May 25th - June 3rd, 2010
What scares me most about having a horrible memory is the thought that I could forget the moments that have defined my life. This entire trip is a quintessential example of one of those moments. This book is my attempt at capturing what happened on this adventure. I look forward to telling my children, grandchildren, and anyone who will listen about this trip. Six-thousand miles, ten hours of racing, one beautiful short bus, three cheerleaders, eight competitors, sixteen states, and zero speeding tickets - not too shabby. I canâ€™t think of a better group to travel with, a greater destination, or a grander adventure. Jay, MK, Dango, Lull, Batesy, Brian, Lilly, Haedn, Avela, and Stuart: thanks for making this trip so damn amazing. Cheers! -Jeff
Coast to Coast By Lilly Rose Miller In the 11th hour we screwed the couches into the floor, filled up water bottles, packed the food and more. “Off to a good start,” Jay said when he checked his Blackberry for the time and realized how late it was. We were supposed to leave at 4:00 p.m. and it was five of six. With the luggage and food scattered throughout the back of the bus, we said our final goodbyes to friends and piled in. No longer a fantasy, our trek across country was actually beginning. It started for each of us at a different time. Jeff and MK had been thinking about it since the previous June, when they were told of a 90-mile race in Bellingham, Washington. They brought it up to Jay and Dango the following winter when they were all in South Carolina together. “Obviously,” Jay said, right away. “Count me in,” Dango said. Jay was psyched. With no definite plans for after graduation, him Jeff and MK started creating their dream team and planning the trip. Nothing was planned thoroughly and the idea was still mostly in their heads, but put those three to something and they’ll make sure it becomes a reality. Shortly after the South Carolina trip, Jeff went to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a month, and I met MK. “Hi, I’m MK. Do you paddle?” she said. “Nice to meet you, too,” I said. Within that conversation I was hooked. Having not had kayaked since 2007 I was a little rusty, but I figured I could fake it. A few months later, Jeff was back, and he asked Alex. “You doing anything after graduation?” he said. “Nope,” she said. “You canoe?”
“Nope,” Despite the minor detail of never having canoed before, Alex was signed up for the team by the end of the hour. The cheerleaders—Brian, Lull and Haedn—were pulled into the trip closer to D-Day. More were going to come, but didn’t think we were serious. Then, one day in April, Jeff and I made a phone call about an ad on Craig’s List. “Hi, we’re interested in buying your bus,” I said when Ed, the owner of a 1983 Chevy short bus, answered. The pieces were coming together. Car insurance, a new paint job and some redecorating later, the eight of us piled in the car the 25th of May, two hours after we were supposed to. The trip divides nicely into four parts. Pre Madison, the Truckers Inn, post Madison and the way back. Pre Madison was with the bus, may it rest in peace. “Guys, something is wrong,” MK said while driving. We were two minutes outside of Madison, Wisconsin, and she had to pull over. “Something smells strange,” Jay said. Sticking my head out the window, I noticed that the makeshift exhaust extension had melted away. Houston, we had a problem. “The rear axel is bad,” Jeff said. This, I learned later, meant that at any moment the back tires could stop working. “Minor detail, we’ll drive it to the mechanic,” Jay said. Great idea. Drive the car, which could break, to a mechanic via the high way. “A tow is $150,” he added. No seriously, now it was a great idea. We had no money to spare. The issue became a mute point rather quickly, as the bus seized up—if that’s even the correct term—the moment Jay turned it on.
“I’m giving her all she’s got,” I said as we tried to push it. Upset that the bus was broken and no one understood my Star Trek reference, I sat down in the parking lot of the Truckers Inn Rest Stop. Little did I know that we’d be outside that rest stop for 22 more hours. The whole situation was a love-hate relationship. At first the waitresses in the diner were nice and gave me water with ice in it. By the fifth time I went to fill up, they acted as if I should pay for it. “What did you say?” Haedn asked me when I told her. “I acted like I didn’t pick up on her signals, I’m not paying for water.” I said. A similar experience unfolded with the phonebook, because I had to go and ask for it multiple times. It made me realize how dependent we are on technology when I didn’t know how to use it properly. After the one-millionth time looking something up, though, I’m now a professional. “Hi, Max’s junkyard? I was wondering if you had a rear axel… you don’t know what that is? I don’t either. My 1983 Chevy short bus is broken, and I just need you to fix it…” I said to the first guy I called. Apparently the piece we needed isn’t as common as we were hoping, because no junkyard seemed to have it. Next rental companies started being called. And bus services, airlines and trains. Basically every other means of transportation feasible. Giving up for the night only when nothing was open, our sleeping site was, by default of being homeless, the Truckers Inn parking lot. With Dango on the bench seat, Jay and Brian sharing the floor, Lull in a corner car-chair, and Jeff, MK, Haedn and I sharing the couches, sleeping was interesting. In the middle of the night I woke up unable to feel my legs because MK’s were on them, and with my face in Jeff’s armpit. Unwilling and partially unable to move, I decided that sleep was more important than hygiene or comfort. We woke up early and started making more phone calls. Enterprise ended up being our best, and possibly only, option.
