Fresh Asphalt & Road Signs

After running a marathon on my 26th birthday in June, I told myself I would take it easy on running for a while. Since then, I have stuck to 3 miles every time that I have gone out for a jog, with so few exceptions in the last 4 months that I could count them on one hand. My 5-mile run this morning could be categorized as one of those exceptions, but I do not view it as such. I view it as Day 1 of a new normal. I am going to start running slower and further again. The cold weather makes me want to, and reading Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run over the last week has added fuel to the fire.

My 5-mile loop is largely the same as my regular 3-mile loop, except with a 2-mile detour in the middle. Near the end of my run this morning, I approached the same final mile that I have run a hundred times before. There used to be an old bridge that I crossed near the beginning of that final mile. For the last few months, that bridge was under construction. There were bulldozers and cones, dumpsters and porta potties, large mounds of dirt and rocks… just about everything but progress from the look of it. For a while, there was a large crater of a hole in the ground, but nothing I couldn’t run around. Most recently, they filled the hole and built rock walls on both sides of where the old bridge was and the new bridge would be. That was the latest I had seen of it as of last Friday, so I was surprised today when I turned the corner to my final mile and the road looked all but done. Fresh asphalt was being rolled over to smooth any bumps in the road. The black track looked immaculate.

I stuck to the sides as I ran by with less room now than I had with the hole. The ground on the side of the road was uneven and my sneakers sunk with every step as the leaves covered soft soil from Sunday’s rain. The man on the rolling machine signaled to me that I could run on the road if I wanted to, and I did. I dropped down off the side and stepped foot on the freshly paved road. It was a road no one had run before and a road I had run a hundred times, depending on how I looked at it. I could feel the slightest stick when I pulled each foot off the ground, enough to wonder if any asphalt would remain cemented to the bottom of my shoes, but not enough to worry. I could feel my feet smushing down ever so slightly when I pushed each foot down onto the ground, enough to wonder if my footprints might faintly remain on this road for as long as it lasted, not enough so that when I looked down over my shoulder I could see my steps behind me, but enough to hope. The next time I run on that road, you can bet I’ll be looking for footsteps. 

As I took my last steps on the new road and passed the line where it met with the old, I processed the pleasure of running on fresh asphalt. The term “fresh asphalt” stuck out in my mind like certain words do all the time. I usually take a note to remind myself it is something I might want to write about. I started thinking of what I could write as I continued to run, step step, step step, step step. I started to look for meaning in the fresh asphalt now behind me. How could I use it as a metaphor? How did it represent a sign? I had some ideas but I didn’t obsess over it. In fact, I forgot about it by the end of my run. I walked laps of the driveway to cool down and finished the podcast I was listening to. I took down a few notes from that — “podcasts are a dance”, “the key is listening and thinking and being genuinely curious, it’s gotta be real”, “when I’m at my best, I’m dancing”. Joe Rogan had taken a rare turn on the other side of the mic, appearing as a guest on Lex Fridman’s podcast, which was the perfect duration for my 5-mile run and cool down. Then, randomly, I remembered, “fresh asphalt”. I wrote it down in my notes. 

I went inside and showered and between getting out and getting dressed the lights in my room faded and the power was out. In the shower, I had thought of the title, Fresh Asphalt & Road Signs. I still didn’t know exactly what I was going to write about, but I recalled this quote of mine that I think of relatively often which involves signs and roads. A lot of people like to look for signs in life, and that’s fine. I am one of them to some degree. As I said, once I got passed the new road, I started thinking immediately about what it could mean or how I could use it. The quote I keep in mind about signs is to remind myself that not everything must have a meaning, and that not everything must be used as a means to an end. Some things just are what they are. They can be ends and just ends. The way my quote goes is this:

“If you spend your whole life looking for signs, you’ll never get to enjoy the road.” 

Maybe the fresh asphalt today was a sign of a fresh start. Perhaps more than only the literal path has finally become clear again. It all could mean that I am starting down a new road, a clean one, a good one. Or maybe it just was what it was. Fresh asphalt. It was a pleasure to run on.