Several years ago, I was living in a tiny mountain town in Colorado, and a friend handed me a tattered copy of an essay that had been printed years before in the outdoor 'zine Mountain Gazette. "This," he said, "is going to be a great book some day."
The essay was Dick Dorworth's rambling paean to driving across hell and gone between mountains and more mountains. It was called "Night Driving," and finally, the book has made it into print.
Dorworth, the weekly columnist at the Ketchum Idaho Mountain Express, made it worth the wait. Not only does "Night Driving" now have the cover it should have had years ago, but it's joined by several other essays, forming what might loosely be called a memoir. Night Driving: Invention of the Wheel and Other Blues has already earned Dorworth some comparisons to the Beat writers of the late 1950s, and it's a worthwhile notion, if ultimately wrong. The former holder of the speed skiing world record is more than that.
Here is a shaggy dog story wrapped into a long day's journey into the night of the soul, leavened with some wild tales of mountainous derring-do. Oh, and a few recreational stimulants along the way.
Dorworth and his companions drive at night because they can, because they have to, to get to the next ski race, the next mountain range or the next girl. "Me and my brother fuck-ups of the lost highway, keep repeating those long drives through the night heading for that mythical home our imaginations have placed out there in the future; that home which we have always left in a full-throttle search for whatever is down the road, around the next turn, over the next hill, at the end of the next long straightaway," he writes.
Which is where he parts ways with Kerouac. In his excellent essay on the anniversary of On The Road, Louis Menand writes in The New Yorker that Kerouac's work was full of "sadness" that Dorworth avoids. Kerouac and his cronies are "restless, lonely, lost—beat." Not so Dorworth. (Lost, yes. His South American adventure with Yvon Chouinard is worth the read in and of itself.)
Yes, Dorworth rages against the machinery, but although he is a critical essayist, he does not show any crippling signs of despair. Although the language in Night Driving does occasionally slip into solipsistic meanderings, you have to admire the journey that got him there.
I eventually met and worked with Dorworth, and found a guy who seems to know how good he's had it. Read these essays and you'll know why.