“I guess I have no choice but to call my mom,” I said after the group made a final decision. Walking away, I hit the feared but often used “5” on my speed dial. Something about “we’re at a truck stop with a broken bus and no idea how we’re going to leave here,” didn’t seem reassuring, so I had put it off until we had a plan. “Mom, we had a little problem with the bus,” I said. “Well, I knew that was going to happen,” she said. After going over the plan that I only half understood with her for twenty minutes, I joined what was left of the others. “Jay, Jeff, MK and Brian went to get the cars, because they will be the drivers,” Haedn told me. Lull is 21, and therefore capable of driving a rental car, but with the conjunctivitis she had recently acquired in her eye and her ability to lose focus easily, it was decided that four drivers would be enough. Within the hour they were back, driving what looked like a cross between a PT Cruiser and a hearse, and an Impala. “What is that thing?” I asked when Jeff got out of the car. “A PT Loser,” he said. Clearly this was not his first pick of vehicle. We piled into the cars. MK and Jay drove the Impala, with Lull and Haedn in the backseat sleeping. The other car was Jeff, Brian, Dango and myself. Glad to be on the road again, I didn’t mind that there was a set of skis blocking my view or a bin of food taking up a third of the back seat. The car was a car, and we were grateful. Halfway through the night we pulled over outside of a gas station for a quick power nap. Multiple hours later we woke up, unsure of the time due to the time zone change we had been ignoring for roughly 2000 miles. This was only an issue because we had to pick Alex up at the Rapid City, South Dakota, airport. We hit the road again, rested enough and ready for multiple hours of driving. We got to Rapid City earlier than expected and were able to visit Mount Rushmore.
Walking around the mountain, I heard a loud and familiar laugh. “Haedn? Lull?” I yelled. Sure enough, at the other end of the park, Haedn and Lull had snuck in and were coming to find us. This didn’t seem like a big deal until a security guard made it one. Haedn and Lull went to explore more while the rest of us went to see Jay and MK. “Our muscles are so atrophied,” MK said. She and Jay had been running up and down the steps and doing pull ups, dissatisfied with how little we had all been working out. Feeling awkward because all I wanted to do was take a nap while simultaneously eating cookies, we moved on to locating Haedn and Lull by tracking their voices. Leaving Mount Rushmore, Dango was able to find the perfect beanie as a souvenir. The Rapid City airport was the first time we saw so many normal people since leaving Ithaca. At the Truckers Inn everyone was a trucker, and at Mount Rushmore everyone was a tourist. At the airport they were people who could—and did—judge us for our lack of hygiene. Especially when Lull tried to wash her hair at the sink in the bathroom. “Lull, what are you doing?” I asked as she stuck her head under the faucet. “Washing my hair, should I do it?” She asked. “You won’t, you won’t,” Haedn said, instigating her to do it more. Taking up the entire counter with her things, Lull proceeded to wash her hair with water—because we had no shampoo— and dry it with the hand dryers. Not knowing where the boys or Alex were, MK, Haedn and I went to sit outside. Luckily everyone ended up in the same spot, because we had no predetermined meeting place. “Alex, get ready,” I said to her as we walked back to the cars. That was the only piece of advice I could think of that wouldn’t completely scare her for what she was about to enter.
She looked in the Impala. Lull had already climbed in and was eating peanut butter out of the jar. “Don’t eat that,” Haedn whispered to Alex. Lull had—once again—forgotten that her eye infection was contagious, and she was rubbing it in between scoops of peanut butter. “We’ll have a separate jar for us,” Haedn said. The car was covered in food, trash, string from bracelets and more, but Alex found a spot between Haedn and Lull to sit. Later that day we stopped for gas at a tiny place near Crazy Woman Creek in Wyoming. “You all look tired and hungry,” the lady, Donna, behind the counter, said. When she found out we were from New York, she told us about her daughter who is moving to the city and insisted that we stay for lunch. Filled up on grilled cheeses, milkshakes and lemonade, we headed through to Montana and into Washington. Finally at our destination, we ventured to the Western Washington University library, where we looked up information on the race and checked our email. “Would you guys want to use my showers,” a boy asked me. It was official: we were dirty and smelly enough that a stranger was offering us his showers unprovoked. “Yes, we would love to,” I said. I had no shame; we needed to shower. After bathing and unintentionally napping in the libraryboy’s dorm, we went to Avela’s house. She went to school with someone from Ithaca, and she was going to do the downhill skiing leg of the race and let us sleep at her house. She was pretty much our savior. The prospect of a real bed in our minds, we were all asleep by 10:00 p.m. that night. Which is good, considering that the first round of racers had to be up at 5:00 a.m., which is especially early considering that the race ended between 6 and 7 p.m.
