Monday, April 7, 2014

Mud, rocks, and split infinitives

With spring finally finding its way to our corner of New England, Arizona and I have emerged from hibernation, blinking up at the sun and taking stock of a few post-winter chores that need doing. First on that list? Hauling the mountain bikes down off their racks, giving them a quick tune-up and hitting the trails. 

This, of course, involves a fine titration of clothing--I get grumpy when I'm too cold, especially from windchill, but warm up quickly and need to start shedding. Ergo, I wear lots of layers, which is a fine New England tradition. Arizona, being a guy, wears shorts and a shirt, shivers for the first twenty minutes and is comfortable for the rest of the ride ... and teases me about being an Onion.

Despite the recent heavy rains, the trails we frequent have been in good shape, and we've been careful to hike our bikes through the soft areas to preserve the surface for later in the season. And although I, having been diligent on the treadmill and elliptical over the winter, had the brief fun of out-riding Arizona at first, that lasted maybe three rides before he--ridiculously athletic and a lifelong biker--started leaving me in his proverbial (and literal) dust. That's okay, though, because he is a star about waiting for me to catch up, and always greeting me with a "Good climb!" or "Nice downhill!" 

Which brings us to yesterday, when we decided to explore a set of new-to-us trails about a half hour away. The loop we picked was touted as 'intermediate level' by a couple of websites, but I have to wonder if this was in comparison to the guys who do the Red Bull Tour, because from where I was riding, it was all pretty gnarly. Me? At this point in my mountain biking career, I can do one or two hard things at once--hop up onto a rock while going uphill, or jump a log and then make a hairpin turn. This place, though, kept asking me to do those things on a foot-wide trail with a sheer drop on one side. Eep!

Having rearranged my teeth last fall on similar terrain, and being under orders from my beloved not to hurt myself, I sensibly creepy-crawled verrrry slowly through many of the tricky sections, quite often getting my front wheel trapped by a rock or root because I was going at a snail's pace. Which then meant I got to hop off and hike my bike to the next easy-ish section, giving me time to think about biking as a metaphor for the way I write. To whit:

MOMENTUM IS GOOD. Or, as a very famous horse trainer says in a very famous quote: Make every mistake going forward. If you go too slowly and second guess every written word, pointy rock, or galloping stride, then you're more likely to trap yourself and stall out. So it's generally better to carry the sort of speed that makes the little bumps less noticeable. That way you can focus on the big obstacles. In writing, I have to fight not to overanalyze my first draft, trying to get each word exactly right, even though I know they'll probably change during revisions.

BUT DON'T GO TOO FAST. Just like going too slow can lead to a crash, so can going too fast and outrunning your ability to make good decisions. And, newsflash, it usually hurts worse to crash at higher speeds! (My once-dislocated, still sort of crooked two years later elbow can attest to this.) From a writing perspective, this is where I can get myself in BIG trouble--when I'm writing along quickly, have this *brilliant* idea that's sooo much cooler than what I have in my outline, and follow the new direction. Mind you, sometimes it works, and I get the adrenaline rush of having bombed down a rocky hillside right on the edge of disaster, and making it through safely. More often, though, at some point it goes BOOM! And then I'm left to pick up the pieces and find my way back to the main trail.

And so ... as I settle in for a morning of writing, I'm reminding myself, like Goldilocks and her bears, not to go too big or too little, but aim for just the right amount of effort. Will I manage it? Probably not. More likely, I'll have some sections where I go too slowly and stare at the pointy rock I'm trying not to hit (which ensures that I will hit it), and others where I outrun common sense and go flying off the trail into some prickly bushes. Overall, though, I'm hoping it'll average out to just about right, and I'll hit my word goal for the day, the week, the month ... In the meantime, I'm wishing you, my friends, readers and fellow writers, a very good week, with dry trails, good lines, and a loved one waiting for you up ahead to say, "Great climb!"


  1. Replies
    1. *waves* You're welcome! Like I said, I had some time to think whilst pack-muling the bike ;)

  2. Great piece! I loved the advice about making every mistake going forward (I'm definitely hanging back out of fear and indecision right now). Was that George Morris who said it?

    1. Ha! Yes, that was GM, one of his less profane quotes. Good catch :) Glad you enjoyed the read, Laura. Kick on and write forward! (She says as she surfs the interwebz...)

    2. I picked up on George. :) Great advice and very inspirational Jess. Slow and steady...

      Happy spring. (And don't hurt yourself.)

  3. The weather this weekend was great, wasn't it? I went hiking on Sunday. But then, naturally, it was cold and raining today *sigh* better than snow, though lol

  4. Hi Jesse,

    Are you the same Jesse Hayworth who wrote the wonderful story "WriterChick seeks soul mate" from a recently published book for the Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Dating Game? The story, however, touched my heart and soothed my soul in a very positive way.

    Best wishes,
    Hamza Hassan
    Saudi Arabia