Sounds to Words to Sound

Bill Strickland is Editor-at-Large at Bicycling Magazine; author of several books (Ten Points, Tour de Lance, The Quotable Cyclist); and a celebrator of fine beers, local velodromes and the reveal of the ride. It is always a great pleasure to run into him in varied locales, in the company of dedicated cyclists and beautiful bicycles.


I tried thwap thwap thwap and that was not right, that did not work at all, so by hand but in ink at least, in a notebook sitting next to my keyboard I wrote whomp then I put a question mark after the word then I scribbled over the whole thing. I typed in whompwhompwhompwhompawhompwhomp and that was not it either, but there was something in that accidental “a” that had dropped in after a whomp that intrigued me. That single letter, that was getting somewhere. I picked up my pen and held it over the paper of my notebook again and put it down and its clack onto the surface of my desk got my attention so that I was listening when I closed the notebook and the sheets made a sound not at all like two people sliding into bedsheets but one that somehow evoked just that. So I had the bedsheets of my notebook, and the two people the sheets implied — Who were they? And were they exhausted or aroused? — and I had that strange compelling “a” in the whompwhompwhomp. I read aloud what I had: “The cars come, they precede the bicycles, they whompwhompwhompwhompawhompwhomp

It was a nice try, anyway. I never wrote the story, never even finished the sentence. No matter. Mine is a profession of waste and an art of tiny victories pulled from immense failure. And, anyway, I think about that “a” pretty often, and not only when I am writing. I think, as well, about the bedsheets in my notebook, and I like that I never decided who the two people were.

One winter afternoon, in the Midwestern state I was born in but was now just visiting I was out for a ride, alone, cold, happy, on my way toward tired but not close, on a road like a spear thrown through the far horizon. On either side of me knocked-down cornfields rustled in a frenzied arctic wind. Around and over and into my bicycle, the same wind sometimes was like a child learning to whistle, sometimes like someone blowing bass notes by breath into an empty coke bottle, sometimes like the smack of a bantamweight’s glove. The working of the chain and gears were reminding me of something I could not name or identify except to know it had been lost. The wind stopped. There was something else. Like a choir in the church across town on a spring night. I stopped. Above me, power lines and telephone wires sang. I listened, head cocked and eyes closed, one foot on the ground, my thigh across the top tube of the bike, my arms crossed over the handlebar. The chain and gears — the tone arm of the record player I owned when I last lived here, grooved into the center of the album that spun and spun and spun, the end that never ended, what came after the music and was not music until, if you left the album spinning through the night, in your sleep it became so.

Rebecca, she loves sound so much she inspires everyone around her to do the same. My writing has more sounds (and perhaps is more sound) since I’ve gotten to know her. And the same, I think, is true for my life.



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