What do you do when you miss your flight from Boston to Los Angeles? You can: A. book another flight, B. change your travel itinerary or C. rent a car the next morning and decide to do it over land. In three days. You can guess which option Josh and I chose during our Pole 2 Pole 4 Charity trip. This is a story about insomnia, a severe tornado and dreaming about Las Vegas (while driving through it).
Boston to Los Angeles road trip in 3 days?! Why the rush?
Good question. After all, we could have just changed our travel itinerary and be merry. The idea behind our Pole 2 Pole 4 Charity trip made us decide otherwise. In short, we were trying to buy a white van, paint squares all over it and drive through North America selling these squares as advertising / shoutout space to raise money for green search engine Ecosia (helping WWF conserve the Amazon rainforest). The van would run on bio-diesel, which we would derive from recycled cooking oil ourselves along the way.
Our biggest challenge was to get the van itself. Apart from the financial investment (we didn’t have a sponsor and thus paid for everything on the trip ourselves) there were lots of rules regarding registration and insurance. After doing some research at home, we figured that our best chance was to fly to New York and continue our search there.
We spent a couple of days in New York, but didn’t get a single step closer to our beloved van. We got a tip for an insurance company in California that allows non-US residents to apply, and we figured that it would be easier in this liberal state to find, register and insure a van. The only problem: we were on the other side of the country with 3000 miles (4830 km) in between. Another reason for us to decide to flip our itinerary was an opportunity to make a promotional trailer for our trip with famous German beatboxer and Youtube celebrity Alberto, who was living in Hollywood but was set to go back to Germany in a couple of days. He agreed to host us in his house, appear in our little movie and help promote the cause in general. His most popular video had 5.5 million views, so we saw a great opportunity to get some reach for our mission. Plus, Alberto seemed like a nice dude to meet.
Why we missed our flight from Boston to Los Angeles
I would have loved to blame public transport, the airline or even an act of God, but none of it would be true. We had a 4 hour trip ahead of us to reach Boston’s airport, and we simply underestimated the time it would take. A nerve-wrecking bus trip followed. We could theoretically still make it if the bus would stay on the highway and not make any long stops. For a long time it looked like the miracle was going to happen, except for it didn’t. We found out (the hard way) that our bus needed to stop at least twice for food and natural breaks. Something about it being required by law. I call it bushlips. Anyway, we missed our flight.
The final decision: YOLO
Aah, the word that came so close to being word of the year in 2012. For those who have been living under a rock that particular year: yolo stands for “you only live once” and is a term commonly used by teenagers before doing something extremely impulsive (and often stupid). Although the word wasn’t commonly used at the time of our adventure, we might have as well invented it. It took us a whole 3 minutes to decide, at 8pm, that we would go to the car rental place next to the airport, rent the cheapest car we could find and just drive west for a while. Once we got through the thick layer of metropolitan traffic lights and jams, I started to get the feeling that this might become one hell of a trip. Good thing we had proper travel insurance!
A driver’s worst enemy: fatigue
If there’s one thing I learnt from driving 4000 km in 5 days on a previous road trip, it’s how to mentally prepare yourself for driving on long, straight and open roads. Since I was the only driver on my Australian road trip, this involved lots of stops at the roadside McDonalds’ for a caffeine boost. After all, fatigue is a driver’s biggest enemy (well, getting a kangaroo delivered through your windshield might be the number one in Australia). Since there were two people on this road trip we could take turns and therefore drive continuously, right? Theoretically maybe, but biology had different plans for us.
This is where I will leap forward in time a bit. Driving in America is fun, with different landscapes in different states. But, as with everything, there is a boring side to it as well. After one clump of highway-hugging fast-food chains we were like “hey! a Taco Bell!” (Note: we don’t have them in The Netherlands or Germany). After a while our enthusiasm switched to disbelief. “Another Taco Bell? But we just passed one!”. So..
We’re in Kansas City having lunch, and we just heard on local news channel that a class 5 tornado is going to hit our city shortly. We look outside to find a wall of clouds in an eerie orange colour. “Those are wall clouds, the first sign of a tornado coming”, a local explains. We get to our car and decide to drive on.
So there we are on the wide and open highway, the radio nervously reminding us in a Big Brother-like fashion to “Find shelter NOW” in between some heavy classical music. The clouds above us are getting darker every minute, and soon they burst into the worst hail storm I’ve experienced so far. At one point I seriously thought the windshield would crack. We drive by a couple of overpasses and see some cars parked under it. “Looks like they’re locals, which is bad news for us”, Josh notices. He looks in his rear-view mirror and finds out that we’re one of the few people actually driving on the road. What to do? I look left and HOLY SHIT that’s a tornado.
Now I had only seen tornados on the Discovery Channel show “Storm Chasers”, and if you’ve ever watched that show you can imagine it scared the living **** out of me. I had no idea weather the storm would get bigger, which direction it would go and how fast it was going; basically how much time we had until we would be effortlessly swallowed by nature.
What to do if a tornado comes for you
Our options were clear: either we would continue our journey on the highway or return to Kansas City to take shelter. After a short debate we chose to drive on. It turned out to be a great decision, since the tornado eventually wreaked havoc behind us.
In hindsight (of course) it was fascinating to see nature at it’s worse with the quickly changing precipitation (going from extreme showers to hail and back in minutes), the grim skies and the blurry unpredictable clouds.
As with everything in life, every cloud has it’s silver lining. The tornado passed behind us and a bright yellow sun appeared, which beautifully lit up the dramatic landscapes on our next 1000 miles. Driving through Colorado and Utah were a true joy, with snowy mountains in Aspen and vast deserty plains with strange rock formations in Utah. At this moment we have been driving almost continuously for 4000 km (2500 miles). When I was driving, Josh took a nap in the driver’s seat, and visa versa. There was around 1100 km (670 miles) left to go, but it seemed that the short naps didn’t provide enough deep sleep needed to stay alert on the straight, wide roads. This was best demonstrated when, on a dark empty highway, I started to see raccoons in cowboy boots dancing around a camp fire.
The Las Vegas sleeps
I had reached my limit, and driving on would be a downright dangerous. I parked the car on a random patch of rubble near an exit and caught some well-overdue z’s. At this point, Josh had woken up and was ready to drive again. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move over to the passenger’s seat. I complied heavy-headedly. We were back on the road and I was totally unaware of it, even when Josh tried to wake me up (multiple times) to share the fascination of driving through Las Vegas. I was knocked the hell out and Josh eventually gave up. Well, you know what they say: Who drives through Vegas, sleeps through Vegas.
After 4830 km (3000 miles) of driving we finally arrive at our host in Hollywood. We are received like friends and a little bit like heroes. We soon realize that we hadn’t have thought up any ideas for a promotional trailer, and we ended up with something that none of really liked and we ended up not using.
To conclude this story I’ll leave you with an inspirational cliche:
The journey is more important than the destination