Or: Gimme Another Roll
When Spring Break of my sophomore year of college rolled around I was living with my two best friends in a mobile home trailer we’d bought for seven thousand dollars. How we ended up in that trailer is a long story which involves a dirty trench coat, grow lights, several hundred pounds of trash, burner phones, a too quiet Korean exchange student, a misunderstanding of the mating season for quail, and the unquenchable human desire for freedom and independence, so I’ll save that for another time.
Jake, Luke and I had been close in highschool, we’d all moved out of our parents’ houses into the trailer at the same time, and while a long winter of not enough firewood and frozen pipes had tested our friendship, we were still eager to get out and see the world.
A Spring Break Trip to Mexico sounds like a bad horror movie that ends with floating body parts drifting ashore in San Diego, but we were optimistic. This was not going to be your typical booze-fueled college party fest. After all, we had very little money, we were planning on hitting as many national parks as possible on the way, we were not going to an area known for its college parties, and we were driving the whole thing in my Subaru, Roxanne.
We were steadfast in our resolve, even as we hit roadblocks. Jake got a girlfriend and things were getting serious, Luke had college basketball tryouts in Seattle. I had nothing better to do though so I pushed hard for the trip, drawing ambitious lines on the map.
We truncated the trip to five days to keep girlfriends and potential coaches happy and stole Jake’s mom’s GPS to set our route.
We rolled out of town at 2 pm on a Friday, our drive plan was ambitious but Luke’s mom had gone to Costco for us and we were well stocked on snacks. I’d figured out how to route an Ipod through the cassette deck, but Luke’s only had the same 12 rap songs, mine was full of Simon and Garfunkel, and Jake had the same Green Day albums we’d listened to in junior high so we ended up just playing “Put the Lime in the Coconut” on repeat the entire trip. Our first stint was long, 14 hours from Moscow to Bryce Canyon. I drove the first two hours and then Luke took over and drove the rest, barely stopping for gas.
He had a family size pack of string cheese under the driver’s seat, and every few minutes would grunt “roll.” I’d hand him a roll from the back seat, he’d tear it open, stuff a string cheese inside, snarf it down in three bites and keep driving. Jake fell asleep and I drowsed. We got to Brice more than an hour ahead of schedule. The GPS was confused by Luke’s questionable driving, but we rolled into the silent park without paying under cover of darkness.
We had no idea what the point of this national park was, someone’s boss had said to stop here though. I hiked up and tried to shoot long exposure photos while the other guys slept in the car.
Finally the sun rose and we realized why this was a national park. We took off down the trail in sweatpants and cut-off jeans, wanting to see all the crazy rocks and ruining the pictures for everyone who stayed up on the overlook with their huge cameras.
An hour or two of national park gazing and we were back on the road, this time headed to the Grand Canyon.
Luke was asleep, Jake zoned out texting his lady before he finally drifted off, leaving just me with Jake’s mom’s GPS for company. We’d typed in “Grand Canyon” and neglected to bring a real map for backup, so I was a little confused when it directed me onto a side road. Each turn brought us to less and less developed roads.
The other guys woke up when we bumped onto grassy doubletrack filled with rocks and puddles. “Where ARE we?” “Dude, Cy, you suck at driving!”
“But guys, the map says we’re three miles away!”
The squiggly line did indeed end near our location, but the road was getting too overgrown to even call it a trail. A quick zoom out revealed that I’d been following the map blindly to the wrong side of the Grand Canyon. The line wiggled through the woods, and then out, across America’s famous ditch to the other side, the side tourists typically go to.
My protests were drowned out, I was not allowed to drive anymore, and we never did see the Grand Canyon. Instead we bailed to Las Vegas.
Evening #2 found me checking into a Las Vegas hotel and convincing the lady that it was ok to give us a room, even though none of us were 21. We collapsed for a nap. We’d left home 28 hours ago, we’d spent 20 of those driving, we’d seen one and a half national parks, and now we were in the City of Sin with no real plans and even less money.
