Rockland Road in Westminster has always been a favorite running location of mine. Just about a mile and a half long, it connects Uniontown Road with Roops Mill.
Uniontown Road has a tiny shoulder there, and the traffic tends to be busy at times, so turning onto Rockland gives an immediate feeling of escape. The top section is paved with an old tar and chip surface, like most all of our back roads used to be.
That section is also flat, so you can lope along easily, enjoying the scenery. There are houses on both sides, but the large lots give the area a spacious feeling. Meadows and farmland surround the houses from the rear.
The paved section ends at a long, gradual downhill dirt road. On the left is a pasture, sometimes filled with sheep. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the sturdy sheep dog sitting on his grass throne, and he’ll greet you with a woof. “Don’t come near my sheep,” he’ll warn you.
On the right is a rise of forest, barren in the winter months. The slope runs up to nothingness like a barrier from the world you’re trying to escape.
There are a few houses along the dirt road, every one perfectly old and fitting. Outbuildings slowly deteriorate into rubble, leaving you to wonder what treasures might be buried underneath.
Approaching Roops Mill, Rockland levels out at the bottom, where Little Pipe Creek dances under a short bridge. From there, you can turn left or right and continue enjoying the beautiful peace.
A few weeks ago, a local runner left Uniontown to enjoy a run down Rockland. Like so many others, she discovered the tranquility a long time ago.
She had left life’s responsibilities behind her. Her work schedule wasn’t on her mind. Her children were safe and well at home, along with her loving husband. She was moving along in the welcomed state of meditation that runners know, which is why she hardly noticed the truck riding behind and then passed her.
She had no reason to pay attention to the bearded man driving the old, silver Toyota. At the time, she didn’t even notice the two antennas used for the radio equipment on the dashboard. The HAM radio sticker on the rear window meant nothing.
She kept running, enjoying Rockland like we all do. She relaxed down the old, dirt road, the sheep field and the forest felt like old friends.
At the bottom, just over Little Pike Creek, she didn’t notice the hidden nook that the truck had pulled into, but she heard it pull out. When she looked behind her, she knew it was the same man who had driven by earlier.
The truck stopped.
Her instincts told her to avoid turning onto Roops Mill, where there were long stretches of isolation in both directions. Instead, she turned around and ran back passed the truck, which was pulled diagonally to block the road.
She knew the people who lived down a long driveway near the bridge, and she raced toward the house. The family just happened to be leaving in their car, saw her sprinting towards them, and quickly came to her rescue.
The man, and his old, silver Toyota truck, quickly left the area.
We can only guess what his intentions were. At the worst, they were horrid. A best, they were reprehensible.
The running community was quickly put on notice, and social discussion erupted. The awareness should be a deterrent to any rational person, but based on what we already know, it’s hard to assume that this man has any rationality about him.
There’s too much tension in the world and too little freedom. Running becomes the answer for many of us. Each time we run, the familiar rhythm of motion centers us and makes the rest of this crazy life more livable.
But people like the bearded man are thieves, stealing whatever peace we’ve managed to find for ourselves.
And what can we do about it?
He’s already stolen Rockland Road, at least for the time being. Female runners won’t feel safe there for a long, long time.
But there are things that can’t be taken from us. Peacefulness is a feeling, not a place.
Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. You can feel peace now.
We should all know that wrongdoers lurk. Trust that a reckoning will come for them.
And while they may steal a place and sometimes inflict hurt, we must never allow them to take what’s most important to us.
Let them divert our path, but never let them change our direction.