4 Men In A Rental Van For 9 Days

Rich O'Keeffe, Ron Collier, Chris Spellman, Tim Spellman
Guest Contributors

It was all Rich’s fault. It was his idea in the first place.

He was silly enough to mention it to Chris on a fateful phone call on Thursday the 25th of August. The year was 1995. Chris mentioned it to Ron, then we talked about it for a while and tried to get people to commit to it, the time, the money, etc. and never could get it to happen. We talked about turning it into a fundraiser, and went around in circles for a long time before we managed to decide just to do it for the hell of it.

Then the year of 1996 appeared and we actually managed to schedule a time, April first – All Fools Day! Perfect! Never did happen, so as summer drew closer, we set another date, early September, the 8th to the 17th. As soon as we all agreed to this, we had to change it – Ron’s first year anniversary was during that time and it just didn’t seem like a good way to start year number two. Again we went off scheduling and discovered that we could pull it in a week and still be in early September, which was good, because it was not too hot, not too cool, not too much traffic. It made sense.

It made SENSE? Yeah, right. What the hell were we thinking? Four men renting a big van and driving it for nine days without stopping? What were we, NUTZ? Indeed, that’s exactly what we were. Four of us, Tim Spellman, Chris Spellman, Ron Collier and Rich O’Keeffe rented a 15-passenger Dodge Ram van and drove it 8712 miles traveling through all of the 48 continental United States, plus DC, and we did it in less than seven days. The actual mileage from Southborough to Southborough was 8636 miles and the time was 6 days, 21 hours and 6 minutes.

SETTING OUT

After both too much and not enough planning we set out on September 6, Early in the morning we gathered together and drove into Logan airport to pick up the van. Logan had Thrifty, the only rental agency around which would rent a 15 passenger with unlimited miles… This of course begs the question, “Just want do you MEAN when you say ”unlimited miles?” And of course, who were we not to find out!

When we arrived, an English chap named Nigel worked with us to get the van. We got talking about long trips and he mentioned that one time some crazy fellow rented a big van and put almost six thousand miles on it three weeks.


We nearly fell over laughing at that, given what we were going to do! We eventually told him what we were doing and he suggested that we keep our voice down in case the manager caught wind of it and decided not to rent the van. He thought it was pretty funny. At one point in the conversation, someone asked Nigel what sort of gas mileage the van got and his response was “I don’t know, but its got a whopping right engine.” Ahh! English for big gas sucking V8! Earlier we had asked if the seats came out of the van. We were told that they did not. We decided that the person who told us this about the van was either quoting policy or was highly unimaginative.

In no time flat, we are back at base camp and ripping out the seats of the van. Then a quick trip to HQ for supplies. Ron and Rich then starting cutting and wielding a screw gun. An hour later there was a fine platform in the back for bed where the seats once where. Load up the van with all sorts of stuff, a bed, food, water, etc. We attached a few accessories, like a laptop, a CB radio and antenna, 2 CD players, a cell phone, and a myriad other assorted gizmos and we were ready to journey out with our ten pound BOX of AAA maps! (by the way – AAA did a fantastic job with the tripticks in all respects except predicting construction – that was guaranteed to be wrong).

Only thing left was a last meal. We decided a nice pizza from Bertucci’s would hit the spot so we ordered one up, set to deliver in 30 minutes. Over an hour later, we called and told them to buzz off, we were outta there. They of course wanted to give the thing to us for free and we told them to bugger off anyway – such fun! We later found out that the delivery man eventually did show up. He spent a while with the neighbors trying to decide if we were home before finally giving up.

With our various families present, we put Chris in the driver’s seat and, at 8:08 PM, we pulled away. Good thing Chris started driving or he woulda gone crazy straight away. His brain was locked into our route going around the country counter-clockwise and the rest of us wanted to mess with his mind and go clock-wise. Still being hungry we went to snag dinner at McDonald’s, our only restaurant stop on the entire trip. We also used that as our excuse to make all our navigational mistakes so we didn’t have to make any later – Getting there much slower than necessary!

We quickly picked up New Hampshire where several traditions spontaneously sprang into motion. The first was every man in the van getting out and putting both feet on the ground in every state. Another was Ron finding a piece of wood in each state and labeling it. We took a picture of the “Entering New Hampshire” sign on the highway. We kept fairly careful records of time and location of way points, which included state border crossings and stops for gas and driver changes. OH yeah – and we had this little micro-cassette recorder that we didn’t know what to do with, so when we saw a cop we recorded date/time/location/situation of sighting… for every single cop car we saw the entire trip (except police stations). We got very colorful in our descriptions of the local and state constabulary as time passed.

In short order we nailed Maine and then Vermont (we had to backtrack to pick up the Vt. sign ‘cuz we weren’t in the groove yet) just after midnight, moving right along into New York and then Pennsylvania – both boring states at early morning hours. (Actually they’re boring at other hours as well, but we only saw them in the morning.)

As light dawned in PA we started to wake up a little to fact that we were really doing this! It was cool. We crossed into Ohio at 0921.

After I80 joined up with I90 we started to have to pay a little more attention to driving. This resulted from our mixing with the big boys – the professional truckers. A couple of things happened – there were suddenly a TON of trucks around, we were clearly traveling a major part of the US infrastructure. Another was that a bunch of land-trains appeared, double and triple trailer trucks. On the plus side however, the roads became easier to drive, better built, better labeled, smoother, flatter, and straighter. Just another groove to get into. We soon mastered that and moved along.

