Longing for a place doesn’t have the same ring as yearning for a person. It’s less spastic, more of a constant hum. Last September I finally brought a bike with me to college. I’m still more than a little upset that it took until my senior year to take down my mom’s old bike from the rafters in the garage. In fact, it wasn’t my idea — it was hers.

Regardless, I wish I’d brought it up sooner. After I settled into my schedule for what would be my last fall semester, I fell into the habit of going on afternoon rides. Initially, the beautiful days drew me out. It’s always been difficult for me to resist the natural world, especially when the sun is shining and the temperature is mild. I was lucky enough to study in the beautiful Hudson Valley, and exploring the area soon became my passion.

After my two o’clock conflict management class, I would walk home, change and take my bike out from the tiny mud room in the four-bedroom house I rented. Usually I headed right out of my driveway, and either turned right again onto the rail trail, or continued straight onto Historic Huguenot Street. From there, my journey could go in a variety of directions.

I loved exploring not just more of New Paltz, but also surrounding towns such as Rosendale, Gardiner and occasionally even Highland. In the evenings, I tended to head west, towards the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge. The setting sun always tempting me, teasing me to follow the cast of its glowing light. The mountain ridge stood wise and static, and I took pleasure from the outline gaining size as I approached the foothills. I sometimes felt like I was chasing after something, never quite grasping it.

September turned to October. The drop in temperature limited my outings, and even though I would still go out on milder days, the cold air had subdued the initial feelings of liberation and curiosity. For my birthday in November, my boyfriend gave me a pair of gloves to wear while riding my bike. They had grips on the palms and fingers. That’s when I realized that I had developed a real hobby, more than just an afternoon activity.

Having graduated now, back on the Vineyard for my fifth summer and continuing into fall, I feel that longing to return to New Paltz. I brought my bike to the Vineyard too, but didn’t use it as much as I did at school. I worked a lot this past summer, and now currently unemployed, I finally feel like I have the chance to settle back into my old riding routine. Only this time there are new routes — through bike paths and nature preserves up-Island and beyond. Ocean has replaced mountain, not a bad tradeoff. But I’ve only done it a few times and somehow it’s not quite the same. Granted, I think my tires need air.

It’s not just the funky, hippy New Paltz Main street that I miss, or the pretty campus with the mountain as a backdrop. It’s not even my solo bike excursions, though I do miss all of these things. It’s the experience. My experience. I miss my two lifelong best friends that I made, both now back in New York. It’s my witty creative nonfiction professor, or my studio art teacher who would bring in his espresso machine for us during our 8 a.m. classes. It’s everything that I grew to love during my time at New Paltz, in combination with the whimsical place itself.

I visited the college town at the end of August. It was a quick two-night stand where I briefly met up with my best friends. One is studying for law school; we’re both between jobs. Lying in the yard in front of our house we had rented for two years (always our house in our minds), we talked of moving back, finding small jobs and extending our time in New Paltz. We had fantasies of replaying our college years with jobs instead of classes, no homework, just play. I really thought about it, looked in the town’s newspaper classifieds section for jobs. But in our hearts, we knew it would just be a shadow of what we had. And in New Paltz especially, it’s easy for alumni to become townies. Lifelong occurrences. We’ve seen it happen before.

And didn’t I miss the Vineyard, too? A vivid memory flashed of maybe my second or third summer here, on the ferry heading home, with the slant of evening light touching Woods Hole and the Elizabeth islands. I was sad to leave the Island, sad to leave my boyfriend, who is a year-round resident. Each summer came and went so quickly. I worked a lot, saved money, but stole away to the beach as often as I could. I felt guilty for not being quite as excited to return to New Paltz as the rest of my housemates were. And now here I am, momentarily unemployed, plenty of time for beachgoing on this beautiful Island, and craving New Paltz.

The grass is always greener. I went to an interview the other day, a full-time hostess position, something I’m overqualified for but I went anyway as part of the job-search frenzy that occupies my days. The manager looked over my resume, looked at me and said: “What a waste of talent. Someone like you could find a good job if you went somewhere else. Here? There’s not much, especially year-round. Maybe in the summer you’ll find something, but otherwise . . . ”

He really knew how to make a girl feel optimistic about her future. I think he’s wrong, though. The Vineyard may be limited when it comes to year-round job opportunities, but there is still a lot going on here, especially in the arts. The manager offered me a job, which I accepted, changed my mind, called the next day and told him it didn’t really make sense for either the restaurant or me if I started working there. He knew I was looking for other lines of work, told me to reach out if I changed my mind and wanted to do something even part-time. It made me want to push harder. The Vineyard can work for me; I just need to figure out how to work it.

And let me be honest, I’m here for love. Love for the Vineyard, of course, just in the way that I love New Paltz. But I also love that boyfriend I mentioned before, the one who is so deeply rooted here I don’t know if he could unearth himself, even if I asked. I wouldn’t want to ask, at least not for anything permanent. And even now as I’m typing it goes against every feminist feeling in my body, but I’m here for him, and to see if I can find my little niche on this Island. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably keep coming back as a summer import, not a thought toward a full-time life here. There shouldn’t be shame in choosing love, but sometimes I feel like I’m cheating myself — selling myself short by choosing a comfortable Island life. The challenge I suppose is finding a career here where I don’t feel like I’m settling, where I’m not selling myself short, where I can live up to the potential that I know I have.

Sometimes on my bike rides, especially at the twilight hour, I felt as though I was riding toward something, a goal of sorts. It was not just the warmth from the light of the sun, or the grounded impact of the mountains. What I chased was a sensation, a feeling that seemed just out of grasp. It was a scent, a memory, a tingle.

More than once now, I think I’ve tasted it. I’d be riding my bike, thinking about nothing in particular, and the sensation would slowly wash over me. It usually came as a light tingling feeling, a giddiness of the bones. More often than not it’s associated with a memory: the hours spent drinking in the salt air of Cape Cod with my family or the first few days I spent on the Vineyard, where I was curious, intrigued and frightened to start a new job in a new place. Sometimes I associate the feeling with a memory of my younger self: waiting outside for a thunderstorm, basking in the calm, strange air that was about to break.

I realize now that the sensation is not one singular feeling; it is not hope or curiosity or joy. Instead it is a combination of all three and more: an intersection of past memory and present moment that manifests itself on these bike rides. And I am cloaked by its presence.

I’ll keep riding toward it.

Hayley Naphen lives in Edgartown.