At the end of our block there was a gravel road that lead west out to the highway. For a few early summer months, I remember trying to wake up early before school to go running with Cheryl to the end of that road and back.
It always seemed so daunting. Early summer mornings were cool at best or downright cold. I wanted to get up to show Cheryl that I could manage just like she could, but those times of sitting in the landing, far too tired, trying to lace up my sneakers almost killed me. I didn’t last more than half-a-dozen outings.
We’d get our shoes on, and we’d creak open the back door, and head out onto the driveway in the early morning sunshine. At this point I’d think twice about doing anything more than this—why was I out here?
The we’d start plodding down the street towards the end and towards the start of the gravel road. Why we never ran in town is now a mystery to me, though I never thought of it then. Fairview’s a small town; there was never any traffic. And with how early we got up in the morning, there wouldn’t have been any traffic anyways. The dusty gravel road and how it stretched out towards the horizon and away from anything comforting (houses, people, my bed and blankets) made it all the more daunting. Still we never ran any other way.
We’d turn that corner and start going, gravel crunching under our feet. The gravel could be thick in places and all my running effort would sink into the rocks. Or it might be washboard in other places, making if difficult to run across all the little ridges. Cars almost never came while we were running. When they did, though, it was dust clouds.
The road rose very slowly to just the slightest crest and all the while on this uphill section it felt like forever. Birds would chirp hollow song notes, wind would blow, and the entirety of the earth would otherwise be silent. I would feel that likely all else had ceased to exist since we left home. Maybe this was the edge of the world. This feeling explained why, that once Cheryl stopped her runs I never went on them on my own. It was far too eerie. I could’ve just turned right at the end of our block and ran back in amongst the neighbourhood streets.
After the crest was where you’d glimpse the railroad tracks and the highway beyond. Down we’d go until we reached those tracks and we’d hopped over the ties with a bit of care, from going fast down the slight decline and not wanting to trip into a face full of gravel. There was never a train crossing those tracks, at least not when we went. The tracks just stretched silently away from town and around the bend out to the end of the line some 40km away. These days the rail lines have all been torn up and sold as scrap.
After then it was the highway just a few steps further. We’d get to that bend in the highway and be grateful that somehow, after just a short journey but what felt like a long, lonely time, there was pavement again, a sign of people. Usually a car would whip past us on that curve on it’s way out to Hines Creek or back into town. We’d touch that pavement with our foot—a sure sign that we’d gone all the way, no cheating or short cuts—and turn around for the way back.
The way back is always shorter, as it was on this gravel road, but as it is in life as well. Scientists may have proven how this is (something about neural networks and the brain’s time-perception), but me I always knew why. On the way back, the rise part was shorter, and the downhill was longer. We could see the town of Fairview enlarge with every step, a kind of welcome home to say that we’re almost back and that the whole town missed us every minute that we were gone. We’d see the crescent of our neighbourhood from behind, and from this uncommon vantage point it always stuck out how odd and misshapen their fences and backyards were.
Then we’d reach that corner, the end of our street, and turn it right for a sprinter’s finish to our driveway. On that stretch I could run and run just knowing there was no more gravel to push and there was home ready for me.
Back at home, after high-fiving and kicking off our shoes, Cheryl and I would have that short moment that all people do of basking in the glow of exercise finished. Mom would hear us come in and ask, “Did you go running again?” as if there was any other place to go for us at six in the morning.
Mom was I suppose happy as all moms are that the kids were back in the house safe and sound. And Cheryl and I were happy from endorphins and knowing we kept up our running pledge for another day. But mainly I was happy to have braved that lonely stretch of dust and gravel and still made it safely back home.