As we were driving through Indiana (abysmally boring state) we hit our only major patch of rain on the trip. This was an event only in that it gave Rich his first experience with RAIN-X – a product of the Gods! RAIN-X makes wipers unnecessary and makes the rain just roll off the windshield. The RAIN-X became important later in the trip as we discovered that New England is blissfully free of the MASSIVE quantity of bugs found everywhere else in the country – we needed something to aid us in getting them off the windshield.

While in Indiana we took a really short in-out trip into Sturgis, Michigan just to pick up the state and turn around. In our abandon to stand in the state and nab some wood, we foolishly cruised into the first parking lot to do our deed and then turn around. No sooner did we pile out of the van and start looking for wood than this old lunatic comes outta no where yelling and cursing at the top of his lungs telling us we can’t just jump out of the van and piss on his property and to get in our van and go back to Massachusetts. A brief and colorful exchange occurred between us until we were sure he was totally mental and might try to kill us for standing in the state. We nabbed the wood and moved on, leaving him in our dust, literally.

As our first dinner time approached, we fought our way through traffic in Chicago. After seeing the Sears Tower in the distance, and an absolutely massive mall next to the highway we carried on without event. We eventually pulled off the highway at the Hampshire Rest Area and truck stop. After fueling up the vehicle, we drove up the road a little and off a side road to pull over beside a field and have dinner. Getting out of the van was a bit of a shock – it was windy and COLD there! It’s a good thing that Chris saw a weather report before we left and made sure to tell us to dress for warm weather – and we made sure HE remembered it! Actually, we made sure to remind Chris of it for at least 12 hours. We started up the Coleman camp stove and set about preparing dinner. After nearly forever, we finally had a meal in the van. Tim cooked up some darn good grub which we enjoyed to no end – marinated steak tips, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes. Yum. Not bad for a side of the road meal. While we were parked there we had to keep grabbing for the tape recorder as cops kept passing us and slowing down for a look.

Wisconsin was quick in-out tag about an hour after dinner. We all pile outta the van, step, get wood, pile back in, and take off. We were back in Illinois on our way to Iowa which we hit a few minutes before midnight, just slightly more than a day into our trip.

Des Moines was a beautiful city, especially when compared against expectations. It was well built up and at the same time it did not suffer from the visual flush of other larger cities.

We took a quick stop in Coralville and for the life of us, no one could remember the name of that damn town. Chris kept asking us and we finally concluded that the given name was too painful so we gifted it with its rightful and true name, Clusterfuckville, Iowa.

By now we had settled into some rhythm regarding driving. One person would drive for about 2-3 hours, and someone else would navigate as well. Then the driver would change and usually the nav at the same time. As we got more comfortable in this, we started to really relax and the sort of conversations that we started to have with each other were getting more intense and deeper. The social veneer was starting to peel off and the normal bullshit started to drop by the roadside. These deeper and more real conversations served as a great tool to keep the men who were on the job awake and alive.

Right outside Iowa City, there was the biggest truck stop we saw all trip. We estimate that the parking lot was well over 1000 feet by 1000 feet. There was a sign about 100′ by 40′. It was more of a shopping plaza for truckers.

While we were driving through Iowa we took a bunch of side trips to other nearby states to in-out nab them. Every time we left the major roads in Iowa, we’d notice the startling lack of all traffic. This seemed especially strange after all the major truck traffic. Missouri was totally empty. Kansas wasn’t much better, so we livened it up a bit. We started to encounter the first of a tremendous quantity of road construction during the course of the trip. Endless signs and orange cones and such. Well, in Kansas there was this one orange traffic cone that looked lonely, so we stopped and gave it a ride. Actually, it was more like kidnapping… and transporting across state lines… several state lines…. although we didn’t abuse it… much.

The cone went back into Iowa and then into Nebraska where we took a morning stop to fuel up, get water, and eat breakfast. While we were hanging out we saw 2 fighter jets flying in very close formation out of the 185th squadron stationed nearby. It was really cool – our own miniature air show. After breakfast, there was a mild wrestling match between Rich and Chris. Actually, it was more between Rich and Chris’ social veneer. Rich won. Chris’ underwear lost. It was the most amazing wedgie ever seen. The remains of the underwear became an ornamental flag on the outside of van for many many miles to come.

Right around here we started to ask the question of just how many borders would we cross throughout the trip? Since many states we would cross into and out of several times the number was high. As we started to log what we had done already we started to keep track of who was driving and “poof!” in no time we had a competition in motion to see who could drive over the most state borders.

As we drove out of Nebraska and into South Dakota with the cone, we had our only near miss with a member of the gendarmes. We had just cruised into SD, having just passed a cool river boat, and right past a cop. He points at us – no, he seems to pointing right behind us… not sure. He pulls out and then nabs the car directly behind us. We were blessed. All the more so because of our homesick cone tucked securely away.

South Dakota ended up being the final destination of the cone’s journey… In a fit of delirium, it attempted to escape. It threw open the back door of the van while traveling at well over the speed limit and flung itself out in an attempt to rejoin some of its compatriots. Chris made a valiant effort to save it, but it just seemed to slip out of his hand at the last second. In a nearby incident, Tim was driving while we got into a discussion of just how flexible those median construction pylons were – those 3 foot high 3 inch diameter cylinders sticking up. Tim was not to be ignored when we said they were very flexible so to prove his point he simply opened the driver’s door, while at speed, and whacked it against a dozen or more of these things. He was right, they bent.

South Dakota was a big state. And a beautiful state. The more we traveled through it, the more it impressed us. From urban areas like Rapid City to the remote plains, it was gorgeous. All of the rest areas on the highways had these gigantic concrete teepee skeletons. Sort of got used to them after a while. We actually tried to climb one at a rest stop around Minnesota (another of the quick in-outs). We also tagged Wyoming a little later.

As we went west across the state we started to realize that we were substantially ahead of schedule. Far enough ahead that we felt comfortable enough to make a few side detours. As we discussed this Chris wanted to look at the maps (his favorite fetish during the entire trip). We spent a glorious couple of hours at one point just saying “no, you can’t look at the maps”… Drove him crazy. As we progressed west, we decided that there three things that we needed to do in SD. The first was the drive through The Badlands.

These musta been a nightmare for the early pioneers when they found them. The plains suddenly just gave way to a drop of a hundred or more feet with a cliff of highly eroded ground. Some of the ground was eroded away to nothing, and other pillars of it were hardly dented, leaving a lot of spikes sticking up all over the place. Each of the spikes was basically dirt, rock, and mud of many different striated colors. Absolutely beautiful. Some places where drainage pipes emptied they had bored holes into the ground over thirty feet straight down. Really impressive.

Almost there.

As we drove further through The Badlands and toward Wall Drug we managed to have some more fun. Ya know how when you have a bandaid on, you can pull it off slowly, or toward the end give it a quick rip? We were pulling on the band aid of social veneer of each other, and we did a quick rip on Chris’ and he snapped. We are driving along giving Chris a continued low level of harassment as he drove. At one point he wanted something to eat so Rich tossed him a granola bar and instead of going where it was intended it landed on the floor. Chris snaps, taking this as totally disrespectful of the driver and out of line, so he romps on the brakes, rips the keys outta the ignition, and goes to throw them out the window into a field. He missed and they bounced off the edge of the window. Probably a good thing. Chris verbally blasted Rich (and it ended up taking a couple days to drain away from them both) and Tim and Ron did their best Howard Cossell play-by-play, which served mainly to keep anything from getting resolved. After the keys were restored we set off to Wall Drug, the most overstated thing on the trip.

Wall Drug had been advertising with billboards (the South Dakota State Tree) for well over 200 miles. When we got there it was in a town with a population of just over 600 – probably all employed in the store, or painting billboards. If you know what Spag’s in Shrewsbury, MA is like, it was like a Spag’s for tourists only more polished, presentable, and gussied up than Spag’s. All in all it was pretty glitzy and boring. But, we had been there!

Next we went on the mission of heading to Mount Rushmore and seeing them stone heads. As impressive as the pictures are, there is no way to describe what they are like in person. Fantastic to imagine the work it must have taken to carve them. Wow. While we were there we made a few phone calls and spotted a good quantity of diverse people from around the world, and clearly, around the solar system.

After a wonderful Tim-made-dinner at the base of the monument, we headed north to nab North Dakota. Most of the route was on a smaller road, Route 85.

A couple of things happened on this leg of the trip – surprised? There was NO ONE on the road as dark settled in and after a while we realized that there had not been a turn in the road in a really long time. At the next turn we started to measure the straightaways. 11 miles, 15 miles, 22 miles… Hard to understand after having driven in New England. Flat, straight, stick and stone driving, where you put a stick against the steering wheel and a stone on the accelerator. Eventually another car came into view heading toward us. Politely we turned down high-beams, hoping the other person would too – no dice. A quick flash or two and they remained rude. Fine, we can drive with low beams for a few more seconds. The seconds dragged on and on, stretching into minutes. The minutes dragged on and on. Finally after a long time we passed the other car (who did eventually turn down their lights). Wow – When we saw headlights coming our way, we started to take bets on how long it would take to get to them.

At a closing speed of 160 mph easy it would sometimes take over 6 minutes – that’s 16 miles. The odd thing was you had no distance perception when they are absolutely straight in front of you until only a mile or so away.

The longest stretch of road we encountered there was 30.0 miles just outside of Buffalo, South Dakota. Now, Buffalo must have been a pretty boring place to live – the nearest cross road, let along town, was probably about 70 miles away in any direction. We passed through there at 23:30 on Friday night, and we passed right by the obvious choice of night life – the gas station. There were big lights, lots of pickup trucks and probably the entire town present. There was music and they were all square dancing.

After much debate we decided not to stop and join in, fearing that any alien presence might upset this little biosphere.

When it came time to stop and change drivers, we put the van in neutral and just coasted to a stop in the middle of the road. Farted around for a while, went to the bathroom, and moved on – secure in the knowledge that no vehicle could come within 15 miles of us without being visible.

The only thing visible on the drive at all was an occasional herd of deer beside the road, and an occasional dead deer – sometimes with a thousand or so feet of bloody drag marks before the carcass. We entered North Dakota sometime slightly after midnight, and entered our third day on the road with Rich driving. At this point, Ron pointed off to the left and said, “Oh look, a that we can actually see.” Having not seen very much except the road for about three hours, Rich attempted in vain to make out some of the landscape in the moonlight. His attention finally returned to the deserted road to discover a good sized buck with decent rack on his head standing in the road in front of him. Actually, it was just a little aside from straight in front – good thing for the deer, and good thing for us. However, if we had hit it we would have eaten well that night and secured a fantastic hood ornament. Rich was chastised for missing after his heart rate dropped out of the thousands of beats per second.

