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‘Road work ahead?!?’

When I was little, I used to play this game during car rides.

I’d close my eyes real tight and try to feel where I was. I knew what it felt like to turn off the Northwest Arterial and onto Highway 52. I knew the exact bumps that signaled my bus had turned onto the loose Mud Lake Road gravel, telling me I was almost home. I could time the trip into town based on when we’d slow down for stoplights and when

we’d make right turns. I knew my mom’s driving from my dad’s.

The game kept me occupied in long car rides, and knowing where we were at all times made me feel important and smart. That sense of direction gave me comfort when I felt anxious on long trips or late rides home. It helped me when I learned to drive that 2003 Toyota Camry in the John Deere parking lot my sophomore year of high school – and it’s helped me in college, too.

It took me about three years of school and four months of a summer internship, but I eventually developed that wayfinding ability in Peoria. I’m confident I could get to the Ice Cream Shack on N.E. Adams Street with my eyes closed, or that I could lead a friend to the Fondulac Drive overlook in East Peoria in a blizzard any day. I could walk backwards, blindfolded and from anywhere on campus and still make my way to The Scout office, where I spent so many of my favorite hours with my favorite people in the world for the last three years.

But then my friend Rachael and I got into a bad accident on the way to an Iowa football game in September, and it completely wrecked my car. I jacked our insurance rates up. I made my family worry. I put my friend in danger.

I started to white-knuckle car armrests whenever I rode in the passenger seat with anybody else. I didn’t drive anywhere for a solid month after the accident out of fear.

And when I went home for Fall Break this year, I found myself thinking twice about which turns to take and what routes would be the fastest ones. I felt lost in my hometown for the first time in my life.

It made me anxious, not feeling confident behind the wheel and not remembering the roads I had been driving for years. Was I becoming less Wahlert Catholic High School? Less Iowa? Less daughter of Joel and Tammy and older sister of Emmie and Lizzie?

Less Maddie?

I started hearing back from graduate schools a couple months ago, and when that happened, a new anxiety sank in. Wherever I decided to go, I would have to learn a whole new map, a whole new city gridline. I would be the odd one out. I would get lost. I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere with my eyes closed.

I’m not scared of being alone, being in new places or being in unfamiliar settings. But I am scared of losing control – and for the past 22 years, that’s all I’ve had. It’s why I push myself so hard in classes. It’s why I reach for leadership positions in student organizations.

I’m going to Purdue University in the fall to get my master’s in English literature. I’m going to have to figure out what makes West Lafayette, Indiana, tick – I think there’s a river, and it’s

not too far from Chicago. I’m going to have to learn the layouts of new academic buildings and sidewalk mazes of a campus much, much larger than Bradley, but I’m going to try to do that without forgetting what I already know.

So, to get from my house to the Mississippi River’s Edge Plaza: Drive on Mud Lake Road until you run out of Mud Lake Road to drive on. Turn left onto Highway 52, and follow it until you turn left onto 5th Street. Drive for a few minutes, and turn right onto Bell Street. Stick your toes in the muddy river.

From Bradley University to Dubuque, Iowa, my hometown: University Street to I-74 West. After about an hour and a half, avoid the Quad Cities by getting onto I-80 West. Merge onto Highway 61 North and drive another hour and a half to White Street in Dubuque. Watch the sun rise over the Mississippi.

From Bradley University to Western Hearts Ranch: University Street to I-74 West. Drive about 10 miles until Exit 82 for Kickapoo-Edwards Road. Be sure to stop at Jubilee Café for lunch, then turn right onto W. Dubois Road. Follow it until you get to N. Kramm Road. The horses love peppermints.

From where you are to The Scout office: Head to Bradley University’s Michel Student Center lobby. Take the elevator up to the third floor, and walk through both sets of doors to Sisson Hall. Head all the way to the end of the hallway, to Room 319. You’re home.

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