Riding Beyond the Boundaries

By David L. Robbins | January 10th, 2019

A challenge to keep exploring and pushing

David L. Robbins motorcycle

Somewhere between mischief and trouble, there’s a balance, a sweet spot.

We first probed this phenomenon as children. How loudly do I need to cry, how long, to get what I want, not a spanking, not put to bed? How far can I push this argument, this tone? How many peanuts can I fit into my mouth?

In adolescence, risk-reward turned into a fascination, and in our teen years an occupation. Too young to be women and men, too old to be girls and boys, we scanned every open terrain for the boundaries, then rushed and pushed to reach them. On occasion we gave the fence a good shove, and if it didn’t hold or shove back, sometimes we’d hop over. Usually we’d return after some wandering. Sometimes we’d get lost.

Adulthood turned many of us into the boundaries for others. After enough wear, tear and years, jobs and bills, we found ourselves responsible for our own families and employees; we were teachers and authority figures. Without wishing it so, we became the lesson, the fence, the warning. We were what pushed back. Perhaps we soured even on the whole business of mischief, the alchemy that a little ill-advised poor judgment might transform itself into some fun, adventure, risk, even trouble.


Yeah. So, enough with the introduction. I bought a motorcycle.

It’s perfect. It fits every bill. Why did I buy it? Good question but asked too soon. First let me tell you what I bought.

It’s a 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS SE, matte black and tomato orange, 649 cc, low slung and well-fit to my 6’6” frame. The thing is twitchy fast, nimble, nicely muffled and comfortable when you consider it’s just a stool moving at highway speeds. It has all sorts of modern motorcycle things which mean nothing to me, water-cooled and torque whatever’d; I really have no idea and no intention of having an idea. It’s orange and black. It has no utility whatsoever in my life; I neither need nor deserve it.

My motorcycle is not safe even if operated safely. I try my darnedest to remove myself from the danger equation by riding the way I learned to ride three years ago in Vietnam while researching a book – frightened, a lot. Riding American streets, I still believe that any moment a water buffalo or a herd of goats will amble into the road, or a concrete truck will pull out without looking, or he looked and didn’t give a damn because he’s a concrete truck and you’re not. Or the road simply disappears without explanation into gravel and rain-ruts. Or some 16-year-old hopped up on Red Bull will appear out of nowhere on a maxed-out scooter at your elbow and shout “Hi!” Or there will be ten thousand – I mean that number literally – flinging themselves on all sides of you like corpuscles. So, I ride my Kawasaki scared, all the time. That’s my version of safe.

And it’s thrilling. People, truly, it is. Speed, wind, the blur of tarmac inches under your boots, no radio or phone or music but in your ears only an engine. Your hands and feet all have separate assignments, and when they work in concert you dash. On a twisting road, you don’t turn the handlebars but lean, the bike follows your weight. It’s balletic, dynamic, unparalleled. Only riding a horse matches a motorcycle for the jointure of man and conveyance.


Why did I do it? Because of the sweet spot. Because of everything you just read above. If too many fences go unchallenged, the landowner will surely start shortening your range. Straining at the leash has the odd benefit of reminding you it’s there, your limits are intact, and you are at them. A motorcycle, a sailboat, a painting seminar, a martial arts class, a half-marathon, a novel written, scuba lessons, a trip to see icebergs – that’s something to put on the other side of the scale, to maintain that balance we first explored in diapers.

I’m not saying buy a motorcycle. That’s too specific, and that’s my own. I am saying shatter something. Throw a rock into some lake in your spirit. Break some routine. Be unsafe, if only a little. Go find the fence, kick it, maybe jump it. Fly a kite where the winds are unfettered and the range is wild. Then come back inside the pasture where you are loved and belong. Keep your eyes on the horizon, beyond the border. Sooner or later, that’s where we’re all bound.

Best-selling author David L. Robbins is founder of the James River Writers, co-founder of The Podium Foundation and creator of the Mighty Pen Project veterans’ writing program.

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