It was a good but tiring day. I got up at 6:15 and rode 25 miles at a pretty aggressive pace, southwest into Chatham County and then up across Highway 54 on Dodson’s Crossroads before turning back home.
It was also a little tiring emotionally, as is often the case when I’m back on campus at Davidson. I drove over there for a few hours to meet up for lunch with my friends Rebecca and Natalie, who were bringing Natalie’s daughter to a three-week summer camp there, on campus. I felt a bit of the same heavy, bittersweet nostalgia that usually seeps in as I approach. Occasionally, I’ll see a familiar restaurant and wish I’d taken a certain girl to dinner there.
It’s especially strong when I take the back roads, as I did today, instead of I-77. I’ll see a certain barn or some other rustic landmark, or a certain meadow or particular road and think “Damn, that would’ve been a great road to ride on if I’d been a cyclist back in college. Why didn’t I get out there?” This morning, my Google Maps app directed me off of I-85 a few miles south of Salisbury. It wasn’t the way I would’ve thought to go, but the sunshine and temperate weather made the idea of zig-zagging across twenty miles of back roads all the more appealing.
The roads didn’t disappoint: I saw a ramshackle barn in the middle of a meadow that stretched 500 yards back to a line of trees just beyond the crest of a low hill. And then another. But the bittersweet feeling was there to match: I didn’t recognize a single damn one of those twelve or thirteen roads, or even know where I was until I was within a mile of campus. How in the world had I managed not to get out and see this? What the hell did I do with myself for four years? Did I not even get out here in my car?
It’s not that the upside is completely lost on me. I realize that this is all a natural result of wanting to keep learning, of being open to new hobbies. If I hadn’t gotten so deep into cycling at age 29, I wouldn’t even be capable now, at age 39, of having this particular regret about age 19. The problem is that the feeling hits me before I can think through it rationally like that. I never know exactly when I’m going to drive around a familiar bend, see a familiar scene, and suddenly get the impression that 1995 is right there again for the taking and that I’ll know what to do with it this time. And then it’s gone and I’m back in 2015.
All of this wore on me a bit today. I got the flipside of it this evening, though, on the way home. As I sped back toward Chapel Hill, I remembered that I had hauled myself up Dodson’s Crossroads twelve hours earlier, just after dawn, with no cars approaching from either direction, when everyone else was still asleep. And I’m pretty sure that I felt a faint grin creep across my face.