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This must be the place: Roads that we abandon and others that we take

This must be the place: Roads that we abandon and others that we take

When I lace up my running shoes lately, I’ve found that I usually need to add a windbreaker on top of my normal running attire. It’s that time of year again, my favorite spot on the calendar. The air is colder, the leaves have fallen, and yet the sun’s rays still warm the face — that calm before the storm of holidays and family obligations. 

Growing up on the Canadian Border, this period meant winter was just around the corner, too. Almost like clockwork, the first snowfall of the season would be Halloween night, or shortly thereafter. Nothing like running around your neighborhood in search of bite-sized candy, your thick winter coat over your superhero or ghost costume.

My father also reveled in this time of the season, too. Each Saturday morning, our family would pack into the Plymouth minivan and head for Dartmouth College (2.5 hours from my home) to watch an Ivy League football game. Frozen seats and hot chocolate sipped carefully, the chants of the “Big Green” faithful in hopes of another victory. 

With a very blue-collar upbringing, my dad always had this fascination with Dartmouth and the vibrancy of the stadium, students, campus, and the picturesque town that is Hanover, New Hampshire. I remember those games well, mostly he and I throwing the pigskin around on the field after the final score was tallied. 

During middle school and high school, right now was when I’d be running through the woods and fields of my native North Country during the final cross-country races of the fall. All of those frozen mornings throwing on my running gear (short-shorts, a singlet, toque and gloves) emblazed with “Northeastern Clinton Central School.” 

I was incredibly competitive back in those days. Running was all I thought about and trained for. My father yelling at me from the sidelines of some high school course to “get that guy up there, go get’em.” Racing through the muddy backwoods of the Adirondack Mountains or alongside the frigid waters and rocky shoreline of Lake Champlain, always in search of a bid to compete at the New York State championships.

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Later in my teenage years, I got more interested in girls than sports. And soon, just around early November 2001, I got myself a girlfriend, more so a “high school sweetheart.” She lived over an hour away from me, way up in the depths of the majestic, ancient Adirondacks. Every Saturday, I’d jump into my crappy 1989 Toyota Camry and make the trek down Route 3 to a small town just outside of Saranac Lake, New York. 

I looked forward to that drive along Route 3, especially once the leaves had fallen. You would be cruising along this desolate mountain route and could see ridges and peaks way out on the horizon, almost like ocean waves heading towards you from destinations unknown. 

I’d pick her up at her parent’s house and we’d motor over to Lake Placid, maybe go ice skating in front of the Olympic Center or grab a cup of coffee in downtown. We would meander the cold brick sidewalks and look into the windows of expensive restaurants, imagining what it would be like to be older, to actually have a disposable income and go on a “real date.” 

While attending college in Connecticut, we’d all be excited to soon make our “triumph return” to our respective hometowns for Thanksgiving, usually the first time each year any of us would get a chance to see our friends and family. The dorm rooms, hallways and classrooms would be antsy, this sense in the air that we were capable of anything, whether it be our own eventual career aspirations or — usually — how to finally get into that bar around the corner with our fake IDs. 

And just before the turkey and gravy was served, we’d be readying ourselves for final exams that semester. I would escape the campus after class and simply cruise around the backroads and small New England towns just outside of New Haven and within a stone’s throw of the Long Island Sound. 

Drifting along U.S. 1 without a care in the world, my old pickup truck would ease its way into quiet seaside communities, sometimes stopping at a random beach found by happenstance. Sitting on my tailgate, a mighty wind would push off the Atlantic Ocean, making me clutch my warm jacket that much tighter, a smile never leaving my face thinking about how wild and wondrous this all too big and beautiful world truly is. 

And now, at age 34, all of those sentiments and memories still run through my thoughts and actions, especially with the holidays just around the corner. Though my friends and family back home are over 1,100 miles away, I do think of them often, and also about those days spent running around Upstate New York and New England. 

It’s as if time itself is one single, solitary moment, this fabric of space and chance by which I can just reach out and touch it — embracing the road to the here and now, and never once forgetting the precious nature of each day above ground.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

 

Hot picks

1 Western Carolina University’s First Thursday Old-Time and Bluegrass Series will feature the Pressley Girls, who will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at HomeBase located on 82 Central Drive in Cullowhee.

2 The monthly “Cherokee Heritage Day” will continue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.

3 “Urinetown: The Musical” will be staged Nov. 7-10, by the students and faculty of Western Carolina University’s School of Stage and Screen.

4 A production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Musical” will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8-9 and 15-16 at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.

5 Jackson County Americana/rock act Arnold Hill and Chris Pressley (country/roots) will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, at Nantahala Brewing in Sylva.

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