Wednesday, April 21, 2010

There and back again: The tale of an epic road trip [Ryan]

One night, my brother Reilly, my cousin Zack and I were sitting around at home trying to think of something to do. Reilly and I wanted to go on a road trip; Zack and Reilly wanted to pick up an old motorcycle from our uncle Scott in North Carolina. Somewhere, we reached the conclusion that we could meet both goals in one really long car trip. A week later, we were on the road in our mom’s Toyota Highlander.

Day 1: Rigby, Idaho to Newcastle, Wyoming

Three young men. One Toyota Highlander. Enough high-calorie food to send a horse into diabetic shock but not enough to give that horse any sort of nourishment. So began our semi-impromptu quest to travel to the East Coast to get a motorcycle.

For a while, we tried to get a fourth guy, but it quickly became clear that such an idea would be impossible. We had barely enough room in this car for three. The food took up nearly an entire seat all by itself. Throw in a tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, electronics, and random odds and ends that we deemed useful for the trip and a fourth guy could only be a pygmy or small woodland fairy.

We knew where we were going pretty well. We had two GPS units, two iPhones with GPS capabilities, but no atlases.

Our parents set forth rules for this trip:
1) Drive “around” the speed limit
2) One person besides the driver must always be awake
3) No driving after midnight
4) I’m sure there were other rules as well, but we forgot them

Oddly enough, they failed to mention girls of any kind. So if we happened to meet girls on the way, pretty much anything goes. Or at least that’s what we figured … Ha! Just kidding!

We reached Wyoming. After an hour of driving around, looking for some place to camp, we found our preferences for sleeping arrangement becoming rapidly less discriminating. Finally we settled for parking behind a low billboard and rearranging our gear to allow for the three of us to sleep uncomfortably inside the Highlander.

Day 2: Newcastle, Wyoming to Omaha, Nebraska

We awakened gradually from the period of pseudo-sleep in which he had spent the entire night, changed into our church clothes in the parking lot, and found a nearby chapel. I fell asleep during the service.

We went to Mount Rushmore, which is somewhat smaller than we had expected, though still impressive. The next ten hours or so in a car passed quickly considering the amount of time spent confined in a car. We soon found ourselves in the middle of two gas crises: somewhere on the outskirts of Omaha, we were running out of gas. Our car was slurping up the last trickles of gas at the bottom of the tank when we finally found a little gas station with a truly ancient gas pump. It had an equally ancient machine that allowed for credit cards, but we couldn't figure out how to use it — it had apparently been made by Atari before Pong. We suspected that pushing the wrong button would either deny our debit card or launch a nuke somewhere in the former Soviet Union.

After filling up, we began the search anew for somewhere to camp. We found a Wal-Mart parking lot.

We set up a camp stove there in the parking lot. The assembly and operation of the stove baffled us for a while, but we eventually succeeded in cooking several servings of chow mein and Cup-of-Noodles without any significant fire damage to ourselves or the vehicle.

Our experience with sleeping in the back of the car allowed us to be a little more effective in arranging our gear tonight, and we found ourselves with enough space to lay somewhat horizontal, though moving once we were settled was out of the question.

Day 3: Omaha, Nebraska to dark, scary woods in Kentucky

After getting ready for the day in the Wal-Mart bathroom, we headed to the Winter Quarters visitor center, where we were greeted by perky sister missionaries. The sister missionaries soon passed us off to a senior missionaries, probably deterred by our three days’ worth of body odor, masked only slightly by liberal amounts of Axe bodyspray. This led to us to conclusion that our parents had not included rules about girls on the list simply because they knew girls would not be a problem, given our general lack of hygiene.

We traveled to the Gateway Arch. It was cool. We didn’t get to up up it, but we still got a great view. The end. We also listened to liberal amounts of Disney music.

The ride from the Arch included listening to Christian radio station that included a preacher screaming in his Southern drawl his bleak interpretation of the Bible, ending every sentence of his raucous admonitions that he deemed important with an “amen.” It entertained us for a good half hour, amen. We were almost LEFT WITH A DESIRE TO PURGE OURSELVES OF SIN AND GIVE OURSELVES GRACE AND SNATCH OUR LIVES FROM THE BURNING JAWS OF HELL AND DENY THE IMPULSES OF THE CARNAL AND FLESH AND THE EVIL THAT CORRUPTS OUR VERY SOULS, AMEN!

