I am not a spontaneous person.
I mean, I want to be. I'd love to be.
But in reality, I am not a spontaneous person.
When I do partake in a spontaneous activity, it is rare and memorable and I feel all proud and stuff because for once, I did something without a plan beforehand.
Cue the confetti.
Bust down the comfort zone walls.
As the thick of winter comes a close here in Michigan, we say goodbye to being bundled under blankets of gray clouds and the bitter cold biting our bones. The greener grass and the sunshine poking through clouds keeps reminding me of a spontaneous decision Adam and I made last summer when the weather was warm:
The Traverse City Biking Trip.
It was an August day. A Saturday. Adam and I had completed our to-do tasks. And so--spontaneously--we took the two-hour drive up north to Traverse City.
For non-Michigan folk, Traverse City is full of quaint shops and unique restaurants and paved sidewalks and bike trails. The M-22 highway follows the freshwater coast dotted with beach-goers and sailboats. People stroll with their chocolate Labrador Retrievers and toddlers with names like Noah and Patrick and Emma.
Traverse City is also known for their wineries.
Lots of wine and cherries.
Basically, Traverse City is Michigan's Napa Valley. It is lovely.
I've always liked Traverse City. But our spontaneous trip last summer solidified my love for Traverse City. One, because it's beautiful, and two: I learned an important life lesson while being all spontaneous in this cherry-covered, wine dripped city.
Our plan was to go bike riding on Traverse City's Leelanau Trail, a paved path that winds through the woods and around the bay. Adam and I parked downtown, ready to ride and proud of ourselves for being all spontaneous. Sunshine poured down on us. The temperature sat at a low 70s. Slight breeze. Perfection.
We perched on our green Huffy bikes we bought a couple of summers ago from a friend of a friend. After biking past shops and through intersections downtown, we found the paved path parallel to the beach.
“I think this is where we start," I pointed down on the sidewalk. A TART (Traverse Area Recreational Trail) symbol had been spray-painted blue on the black asphalt, pointing ahead. Reassurance. We were going the right way.
“Cool, let's go," Adam said, nodding towards the TART symbol and kicking up his bike’s kickstand.
We didn't know how far we'd go or how long we'd ride. The plan was to move forward until we decided to turn around. As we biked the sidewalk winding through downtown Traverse City, I felt good. The wind blew in my hair as I whizzed past small shops and docked boats. Every so often, we'd see another spray-painted TART symbol on the path reassuring us we were going the right way.
Until we were't going the right way.
About a mile or so into our bike ride, the path changed. Cracked concrete replaced smooth asphalt. We clunked over potholes, passed gas stations, through business driveways and along paths of dirt and gravel.
When the landscape changed, my stomach flip-flopped.
"Are we going the right way?" I called behind me to Adam. Both of us weren't sure. All we knew is there was a paved path and then there wasn't. The TART symbols stopped, but we kept going.
This has to be the path, we reasoned. We hadn't veered off course or taken any turns. We had remained steady, following the signs like we were told.
But we weren't told what to do when the signs stopped following us.
It was only when the path--now a one-tire track woven into dirt-- melted into the M-22 highway that our gut feeling was confirmed: This was not the right way.
My brakes squealed as I came to a halt, Adam stopping behind me. We were now on the shoulder of the highway, traffic speeding by on our right. A semi-truck honked. Cars barreled past me, large and looming.
"Well," I turned around on my bike towards Adam. "This isn't right."
"Nope," Adam said, glancing at the busy highway ahead.
So we did the only thing we could do: We turned around.
We went back over potholes and through driveways. We passed the gas stations and the businesses until the dirt path became gravel and then it became concrete and then it became a sidewalk again.
About a mile back, Adam and I realized we had missed something. Near a gas station, a spray painted TART symbol pointed away from the highway and the sidewalk we had taken. This symbol pointed left towards a paved path heading into the woods.
“Didn’t Robert Frost say something about this?” I asked Adam, both of us laughing in disbelief at our cluelessness. “Two forks in the road…”
“We definitely took the one less traveled, and it has made all the difference,” Adam smirked, referencing the Frost quote.
As I looked up from the TART symbol on the path pointing left, I saw another bright yellow sign sticking out of the ground near the sidewalk, a black arrow urging bikers to go left.
Yup, we had missed that sign, too.
“We zigged when we should have zagged,” Adam said.
We sure did.
As we began the new leg of this journey, the path now paved and lined with oak trees instead of gas stations and McDonald’s and traffic, I realized this happens.
It happens. We ignore the signs. We miss the symbols. We don’t listen to the gut feelings.
It happens. We find ourselves going down a path that doesn’t feel quite right. We tell ourselves it’s too late and we accept less than we deserve because we've gone this far, might as well keep going, right?
An unfulfilling career.
An unhealthy relationship.
A group or a college major or a city or a home that doesn’t light you up inside.
It happens. We go and we go and we go, driven by our own will and sheer stubbornness and certainty. We go until the path is gone and we’re on the side of a highway, traffic zooming by and we are about to get hit by a huge semi truck.
Going too far down a path doesn’t mean it’s wrong or you’re wrong for going down that path in the first place. It means you have an extra leg of your journey towards whatever feels right.
So what do we do when you are too far down the wrong path? What do we do when we can’t ignore the semi trucks honking at us?
It's simple: Turn around.
Go back and look for the signs, the symbols, the flags you missed. Go back to the last place or time when you felt like you and you knew you were going in the right direction. Pay attention to your surroundings.
Maybe there’s a moment in your life where you zigged when you should have zagged. That’s okay. That’s good. Because now you have a zag in the your journey, and that’s what makes it yours.
Getting lost is part of getting found.