Recently in one of my music classes, we were discussing Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. Immediately thinking of that song brought me back months prior and a smile crept up under my mask.
My COVID summer included getting readjusted to living at home after my months abroad in Spain being cut short, working at an assisted living home, taking classes, and being worried about the health of the loved ones around me. It felt as though one week in March rolled into the next week in July.
The one saving grace I had was my friend buying an old Dodge Ram van from someone off Craigslist. How, may you ask, would an old van be so impactful on me? Well, the van itself may not have been the most luxurious, but (cliché as it sounds), the times spent in it were unforgettable.
My friend Vas fixed the van up within a matter of weeks, my friend Liuce figured out the logistics of our plans, and my job was coming up with the road trip music (what a fair distribution of work, right?). On July 31st we began our road trip to the West.
After a long, corn-field full 12-hour car ride, the trip had the first stop in Denver, Colorado. We saw the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, hiked some other state parks, and ended in the Rocky Mountains. The mountains were green, luscious, and filled with wildlife.
Our next leg was a six-hour drive to Utah to see Arches and the Canyonlands. A stark contrast from the corn-field drive to Colorado, this road trip was through Vail, Moab, and other absolutely breathtaking views. As my friends slept, I took the first shift of driving to Moab. To make sure I didn’t fall asleep, I blasted music. My playlist, quickly overused, needed songs to be added. That’s when I looked at my “oldie” music playlist that I hadn’t heard in a while. I clicked shuffle, and what other than Paul Simon’s “Graceland” came on.
Listening to this song that was created from Paul Simon’s road trip to Graceland (Memphis, Tennessee) to get away from his falling marriage at home was one of the most surreal moments of my life. Two of my best friends asleep behind me, rolling mountains in front of me, and music about literally driving away from the chaos that is life surrounding me.
The next leg of the journey was Bryce Canyon, my personal favorite. We cooked our dinner in the parking lot, brought it up the canyon, and watched the sunset listening to music. That night, I started off sleeping in a hammock outside, but quickly felt the desert chill of the night and went into the car to sleep. When I woke up, I looked out the window and the view of the canyon never failed to amaze me.
The last part of the trip, we went to Zion National Park. Hiking through water and packing in another couple mile hike afterwards was exhausting, but well worth it.
Not to say, that this trip was without bumps, literally. Half the time, the van wouldn’t go above 40 mph while going uphill mountains and we’d just pretend that it was okay. The brake light on the car would randomly say the brakes aren’t working. The gas pedal would overheat so much that flip flops couldn’t be worn while driving without feeling like your feet were going to burn off. Parks had restrictions due to COVID that we didn’t plan for and had to work around. The tent we slept in some nights was so small you couldn’t turn around. Food was never warm enough or cold enough. We would get irritated with each other because we were dehydrated and shriveling up in the 100-degree Utah weather. We’d forget about COVID for a bit while hiking or driving alone but had to make sure to put masks on when passing by people on hikes. One of our hikes we didn’t know if we actually made it to the top. And on our last night before our flight, we slept in the van in a parking lot near the airport and were startled awake by a security guard kicking us out.
Yet, somehow, this trip was exactly what I needed. I got to spend a week before the (very unique) school year began just marveling at the beauty this world is still providing us even though we may be undeserving. I had the privilege to forget about the chaos and sadness of the world. I had the opportunity to become rejuvenated from an exhausting five months of not doing anything in the COVID slump. With this rejuvenation comes the responsibility to do better post-relaxation: listen more, educate myself more, care for others more – all necessary more than ever now.
Months later and the world is still not healed. There are many safety measures that still must be taken, more lives that must be recognized, and an important election to vote in. But, when it all becomes too much, I know I can just look at my pictures from this trip and put on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and just for a moment, I am at peace.