Saturday, March 24, 2007

A bit about me

Me, slightly hungoverHello. Welcome to my blog. I've never done a blog before. But then I haven't really had much of a reason to in the past five years, and before that .... Well, before that I'm not sure the word blog had been coined yet. That's me to the right, looking grumpy and maybe a bit hungover.

The reason I haven't had too much to blog about in the past five years is because I've been in grad school. Working my ass off to get a PhD in astrophysics from MIT. At this point it's been so long and grueling that I sometimes forget why I decided to go down this road in the first place. As a snappy comeback when someone questions my credentials? It does sound a bit silly. Of course, the real reason is because I've always been fascinated with space — both the mystery of what's out there and the adventure of human space flight. I certainly wouldn't mind going up there someday myself.

Anyhow, the past five years have been hard. But with only a few months remaining (holy crap! so much to do!), the end is in sight. And I need a vacation. A long and awesome vacation. Hence this trip.

I started riding about three years ago. You see, the MIT physics department has three general exams that you must pass in order to get the PhD: a test of your knowledge of undergraduate physics (5 hours, 20 questions); a test of graduate physics (5 hours, 4 questions); and finally an oral exam on your specialization, in my case astrophysics. Assimilating enough physics to pass one of these exams requires at least a month of doing nothing but studying for 40+ hours a week. That hurts the human brain. A lot. It makes it do crazy things like ... what the hell, sign up for an MSF course and learn to ride. Buy a bike. Have that bike explode on you. Buy another bike. Also, learn to play guitar! It's kind of like a mid-life crisis in fast-forward.

I had the second, non-exploding bike for about a year. A Honda Shadow 750CD, their chromed-out, mid-displacement cruiser. It was a good bike. But I've never been one to take things half-way, so I wanted to ride it all year round. After a trip from Boston to PA and back for Christmas 2005, I started to realize that the Shadow needed to be upgraded. I really needed to install heated grips, or ....

Or, I could buy a new bike. I think it was a craigslist ad in which BMW's awesome R1150GS first caught my attention. An "adventure touring" bike. Upright seating, off-road capabilities, bigger gas tank. And heated grips. And a million other items that are better cataloged elsewhere. Even its purely utilitarian Mars-rover aesthetics captured my astrophysicist's heart.

I've had this bike for a year and a half now, and man, do I love it. And man, does that love cost me the big bucks. It is a farkle magnet. For the non-bikers, a farkle is an extra bit of gear for the bike. Things like aftermarket shocks, a GPS, heavy-duty sidecases, an auxiliary gas tank, tire pressure monitors. All good examples of farkles, and all ones that happen to be on my bike (or will be by the time of the trip). Luckily for my wallet, I think I'm pretty happy with this setup — not much more to put on! Even luckier, this kind of bike is known to last forever. With proper maintenance, Beemers are famous for staying on the road after hundreds of thousands of miles. (Right now it has a mere 40k.)

I bought this bike to ride it! Anywhere and everywhere, may I never again own a car. Motorcycling has rapidly become a defining hobby for me. So I really can't think of anything better than finishing my obligations here at MIT, getting on that bike, and riding it as far as I can across this country. This blog will be the story of that trip, and all the preparations leading up to it.

No comments: