Road Trip Memories

By April Salan (Pennsylvania)

I have many favorite things about Semester so far, but if I was required to pick one, it would definitely be the people. The staff and my fellow students are some of the most wonderful group of individuals I’ve had the pleasure of living with. From dish pit to dancing nights to work on [project] crews, we never cease to find ways to bond with each other.

One of the things I have appreciated the most is the road trips we take in our 15 passenger vans. Maybe it’s the hilarious conversations, the unashamed karaoke sessions, or being comfortable enough to turn your neighbors into pillows that makes these trips so enjoyable.

Chinese Fire Drills

On the road trip we took to Ouray a few weeks ago, about a 6-hour drive each way, the staff implemented the “Chinese fire drill” at each stop. This “fire drill” involved the students dashing to switch vans in order for everyone to be van-mates with different people. I greatly enjoyed this because it gave me a chance to get to know people that I may not have otherwise gotten to know.

As entertaining as those van rides were, nothing can compare to our van’s road trip back from the Grand Canyon.

The Dance Break

Within the first couple of hours, the vans all got stuck behind some construction that was taking place between two walls of sandstone. We were stuck there for at least twenty minutes so, naturally, we jumped out of the van, did some ”rock climbing,” exercised, and danced to the music blasting from the car radio. When the construction finally let us through, we nearly lost one of our cooks, as she had just disappeared over the top of the sandstone and wasn’t responding to our calls.

While waiting for her, a fellow Semester van passed us and threw a slice of bread at our driver’s face (which he saved, and later he returned the favor).

A couple of hours later, we drove through Shiprock, New Mexico, which is named for the ginormous rock that can be seen from afar from the main road. Before any of us knew what was happening, our driver suddenly turned off of the highway onto an extremely bumpy backroad that headed straight for the giant rock. We all cheered as we were thrown around in our seats, driving in this fashion for about fifteen minutes. When our driver realized we couldn’t get any farther, he parked and everyone jumped out to pose for cheesy pictures in front of the rock, now only about a mile away. After climbing back in the van, we blasted “Life is a Highway” and, once again, drove down the backroad.

The Tire Swing

After that very bumpy experience, a few of us were in desperate need of a bathroom. We urgently alerted our driver, but he proceeded to pass all the gas stations and fast food restaurants. He did, however, pull over when he noticed a tire swing hanging by a river. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to enjoy the “tire swing break,” as I had to run to the park bathrooms (which ended up being locked). Another student and I became confused because our group disappeared, so we decided to use the normal swings instead. While swinging ourselves as high as we could, we traded stories about taking pleasure in the same activity as kids. Rain sprinkled down on us as we laughed, and it was a very carefree moment.

I interviewed one of the students who did make it to the tire swing, and this is what she recounted: they discovered the swing was hanging on a tree branch that was stretched out over the extremely chilly river. This student found out just how cold the river was when, in attempting to jump back to the bank after swinging, she fell hip-deep into the water instead. Soaking wet, she made her way back to the van, a journey which included a three-minute walk under a sketchy overpass and through a wire grated gate. Despite being freezing cold and muddy, the student remembers feeling her adrenaline pumping as she thought about what an incredible memory that little detour would be.

When the rest of our group returned from the tire swing, we piled into the van, still in need of a bathroom, and hit the road. Our driver, again, drove past so many potential bathroom spots that I jokingly began making bets with other students about how often he would take no heed of restroom opportunities. We reminded him incessantly, causing him to finally pull into a tool, food, fresh meat, saddle, and feed store, where the owners let us use their personal bathroom, which was right off their kitchen. One of the other students jokingly compared the store’s illogical variety to Wal-Mart.

The last few hours of our adventure simply involved most of us sleeping or watching the rain fall outside the windows. We eventually made it back to the lodge about 20 minutes before dinner, an hour after the other vans. Most of us didn’t have time to shower before the meal–after going for three days without one—but I don’t think any of us really minded (other people may have, though). We know the memories we made with each other on that nine-hour trip are irreplaceable.