Riders Who Write 

BMW Owner's News

February, 1996

Trusting Highways, Trusting Words

Toby Fulwiler


Where do you ride when you feel like riding, but have nowhere in particular to go? What do you write when you feel like writing, but have nothing in particular to say? In either case, you have two choices: you invent someplace to go, something to say, or you stay in the garage.

You already know about the riding: How sometimes when the weather's just right, you put on the leather jacket, boots, helmet; sit in the saddle, turn over the engine, and ease out of the driveway, on up the road--for what? gas? bread? or, better still, an empty highway, new blacktop, a far horizon?

It's the same with writing: My mood just now, an itch to write, but no direction in mind; a need to turn on the computer, put words on the screen, watch where they lead, follow, wonder if I'll find fuel, food, or a far horizon. Writing, like riding, is an act of trust: If you move, somewhere will come.

Times like these, you let the roads do the choosing, you the following. But isn't it always so, as much the road leading as you steering? A matter of give and take, plan and luck, chance and fate: You pull out of the garage, saddlebags packed, routes highlighted on the tank-bag map, highway numbers taped on the windshield, a gas stop figured, a lunch stop planned . . . But what you find is Highway 15 under repair (scarified pavement five miles, motorcycles use caution); the Jeffersonville bridge out (detour north); black clouds ahead, lightening to the left (pause and reconsider); a seven-family garage sale, two miles right; VFW Post 167 fish fry (all you can eat); the smile from the Winger at the next pump (careful, speed trap ahead); and so it goes, the dynamics of the road composing the ride as much as your own planning, mapping, scheduling, and scheming.

For writers, too, in times like these, you trust the words and follow along. And as with riding, it's always as much the words the writer taking charge. You have a plan, an outline, a map of an idea, and you lead with your best sentences, most considered thoughts--the path ahead new, clear, and straight, when, presto! stones in the road, congestion on the curves, bridge out. The words take you someplace that, in the first place, you had no intention of going; but now, in the second place, where you've arrived is pretty interesting. So you write on, keep trusting, see what's next. The writing, like the riding, an inescapable compromise between intention and accident.

Consider, for a moment, the alternative. You know, the fantasy trip where everything goes as planned: no closed roads, no broken bridges, no gravel, no rain, no lightening, no seven-family garage sales, VFW fish fries, or strangers with stories to tell. If such a trip does exist (I'm still waiting), I'll pass. Give me the journey with a few pains, problems to solve, mysteries to unravel, routes to figure, and strangers to surprise me--these the journeys that keep me alert, on the edge, vital, both riding and writing. Which of you out there would have it otherwise?

So this is where my words have led today, to musing about the entanglement between language and thought, accident and intention, writing and riding. But these very words also remind me there's more to it--that we do make choices, have some control, steer. Because the road leads, doesn't mean we only follow. We accelerate, brake, backtrack, turn left, slow down, have a picnic, or visit still another roadside attraction. The interplay between accident and intention never ending--unless, of course, we settle. (And so my words lead finally to this thought.)

Settling is death to good riding and writing alike. Settling is leaving the R1100 in the garage because you've no place to go; staying on the I-35 when you cross Route 66; putting the bike away wet and dirty when you have time and a clean towel; ordering oatmeal when huevos rancheros is on the menu. And in writing, settling is leaving the computer off, the fountain pen capped, because you've nothing to say; settling for generalities because the travel journal isn't handy; accepting the dull title, the wooden dialogue, the missing transition, the wordy style because the first draft is already printed out.

Whether you ride or write, don't settle. Prefer, instead, the risk, the trek, the trouble to find new places, people, thoughts, skills. If you don't settle, no telling what you'll find out there. Good riding and writing to you.