An “Auto” Biography
We were just outside of Dayton when the magnitude of the ride ahead hit all of us at once. Over sixteen hours, as few stops as possible, straight to Daytona Beach, Florida.
The past few weeks of my junior year were spent much like the last few weeks of any student’s semester. Hours of studying, reviewing, taking finals, packing, and watching as older friends became more and more nervous about graduation and the uncertain months ahead. It was over now, and as the campus breathed its collected sigh of relief, seniors cleaned up their graduation parties and prepared to leave the University of Dayton one last time.
I had already made plans with three other friends to carpool south for UD’s annual Dayton to Daytona trip. We decided to stay the last weekend at UD to see our friends off and then drive through the night to our hotel on Daytona Beach. As with any twenty-one year old with a week of no responsibility ahead, I could not be more excited to begin our trip. I still remember how sunny it was, and how quiet campus seemed even though it was packed with students only days before. After what seemed like hours, our excitement could no longer be contained and we decided to forgo our previous plans and start our trek early.
“Who cares if we get there at 5:00 AM,” I remember someone saying. “We will be in Florida on the beach.”
Persuading a group of college students to spend more time on the beach is probably easier than persuading a dog to eat a treat. We tossed our last provisions in the back of my roommate’s Subaru Outback and piled in. What came next is one of the reasons driving is such a perfect means of travel. Not only could we bring anything without the fear of getting nickel and dimed for checked luggage, but road trips require no reservations. We were only blocks from the start when we noticed a friend of ours that obviously had taken his time cleaning up after graduation. He was just loading the last bit of clothes into his car when my roommate yelled out, “Hey Ryan, congrats! Want to come to Daytona?” Now, anyone that hadn’t just received his college degree would have gotten the joke and laughed it off. Ryan didn’t. “Sure,” he called back. Before I could stop laughing, Ryan had grabbed a few items of clothing, locked his car, and piled into the back seat in between my other two friends. Name an airline that would let a passenger jump on the plane as it taxied to the runway.
We decided that, since we were leaving earlier than scheduled, we could take our time and made a route that would hit as many states as possible without going too far out of the way. We headed east on US-35 making our way to West Virginia where we could head south cutting across parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. As with the majority of car trips, the drive was filled with fun and boredom, beautiful scenery and endless highways, hours that felt like minutes and minutes that could have been considered days.
My roommate was rather particular about his car and refused to let anyone else drive. The problem with this came at about 1:00 AM when his notorious inability to stay awake began to catch up with him. We stopped for gas, and I insisted he let me take over for a few hours while he slept. Reluctantly he handed me the keys, and we were off once again into the night. If only I knew what I was in the next few hours ahead.
In the middle of the night as I drove twisting and turning on a mountain road, the rain began. Pitch black and like someone with a hose pointed at the windshield, it was the worst driving conditions I have ever been in. However, I’m a good driver and pride myself in my clean record and no accidents. After an hour of rain that felt like a season, the rain was replaced with fog so thick that it would make walking dangerous. With nowhere to pull off, I decided to just stick it out as my friends all slept. Just as the fog lifted, the road leveled out, and my stress level finally began to descend, my roommate awoke and forced me to take the next exit so he could take over. We were only a few hours away.
I will always remember the feeling of pulling in to the parking lot of the hotel at just past 6:00 AM. There is something special about spending more than half a day straight in a car. A road trip adds a sense of adventure and accomplishment to travel. It makes just getting there part of the journey, part of the experience. Check in wasn’t for hours, but we didn’t care. We all got out and made our way on to the beach stretching and enjoying the feeling of all being able to walk, move, and unbend our legs. We sat together on the beach for hours, staring out at the ocean, and talking about the week ahead. A car is more than a means of getting from one place to another. It allows traveling to a destination to be part of the vacation, instead of a requirement that needs to be completed for the vacation to begin.