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The Meander Compulsion

by Carilyn on July 19, 2018

Saturday, I ran the city – Westside to Eastside, mountains to plains. I needed 25 miles, and I needed to try out the new pack I bought to wear on my run along the Thames next month. For the first 10 miles, some of my favorite running friends joined me. We started midway up the Franklin Mountains and ran towards downtown, stopping at Starbucks.

After a quick coffee, my friends went on about their lives, and I headed back out to finish the last 15 miles. I didn’t have an exact route picked out, so I just decided to head east, trying to avoid the busiest streets. I love to meander (which probably explains why I get lost so often) because you get to see unexpected things (how would you ever know that someone has a giant cowboy hat statue in their front yard if you don’t like to meander?), and you usually end up with “bonus miles”. Win. Win. Win.

But not everyone enjoys meandering. My family accuses me of forcing them on “death marches” when we visit foreign cities because we just keep walking and walking until we find something interesting. I consider them “wonderful opportunities to explore”. They vehemently disagree.

Just like my run on Saturday, when I’m out and about on vacation, I usually have a vague idea of where I want to go, but end up changing my mind about it several (okay, many) times before I end up anywhere (and usually not the same place I had originally declared as the goal). My family finds this maddening.

Tim: Where are we going?

Me: To see the castle (lake, museum, statue, rock – whatever. The important thing is not where we are going, you see, just that we are going).

Tim: How far is it?

Me: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe 2 miles?

Tim: So, like 5 miles.

Me: Whatever. It’s over there, somewhere. We’ll find it.

Tim: We both know there is a 50% chance we won’t find it, and instead, will end up seeing something completely different.

Me: And what is wrong with that?

Somehow, my crew doesn’t seem to take as much pleasure in these unexpected discoveries that come from meandering (such as ending up at Harrod’s instead of The Museum of Natural History in London; winding up at the Firth in Edinburgh instead of the Botanical Gardens; or happening upon a “secret” former Nazi hideaway in Mexico rather than the posh hotel I promised them – we survived, so I’m not sure what the complaint was) as I do. No imagination, I believe.

Even as a kid, I liked to wander off.  One night, when I was three years old, I walked out the front door and made my way to a neighbor’s house a mile away. The shocked neighbors found me on their doorstep, happy as a clam, and called my mother (this is before the days of calling the cops). I don’t really remember much about it, but I definitely don’t remember being scared. I just wanted to walk somewhere.

I’m guessing all of us runners have some sort of “meander compulsion” – the belief that there is something interesting just over the horizon/around the corner/over the next hill. We need to see what is out there, even if it means not knowing exactly where we are going. Especially if it means not knowing exactly where we are going.

So, while some people call it “getting lost” or “death marching or “walking to nowhere”, I believe that when we are meandering, we know exactly where we are going. Just maybe not where we are going to end up.

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