Shortly after entering North Dakota, we left it behind as we hit Montana. Montana as a whole was stunningly beautiful. Possibly the best scenery of the trip. Early in the morning we decided on a short side trip south into Yellowstone park right near Wyoming. We were headed to a hot spring where we could go swimming. We didn’t actually know where it was, we were just guessing and going by our nose. We eventually found Boiling River, our destination. We changed into swim suits and prepared to take the 5-10 minute walk in the chill morning air when we noticed some movement up the trail. As we got a little closer we could see that it was a small heard of elk. About eight cows, a half dozen calves, and one very impressive bull with a 12 point rack on his head. A massive animal that was all grace and beauty.

We got to walking within about 15 feet of the females, and about 35 feet from the bull. At one point the bull was standing in the river and just turned and climbed out. We were impressed as it walked up a loose dirt bank probably 15+ feet high and about 80 degrees. A person couldn’t have made it up that slope in an hour it was so steep and so loose. We snapped a bunch of pictures and then went on to the hot spring.

The spring came out from the ground, it was run off from the Mammoth Hot Springs many miles away. There was a lot of water and it was moving fast. It dumped into the river after a hundred feet or so. We jumped in the river just upstream of where the spring met it. The river was really cold and the springs were really hot. It was great going from the cold of the river to having the hot water pound down on your head like an ultra-hot shower massage – the thermal shock was awakening! The current in the river was very swift in some places, almost to the point of not being able to hang on to the many rocks. We played in the current and tried to see how close we could come to not being able to hold on any more. No one was swept down river, but it was not for failing to risk it.

Totally refreshed after a couple of hours we went back to the van and got dressed (securing a biomedical hazard bag from another traveler for our clothes). We shot back north to the main road at a higher than normal speed getting the van up over a hundred mph a couple of times, and burying the needle once. At this point we discovered just how aerodynamic our van was, and we nicknamed it the flying brick (since it was red anyway).

As we continued our trek westward we started to notice that Montana has some interesting things along the roadside. Case in point was a sign for the “Rock Creek Montana Testicle Festival – Have A Ball”. What more can be said. Montana was an instant favorite state.

Just before getting to Idaho we stopped in a little fly-speck town called Missoula. This was our one scheduled stop on the trip to get an oil change done on the brick. We quickly found an Express Lube shop and dropped off the van for a 10 minute refresher. Imagine our consternation when we came back 10 minutes later to find a fully refreshed van sitting in the bay with only 3 functional tires. They slashed our tire! They say when they went to unscrew the valve cover the valve itself BROKE OFF (we know better!). Anyhow, they were willing to pay for a new tire. After a little work, we managed to uncover the spare tire and jack and get that set up. A short jaunt to a local Conoco station and $3.50 later we were back in business and on the road again.

With our newly refreshed sport brick we started cruising toward Idaho. We ran into more road construction. It was everywhere. In a fit of frustration Tim brought the brick up to speed and rammed one of the median pylons. Flattened it. But it set off little red lights on the dashboard. Of all things it looked like we killed the windshield washer fluid container, or so the light said. We pulled off the road to asses the damage and the light went off. We drove on.

We enter Idaho and stop at the peak of Lookout Pass for dinner. As we pull in we discover its actually a ski area and there is a mountain bike championship race going on that weekend. Bike racers were everywhere. We parked the van and cranked up the stove to have some pork loins. A great dinner was had. A few laughs as a cyclist ran over a fellow running for a Frisbee. We were outta there.

We started to cruise toward Coeur d’Alene at around 21:30 eastern time. As we topped the hill and headed down we were greeted by a spectacular sunset over a huge lake. Fantastic. We stopped for a refueling and then Rich jumped in to drive into WA.

South toward Oregon we went and started one of the most boring stretches encountered to date. Eastern Washington and Oregon are not the nice places you might imagine. Boring desert is kind. It was so boring that we started to count bugs hitting the windshield. Pretty soon there were so many it was difficult to find the new ones, and it become quite a challenge. Soon after we started to grade the quality of each bug splatter. Points were given for artistic expression as well as a number of technical merits including location, size, shape, colors, consistency, body parts, etc. There were even ones that were so impressive that when we did stop and clean the windshield (a requirement every 5 or 6 hours, else we would have been blind) we chose to clean all around them and leave them there for future comparison. In fact, when we stopped we were able to find a number of real gems stored under the wipers and in the grill. We collected these for future use.

And of course, the bug splatters did not deter us from anything else. We’d just interrupt whatever we were doing, comment on the bug, and then get on with it. It was pretty common to have conversations like:

“So I came home, all pissed off and said….”
THWAAPPP (simulated bug squishing noise)
“Coooool. Nice one. Look at this”
“Yeah, I love the way that the RAIN-X causes the blood to flow up”
“So what I said was….”

In Oregon heading south we climbed up this big hill and just after cresting the peak we started on down the other side and we were greeted to a spectacular view of a vast salt lake which was more salt than lake, teaming with birds. As we drove past this lake for what seemed like an hour (it was probably more like 10-15 minutes) we saw a sign on the side of the road talking about the area. We pulled in and read about the lake, the mountains, the fault lines etc. Cool stuff.

As we headed toward California we were cruising along, minding our own business, when we suddenly pass a cop sitting in a car beside the road. A little judicious braking and there was no pursuit. But something wasn’t quite right with the picture! We spun around and drove back to discover that indeed, we hadn’t been imagining things! There really was a mannequin in the car with a hat and glasses on and the car was an old cop car that probably couldn’t even drive. It was a hoot, just like you hear about in the hicks. So we took a few pictures and drove on.

California, for all its size, was one of those states we touched for only a few scant moments – literally. Although Tim found a really cool skull by the side of the road. Rich kept the skull to give to his son. We did a touch and go there a little after noon time on Sunday and then headed back into Oregon and toward Nevada.

As we wound further east in Oregon across the desert we found ourselves headed straight at a big mountain range ahead. After many miles of expectations we finally reached the mountains. Chris had been driving and playing chess with Rich over this boring stretch. As we started up the mountain Chris suddenly stopped playing chess, and Rich didn’t seem to protest much. Perhaps it we because we were getting further and further from the desert floor. Perhaps it was because the road was right on the edge of the cliff face. Perhaps it was because there was no guardrail.

Perhaps it was all of them together promising a few exhilarating seconds of free fall before instant death if we went a little too far right when the road went left. It was breathtaking in a number of ways.

It was now Sunday as the sun rose over the desert and we were still trudging through Oregon. We were discussing bug splats while Rich sat in the navigators seat and ate grapes. Somehow the question arose as to whether or not a bug splatter was better than a grape splatter. Rich promptly started to throw grapes out in front of the van trying to get them to hit the windshield. He met with limited success. So he leaned way out of the window and threw one nice and hard right at the windshield and got a good splat. It was suggested that he jam one over the radio antenna. In an attempt to do so he let go of the bent antenna just after he put on a grape the grape went flying! Cool trick! Many more grapes when flying off the antenna, mostly to the rear. Finally Rich decided to really skewer one on there and so he got nearly half way out the window and was putting one on the antenna when Chris (driving) rolled up the window on him. After a suitable amount of screaming Chris finally let him in.

Nevada was another wonderful example of how very beautiful deserts and mountains can be. And how boring. Lets put it this way, highlights included things like the sign “next service 99 miles”, and the sign “Entering Winnemmuca – City of Paved Streets”. Amusing sights on the sides of the roads included little dust tornadoes – some pretty cool too! As we drove into Winnemmuca we stopped for gas, telephone calls, and new food supplies. We left the state of Nevada behind and entered Utah later in the day.

As we came over a mountain in Utah we were hit by a massive amount of sun in the face just as the it started to set. Just below a brilliant sky lay the tremendous expanse of the great salt desert. Awe inspiring does not describe the sight. Nothing short of the Grand Canyon felt as impressive at that moment. We drove slowly down the side of the mountain toward the desert and finally hit the bottom. Mountains were at our back and nothing but desert visible in the other directions. Away we drove and in minutes we saw signs for the Bonneville Raceway. We drove all this way, we just had to go see the salt flats where the land speed records were broken and re-broken. We drove down this thin little road that disappeared into nothing in the heat waves ahead. Suddenly the road ended at a tiny parking lot with sign that basically said ‘welcome to the raceway, enter at your own risk’ and tons of tire tracks out onto the salt.

Oh, what an opportunity. We unloaded Tim and the food and Chris, Rich and Ron went out to take the brick for a little test drive. Out we went across the desert and into the sunset. We screamed along the desert with complete abandon. We even changed drivers without stopping – what’s the point? Its not like we were gonna hit anything… Rich eventually buried the speedometer needle and we figure the flying brick topped out somewhere around a buck ten. Wind resistance was enough that we could actually feel the tires spinning on the loose salt at that speed.

When we got back the van was covered with salt on the undercarriage, wheel wells and a little on the sides. Tim was talking with another traveler who had stopped there for the night in his camper. His name was Flipper and he had just driven about 10,000 miles in the last 3 weeks, basically on a whim. He was traveling with his senile mother, a motorcycle and sidecar, and a cycle riding black lab dog named Welfare. When asked about the name, he said he thought it was obvious – it was black, lazy, and all it did was eat, sleep, and shit – what else could you call it?!? He wanted to take a picture of us because (as he told his dog) we weren’t “right” in the head. Look who was talking!

After another fine meal and a stunning moon rise over the desert we packed up and drove toward Salt Lake City and then Colorado. The drive was beautiful under the moonlight. On I40 we picked up the longest clocked straightaway of the trip, somewhere over 34 miles then a small turn and another 20 or so miles. Yikes! Over 50 miles of near perfect straightness. Time to put the pedal to the medal … except that this is Utah, and the cops were a bit thick.

We saw one by the side of the road, with a car pulled over. It might have been an emergency of some kind, but it seemed more like a ticket. We passed merrily by.

A few miles later, we were in the left lane, and this car came up very close behind us. We think he was trying to do an inspection on the inside of our exhaust system. Can’t imagine going to such lengths to cut down the visibility while driving. Anyway, Rich found a slot to get back in the right lane, and this asshole came past us, accelerating all the way. He was from New York, and drove like a Yankees fan.

About two or three minutes later (we were still in the right lane) a cop came whizzing past us in some kind of small fast car, like a Mustang. We think it was the same one we saw earlier, but who can be sure. His lights probably were on, but what was memorable was his speed. He must have been doing at least 120. He was going so fast that his air wake rocked the van.

A few miles later we passed him again (at least we think it was the same cop, but who can tell). He had a car pulled over. As we passed, a cheer went up … It was the asshole from New York. It must be fun to be a cop and know that someone you are chasing can’t turn off for at least 30 miles.

Also, at one point on I15 we stopped for a piss break and we all piled out of the van. Ron and Tim had been asleep, and after a minute or two of relief pissing on the side of the road we all noticed what Tim hadn’t – he was totally butt-naked! In all his glory standing on the side of the road in full view.

One of the unfortunate side effects of our trip was that we had to drive through some absolutely gorgeous country at night. One of those areas was in Utah from Salt Lake City to Moab. The moon was full that night, so periodically, we’d turn off the headlights and drive through the canyons, illuminated by the light of the moon. Stunning. Spectacular.

Tim took over driving in Moab, and took us down through Cortez, Colorado and into Four Corners. When we got to Four Corners it was about 05:45 and it was closed with No Trespassing signs and gates down and stuff – and they wanted to charge admission! We promptly hopped over the gates and walked up to the monument. It was a big brass disk in concrete with lines showing the state boundaries and of course, the intersection of the four state lines. We all went and stood in the middle, put a hand and a foot in each state, one of us in each state and stuff like that. When we got done looking around, we discovered that all-in-all it was quite boring.

Boring.

After snagging a couple of more pieces of wood we jumped into the van and drove a little ways into Arizona. We discovered just after entering that Arizona wood had yet to be gathered. Tim quickly saw a tree up a small inclined dirt road off the highway. With barely a hesitation or reduction in speed, Tim veered off the main road onto this trail. At the top he stopped and we snagged some wood. As Tim was turning the van around he suddenly realized that the road was in a sort of gully that was shorter than the van, and that the dirt was really soft. He also realized that he managed to get us quite stuck. It was impressive watching him actually get the right rear tire to smoke as he tried to free the van. After much pushing and prodding and jumping on bumpers and stuff we got the van free, and Tim was smacked around to make the rest of us feel better. On to New Mexico we went for our first stretch of driving due east on the trip.

Once again we encountered a state which was by and large pretty boring. And again we managed to find some ways to liven it up. We were stopped in Moriarty, NM for gas and we swung by a store to try and find some Sam Kinison stuff but it was closed, so we wasted a few minutes in a fireworks shop. They have a lot cool stuff out there… As we got back on the road with Ron driving we started to realize there was nothing much we wanted to see (side trips) from here on home. After a few calculations, it become clear to us that if we picked up the pace we might actually be able to make it home in exactly seven days, a full two days ahead of time. We all galvanized around that idea pretty quick because, hey, it was a mission. And it wouldn’t be easy. So let do it!

The next leg of the trip was 135 miles and we accomplished it in less than 105 minutes, or nearly 78 mph average. We kept up a pace close to this through most of New Mexico and Texas.

Finding wood in eastern New Mexico is like trying to find an ice cube in hell. For the last hour in the state we were searching like crazy for some wood, we couldn’t even find a telephone pole. Finally all of about a mile before the Texas border Tim spied a small wooden stake next to the road. Glory was ours.

Boring.

Texas was big. And Flat. And Boring. It was so big and flat that no matter which direction you looked there was almost nothing to see. It always looked like we were in the middle of some huge depression in the ground and it all sloped up a little bit toward the horizon in every direction.

There were two memorable things about Texas. One was a series of billboards for a restaurant. They were advertising a “Free 72oz Steak!” and the fine print said “if you can eat it alone in an hour”. The other was getting stuck behind a slow moving camper on a highway reduced to one lane by construction. They were going SO SLOW. It just seemed like that little road running parallel to the highway just HAD to be quicker than hanging around here. In short order we proved that correct as we hit the little side road at over 80 MPH. Passed that stupid camper and hopped back on the highway in front. All things considered, that’s amazingly boring for a state that’s larger than Western Europe. Later that night we slipped into our fifth day on the road.

Arkansas was a quick trip and then on to Louisiana. At one point, while Rich and Ron were awake, we came across a detour that took us all over the place. For a while they discussed waking up Chris just to tell him we were lost. It was regretted later that didn’t happen. However, we did stop for gas at one point where he woke up and we missed the chance. That gas stop was odd; they shut down the pumps for a few minutes and, in the mean time, gave us free coffee for having to wait. After the fill up, we hit this long stretch of road where there was almost nobody around, except for one pinhead just behind us. As we went faster, so did he; as we went slower, so did he. At one point just as we were about out of sight we shut off the headlights and started running the brick fully cloaked. We ran clocked for probably around 5 miles, at about 3am. Finally the pinhead got a little closer and we uncloaked right in front of him. He slowed down really fast and never did drive over 5 mph again. Its pretty clear he saw his first UFO.

As the sun started to rise we were treated to a wildly cool sunrise. A real beaut’. The swamps and bayous were really impressive as we headed toward Baton Rouge, plenty of reason for the reputations. As we were headed through the swamp, the highway was really straight and the sky was hazy. The sun rose up a bright ball of orange right in the center of the highway. We also started to encounter the massive coverage of kudzu which remained in view for much of the rest of the trip in the south. Then, after the sun rose, we saw a sign which could only have come from the deep south: “This Exit For The Baptist Pumpkin Center”. Wonder what a pumpkin center is?

All along the trip we had been looking forward to crossing the Mississippi River, especially Chris. We all agreed that we would wake everyone up for that historic crossing. As the time drew near Chris and Tim were awakened and in early morning traffic we approached the Mighty Mississip. More like the Mighty Minnissip. It was disappointingly small. So small that we talking about how small and disappointing it was for what seemed like a long time… oh well.

