Stand by for tachycardia.
I was smiling as I merged onto the interstate, on my way to the crown jewel of the road trip. I didn’t need the GPS, this route was engraved in my brain long before the age of cellphones. This time, cornfields appeared scenic rather than adding to the dullness of the drive.
Naturally, I hit construction. I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel as I crept along and ended up turning on the GPS to see where I was. The markers I once had were lost to time. I was closer than I thought.
I would see him soon.
Cue for tachycardia.
He was my companion all those years I called McLean County home – good times, bad times, he was there through it all; he was the only thing that never waivered in those years of gross uncertainty. It had been ages since we reconnected. I even got a hotel room nearby so I could spend every moment possible with him.
And then I saw the sign: Bloomington-Normal Next 3 Interchanges.
Go for tachycardia!
Just like the old days, I could feel my pulse quicken with shallowed breathing. I instinctively turned off Exit 164, heading south towards campus. I made a left on Raab Road to the free parking lot there – an oasis in a town that would tow a car stopped at a red light. I saw him standing at the far end of the lot, looking as he always did. I wanted to burst I was so happy. He looked the same but with better signage; just like me. I jumped out of the car and glided into his embrace.
His name was Constitution Trail, a nineteenth century railroad track turned running trail.
I threw my headphones in and took off at full speed, heading north. I had to see my old silos. In my day, the trail went straight, as the steam locomotives once did. Now, there was a giant curve that rerouted the trail under I-55, along Linden Street, before it swung back west to the original trail.
I, too, have had my trail rerouted under the interstate. I don’t follow the same path that I used to either. I’ve blazed my own way, too.
I had no idea how I far I had gone, as too much adrenaline was pumping for me to care. The silos at Herrick, my old endpoint, had disappeared! In its place was a cellphone tower. This was peak 2019 for me. I noticed the trail extended past its previous end and I had no choice but to follow it. Where did it lead? I figured if I hit Hudson, I went too far. Spoiler alert: the trail ended in a cornfield. I-39 loomed off to my left with a backdrop of wind turbines that never used to be there. I didn’t recognize Ziebarth Road, but I should have, as that was part of the short cut to my internship. Like Constitution, I have also been extended from where I was 20 years ago. My silos have disappeared as well.
I barnstormed back south into Uptown Normal, the biggest change I encountered yet. Normal and I both got a roundabout. Traffic flows better and the greenspace reminded me of London. I, too, no longer have a four way stop. My life is much more organic and go with the flow than when I was raising the red and white banner. I’ve grown into my own.
I walked towards my old apartment, as a lump formed in my throat. I brushed a tear away as I turned around to head back to my car, quite a distance away. I needed to check into the hotel and clean myself up for dinner. It was a long slog back to the car.
The next morning, after my standing order at The Coffeehouse (toasted plain bagel and iced mocha), Constitution and I ran the south part of the trail. The excitement had faded into utter joy. I was in my element under the canopy of trees, a perfect summer day for a run – basking in the nostalgia and the beauty of the day. I wanted to bottle up that moment to relive it later. This part of the trail hadn’t changed a bit, it was as if I was a college senior again.
There are parts of me that are the same and will never change: my crazy sense of adventure is one of them.
I always turned around at Atwood Station, but I knew this time I was going further – I eventually hit the end of the trail and then off-roaded through a neighborhood on Bunn Drive before turning around just before I hit Veteran’s Parkway. I would have taken the spur along GE Road if I had another day. My hips were at their breaking point with nearly 20 miles under my feet in under 24 hours.
I’m not 22 anymore. The scenery of campus and my weary body were stark reminders that time had moved on. There’s only one person left from this era who knows my heart in real time. A couple of them will occasionally pop up in my inbox or text, but it has been awhile. I thought about reaching out to ones lost to time, but I didn’t want to submarine anyone – appearing out of no where without context.
I was hesitant to leave. Like parting lovers, I wanted just a few more hours, days, weeks with my Constitution. I would have grabbed lunch downtown Bloomington on my way south, but I couldn’t remember where anything was and the city center seemed stoic and uninviting. Before I knew it, BloNo was in my rearview mirror.
It warmed my heart so much to be back in McLean County. I’ve decided this will be a retreat – when I need a place to write, I’m coming here. The days of the birds are gone and they’re not coming back. Perhaps I can make another footprint here with words. My entire left atrium is dedicated to this place. Despite the distance, it is never far from me.
BloNo? I say BloYeah.