2,000 Miles and 2,000 Mistakes

I was not prepared to drive to Vegas when I pulled out of my driveway on the morning of August 20th. I gave a sad little wave goodbye to my family, huddled together on the lawn like I was off to war, and a tearful smile to my girlfriend, waiting in her car and pretending not to cry, and only then did Lilly and I actually pull up the directions to the first stop on our road trip: the Mandalay Bay Shark Reef Aquarium. My new car was absolutely stuffed with a variety of objects and clothes I knew I wouldn’t need, but couldn’t leave behind-- storage containers, twelve pairs of shoes, a makeup kit that I haven’t touched since I arrived at school, to name a few—as well as a mini fridge filled with Starbucks Frappuccinos for the road. Our seats wouldn’t move back a centimeter, but we managed to clear out the back window, which was a success in my book. As we made our way onto the freeway with a full tank of gas, the Overwhelming Anxiety crept up on me. With every mile we drove, it begged me to turn around because I MUST have missed something important. Did I have my passport? My collection of Christmas themed Chapsticks? Did I say goodbye to my cats? I kept waiting for the text from my parents to come in, the one I knew was inevitable: “Don’t you need THIS (insert picture of very valuable and necessary item in my parents’ hands here)?” Around thirty minutes in, I heard my phone buzz. Here we go, I thought as I got ready to take the next exit. But it wasn’t the dreaded turn-around text. In fact, it wasn’t even from my parents; it was from my girlfriend, and “I love you” was all it said. 

Vegas was hot, dirty, and terrifyingly crowded. We made the poor decision of stopping at M&M World to get some purple candies (school spirit!) and were bombarded with maskless children running through and around the social distance barriers. The aquarium felt a little safer—the hotel divided up tickets into time slots, so there were only a few other people in the room with us. The whole time, though, I heard a nagging voice in the back of my head. I couldn’t tell if it was my anxiety, or my inner conscience, or my mom, but it was letting me know that I was making a grave mistake. What was the mistake, you ask? I had no idea. I was wearing my mask, spraying my hand sanitizer, and keeping my distance. I had my hand on my phone and keys at all times. My backpack was zipped, my shoes were tied, but I knew there had to be something. There always is. Whatever it was, though, it didn’t set us back too much, because we made it out of the Shark Reef alive with a stuffed pal for our roommate Molly, just in time to arrive in St. George, Utah before dark. 

face mask prevention Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

The next day, we had to drive eleven hours. I somehow managed to get Lilly out of bed and in the car before 8am, which was very impressive considering I didn’t even know her eyes could  open before noon. This day, though the voice in the back of my head had finally shut up, was filled with fuck-ups. I left the stuffed monkey my girlfriend got me as a going away gift at the hotel and had to have them mail it out to Gambier. We missed multiple exits and ended up adding an extra hour to our trip. We mistimed gas stops and bathroom breaks so badly that we had to pull over on the side of a Colorado highway, with no cover in sight, so I could pee on the road. When we got to our lodging for the night, a house rented by one of Lilly’s friends, we were surprised to find that they already had company—three more girls in addition to the three that lived there—and that they intended on partying. What we thought was going to be a quick stop to sleep and refuel ended up being an exhausting and sweaty social gathering with one slice of pizza and a makeshift bed on the floor of the attic to carry us to the next morning. 

We were out of Boulder by ten the next morning, and on our way to Nebraska. Just a few minutes outside of the city, we faced our first challenge. It wasn’t really a challenge, actually, and could have easily been avoided, but I couldn’t bring myself to ignore the massive black pick-up truck with four Trump flags hanging off the sides driving a few feet in front of us. In the most under-thought-out plan I have ever executed in my life, I pulled up next to the truck, rolled my windows down, and stuck my middle fingers up at the scary man beside us, screaming obscenities as I floored it away from him. Before I had even rolled up my windows all the way, I had called my girlfriend to tell her about it. “Sam, that wasn’t very smart,” she told me. And in all honesty, it was extremely stupid. We were two young women, in a place we didn’t know, both filled with anxiety and unequipped for any kind of conflict, especially with a big, scary, Trump-supporting man. This fact was ever apparent at all the gas stops we had to make. Even in the middle of the day, we pulled right back out of gas stations as soon as we entered them because of the terrifying stares of the men in trucks. So my girlfriend was right: I had probably made a bad decision. But fuck, it felt good! And now I’m here, and the scary man is long gone. And everything worked out. Just like it probably would have if I had left my Chapstick at home, or if I forgot to pack socks, or even if we’d gotten a ticket when the cop with a mustache and no mask pulled us over. We made it past every obstacle we encountered, every bad decision we may have made, and now, I’m sitting on our couch eating those purple M&M’s, and life is good.

Travel Adventure Sunset Jeep Road Trip Tessa Pesicka / Her Campus

I have yet to figure out how to banish that mystery voice from my head. With every day that passes and I’m still alive, I try to remind myself, “See? You did it! You can do it!” But she always retorts, “Until you can’t.” Lilly and I didn’t even realize we’d driven almost 40 hours in five days until we got to Gambier. We didn’t realize how tired our bones were until we finally laid down in our beds. We didn’t realize how many days we’d spent making our way across the country listening to true crime podcasts until we made our first short drive to Mt. Vernon and felt the difference. So whatever that thing is that the voice is telling me I’m going to mess up, maybe I will, and maybe it’ll be really bad. But sometimes, I wonder what would happen if I just trusted myself to get through things a little more. Will all those bad things I’m worried about really happen if I don’t spend forty-five minutes preparing for them? Or maybe, just maybe, will I get to where I need to go safe and sound, and then look back to find that I was prepared all along?