So, we took out the aggression on the other rush hour drivers. As we cruised through these bleary-eyed morning commuters we used the flying brick to full advantage as we muscled our way to maximum speed in rush hour. Most of the time the flying brick was flying uncloaked (light were on) and as often as not we went battle ready (high beams on). We also developed the use of shields (sun visor) in the morning and the all impressive red alert (putting the red van so close to someone all they can see in their rearview mirror is red). All of these combined to a faster
trip with a little amusing spice.

We crossed into Mississippi and found a baseball hat on the ground when we stopped at a garage. It was adorned as a hood ornament which remained attached to the van until after we dropped it off at the rental place. We also encountered a renewed deluge of bugs. So many bugs had appeared in the last few hours that it was a vigil to clean off the windshield at every stop and to actually start collecting some of the really good remains from the grill and wipers.

A quick trip into good old F.L.A. gave experience to the heat and humidity, and a short gas stop. Then off to Alabama and all its flora. Some of the most impressive vegetation was seen on this leg of the trip. Most of the roadside was lush foliage and plenty more kudzu. In fact there were quite a few miles were visibility off the sides of the road was near zero, like driving through a green tunnel that occasionally closed over the top.

As we passed through a bit of Georgia we were treated to a familiar site that was totally out of place. We passed an exit for New England! As it turns out it is a dinky town, but it was really weird to see the signs. As we worked our way up in Tennessee we got treated to some of the famous Smokey Mountain terrain complete with a little fog. Before we headed out for the leg up to Kentucky we stopped off for gas and driver change. While we did this Rich ended up buying a bunch of fireworks and we noticed a totally trashed trailer truck across the street. As we left, we stopped to look at the truck. It looked like it had flipped over – it was mush. The trailer had been ripped apart, but it was apparent that it had been carrying wood chips of all things – guess where the Tennessee wood came from?

Eventually we got held up behind some horrific construction traffic. Shortly after the traffic cleared up we hopped off, hit Kentucky, and turned around to head toward North Carolina. As we neared NorfCahlyna, it was dark and the road was getting very twisty and fog was coming in – driving was getting tricky, but thankfully there was not much traffic, just some trucks. As we hit NorfCahlyna around 11pm we blew right by the entering sign. After finally slowing down we had passed it by over ¼ mile. What to do? Put it in reverse and go back. Sadly the backup lights were not sufficient to get through the tinted rear windows so backing up was a trick. We just pointed the van forward, looked forward, put it in reverse, and watched the white lines going backwards for a 1/4 mile hoping no trucks would come whipping around the corner. We scored the sign and cruised through NorfCahlyna into SoufCahlyna. When we were about to go back into NorfCahlyna, again we stopped at another monstrous truck stop. There was this one stretch of road in the middle of nowhere with well over 10 truck stops in the space of about 1/2 mile. We, of course, chose the biggest.

In South Carolina, in the dim and dark wee hours of the morning, while mere mortals slumbered, the flying brick ate up ground. Again we were confronted with tremendous amounts of construction. In a wild effort to reduce the problem we assisted a construction barrel in fleeing for freedom one of those big orange barrels. It was a laughing struggle to stuff it in the van. From inside the van it looked like The Grinch trying to jam the Christmas tree up The Who’s chimney. Named Ambassador Cone we granted it asylum from South Carolina and carried it with us through Virginia and all the way into West Virginia where we let it free (since we loved it).

As daylight appeared once again over Maryland we discovered that we were going to be hitting DC just in the middle of rush hour, a most unsavory thought! Chris had been driving for a number of hours already and while he was getting a little more tired, the traffic was getting worse and a place / time to pull over the change was getting more difficult to find. The beltway around DC is unforgiving (except there are some sweet little babes around). Perhaps its a natural way to produce adrenaline to stay awake, but Chris snapped again and after a few good seconds of yelling he was wide awake again and we were all quiet. In no time flat, we found our way into the express car pool lane and were dumped right into DC. We took some mildly wrong turn while hunting for the actual start of DC, the only wrong turn we can remember, but it had basically no impact. We snagged the “entering” sign and took flight out of there a moment too soon, and DC remains a gap in the wood gathering – thankfully it was not a state. (Actually, the wood from Minnesota was misplaced somewhere and then replaced with a representative sample, but DC was totally missed).

As we exited DC back into Maryland, we started to take notice of the excessive presence of law enforcement weenies. Way higher than any other places on the trip so far. Didn’t really slow us down much though… Delaware was also suffering from an infestation problem with cops. We are pretty sure that we found the original source of the plague, however, when we entered New Jersey, including being passed by at least four different K-9 patrol vehicles in a row. NJ was the worst state in the trip for being highly patrolled. In fact, they also have the “honor” of being the dumbest (outside of the mannequin in Oregon) At one point an officer was driving in the middle of the road going about 15mph for probably 3 or 4 miles, just holding us all back. Genius. When we stopped for a driver’s change at the last exit on the Garden State Parkway the sides and undercarriage of the van was still white… you guessed it – the salt from the salt flats was STILL on the van.

NJ dumped us into New York again and after an uneventful trip across the Tapanzee Bridge we soon found ourselves in Connecticut. We were getting close to home and starting to feel it. We often glanced at the clock to see how we were going against the target of less than 7 days. Anytime you watch a clock, things go slow and this was no exception.

Boring.

Rhode Island was totally boring, but then, it was Rhode Island. Back in good old MASS, we passed the second best truck on the trip (the first best being the one in Tennessee that was totally trashed). The truck (and we are not making this up!) was from a company called NBS. “No Bullshit Trucking – We Won’t Drop Your Load”. Complete with one of the NBS symbols of a squatting bull with a red circle and diagonal crossbar.

