go to heaven or hell, but lives his already-lived life over and over for eternity,” he said, again with heavy gravitas in his voice.

“Yes, the theory about the Eternal Recurrence.” I remembered studying it at university.

“What do you think about that?”

“The afterlife is a tricky one.”

“What’s brilliant about eternal recurrence is that because you live your life over and over again forever, the importance of what you choose to do in this life has much more significance than if you believe in an afterlife where you can live again.” He took a deep breath and let the beauty and majesty of the gorge fill him with joy. “We will relive this moment here in the gorge… forever.”

When I put my hand through my hair I found it soaking wet from the spray. A drop of water fell and then dripped off the tip of my nose. Doppel was right: this was a good brushstroke on the canvas. Red swirls in the rock face like cherry cheesecake ice cream.

“The symbolism of a new front tire has not been lost to me,” he said, wiping his beard. “I interpret this as a new chapter in the life stages of development.” Taking a bandana out from his bag he wrapped it around his head. It was also his language to say it was time to move.

Following in the tradition of Plato’s notion of justice of the soul, Doppel stoically adhered to all deals he made with the Creator. Therefore, when we again passed by the riverside place where we had slept under the moon, he turned down the small path towards the river to see if the puppy was still there. I could tell from his body English that he was doubtful he would be there.

“The dog could have gone anywhere,” he said, making a move to leave. But then he caught sight of the little puppy emerging from a shaded area under some trees.

Good doggy.”” I knew from the wagging tail and the pulled-back ears that Doppel would be its master and savior. It was what God wanted him to have, found here at the farthest point we had traveled. In Doppel’s world, the dog offering fit squarely into the spirit of fair play between him and the White-bearded Gentleman in the Skies Above.

But by keeping his word he made with Him, Doppel now faced the puzzle as to how he was going to transport the puppy nearly a thousand kilometers along the east coast of Taiwan beside the Pacific Ocean across the mountains on Route 106 to his place just outside Taipei. After considering the feasibility of carrying the puppy in his knapsack or balanced on his gas tank, he calculated that the best place was balanced on his gas tank. I could only watch incredulously.

Chapter Eleven

The Will


When Doppel started the engine and put the puppy on his gas tank, the engine didn’t seem to bother the puppy.

“Always be aware – us men of action – that coincidences are almost always a sign from God that should never be overlooked because the messages are divine roadmaps guiding you to reach your destiny – because He knows,” said Doppel, with a big smile of his face. “And never be afraid to undertake an exploit that will test the mettle because even if the task is not as successful as what you had hoped, there will be some light shed about the strengths and weaknesses of your will, of which can be corrected and bettered.”

Doppel revved the engine as he held the dog on the gas tank with his other hand. The white and brown puppy was completely attached to Doppel already, as he knew this man was saving its life. How many days had the puppy been abandoned in the forest?

“Will she stay?”

“Hope so.”

When we began our return journey it was clear the puppy had no understanding of gravity and inertia. Around one of the first corners along the Coastal Highway the puppy slid off the tank and landed Doppel’s left thigh. After focusing so long on only his own needs, his reaction to catch the falling puppy was hesitant, even half-hearted. The puppy dangled over the pavement on the crowded highway clinging to Doppel’s lower thigh. I could see the puppy slipping off in slow motion as I rode behind him moving around a corner.

The puppy!” I yelled.

Slowly he reached across with his throttle hand and grabbed a dangling leg. He downshifted to free his clutch hand so he could pick it up instead of pulling it up by the leg. I could see that he needed to adjust his Doppel van Norman-centric perspective on life to include a puppy that now needed his care. And it would be difficult for him to constantly alter the governing of this excursion now to include a helpless puppy that didn’t know the basics of inertia or gravity.

The clouds rolled in as a storm looked immanent, but the biggest change riding was that there was now traffic.

Doppel pulled off the coast highway to a temple pitched on a mountainside. There was no one there but the temple was open.

“I’m naming her Howie,” he said, after she had sniffed around the Buddha and lay on Doppel’s leg. The rain came down hard. The heated air turned moist and cool, welcoming to both of us.

“She seems to have taken a liking to you. Good you snagged her dangling over the abyss there.”

“Yes, it was fortunate.”

We took a rest under the temple as the rain poured down. We watched Howie dream, the twitches and demonstrative body English as proof of its cognitive abilities suggesting that Howie had faculty to learn and respect Doppel as a master.

“Caring for anyone other than my own hide will be a change of monumental proportion.”

“The word ‘parent’ brings with it a shard of fear, does it?”

