Of all the absurd things I’ve done… driving across the entire state in a blizzard to retrieve a skateboard from a Taco Bell definitely makes it into my top five. There was no reason I had to drive through the blizzard to get it—there was no urgent skateboard emergency, or even any sort of event coming up that my friend needed her skateboard for. It was January and the typical January snow cover had returned, rendering outdoor skating impossible anyway. The only reason we had been able to skate in Toronto was the unusually warm—forty degree—weather that had given us a reprieve from the harshness of winter air. I still couldn’t skate long without my hands growing numb—I had no gloves with me and you can’t put your hands in your pockets while skating, I learned. They are essential for balancing. Although I think more experienced skaters probably don’t need to hold their arms out like they’re doing a halfhearted imitation of bird’s wings—which is what I was doing, according to the Instagram story.
There was no reason, as I said, to drive through what turned out to be the worst snowstorm we got all winter. But I forgot to check the weather before leaving the house, and it was my fault that the skateboard was there. And once I was on the road, despite the clear signs that this would be a life-threatening trek, I kept going.
What keeps us going down treacherous roads? Not courage, I don’t think. Inertia. The opposite of courage. Once we’ve said we’re going to do something and started to do it, it becomes a fact of our existence and to turn back is to change the future we’ve settled on, to uproot something that’s become, irrationally, deeply held. Staying the course is often the mindless thing to do.
People talk about cross country being a mental sport—perhaps some aspects are mental, but the ability to put yourself through three miles of pure pain takes very little brain function, believe me. Some would even argue forcing yourself to endure that kind of pain runs contrary to rational thought. The mental part of cross country—the part that requires great mental effort—is the effort it takes to constantly overrule that rational part that’s begging you to stop, or at least to slow down. I’m being a little bit unfair; having been a long-distance runner myself, I know that there’s more to it than that. But not all that much more.
I think sometimes being a runner has trained me too well to use that overrule, to endure whatever path lies before me, to be patient to a fault—to stay the course when the course is going to kill me.
By which course I mean the snow-covered freeway from Grand Rapids to the Canadian border.
Inertia was what I was constantly calculating as I drove through this maelstrom. If a stopped car emerged out of the undifferentiated white in front of me, how long would it take me to slow down? If this stretch of snow-covered road was hiding a layer of ice underneath, which direction would I slide? How fast will this moron barreling down the road in the lane next to me meet his early death?
I suppose I should explain how the skateboard got there in the first place. My best friend and I had driven to Toronto for the weekend so that she could cash in on a free tattoo she had won through an Instagram contest. We were both city-starved Midwesterners, too, eager for a taste of the life and diversity and haphazard beauty of a big city. On the way back we stopped just across the U.S.–Canada border at a Taco Bell. It had rained the entire afternoon thus far, which was a disappointment to us—Morgan had just taught me how to skateboard the day before, and we were hoping to take skating breaks on the drive back. But just as we crossed the border into Michigan the rain cleared, and there was a stunning magenta sunset. Skating time.
We recorded each other skating in the Taco Bell parking lot. This was important to Morgan—her current artistic project was organizing and documenting events where girls, women, and gender nonconforming people got together and taught each other to skateboard.
And then I left her board in the grass to go eat my tacos, and we drove away without another thought.
One incident of mindlessness leading to another.
I was so eager to go, so eager to appease some guilt that I had, so eager to perform some grand gesture, to be the Great Friend I Could Never Be, that I did not check the forecast that morning before I drove off, assured as I was of my Good Deed Doing.
Nothing happened to me on the way to get the skateboard or on the way back. The two-and-a-half-hour drive out took me five hours; the drive back took me three and a half as the plows started to catch up with the still thickly-falling snow. I got coffee at a Tim Horton’s, and made chitchat with the Taco Bell employees who had kept the board for us.
There isn’t a moral to this story, and to be honest, there’s very little narrative arc. It’s a thread I’m pulling out from the generally flat, monochromatic fabric of my life because it seems strange and interesting somehow, and I wonder at the subconscious forces that drove me, literally, so far for such a strange reason. It’s never simple. Guilt that I lost the precious object of a friend I love does not stay undifferentiated and pure—it mixes with pride that I can do something to win her back, and becomes something else. What looks like bravery, the determination to complete a task despite dangerous conditions, can turn out to be the lazy sort of stubbornness that is inertia—in part, an unwillingness to come up with a different, safer plan.
What these forces mean I’m still working out. I have a feeling it will be another longer-than-expected journey in low-visibility conditions, and I don’t think inertia will be there to help me this time. Self-awareness is fraught with easy answers and pre-fabricated stories that let us feel like we understand ourselves. What’s harder is tugging at the threads that lead us across states, but still lead us nowhere.
Carolyn Muyskens is a 2017 graduate of Calvin’s English department. She is working as a research assistant studying news media trends and as an assistant at a law firm. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.