On Sunday, May 15, 2005 at 8:25am our trip finally commenced!
We met at Dan’s house early in the morning to pack up the van and say goodbye to our families. With three men per seat, plus tents, sleeping bags, cookware, guitars, and supplies—there wasn’t much room to spare. Our luggage well surpassed the height of the window. We stood out like a sore thumb.
There was lot of whooping and hollering as we pulled out of Dan’s driveway—with Big Blue’s air horn blaring away (did I mention Big Blue was equipped with an air horn?)
In the preparation phase someone had the genius idea of rigging up a funnel with a tube attached to it that would run outside through a gap in the side door. This would serve as our emergency urinal. We didn’t want to have to be constantly making stops for eight bladders.
I know. I know. It’s gross.
But we considered this a matter of efficiency and convenience! With two gas tanks, eight drivers, and an on-board bathroom we figured we could cover a lot of ground with minimal stops. Our goal was to drive all day and night until we reached Mt. Rushmore. One of the guys had to use the make-shift urinal rather early into the trip. The tube had a valve on it that they forgot to open so suddenly the funnel was full and a mild panic ensued. We quickly pulled the van over to dump it out before it spilled everywhere.
So much for avoiding stops.
Our dreams of the open road and blue skies laid just beyond the industrial filth and gridlock of Chicago. We entertained ourselves by creating absurd signs to hold up to the window in an attempt to get laughs from passersby. “You are weak, we are strong” read one of the signs.
We were giddy and slaphappy. We thought we were hilarious.
Between moments of laughter and excitement I would sit looking out the window thinking about how people we just on their morning commute to work, running errands, or taking care of the day’s business. Our big rusty van, packed to the ceiling, full of guys heading west seemed like an anomaly. It felt like we broke lose from something—from the predictability and routine of the world. I knew it was temporary, but it was hard for me to wrap my head around. I felt liberated but also somewhat disoriented. This tension between liberation and disorientation would reoccur for me throughout the trip.
Eventually the road opened up, traffic waned, and small cliffs and rock formations started to decorate the landscape. The guys became quieter, some started reading, while others fixed their gaze out the windows.
Our excitement rose when we saw signs for the Mississippi River. It represented something iconic. I thought of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and how I learned to spell “Miss-iss-ippi” in elementary school. Crossing the Mississippi meant we were finally “west”. We pulled over at a rest stop and ran down to the river’s edge to stick our hands in it’s waters.
It felt significant.
“Mt. Rushmore or bust!” Someone declared and we all hurried back into the van. We would drive all through the night and arrive at Mt. Rushmore by sunrise.
At some point in the middle of the night, the van suddenly seemed louder. The music was more difficult to hear. Were we pushing the van too hard? “It’s probably nothing,” we thought.
Time seemed to stand still as our tired gazes stared at the yellow headlights illuminating the dark road ahead. The person riding shotgun always stayed awake with the driver, while the rest of the guys slept intermittently. We were anxious for morning to come. It didn’t seem like a convenient time to look into this louder noise or raise any concerns.
The sun began to rise, almost poetically, as we followed the signs for Mt. Rushmore. It was 5:50am. The morning was beautiful and we couldn’t wait to get out and explore our first planned stop.
Next – The Scenic Route, Please
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