“’Master,’ not ‘parent.’ Howie should be able to manage with laissez-faire supervision. I can provide a home for her and housebreak her. But we have to make it there first. Looks like the storm is here.” The sky was dark and the raindrops smashed against the temple as we watched the clouds blow in from the ocean.

“Will Howie be a member of the Viking Club?”

“Well, what is the Viking-Poet’s Club? It’s a club for those brave souls who choose to live their lives like a work of art through extraordinary exploits, which reveal the secrets of life’s mysteries and answers to life’s timeless questions.”

“So that would include Howie?”

“Membership to the Viking Club is paid for with passion, creativity, dedication and a single-mindedness to pursue all that is offered to you through chance and circumstance as well as the innovative utilization of one’s time and space in their zeitgeist.”

Howie kicked in her sleep.

“All persons-in-full who possess the equipment necessary to live a Viking-Poet’s life are above their given epoch and instead stand outside their history so that convention and morality indigenous to their epoch fall outside their scope of reference. The Viking-Poet lives among the ancients. Their idea of good is different from that of the 21st-century man.”

“How so?”

“From Old Frisian, good means to unite and from Old High German means to fit together or to hold fast. It means bountiful yield, having favorable character, genuine, promotes well-being, beautiful, not small or insignificant, wise, noble and worthy. This is good for the Viking-Poet: something that is either an end in itself or a means to such an end. It satisfies its intrinsic value by promoting individual self-realization.”

“Your half-finished canvas.”

“Like empty time waiting to be played out. Brushstrokes come from the manifold of experience. Colors come from how you express your soul. Texture is determined by your yield of qualia and shading is an illustration of your level of fulfillment.” There was that word again: qualia.

“Your doggy is stirring.”

“The mind is a refuge full of elastic bands, plucked by the thumb of reason to echo pleasantries in the ear.”

“The wind’s picked up. It’s coming from the east so we’re going to really get it on the bikes.”

“Time is the only thing that has met our ancestors. Probably the oldest thing in the universe.”

“Never stops moving.”

“And the unrecognized elixir of life.”

“How does one extrapolate this elixir?”

“Through will.”

“You know something? I’ve never really understood ‘the will.’ It’s an overused word in philosophy that people use without really thinking about what it means.”

“What does it mean?”

“That’s the point: no one really knows.”

“Let me try. The biggest fundamental difference between me and the 21st-century man is my complete mastery over my will, but it’s something that needs to be exercised regularly or it will wane.”

“One’s will will wane?”

“Yes. The defining quality of the Viking-Poet is his expert use of his will. In fact the extraordinary nature of my life has been the direct result of my will.”

“But I’m still vague on the whole notion of will. What the heck is it?”

“It’s a desire and inclination to act.”

“That’s it? Inclination to do something?”

“Pretty much, but it’s a bit more subtle than that. It’s a settlement of mental uncertainty or indecision resulting in volition. It’s the total conscious process involved in effecting a decision.”

“It is your will to save Howie.”

“Indeed. The will is action directed toward a goal clearly known in advance and requiring effort to overcome obstacles or contrary desires. It is the faculty of the soul to coordinate with the intellect that determines rational choices in accordance with what the intellect has determined as good or bad.”

Jesus, my brother the philosopher was on the top of his game. Very polished with his words and definitions. A lifetime of devotion to the power of clean philosophy.

“But philosophers disagree whether it is a faculty of the soul or a faculty of the mind.”

“True, so it’s a faculty of the mind that is usually coordinated with thought and feeling that determines moral actions in accordance with ideals, principles and fact. In The Viking-Poet Handbook, the will of the Viking is a disposition to act according to particular principles, or to conform in conduct and thought to general or ideal ends.”

For the first time his philosophy sounded a tad ominous, with words like ‘conform in conduct.’

“Your will to save Howie is conforming to the Viking-Poet code of conduct because of the Handbook? Or would you have done it without the Handbook?” Did this man have empathy?

“I know you know the answer to that question. There was the character first, before the words. The character lies in the will and not in the intellect. Nature has produced the intellect for the service of the individual will. The old mistake of philosophers is to place the essence of mind in thought and consciousness, but Schopenhauer believed the primary guiding force is not the conscious intellect but rather the will: a striving, persistent vital force of action and imperious desire.”

“Amazing you can still quote Schopenhauer here under a temple on the Taiwanese coast beside the Pacific Ocean in the rain with an abandoned puppy sleeping on your leg.”

