The rolling, green hills creep past my windows while I leisurely drive along the winding road, occasionally passing a pick-up truck. I have the local country station blasting as I sing along, “Makes me wanna take a back road. Makes me wanna take the looong waaay home.” This peaceful slice of countryside has a calming effect on me. It’s never changing. No matter how far away I go from this place, no matter what length of time I’m gone, it’s always exactly as I remembered it when I return.
As the road curves around a sharp decline, I know exactly when to tap my brakes. This is the same road I drove down every day from the age of sixteen to eighteen. Back in those days, I couldn’t wait to get out of this town. It was almost stifling, how small it was. I didn’t know what to expect from the world beyond these county lines, but I knew that I had already seen everything within them.
It’s been five years since I have lived in this place permanently, and it seems further away than ever. During my college years, I would return here, and it would be as if I had never left. I could throw on some old clothes from my closet and go into town to meet my high school friends. I can no longer squeeze into the old jeans I wore when I was seventeen, and most of my high school friends are married with children and have long forgotten about me.
Or maybe I’ve forgotten about them.
My car starts to chug up the hill called Spring Mountain. When I was a child, I thought that Spring Mountain was the biggest mountain there was. I used to wonder if I would ever be able to walk all the way from the bottom to the very top. As the years have passed, I have walked up many mountains that are easily twenty times the size of this one. No, this place hasn’t changed. I’ve been the one to change.
I used to feel trapped here. I never appreciated the miles of endless trees or the quaint farmhouses or any of the things that most people have to drive an hour out of the city to see. I never felt the support of the tight-knit community. It seems that I never noticed the important things until I was stung by the absence of them.
I reach the top of the hill, and the road flattens out as I drive the last half mile to the place I lived for the first eighteen years of my life. I know exactly what to expect from this town and all the families that have lived here for generations. Everything appears to be the same, but it feels different. I feel welcomed here, but I don’t feel as if I belong.
After leaving this place, I traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, walked the entirety of the Appalachian Mountains, and drove out west to find a new place to live. I thought that I was only learning more about myself. I didn’t know that I was losing the person I had once been. This place that I was once so familiar with no longer feels like my home.
My tires crawl across the hot, interstate pavement. I stare at the Rocky Mountains in the distance, in a trance, wishing I was hiking over them instead of being stuck in traffic. I’ve been living in this city for months and I’m still not sure if it’s the place for me. I hear the guitar twang of a familiar song, and I turn the radio up and sing along, “Home is where my heart is still beating. I don’t know when I’ll see her again. I hate to see her cry when I’m leaving. But now I’m a thousand miles away again.”
I really am a thousand miles away from home. It seems like the more I try to see of the world, the more I am eluded by everything I left behind. I can’t have them both. Traffic starts moving again and I hit the gas, driving towards the horizon.
About the Author: Megan Maxwell is originally from Ohio, and currently resides in Denver. She hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and has a how-to blog for women who are interested in backpacking. She hopes to one day be a full-time writer and to always continue having adventures.