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This must be the place: Instead of insight, maybe all a man gets is strength to wander for a while

Jamestown Connector in Ohio. Garret K. Woodward photo Jamestown Connector in Ohio. Garret K. Woodward photo

What’s that feeling you get pulling back up in front of your humble abode after weeks away, wandering and pondering?

What’s that feeling of waking up in your own bed after weeks away, and yet the bed, the room and the ambiance seems so oddly foreign, like it was someone else’s apartment and you just so happened to know where the spare key is?

Saturday morning in downtown Waynesville. It had been just about a month since I’ve opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling of my bedroom. Look up at that water stain in the ceiling tile. Gaze over to the painting on the wall from that Vermont artist you knew from his days as a touring rock drummer. Eyes drifting towards the sunlight peeking through the window blinds, the sounds of weekend warrior motorcycles and passerby muscle cars on nearby Russ Avenue.

It was late August when I packed up the ole Tacoma and headed north. Upstate New York, onward to Ottawa, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec, only to circle back to the south via Lexington, Kentucky. Handful of assignments for Rolling Stone, more so an open window of opportunity to hit the road and disappear into the abyss of time, place, and of absolutely nothing at all. The beauty of the road is the unknowns that fill in the space between the “knowns,” the anchor points of a particular destination or reason to wander and ponder.

The road has, and will always remain, my real home, you dig? It’s the only environment where I can actually think or not think or simply let my mind do its thing and peel back the layers of whatever is the matter at hand. Peel it all back to the basics, only to then try to piece it all back together, but with a sturdier foundation. Thick walls of intuition. Big windows of natural light, of letting in vulnerability and curiosity from the outside world.

Some may say the road is about escapism, about not really facing the reality of your actions and your consequences in the rearview mirror. Pour the gasoline all over that house of intuition. Light the match. Set it ablaze. Turn around and walk away without looking back, all before the fire department of public scrutiny can arrive on scene and determine just who you are, what you are, and how it is things came to this crazy, ongoing conclusion playing out in real time.

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I hit the road for a myriad of reasons. Love lost, love found. Heartbreak. Heartache. Family fires needing to be put out back up in my native North Country. Friends going through their own hardships. Faces from the past still lingering in carefully placed photos on the shelves of my memory. Mulling over things I’ve said or done in the past that I’d have done different. Of course, you can’t change the past. But, you can carry yourself forward with a better sense of self following each passing femme fatale, mistake made, etc.

Shit, maybe I just want to toss on The Rolling Stones’ album “Exile On Main Street” (the song “Soul Survivor” on repeat) on the stereo and just drift down some random dirt road in the depths of Southern Appalachia, just to see where in the hell this road pops out to, “When the waters is rough, the sailing is tough, I can drowned in your love.” Crank up the tunes. Roll the windows down. Inhale deeply. Rinse. Repeat.

Side note, you know that dirt road that leads to Max Patch, the one the brings you to the small parking lot? Well, instead of heading back down the way you came to Interstate 40, go the other way towards Tennessee, and you’ll be happily surprised when (eventually) the legendary Bobarosa Saloon comes into view in Del Rio. One of the largest biker bars in the country, all along the ancient French Broad River. If you go, tell Bob (the owner) Garret from the newspaper says hello.

And yet, “it all” circles back to this postcard I randomly received on my desk in the newsroom a few years back. Mailed from Charleston, South Carolina. No name on it, but it read: "Instead of insight, maybe all a man gets is strength to wander for a while. Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire, to know nothing for certain. An inheritance of wonder and nothing more." It’s a quote from the seminal novel, “Blue Highways,” by William Least Heat-Moon.

Running has always been my souvenir while wandering and pondering. I've been an active runner since I was 12 (37 now). And, as far back as I can remember, going for a run has, honestly, been my true time stamp of moments in my life — geographically, spiritually, creatively, romantically, etc. I've always felt that you can't really immerse yourself into a particular place without going for a jog in it. 

For me, it's about my running shoes traversing whatever surface I'm on, whether it be a large city, small town, backwoods trail or mountaintop. It's about your sweat dripping down your face and soaking into the ancient earth. It's hearing and observing the sounds of the birds, insects, passerby vehicles, the wind, or simply the sound of beautiful silence itself — you alone in that singular time and place.

En route to Lexington, Kentucky, the other day, I pulled off Interstate 71 and jumped on an old railroad line now greenway path, the Jamestown Connector, in the depths of rural Ohio. Nobody around. Cornfields for endless acres. The sounds of the bugs and the songbirds. Butterflies drifting across my field of vision. A farm tractor revving its diesel engine. Old farmhouses off in the distance. All the while, a sense of deep gratitude radiating from my heart and soul for this moment — “An inheritance of wonder and nothing more.”

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

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