Illustration for article titled An Ode To Aimless DrivingPhoto: JFK/EXPA/AFP (Getty Images)

To say I’ve been in a tough spot lately would probably be a bit of an understatement, but there’s something about the aimless drive that serves as a balm for the shittiest of days.

I already struggle with the ol’ brain chemicals on a regular basis, and it seems that, lately, everything is designed to make life more difficult. I’m quarantining in a different country with my husband but without my family during the holiday season, where I don’t really have a space of my own to do my work. There’s nowhere to go, really, because it’s cold out and there’s a pandemic. I don’t get much control over things like when I wake up or when I have breakfast or what I have for dinner. I’m healthy and well-loved, but I feel like I’ve just been spinning my wheels, stuck in the same place, unable to work up the motivation to do any work or settle into my thesis.

So, I did something I normally don’t do. I took an aimless drive.

I’m the kind of person that needs her every moment of every day scheduled out. If I’m traveling, I need to have my entire route planned out. It took me almost four years to learn my way around Austin when I lived there because I was always so glued to a GPS.

On a bright and bitter cold Friday, I decided to take off. I’ve been cruising around in a press truck lately, so a long drive was on the agenda, but I was getting myself wrapped up in knots trying to decide where to go. Then I realized, I’ve never gone north of my husband’s house. So I turned on a good playlist, pointed north, and went off.

About an hour and a half north of Toronto, the wild Ontario landscape reminds me a lot of the rural Michigan town where I grew up. In the winter, if you wake up early on a cold morning after a temperate night, the trees are often glazed in frost, making everything look like sculptures made of icicles. Those mornings, people don’t usually go out unless they have a purpose, and if you seek out the back roads, it feels like you have the whole world to yourself.

I ignored the map and followed road signs that seemed to promise something exciting: nature preserves, campsites, a quiet lakefront town. I got to cruise down unmarked and snow-covered gravel roads, testing the limits of myself and my machinery. I learned what it’s like to try to maneuver over 6,500 lbs on inches of glassy ice washed up on asphalt near the shore.

I had no idea where I ended up, but hours had passed, and the only thing egging me home was an emptying gas tank and the reminder that I still had work to be done. But for the first time in weeks, I was alone—even apart from myself. I was out of my own damn head, just wondering how I could get to that little mountain ridge over there, or what lay behind the sign pointing to a large stable. That’s one of the downsides of doing what I do—writing, reading, studying. You’re just mired in your own head.

But the aimless drive was the perfect antidote to a case of bad brain—and lord knows we could all use a little bit of that right now.


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