Dan, Jimmy & Brian were picked up by AAA to take the van to a different repair shop. The rest of us stayed back at camp for the day. Our morning was spent writing post cards, journaling, and relaxing. It was a beautiful, hot summer day. The sky was a rich, deep blue and the air was breezy. The five of us back at camp took a walk up the hill to the small town to get something to eat.
In my journal I wrote that I bought a new pocket knife. I don’t know why that was significant. “Finally a good one,” I wrote.
After that we hiked out of the town and tried to find an interesting graveyard someone had told us about. We never did find the graveyard, but we did come up on a beautiful hill with small shrubs and rocks with little wild flower springing up all over.
We followed another footpath, not really having any plan other than spending the day exploring. We saw a herd of elk and crossed a few bridges. We met a women who told us we were on a 5-mile loop that would eventually come back to the same town we had left from. We decided to continue on to complete the loop.
It was a magnificent day and the trail that took us by three different lakes and some beaver dams. One lake was especially beautiful as it was nestled in a large valley surrounded by beautiful hills and a mountain capped in white off in the distance.
We continued on and came to a place where we were so high we could actually see into Montana (were were still in Wyoming). We finally made our way back to camp and where we waited for the guys to return with Big Blue so we could head on to Seattle. It was nice to sort of be forced to rest. Some of us napped and just lounged around the camp site enjoying the warmth of the sun.
We were also anxious.
This was before most people had cellphones—plus many of us were cell phone holdouts. I think only one of us had a cellphone, so we weren’t getting constant updates about the progress. We were sort of worried about what was going on and how much longer it would take. Suddenly, we heard Big Blue’s horn. We all stood like like guests at a wedding as the bride comes down the aisle. Big Blue rounded the corner with Jimmy hanging out the window pumping his fist into the air. We whooped and hollered and welcomed Big Blue Home.
We were elated! We packed up our campsite and were planning to drive through the night to Seattle, but it was the opening week of Star Wars Episode III so we figured why not stop into Livingston, MT to see a movie before the long drive. I remember feeling like such a stranger as we walked into the small-town theater. It was packed and most of us had to separate just to find a seat. Parents with their kids were chatting away and enjoying popcorn and snacks. I kept thinking about how for them they were probably just a few miles from home. It was just an ordinary night out for them. No one knew that we were hundreds of miles from our homes on this strange and wild road trip. I felt out of place. I can’t quite describe how I felt at that moment, but it was strange and surreal.
After the movie we realized that we were all starving due to the inconsistent meal plan the last 24 hours, so we headed to the local Pizza Hut to treat ourselves. We got two large and two medium pizzas for just $20. The person taking our order, I assume was the manager, must have been giving us a deal. So we felt particularly thankful.
After a filling meal we headed west toward Washington. Luke was behind the wheel. We were just settling in for the long drive and were about 10miles out of Livingston when the van backfired, some strange clunking noises were heard from the front, and Big Blue died on us—again. Luke steered us to the side of the road.
A perplexed silence filled the van. This can’t be happening.
Dan called a tow truck to take us back to town. While we waited, there was a fierce and sensitive divide that began to emerge among the eight of us. We had already wasted a whole day and unplanned money on van repairs. What happened this time? How expensive would this fix be? This was a Saturday night, and we wouldn’t be able to get the van looked at until Monday because the shops were closed. I remember hearing people talk about returning home and my heart sunk.
I needed some air. I joined Luke, Brian, and Jimmy at the back of the van where Jimmy said something that changed everything for me. We were talking about our disappointment and what alternative possibilities there could be. Jimmy said, “I don’t care what happens, I’m going to keep going west.”
His words rung like a tuning fork inside my body. Yes! Wait—you can say that? You can just decide to keep going? You mean this doesn’t have to be the end? I thought quietly to myself—excited because I just knew something else was going to happen.
There were weird and contrasting feelings of excitement and depression as half of the group had pretty much determined to return home while the other half was resolved to somehow continue the journey. I knew I wanted to continue the journey, I just wasn’t sure I was brave enough. I shared with the guys that I heard that Greyhound had some sort of pass where you can pay a flat rate and have unlimited travel for a set amount of days. Luke, Brian, and Jim were intrigued that this could be a means to continue the journey. Dan, Andy, Steve, and Nathan decided they would get Greyhound tickets back to Cleveland. So we asked our tow truck driver if there was a Greyhound station in Livingston. His reply was, “Hell yeah there’s a greyhound! This is a big city!”
We dropped the van off in front of a repair shop and then walked about a mile to the Greyhound station. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this Greyhound station was literally a 10 x 20 feet shack. Thankfully the “lobby” was open 24-hours, but we would have to wait until morning to inquire about tickets and prices.
Brian and Jimmy left to try and hop a train or hitchhike west. I was excited for them, but also felt a sense of abandonment. We had a lot of stuff in the van and I felt like they were leaving us to clean up this mess of a situation. I wasn’t sure if or when I would see them again. The rest of us remained in the one-room station where we decided there was nothing to do other than try and get a few hours of sleep until morning.
I pulled my hood up, pulled my hat over my eyes, curled up in a ball and fell asleep around 4am.
Everything had fallen apart. We’d have to wait until dawn to determine the fate of our journey.