MK, Jay, Avela, Jeff and Stuart—a recent Ithaca College graduate who met us to do the road biking leg—did amazingly. The water portions had a little more difficulty, though. “We were doing well,” Alex said. “Then we flipped over and floated in the water for a half mile or so.” Since neither Alex nor Dango had ever canoed before, it took them a while to get the hang of it. Luckily, they had 19 miles to figure it out. I was the kayaker, and it was a little rough to say the least. I didn’t flip over, but a few passing dad-types asked if I was okay. It might have been because I looked like I was going to flip, or because I was singing songs to myself out loud to pass the time, but whatever the reason, their tone was concerned. As I approached the shoreline to finish the race, I could hear my name chanted by everyone. The volunteers helped me out of my kayak—I had been warned that my legs would feel like Jell-O, but I was not prepared. Stumbling to the finish line, I saw an omniscient figure ahead of me and I ducked under it to avoid injury. “Where is the bell,” I asked MK when I found the group. “You ran under it and didn’t ring it,” she said. The entire trip I was excited to ring the bell at the finish line, and when the time finally came, I missed it. Everyone was extremely loud and excited, which I assumed was from their adrenalin. “I just want a beer,” I said as I stood, shivering, borderline tears. The entire race all I could think about was a cold one taking place of the paddle in my hands, and enjoying it with the rest of my team. “One step ahead of you,” MK said, before explaining that they had already killed a thirty-pack and were working on a bottle of cheap wine. Apparently everyone started after they were finished racing, and I had mistaken obscene drunkenness for enthusiasm. I was surprised at how easily I could push the fact that we were at a family event—where it was completely socially
unacceptable to drink—to the back of my mind as I drank as much as I could as quickly as I could just to try and catch up. “There are open container laws,” Stuart shouted at us the entire time, nervous we would all be arrested. Similarly ignoring his warnings, I went up to the MC of the entire event and interrupted him to ask if I could keep the timing chip. That night at Avela’s we didn’t hold back. With no clear memory of how the night ended, it started with a few too many games of Cheers Governor, progressed into head stands, and rounded third with Jay eating every enchilada except for one vegan one. Waking up the next morning, the previous five days caught up to my body and I felt it. Roughly. “At least we didn’t throw up,” I said when I woke up in a bed I hadn’t seen before with Haedn next to me. “Please, no loud noises,” was her response. The rest of the crew felt similarly, and that morning was not the highlight of the trip. We sat at the table after packing and cleaning, procrastinating getting back into the cars. “We’ll drive strait to Denver, stay at Alex’s house, then drive home,” Jeff told us. It was a serious undertaking, 3000 miles with only one real break, but we had to be back in Ithaca to return the cars three days later. Loading up on coffee, energy drinks and sugar candies, we embarked on the last part of the trip: getting home. The following days all blurred together, because most of the driving was at night and the states were all so similar. We did learn that the Impala can reach 112 miles per hour, and that we did a number to the roof of the other car with the canoe, one which playing ignorant could not fix. We stopped in Denver for a night to catch up on sleep and eat real food. But sooner than we would have preferred, it was 5:30 a.m. the next day and we had approximately 36 more hours of driving.
“Hi, I was calling to see what time the rental cars have to be in by,” Jay said when he called Enterprise. They were due by noon, but we were hoping to get an extension. Whether or not Enterprise allotted the extension, we pulled back up to 271 Penn the same way we left it: two hours late. Only this time we were in two cars, not one bus. Our belongings scattered on the lawn, I held my nose as I took all the clothes—dirty or clean, they needed to be washed—and put them in the back of MK’s car. The girls did the laundry as the boys took the cars back. I don’t know who had the idea to go to Ithaca Festival afterwards, but we were all so tired that we left half way through the parade. I have no real memory of that night, because my body was so exhausted, but when I did finally shower, I’m pretty sure I washed my hair three times. The following night we rejoined, everyone together, and had a reenactment of Avela’s house, only this time we included Pong and Flip Cup. Swearing to never enter a car again, Jeff, Jay and our friend Ally G left early the next morning for New Jersey and I left for home the morning after. Pulling out of 271 Pen for what felt like the last time, my mom and I headed home. As we pulled into a gas station shortly after leaving, my road-trip mind kicked in one final time. “Whose turn is it to pay for gas?” I said, instinctively.