Philip Funnell calls it a “podcycle,” with a tiny sleeper-trailer made out of thick foam and fiberglass rigged to the back of his Yamaha 250 motorcycle.
At just 5.5 feet long, the homemade camper has barely enough room for Funnell, 80, to stretch his legs. It’s not always comfortable, Funnell admits, but he says it has served him well during multiple tours across the globe, spanning more than a million miles and 74 countries since he began riding in 1953.
“It’s not tiring for me,” he said. “It’s an instinctual thing. It’s become automatic.”
Funnell arrived Saturday in John Day from his home in Chilliwack, British Columbia, where his latest adventure has brought him to experience Monday’s total solar eclipse. The moon is expected to start crossing the sun at 9:08 a.m., with approximately 2 minutes, 6 seconds of totality beginning at 10:22.
Inside his podcycle is everything Funnell needs for the trip — a butane stove and utensils for cooking, spare sweaters, a can of bear spray, a deck of cards to play cribbage and an old cassette tape recorder to take down his thoughts and experiences. Though he said he has traversed deserts and jungles on his bike, watched the most beautiful sunrise in Costa Rica and met the toughest people in Afghanistan, this will be Funnell’s first, and likely only, solar eclipse.
“The light will disappear alarmingly,” he anticipates, “and then it’s over. And I’ll never see another.”
Born in South London, Funnell speaks in a soft British accent with an incredible memory for details. His whole life has revolved around motorcycles, and the places they have taken him. He has been around the world twice, including every state, country and territory in North and South America.
Rifling around the back of his podcycle, Funnell finds a bound edition of a book he once self-published, titled “The Sport of Not Getting Tickets.” It was written in 1980, when he says he was still going fast.
“I had a reputation for fighting these things,” he said with a chuckle.
Nowadays, however, Funnell said he prefers a more gentlemanly, low-anxiety style of riding, taking the time to soak in the prairies and Canada plains.
“When you go through those places slowly and look at the antelope, you learn to appreciate them more, and the journey doesn’t seem so long,” he said.
Funnell is no stranger to John Day, where he says he has visited before and greeted every deer that wanders into the small town. He plans to watch the eclipse in the grocery store parking lot before eventually making his way back to Canada.
Funnell has built three podcycles in his life for these kinds of journeys. The first, he said, was stolen and the second now resides in a BMW motorcycle museum in Maryland. The little trailer, with its all-too-appropriate decal, “Snug as a bug,” offers him a place to kick up his feet at the end of a long day.
Funnell said he was attracted to motorcycling at first because they were cheap, and he couldn’t afford at the time to buy a car. Since then, he has been inducted into the Canada Motorcycle Hall of Fame and spent years as a BMW dealer in Canada, where he earned the nickname, “Dr. BMW.”
“People have done the most amazing things with motorcycles,” Funnell said. “Your whole lifestyle goes over to it.”