The Strip overwhelmed the three Idaho boys with no desire to gamble, no means to drink, and no real context for anything. We wandered the streets, watched the fancy fountains splurt, and got lost in casinos lined with diamond lights. When we tried to take the bus home we missed our stop and ended up having to do the whole loop again. I fell asleep hating humanity.
The next morning we left early for Laguna Beach, blasting along the California coast with all the windows down. We’d spent a day there two years before and loved it, this time we were back with our own car. White Idaho bodies splashing in the sea, playing with the GoPro in the waves. We left before sunset, headed for the border.
We stopped at the last Walmart before Mexico. We had no real plan for the night so we went in and played with the fat bikes and hula hoops until a gentleman approached us asking what our plans were. We told him we were going to Ensenada. He solemnly told us that his cousin was the chief of police there and gave us his number. We didn’t know what to do, so we thanked him and retired back to the car. There was a movie theater in the parking lot, so we decided to pay for a few hours of sleep there. What I saw of the second 300 was terrible.
Back to the parking lot, three large men sleeping in one small Subaru. We woke up early and hit the road before the sun rose, cruising without stopping into Mexico. We realized we’d made it when our phones stopped working.
Jake chose this moment to tell us that he’d promised Morgan to check in every half hour when we were in Mexico so that she knew we hadn’t been kidnapped. That seemed excessive, and anyway, none of us had service, so she was going to have to just suck it up.
We blasted down winding roads, figured out what “Peligro” meant, what “Alto” meant, and that KMPH does not equal MPH. Finally we checked into the hotel in Ensenada.
Everything was cloudier and grimier than we’d imagined but we ran to the beach anyway, ignoring the trash, and the fact that we were the only people I saw get in the water all trip.
We spent two days not learning Spanish, wandering the market, fending off the Viagra salesmen, swimming in the ocean, and exploring. We got lost finding Arbolitos Coves and a kindly stranger took down his fence and told us to drive across his property to the too cold, too murky coves where we couldn’t muster the guts to snorkel.
Not a lot stands out from Ensenada: Luke’s revelation that all the street vendors were grabbing their ponchos from the same huge warehouse, the tour boat that visited briefly and then left, my first legal Tecate on the beach, really good fish tacos, accidentally using a ladies bathroom.
We left early, headed back for Laguna where we knew where we were allowed to park. Stopped too long at the border, dealing with beggars and vendors before we popped back to America and myriad of panicked texts from parents and girlfriends.
A day in Laguna, sun, sand and basketball, then up to Fresno. Drive through the night and crash at my grandparent’s with the rest of my family. Hug the siblings, shoot skeet with my grandfather, Jed caught a snake and found a puppy and Cotton got in a flexing contest with him
Then off to Yosemite.
Again, no plan, no map, we’re just here to see the park. Somehow we screwed up and missed the iconic valley view. Just like the Grand Canyon we never got to see Half Dome. Instead we ended up in an obscure parking lot with a sign that said there was a waterfall to see. Three miles in and we found a waterfall all right, but it was anticlimactic. Jake was ready to head back down, his sweatpants were sagging and his feet hurt. Luke and I wanted to see more so we goaded him up another four miles where we found a real waterfall fed by snow. I jumped in, Jake massaged his feet, and Luke played with my camera. I still have no idea where we were, but it was pretty neat.
Back to the car, driving out of the park at dusk. We had another night we could have spent somewhere in Nevada but Luke was ready to drive so we chased that yellow line. 16 hours straight home, disregarding speed limits, finally finishing the giant bag of string cheese.
We got back to the trailer around lunchtime on Wednesday. We’d been on the road for just over 5 days, and Roxanne’s odometer said we’d driven just under 3500 miles. We didn’t see quite as many national parks as we’d wanted to, but we ate fish tacos in Mexico, didn't get too lost or kidnapped in Las Vegas, and we got to jump in a couple of oceans.
I was just collapsing into bed when my phone buzzed. Did I want to go skiing tomorrow? Of course!