The plan was to camp near Mammoth Caves. We called ahead and assured that the campground would be open when we arrived. However, the fates conspired to hock a loogie into our plans. To get to the campground, we had to use a ferry to cross a river. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the ferry was closed, stranding us on a lonely road next to dark, scary woods teeming with horror movie clich├ęs. A lone light flickered on and off next to the ferry. Now and again, we would hear mysterious noises from the darkness of the woods. I was totally expecting to hear the banjo song from Deliverance. Seventy percent sure that we would not finish the night without being mauled by a Sasquatch or murdered by some chainsaw-wielding sociopath, we elected to sleep in the car for the third night. We were actually getting pretty good at it at this point.

Day 4: Dark, scary woods in Kentucky to Hillsborough, North Carolina

We crossed the ferry in the morning. The ferryman was not as creepy and weird as we were expecting, though every time someone says “creepy ferry” I imagine a “creepy fairy,” perhaps a male Tinkerbell with a mullet and mustache lurking outside of playgrounds with his big gray windowless van. We then spent two hours inside Mammoth Caves, experiencing less than a mile’s worth of the longest cave system in the world. Still, it was cool. We also showered in the campground that had been just across the impassable river all night. We realized later that the three hours we spent showering and exploring the cave was the longest we had spent outside the car in four days.

Then we continued to drive. It was a mark of how bored we were that Reilly and I engaged in a rousing rendition of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. I’m quite proud of how it sounded.

At this point, our expectations had become somewhat lowered. Anything that required extra effort to cook — like Cup-of-Noodles or top ramen — was suddenly high cuisine compared to the chips and granola bars we had subsisted on for three days.

We pulled into our aunt and uncle’s house after dark, looking forward to a real meal and a real bed, or at least something heated to eat and something reasonably horizontal to sleep on. Our aunt Chelsea met our expectations.

Day 5: Hillsborough, North Carolina

Today was merely a restful day, which felt great. The only time we ventured out of the house was to go the AAF tank museum. As the name suggests, it was a collection of tanks from various wars and countries. As the name does not quite suggest, it also harbored a flea market, spook alley, and collection of hats from around the world.

Day 6: Hillsborough, North Carolina to Heyworth, Illinois

Our uncle Scott took us to see Duke University. With our last good food for two days in our stomachs, we set out on the journey home. The motorcycle that was the reason for our travel was strapped onto the back. At first, it was wobbling horrendously, and we were steeling ourselves for the inevitable moment when we would look back and see a monstrous explosion behind us where the bike had fallen off the hitch, crashed into some unsuspecting Civic behind us, and engulfed the entire freeway in a conflagration of devastation. Fortunately, we added one more strap and it held pretty well.

Our GPS, which was probably getting as antsy as the rest of us, had been taking it upon itself to take us on more scenic routes. This mindset had taken us to the ferry a few nights before, and now it began leading us through hills and vales and dirt roads in Ohio. Not that I’m complaining — those hills in Ohio were really pretty.

Hours later, after the usual unsuccessful search for a campsite, we hit a new low in our quest for lodgings and parked in some tiny town in Illinois next to a Dumpster. We were pretty sure we were behind a bar. (There were probably creepy fairies out there somewhere.)

Day 7: Heyworth, Illinois to somewhere in Nebraska

We stopped at Nauvoo. The first temple session wasn’t till 2:00, so we took that opportunity to have a look around. We saw the blacksmith’s shop on Parley Street and walked around the historic homes. We looked across the river. Finally, we went through the temple, which is absolutely beautiful. In Zack’s words, it’s a “freaking awesome temple. “ (We’re pretty sure Brigham Young said the same thing.)

It was about this time that we finally discarded our vow to eat only the meager food we’d brought and plugged “Little Caesar’s” into the GPS.

This night, our last on the trip, was the only night we actually camped in tent. I thought it was great; Zack said it was his worst night of the trip.

Day 8: Somewhere in Nebraska to Rigby, Idaho

The pretty part of the drive was over. We continued across Nebraska and Wyoming. The important thing to know about Nebraska and Wyoming is that they fit into the same category as South Dakota: they have one or two really pretty parts and the rest looks like the angels threw up all over. In the very middle of one of those stretches of puke-brown wasteland somewhere in Wyoming, we pulled into a gas station with a nearly empty tank, only to be told that the whole county was out of power. (How does that happen?) We made a desperate drive to the next county, nominating Reilly to drive there because he was the one most likely to get good gas mileage out of it.

Late that night, we finally rolled into Rigby, Idaho and soon fell asleep in our real beds.

List of states traveled through: Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wyoming.