Roads to nowhere

    Maybe, I’m not running toward anything.

    There are so many times a day when someone asks you where you’re going.

    Maybe you’re on the Metra, and the conductor wants to know where you’re getting off. You’re walking down Sheridan; your friends want to know when to meet you at the library later. You’re meeting with your adviser; she wants to know what you want to do next quarter, or after graduating, or with your life.

    We’re supposed to have answers. We’re expected to make goals, to pursue them, and be constantly aware of our proximity to attainment on the road to success. As much as I aspire to go somewhere in life, these questions are exactly what I run away from. Sometimes, I just want to take a road without knowing where it will take me. Sometimes, it’s not even a road.

    People see me running sometimes and they’ll ask what I am running toward. If they’re insightful, they might even ask what I’m running from. I guess it doesn’t occur to people that I could just be running for the sake of running.

    Other runners understand this feeling better than anyone. My team back home would set off on a run without really choosing a direction. Most of the time, we didn’t find anything particularly interesting, but every so often we’d stumble across a gem. One time it was a dark tunnel that took us underneath the train tracks. One time it was a hidden treehouse, complete with two levels and a rope-and-pulley system. One time it was a quarry we hadn’t heard of, tucked in the dense woods behind the local church. On each of those occasions, we stopped our watches and took time to explore, running through the tunnel, climbing into the treehouse, splashing each other in the quarry. Each time, I remember laughing and messing around the way you do when you don’t have phones to capture the moment; instead simply trying to take everything in for the sheer sake of collecting memories like stamps. Every time I ruined a pair of shoes or ripped a cotton t-shirt, I decided it was ultimately worth it. Looking back on the stories behind each snare, all I can think is, we were kids. We were all such kids.

    The same thought crossed my mind this past weekend. I rented bikes with a few of my friends and we went straight north until the sun set, air whistling through the spokes of our tires and blowing pieces loose from our hair. On the way back, I spontaneously swerved into an alley between houses and we all ended up in the parking lot of an elementary school with a basketball court and a miniature track.

    “How long do you think it’ll take me to get all the way around this?” One of my friends asked, hands pulsing on the handles as if it was a motorcycle instead of a Divvy bike.

    We took turns timing each other, laughing as we ripped around the tiny track, crossing through lanes and cheating by cutting through the middle. In the fading light from the setting sun, ponytail bouncing with each leap, I found myself trampling across the parking lot of an elementary school with three other students and again thought about how juvenile I felt.

    The whole ride home, we reminisced about how much fun we were having until I finally realized the appeal. It wasn’t acting like a kid that I enjoyed; it was the sheer absence of a plan. I missed snaking through neighborhoods and rolling down unknown streets, checking over my shoulder to make sure my friends had followed, but most of all, I missed exploring. I missed riding without a purpose, then finding it along the way.

    It was the same feeling that came from those winding childhood road trips, drives where we pulled to the side of the road whenever we saw something interesting, until the destination wasn’t nearly as important as the stops we made along the way. Often, I think back on journeys from the backseat and wonder why I only remember parts of the trip. Why is it that I can’t say where we were going? I guess it was never important.

    Maybe that’s the reason I go on runs, bike rides, and road trips. Maybe I don’t like starting out with a destination in mind; maybe I know it doesn’t matter. Maybe I understand that the second you win the race, you’ve lost the moment. Maybe I know that by the time you reach the end of the road trip, the journey is over.

    My favorite place to go is nowhere.


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