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Sandi Falconer

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

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I feel irrationally restless when my car has a full tank of gas. Most people can’t be trusted to make important life decisions after three or four beers - I can’t be relied on when my gas gauge rests on full.

I’m always scratching at the door, peering around the bend, straining my eyes looking at how far I can go.

My most peaceful and joyful moments have been alone in the car – in the driver’s seat on the open highway I think I feel less of the weight that comes with being myself. Because in that moment, I have no obligations, no expectations, no sense of what I should be doing, only a focus on what lies ahead. I love it when the windows are rolled down and the wind whips through my hair and pounds in my eardrums until it hurts. I sing loudly and out of key (I have been described as tone deaf in the past). I jam out to songs that inspire me to be free – Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac and the Tragically Hip act as the soundtrack to my independence. When the sun shines through the windshield on my face, it warms my whole body in the most intoxicating way.

In the back of my head there is always a little voice, reminding me about what I am supposed to be doing. This voice is essential for my existence as a semi functional, quasi-successful human being – this voice reminds me to do things such as pay my credit-card bill, send important e-mails, think about my career, apply to grad schools, call my parents, eat vegetables, etc. To my impulsive side though, there’s something about a full tank that violently slaps duct tape over the rational voice in my head. The rational voice screams at me to turn the car around, please go back home, don’t purposefully take the wrong exit and drive 2 ½ hours west. But, by this point, I’m usually long gone. A symphony in my head has drowned out this reasonable and polite voice – lots of crashing cymbals, blasting trumpets, hell, even a string quartet.

At first, I thought that this phenomenon was a blip in my personal judgment and that it grew out of a fear of commitment, or the irresponsible need to run away from my problems. And maybe it does to some extent. But now more than ever I feel that this drive in me to drop everything and take off has always been a core part of my character.

I frequently smile to myself as I remember a time in my life where my best friend and I loaded up her silver Toyota Corolla and lived kilometre-to-kilometre, only focused on the destinations we had ahead. When I think about this time in my life, I feel warmth in my belly. Reflecting on this time brings memories of lying in the red dirt of Zion National Park in Utah, feeling the sun beating down on my face. I can still feel it all - the smell of the Earth after a fresh rainfall, the sight of the blue sky that seemed to be endless. As we travelled across this enormous continent from Toronto to Vancouver, we learned more about ourselves than we did during our four years at Queen’s University. We ate canned beans off our tiny camping stove and slept on the ground every night for a month. Thinly shielded from the world in our tiny two-woman tent, the entire world was our backyard. We munched on disgusting protein bars for most meals as we drove through countless towns. When it was all said and done, we added up the numbers on our sat-nav system and realized we had driven more than 8,000 kilometres, a distance we calculated amounted to about 20 per cent of the Earth’s circumference. We laughed until we both had bellyaches and our jaws hurt from being plastered with stupid grins.

In life, we become so focused on what we should be doing instead of what we want to be doing. When life throws me challenges, my first notion – my first daydream – is to load up a car and take off to the woods. Sometimes, things have to blow up in your life and relationships in order to find yourself when the dust settles. Feeling scared, feeling uncomfortable and facing challenges allow you to become the best version of yourself. If you trust your gut, follow your intuition and confront your fears, you will be rewarded with a feeling I like to think is what it feels like to be a helium balloon being cut free.

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There will always be something special about a full tank of gas. I am under no illusion that my world will be perfect when I’m alone in my car on an impromptu road trip, but I truly believe it’s a feeling worth striving for. I try to feel at least a fraction of that kind of freedom everyday – sometimes, I find it while losing myself running through the trails behind my house or watching my dog run joyously through the dog park. I aim to surround myself with people that see me not as a flight risk, but as having a unique kind of wildness that is worth preserving and celebrating. There’s a big world out there and I, for one, can’t wait to conquer it, one kilometre at a time, windows down, wind in my ears and sun on my face.

Danielle Lee is from Calgary.

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