“It is, isn’t it? And I’ll go you one further. Nietzsche said of the will: ‘The will is the strong blind man who carries on his shoulders the lame man who can see.’ It’s a clever notion that touches on this idea that the will is somehow lacking in one of the senses.”

“That’s what I’m getting at: the will is taking action to get to a desired goal but it’s more than that. It’s tied up with thoughts and feelings and moral judgment – disposition, choice, inclination, passion, intention, determination. You could say it’s a summons of purpose.”

“The will is the commander of all the chess pieces on the board with the power to control, determine and dispose. It’s that restlessness that constantly reminds you that you have to do something, that omnipresent inclination standing just outside your door but that never knocks. It’s that inkling that whispers in your ear too softly that makes you feel as though you had something to do but have forgotten.”

“Yes, I see what you’re saying: like a persistent recollection of a recent event in which you made an important choice but you still have yet to act on it.”

Doppel laughed at that one.

“It’s like the unsatisfied craving for coffee in the morning knowing there’s nothing holding you back from getting a cup.”

I laughed at this one.

“Or like a mild suspicion that there’s a voice in your subconscious mind trying to tell you something really important.”

“Hmmm. Morality targets the heart, not the intellect. The home of the will is the heart, not the head. The Viking-Poet masters his motorcycle by imposing his will on it. The more exploits achieved increases the power of the Viking-Poet’s will. It is fatigue of the intellect that disrupts the will’s work. Will is the cause of all action, and force is the form of the will. Over time one can see one’s destination at the end of the teleological line which the will goes forth to.”

The rain started to let up.

“Didn’t you bring up the word ‘ennui’ in the Handbook?”

“Yes, I believe I did.”

“And what exactly is it?”

Doppel surveyed the riding conditions from the view of the temple. The waves crashed against the rocks in the distance where the tide was coming in.

“Ennui, that’s a Schopenhauer word. I mean he uses that to explain the will.”

“Which is?”

“Ennui is a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction, languor or emptiness of spirit. It is life when the will is dormant.” He kept his gaze out at the vastness of the ocean. “A biggy for sure that one.”

“Aristotle would concur with that I think. He believed that pain is life’s basic stimulus and reality, and pleasure is merely a negative cessation of pain. For Aristotle it was the fundamental equation of existence. He believed the wise man seeks not pleasure but freedom from care and pain.”

“That’s why the exploit is of such importance,” he said. “It keeps everything sharpened and polished that keeps pain of ennui afar.”

“In the words of Heraclitus: ‘The unshaken mixture decomposes.’”

“Like a flower it blooms and soon withers so that the smell of bloom can never be attained again.”

“Only those who take action while in bloom can say to have truly lived.” For a moment we were both aware of the profound significance of these words. We were both in bloom and we could smell the lush foliage of south Asia all around us intermixed with the smell of the salt water and seaweed as well as the magic mixture of warmth in the air with the chill of the rain. Twin brothers united here while saving the life of a helpless puppy, exercising our will because of an earthquake.

“Well, yes. The will is there to maximize life.”

After the rain let up, the two of us cruised along the Coastal Highway back towards Taipei in the north, Doppel balancing Howie on his gas tank, several times catching her as she fell off while he took corners along the road.

The Pacific Ocean along the east coast of Taiwan

Chapter Twelve

The Long Trek Back


Within the first 200 miles Howie learned how to sit upright on the gas tank, squinting into the wind with poised balance and a confident posture. Howie had figured out the entire question and had adapted to her situation by overcoming the issue of balance. I rode up closer to watch the animal while Doppel patted it with his clutch hand, causing Howie to look back with love in her eyes at the man who had saved her from death. But it preferred to look ahead into the wind to enjoy the ride along the open road and open spaces beside the ocean just like her master. Doppel and Howie covered mile after mile as a functioning team of two with their eye on the road and at task at hand. Doppel spoke to the doggy as he rode, I’m sure explaining the philosophy of The Viking-Poet Handbook in more detail to Howie than me. As the hours ticked by, Howie assumed a posture of absolute aerodynamic confidence. People in the vehicles passing by stared at the small puppy balanced on the motorcycle gas tank of a long-hair, bearded foreigner who was wearing Birkenstock sandals and sunglasses. (I too was wearing Birkenstocks; both of were twins when it came to footwear). No longer was Doppel taking corners in top gear so that Howie was being pushed and pulled in different directions every time they went around a curve in the road. It was if whatever Doppel had said to her, Howie understood.