We called up WBCN and wanted to tell them what we were up to – wanted to request them to play a song (The Who’s “Going Mobile”) but they wouldn’t answer the phone. So we called up WAAF and they at least answered the phone and listened patiently to our request and then simply said “We Don’t Play The Who”. Putzes. Later we called up WBCN and finally got through. They said they would play the song but then they never did. sigh.

Finally back in Southborough we landed the brick from its flight around the states. A bunch of pictures had to be taken as we tumbled out of the mobile hell hole, at last, which would preserve our state at the end of the trip. After we unloaded the van, we realized how much stuff we had managed to jam in there, and how much stuff we never did use… Amazingly enough, there was STILL salt all over the van! It made it all the way back to the rental place! We ripped out the platform and disassembled it, and the reassembled the van putting the seats back in and such. After some consideration we decided to leave our dead bug collection in the van for the cleaning crew to contemplate, along with the salt and the mileage. We discovered an impressive collection of dead insects on the grille and under the hat.

The retiring flight of the brick was back to Logan to dump it, exhausted, on its home doorstep of Thrifty. We were eager the see the expression of the worker there when we returned the van. The person we spoke with, however, didn’t give a rat’s ass what we had done, they were totally wrapped up in how miserable they felt having a cold, poor scum. But we were not to be daunted and had a nice chat with the fellow in the toll both two lanes away while our lane waited. He must have thought we were low lives, but then, he was the one sitting in the toll booth at night.

We expected that most of our respective women would be waiting for us upon our return, so we decided to try and invoke a positive reaction and get some flowers for them (actually, we wanted something to cover up the smell). While we were in the flower shop there were these old women sitting around talking (like they obviously have been for most of their lives). One of them started talking to Rich…

Lady: How old do you think I am?
Rich: 25… maybe 26?
Lady: Oh he is so nice saying 26!
Rich: We could cut off a limb and count the rings…
Lady: What?
Rich: Cut off a limb and count the rings!
Lady: What do you mean?
Rich: Like trees?
Ron: Yeah, cut down a tree and you can see how old it is by counting the
rings?
Lady: Is that something they do in Maine?

Away we ran with our flowers!

The ride home was punctuated with the occasional need to break into song, and our favorite, which we learned on the trip, was John Valby’s “Yo Ho! Yo Ho!”

And suddenly it was over and we were thrust back into “real life.” An unsavory prospect from any vacation, but this one in particular was so different from real life that reality seemed a little fake… Perhaps it was all a dream…

The Route:

Southborough, Massachusetts
I495 to I95 into New Hampshire
I95 in New Hampshire into Maine (in/out)
I95 in New Hampshire to RT9 into Vermont
RT9 in Vermont to RT7 in New York
RT7 in New York to I90 into Pennsylvania
I90 in Pennsylvania into Ohio
I90 in Ohio into Indiana
I90 in Indiana to Michigan (in/out)
I90 in Indiana into Illinois
I90 in Illinois to I294 to I90 to Wisconsin (in/out)
I90 in Illinois to I39 to I88 to I80 into Iowa
I80 in Iowa to I35 to Missouri
I35 in Missouri to US36 to Kansas (in/out) back to US36 to I29 into Iowa
I29 in Iowa to US20 to Nebraska (in/out) back to I29 into South Dakota
I29 in South Dakota to I90 to Minnesota(in/out)
I90 in South Dakota to the badlands (in/out)
I90 in South Dakota to RT16 to Mount Rushmore to I90
I90 in South Dakota to Wyoming(in/out) back to I90
I90 in South Dakota to US85 into North Dakota
US85 in North Dakota to US12 into Montana
US12 in Montana to I94 to I90 to US89 to hotsprings and back to I90
I90 through Montana into ID
I90 in Idaho into WA
I90 in WA US395 to I82 into Oregon.
I82 in Oregon to US395 into CA (in/out)
US395 in Oregon to RT140 into Nevada
RT140 in Nevada to US95 to I80 into Utah to Bonneville Salt Flats
I80 to I215 to I15 to US6 to US191 to I70 to US191 to US666 to CO
US666 in CO to US160 to 4 corners
US160 into AZ to US550 into NM
US550 in NM to US666 to I40 into Texas
I40 in Texas to US287 to OK (in/out) to US82 to I30 into Arkansas
I30 in Arkansas to US71 into Louisiana
US71 in Louisiana to I49 to I10 to I12 to I10 into Mississippi
I10 in Mississippi into Alabama
I10 in Alabama to I65 to FL (in/out) back to I65 to I459 to I59 into Georgia
I59 in Georgia into Tennessee
I59 in Tennessee to I75 into Kentucky (in/out) back to I75
I75 in Tennessee to I40 into North Carolina
I40 in North Carolina to I26 to South Carolina
I26 in South Carolina to I85 to North Carolina
I85 in North Carolina to I77 to Virginia
I77 in Virginia to I81 to RT55 to West Virginia (in/out)
RT55 in Virginia to I81 to I66 to I695 to Maryland
I695 in Maryland to Washington DC(in/out) to I95 to Delaware
I95 in Delaware to New Jersey
I95 in New Jersey to Garden State Parkway to I287 into New York
I287 in New York to I95 into Connecticut
I95 in Connecticut to I395 to RT6 to RI (in/out) back to I395
I395 in Connecticut into Massachusetts
I395 in Massachusetts to I90 to RT9 to California Ave to New York Ave to
RT30 to Pinehill road to number 58.

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