Holiday Road: Surviving the Great American Road Trip
I vividly recall my first long-distance, solo road-trip back in 2007. I was in my late twenties and recently engaged to my new found love, Liz. I had recently resigned from my full-time job as a marketing manager to pursue my passion for teaching. I discovered early on that one of the huge benefits of being a college professor was I would get one full week off every spring for Spring Break! At first, I was perplexed and unsure what I should do with a nine day vacation. I had not had nine straight days off since I was 13 years old.
Hitting the trail
Just as I was preparing to relax for my nine day holiday, my soon-to-be wife informed me that her younger sister was buying a new car. Her parents agreed to help her with the purchase, but only after she shipped her 2001 Ford Focus back to Michigan from Arizona. Already bored by the prospect of lying by the pool for a week, I devised a plan to take advantage of my time off. I would personally deliver my fiancee’s sister’s car to her parents. I would take the car to Michigan after making a quick detour to New York to surprise my family. The perfect plan was created. Me, all alone on a 2,700 mile road trip across the country! I would pack light, grab a map, and just go. I was beyond excited and nothing would stop me from having the time of my life. And besides, I needed this. I was about to tie the knot and I needed an adventure to clear my head and to help prepare me for the next phase of my life.
The journey really begins
As I began the first leg of my journey from Phoenix to Flagstaff, I started to reminisce about the classic movie National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” I must have watched the film a thousand times as a kid. I began thinking about the scene where the Griswold family had to tie Aunt Edna, their dead aunt, to the roof of the “family truckster” to avoid having to “ride with a dead person” as Audrey put it. The scene took place while the Griswold family was traveling through Arizona. Little did I know, I was about to embark on my own “National Lampoon’s” vacation.
When I arrived in Flagstaff, I was met with blizzard-like conditions. A major storm system had shifted the night before and I was caught in a Northern Arizona Blizzard. The white-out conditions were so bad I had to pull the car over and wait for conditions to improve. As I sat on a tiny shoulder overlooking a 150 foot cliff, I watched giant semi-trucks roar pass me at high speeds. I later learned that there were several major wrecks that had taken place within just a few miles of me, and I perhaps had nearly avoided all of them. I was shaken, but determined to continue on.
Here I am in New Mexico
As I entered into New Mexico, I noticed my phone charger wasn’t working quite right. This made me extra nervous because my phone’s battery was pretty old and barely kept a charge. My fiancee, Liz, continued calling me to see how things were going. I didn’t want to make her anxious by telling her the truth about what was actually transpiring, so I carried on with our phone conversations as if nothing was wrong. It’s important to mention, Liz was not a big fan of me taking this trip in the first place, and she was equally unimpressed with my impromptu-style planning and lackadaisical attitude about the whole adventure.
I finally arrived in rural, Northern Texas at approximately 10:00 pm the same day. I desperately needed to use the bathroom, but all the signs indicated it would be at least 25 miles before the next rest stop. Impatient and tired, I finally pulled into a rest area designed for semi-trucks and other big rigs. It was pitch dark and I was literally in the middle of nowhere. I quickly jumped out of the car to use Mother Nature’s bathroom and then QUICKLY jumped back into the car. I was pretty certain truck stops are not great places to be after dark. I turned the key to start the engine, but nothing happened. The only sound that came from the car was a fast clicking sound that kind of resembled the theme song from “Deliverance,” the Dueling Banjos. I silently mouthed; “You’ve got to be BLANKING kidding me!” I didn’t say blanking. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I heard the famous AT&T “swoosh” indicating the battery was dead.
Touched by an angel
I quickly realized I was in WAY over my head. My lack of preparation was definitely beginning to catch-up with me. As I sat in the car trying to figure out how to get myself out of this situation, I heard a knock on window. A large truck had pulled-up behind me five minutes earlier. Fortunately, God sent me angel who just so happened to look like the country singer, Kenny Rogers. The driver was extremely kind and let me use his cell phone to make all the necessary calls. He also recommended a few good towing services and hotels in the area. By 12:30 A.M, I was at a hotel and had made arrangements for the car to be towed to a local dealership the next morning.
I spent three long days cooped up in a hotel room waiting for the car to get fixed. My soon-to-be father-in-law, bless his soul, took care of all of the charges including the car repairs. My three nights in Amarillo, car repairs, and midnight tow cost two times as much as it would have cost to simply freight the car. Like the mechanic said in National Lampoon’s Vacation; “How much you got?…I want all of it boy!”
I need a VERY lucky charm
Unfortunately, a similar stream of bad luck followed me the remainder of my trip. I witnessed a gruesome, deadly car accident in St. Louis, hit a deer in Ohio, and got completely lost and turned around more times than I can count. By the time I reached my parent’s house in Upstate New York at 2:30 A.M., six days later, I was a wreck and so was the car. I had been traveling for almost a week and had little to show for my adventure except the burning smell of deer carcass coming from under the engine. I had cost my future in-laws thousand of dollars and probably gave my soon-to-be bride several panic attacks along the way. Earlier, I said I wanted to use the trip to prepare myself for the next stage of my life, and that’s exactly what I did. I learned the hard way one of life’s greatest lessons…always be prepared!
Present day journey
Now, I have a beautiful wife and three incredible children. I must admit that my road trip from hell was excellent preparation for some of the toughest challenges to come. Raising children, having a mortgage, and balancing work and childcare are just to name a few. As I reflect on my six long days on the road, I did discover some pretty valuable principles. I will share them with you in hopes that they will inspire you before taking your next big journey.
Some helpful tips
- Principle 1: Preparation is necessary for any large undertaking. Whether you’re taking a road trip, building a business, or starting a family; one must dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Spend time thinking, planning and preparing yourself mentally and physically for the road ahead. It is critical for success.
- Principle 2: Expect the unexpected. Even with proper planning, things still do go wrong. It’s important to be on guard and ready for unexpected challenges. They will pop-up when you least expect them.
- Principle 3: Persevere in the face of adversity. Like the song says; “It’s a long way down the holiday road.” Traveling or any other big undertaking will be met with some challenges, so it’s vital to push through when times do get tough.
- Principle 4: Enjoy the journey. Life really is what “happens when you are making other plans” as John Lennon so succinctly put it. Enjoy the good times because they’re usually only temporary.
Daniel MacIntyre is a faculty member for Cleary University and Northern Arizona University. He is the author of the books Anything is Possible; 91 truths about what is possible for your life and Daily Practices. Daniel offers coaching and business consultation through The Coach Connection and Get The Edge Consulting.