It was a glorious day of riding – fresh air after the storm, the road smooth and well-engineered, the air full of that stimulating salty hue, and the knowledge that we were returning to base. Each mile we rode I felt as if it were a victory for both of us, but especially for Doppel, not only because he had been able to enlighten me to his philosophy, but because he was rescuing an abandoned puppy while balancing her on his gas tank for what appeared to be the entire way: over 500 miles due north along the east coast of Taiwan. And I had so much to mull over intellectually from what he had said to me but also I had so much to feast through my senses intermixed with a strong sense of accomplishment, all contrasted against the knowledge that I had seen the real Taiwan rather than the pubs and taverns of downtown Taipei.

Indeed Doppel’s philosophy was proving its worth no matter how unorthodox it might sound. It was proving to be a unity of parts that worked.

We stopped at an old pier on the sea for a break and let Howie run around. That was when Doppel took a photo of me on his old motorcycle. I have that photo framed in my home because every time I look at it I am brought back to that magical four days of riding in Taiwan with my brother.

An unexpected development arose as we turned off the Coastal Highway for Highway 106 over the northern tip of the mountains just south of Taipei close to Doppel’s apartment. We were looking at spending a third night in the mountains despite the fact that Doppel had work the next day. We stopped at the turn off for Taipei as the sun was setting.

“If exhaustion hits, we may need to grab some shut-eye somewhere between here and Taipei. If we do, it’s with the definite objective of me getting to work by nine tomorrow morning.”


“As far as what constitutes a successful Viking exploit, the main criteria that determines a pass or fail is that you make it to work on time Monday morning. If this requisite were not to be reached, the exploit would be regarded as a failure despite the possibility of other experiences along the way that might have a profound influence on our future course. As I see it, all that time that doesn’t fall into the 9-to-5 worktime is my own time that no one else can take from me, so arriving at nine o’clock tomorrow morning after a short sleep somewhere in the mountains would be acceptable.”

“I see that it’s important.”

“Fair play is a must.”

Sure enough, the fatigue from covering the 900 km of riding during the day while balancing Howie had caught up to him. Warning signs like heavy eyelids and a barely functioning clutch hand soon tipped the scales for me towards a snooze. We found a short bridge over a creek where there was protection from the wind just after a corner of a side road.

“The plan for tomorrow is a three-hour downhill ride without much traffic, drop Howie off and then I go teach.”

“I guess we’ll both be doing that because I can’t ride anymore. My clutch hand is almost paralyzed from wear and tear and I’m getting careless. Not a good combo.”

“No, it’s not a good combo. I’ve accumulated enough empirical data from my adventures to be aware of the serious dangers that can arise from exhaustion. There is a line that’s crossed when the Viking adventurer will find it difficult to enjoy his time as he rides home. He is more prone to take a wrong turn or lose his clarity of purpose when pushing the limits of physical exhaustion. Wisdom tells me this protected area here is a good call. I need REM. It’s the body’s way of demanding a switch of priority.”

Sometimes, I thought to myself, in such a diminished strength, it is hard to see the poetry of sleeping beside the road by an unused mountain bridge. We both lay down and slept. Howie slept nestled against Doppel in his sleeping bag.

I was awoken after what seemed like five minutes. Doppel already had his motorcycle warming up.

“We should beat the traffic,” he said. “Sleep well?”

“Yes, but not long.”

“Four hours was longer than I thought we’d need.”

The plundered booty gained from our exploit (Howie) stood out among the city traffic that confronted us when we reached the outskirts of Taipei. The power was back on and life was back to its fast pace, everyone rushing around on scooters getting to their places of work like a swarm of worker bees. For me, that special feeling of bestowal is soon replaced with the city-mad state of mind of traffic jams and indifference. But I am not alone.

I pull up to Doppel at a traffic light.

“Good trip brother,” he said. “His voice was full of meaning and exhaustion. I looked at the strange red patches on his face below his eyes and around the top part of his cheeks, thinking it strange hoe the sun had only hit part of his wind-burned face.

“That’s an understatement.” The Taiwanese stared at the little puppy sitting up with good posture and ears back on the gas tank, as though it was now a connoisseur of road tripping on a motorcycle.

The light changed and he darted ahead, soon putting his shoulder into another turn taking us closer to his retreat in the mountains. What had threatened to be dangerous had in fact been revealed to be a terrible beauty hidden in the lining of an earthquake, its aftershocks and the resultant avalanches. We had seen how God Himself could paint the canvas, and that enriched us both as we returned to our lives.

Beside the water – note the footwear: Birkenstock sandals