The next morning came early. We scrounged up some coffee and started talking to the Greyhound station employee about our options. At some point in the middle of the night a bus passed through and we asked the driver if she knew about the Ameripass (because at this point it was only hearsay). The Ameripass would buy us unlimited travel over a 10-day period for a set price. She confirmed it was a real thing. This significantly lifted the hopes of Luke and I who were still planning on continuing westward.
We had all decided on our next steps at this point. Luke and Brian were train-hopping or hitchhiking somewhere; Steve, Andy, Dan, and Nate were returning to Cleveland via Greyhound; and Luke and I planned to continue west via Greyhound with the 10-day Ameripass.
Luke and I realized that we had some planning to do. We needed to sketch out an itinerary that would allow us to explore the west a bit but also give us time to get back to Ohio by the 10th day. We found a cafe in town that had free internet access which allowed us to do some research and come up with a route. We needed a notebook to write everything down, so I volunteered to run back to Big Blue to grab mine. As I opened the door my heart nearly skipped a beat as I saw someone sleeping inside of the van! What the heck!? I thought. Then I saw a second person sleeping in the back seat. And then I realized I recognized the shoes and clothes. It was Jim and Brian! I was so surprised it took me a minute to figure out what was going on. They explained that after a few failed attempts nothing seemed to be working out in terms of hopping a train or getting a ride, so they decided to return to Big Blue to get a few hours of sleep.
It was so exciting to be reunited with them. I didn’t expect to see them again any time soon. Brian would join us as far as Seattle where he would catch a flight back to Ohio to be at a major cross-country meet. Jim, Luke, and I would continue on past Seattle together.
Eventually we all congregated at Big Blue to try and decide what we could take with us and what we had to leave behind because there was just too much stuff to adequately travel with. As we emptied out Big Blue and sorted all of our stuff out on the sidewalk, we attracted a lot of curious and puzzled stares from passersby. Some guy walked by and said, “Is there anything I can do to help? Do you want a joint?” We declined the help—and the joint.
A police officer stopped by to ask a few questions. We explained the situation and asked what would happen if we just left Big Blue here. He said that officially it’s not acceptable to just abandon a vehicle, but unofficially someone will probably come by and take it in a matter of hours if you make it clear that it is abandoned.
There had been a sentimental attachment to Big Blue the whole trip up to this point, but now everyone was done with the old van. We were disappointed, confused, and overwhelmed. We had just filled up both gas tanks the night before, so we stuck a hose into the tank with a sign that declared, “40 gallons free gas.” Someone else made a “Free to a good home” sign on a t-shirt that hung in the back window. Someone else made a cardboard sign on the dashboard that read, “We don’t give a damn about this car, please take!”
If that wasn’t enough to make it clear that Big Blue was abandoned and that we didn’t want it, I’m not sure what more we could have done.
Two local guys went and got their pickup truck to help us haul all of our stuff down to the bus station. We were grateful for their friendly assistance.
The local station didn’t sell the Ameripass, so we were told that we’d have to catch the bus to Seattle and stop at the Bozeman station to purchase that (about 30 miles west). The next bus to Bozeman left at 2:40pm.
While we waited, a group of legitimate hippies showed up asking if that was our van in town and asked if they could have it. “Please do!” we replied rather amused. They then invited us to their rainbow gathering somewhere in the forest that evening, but we declined explaining that we’d be leaving town this afternoon—thankful to have a valid excuse.
I was soaking in all that had transpired over the past 12 hours and I suddenly realized that I should probably let my parents know what was going on. I called home on a pay phone and gave my Dad a rundown of what had happened and what we planned to do. I felt like he barely got a chance to respond when I saw the bus to Seattle pull up and I blurted, “Sorry Dad, the bus is here, I have to go!” And hung up.
Initially the driver told us the bus was full and that we’d have to wait for the next, but we were able to talk the driver into letting us ride through to Bozeman to buy our Ameripasses. He was really short and ornery with us so once he gave us the go ahead we quickly grabbed our bags and scrambled onto the full bus—only 4 open seats left.
Luke and Jimmy went to the very back and sat next to a woman who yelled at them because it was too full and she was now going to get claustrophobic. The only open seat I saw was taken up by a young guy laying down across two seats. Another guy across the aisle hit him on the shoulder and told him to sit up and let me sit down. He grumpily sat up saying, “F-ing bastard!” I wasn’t sure if he was referring to me or the guy who told him to sit up. I sat down with my backpack on my lap. I could barely fit because he had pillows and blankets spread all over with no sense of personal space. He eventually fell back asleep and kept slumping over onto my shoulder.
The bus stopped at Bozeman where the ornery driver told us we could get off and buy our Ameripasses. So we scampered off the bus and ran into the station. He tried to put on a “tough guy” attitude but he seemed to be warming up to us and appeared to flash us a smirk every once in a while. We got our passes with an unexpected student discount for a total of $269 each and got back on the bus where we continued our way through Montana on toward Seattle.
I had such a knot in my stomach and my heart raced slightly. I couldn’t talk to Luke, Brian and Jim to process everything that was happening. I couldn’t believe we abandoned Big Blue. I thought about all the time we put into cleaning and fixing up Big Blue. I thought about the visionary conversation and dreams we came up with as we sat in that park back in Burton, OH planning this very trip. I felt guilty for some reason, like I was being irresponsible. I felt like I was disappointing someone, but I wasn’t exactly sure who. I couldn’t believe half of our group was going home. I couldn’t believe that I was on a Greyhound bus heading west. None of this was part of the plan. The plan had gone completely out the window. In fact, this was now an entirely new adventure that I only had mere hours to mentally prepare for. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. I didn’t know if my parents were going to be upset. I didn’t even know if I had enough money for the next two weeks. All this transpired over a short period of time and my mind raced to catch up with our current circumstances.
I sat there in my seat hugging my backpack, watching the landscape pass by, feeling overwhelmed, a smelly stranger asleep on my shoulder, and I wondered…what am I doing!?