Itching to Runaway

New Mexico highway

It starts with an itch you can’t scratch, a restlessness that grows stronger the more you try to ignore it. Rooms seem smaller and windows appear to beckon.

No, it’s not claustrophobia – it’s the feeling I get when I can’t get away, when I can’t travel.

I don’t feel that way all the time. When I’m fresh back from a recent trip, I’m happy and satisfied. I can go weeks without feeling the need to go out, but when the urge to escape hits me, it’s like a ton of bricks and there’s no going back.

I’ve been this way as long as I can remember, probably a product of my childhood. My dad switched jobs every so often growing up, which lead to moving. I’m 27 years old and I’ve lived in 10 different states (9 of those were by the time I was 9) and I’ve moved close to 30 times. The longest I’ve lived in one place since I was 15 was during grad school when I had the same apartment for 1 year and 9 months. And that seemed like quite the accomplishment.

The worst part about being an adult now is the inability to get up and go when that travel bug bites. I have a 9-5 job Monday-Friday, and as much as I’d like to say ‘Screw it! I’m out of here!’ I have those dreaded bills to pay.

In grad school, it was so easy, living out in New Mexico with brilliantly clear skies. If I got antsy during the day, I literally just had to drive 10 minutes and I was in the Organ Mountains, hiking, picnicking, or whatever I wanted. At night, I lived across the street from a well-lit walking path. Everyone out west works out at night to avoid the heat, so I felt completely safe walking under the stars. Even when I was living in Knoxville, TN before then, my apartment was right next to a greenway. On Sundays I would do an average of 7 miles in my little corner of nature, tucked-away from the rest of the city.

Now, however, it’s hard. I can’t cut out during the week. At night, the greenways close at sunset, and my apartment is not in a neighborhood where I would feel safe walking around after dark. Lately on the weekends I’ve either been sick, or broke, or have had family obligations.

And so the feeling grows.

I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. My attention span gets shorter and shorter. I wake up in the mornings, wondering if I could get away with calling in sick a couple of days and drive a couple of hours to the Appalachian Mountains to hike and camp and just be, but then I remember I can’t get away with that at my job, so I lay in bed a little longer, staring out the window at the sky, reluctant to get dressed.

I’ve felt this way before: back when I was in undergrad juggling two majors, a minor, extra curriculars and aspirations of med school, I would have bouts of restlessness that I couldn’t shake. Sometimes I could get away for the weekend and drive up to Land Between the Lakes. Sometimes I would take late night strolls through a mostly vacant campus. But sometimes there was no time to escape. There were too many tests to study for, lectures to review, projects to complete, etc.

It was during this time that I fell in love with the song “Runaway” by Love and Theft. Especially towards the end of a semester when everything would get rough and I had no time of my own to give, I would play that song. It got to the point where I was so stressed out, so restless that I seriously considered packing up the bare essentials, selling everything else, and driving. Just driving until I found some place to start over, some place that spoke to my nature-loving, adventurous side. I know now that would have been completely impractical – I didn’t own anything worth anything, my parents would have freaked out and I didn’t have hardly any discernible skills – but at the time, it sounded glorious.

I mention this because the other night I used some of my built up comp time at work, took off early, and drove into downtown Nashville, to a bar called 3rd and Lindsley to see a free Love and Theft concert. Standing outside in the cold, waiting for the doors to open, I began to question my decision, but as soon as we got inside and the music started playing, I knew that’s where I was supposed to be. All the groups were great, but Love and Theft, of course, were my number ones. They played a lot of new material, but about two-thirds of the way through, they played “Runaway”, and I was instantly transported back to that feeling I had when I was 19-21 years old and I would play that song in my dorm room.

I’m not planning on running away anytime soon – I still don’t own hardly anything of value and my parents would still kill me – but ever since the concert the other night, I’ve been battling that feeling of restlessness again, this time stronger than ever. It’s not a want, but rather a need.

I need to put on my tennis shoes, grab my hydration pack and go on an all-day hike.

I need to lie out on a blanket under the stars.

I need to go on a road trip, visit new places, and get lost a couple of times.

I need to dance in the rain.

I need to feel like the walls aren’t closing in.

Most of all, I need to scratch the itch.

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