Roads are amazing things. Some of them are well carved, paved, and laid out for us clearly defined. These are the roads we all know, the safe ones; at least they are on the surface. Other roads are harder to define, barely present trails that scare us a bit more. Still we build others alone, should we prove brave enough.
Perhaps the most incredible thing about roads is where they intersect with others. One path moves ever onward but, for a moment, it offers you a new course, a chance to go somewhere else, to meet someone new.
This journey has been a search for the places where roads intersect, a search for new people, and for my own new way. Along the way I have met some incredible people, grown closer to others who were already present, and found new love. But as I have journeyed, I have rarely taken a moment to wander, to let someone else lead the way. And so I took some time and let Mary Ann, the love of my life, lead me on a road she knows, a road new to me, into the heart of her home, into the mountains of West Virginia.
There are many stretches of the adventure we could talk about, those magical moments that happen when we hit the road with ones we love, with companions seeking some respite and adventure. But it was on a Saturday morning; surrounded by friend of Mary Ann’s, now friends of mine, that I found the thing we should all learn in these mountains and on these country roads.
Mary Ann and I share a breakfast at a local wonder, a hole in the wall miracle with the best biscuits, with her friends Randall and Jess, as well as Jess’ boyfriend Warren. Like so many meals it is light, full of levity and questions about where we all are, what we all do there, and if we have ever been to our current destination, the New River Gorge Bridge and the 40th Annual Bridge Day.
There are smiles and laughs, the ebbs and flows of conversation, the air filling with jokes and questions, answers and moments lost to language. It is the nature of these adventures that you, having not been there, can only see a moment from outside the window, the true richness always lost to you, leaving behind a bright shadow and a small treasure of true wisdom, of life.
After breakfast we head to the bridge, first by car, then on foot. We walk for miles, swapping in and out of conversations with each other, pausing for a photo, and eating pieces of locally made Swedish rye bought in a makeshift market. The usual sights and sounds native to festivals and carnivals flash by, glimpses of them visible between other groups of people on their own journeys. We wind our way through the chaos to the New River Gorge Bridge, an expanse of concrete and iron creating the largest arch bridge in America.
There, at the end of this massive expanse, are the base jumpers and the greatest lesson in life you could ever find.
Because, in the end, that is life. You have no control over what will happen after you leap, but you can decide how you will jump. Maybe you will take that leap with another, a friend or loving companion to share the winds and the fall with you. Maybe you will go it alone. You might just barely hop from the ledge as your heart pounds in your chest, or maybe, just maybe, you will leap with gusto, a flip or a cannonball into oblivion with a laugh and a smile.
Whatever you do, wherever that road will take you, I have learned you can only make the leaps in life as you will make them. You may choose solely for yourself, or listen to the guidance of another. You may even surrender the choice to another but ultimately you must jump.
A couple of days later our time is over. As we begin the journey to our home, to the coast of South Carolina, rain clouds move in and a fog descends on the mountain. Listening to music, looking at the changing trees of fall through the fog, I think back to the jumpers, to the stories, to the smiles, and to new friends. A voice inside of me whispers prayers for their journeys, wherever they may lead. Then I think on what I have learned in an adventure with friends and my love, about the wisdom I will always carry whether I ever see them again or not.
They have left their mark upon me. Our roads have met, if but for a moment.
We have leapt.