Even with my best attempt to go to bed relatively early, the 6:00 alarm I set for Saturday morning still hurt…a lot. I hobbled around the dark room, hearing Cory’s words ringing in my head, “is there a reason why we’re awake right now?” Only this time I knew the answer was “yes”, because today, we were driving to Bend, Oregon a.k.a Stop #2.
My sister and I were on the road by 6:45, and with most of Vegas (including Cory, Amanda, and Ashlynn who were staying behind) still asleep, we saw it shrink in our rearview mirror relatively quick. I was first up on driving duty, so my sister curled up in the passenger’s seat and fell asleep, and I put my iPod on shuffle and watched the highway open up in front of me.
The world was quiet in those first few hours. Only a few cars peppered the road with us, and the only sound I heard besides the low hum of the radio was the light rain that rattled against the windshield. I sang lightly along to the different songs coming through the speakers, sometimes breaking to let my mind wander and create and question and think, and my sister slept, allowing herself to recharge, both from the two days in Vegas, and all the exhausting work days before that.
At about 12:00, we stopped for gas, and I found a t-shirt in the minimart that explained a lot about the last 5 hours of my life.
As it turned out, that road (otherwise known as U.S. Route 50) that had almost no one on it, that road that was so quiet and serene and yes, now that I think about it, quite lonely, had been nicknamed “The Loneliest Highway in America” by Life Magazine in 1986. Needless to say, I bought that t-shirt, obviously. I felt like it described me as I truly was in that moment: heroic.
Spoiler alert: this is where things started to get a little…less heroic.
In the hours leading up to the t-shirt discovery, my sister had started to feel a little car sick. And while I’d hoped the stop at the gas station would give her body a break, when we hit the road again 15 minutes later, she looked just as distraught, but insisted we keep moving.
Fast-forward 45 minutes.
There we are, sitting side by side. My sister appears calm, possibly even feeling better, when suddenly her face makes 3 major shifts in expression.
Calm ➡️ queasy ➡️ panicked ➡️ terrified.
Let me explain.
The calm was mostly denial, which led to the honest queasiness, which made her quickly proclaim, “I’m going to be sick!” which led to the panic of puking in her lap, which caused her to roll down the window and stick her head out, which led to her quickly pulling it back in looking terrified because her prescription sunglasses had flown off and hit the pavement.
It is here that my look matched hers, causing me to make a U-turn in the middle of the (empty/still lonely) highway, and drive back a hundred yards or so. We then spent a solid 5-10 minutes wandering down the side of the road, her on the pavement, me in the bushes, trying to locate these glasses, which, against all odds, we did!
We then got back in the car, slightly traumatized, yet neither of us blind or covered in puke, so we took that as a win and carried on.
About 5 hours later, after the events of the afternoon and a few key gas stations lay behind us, we realized we were low on fuel. And by low, I mean exponentially low. Throughout the day, every highway proved to be just as empty and lonely as the first, thus making pit stops few and far between. So when my sister’s car notified us of the mere 39 miles we had until empty, and a quick 360 look at our surroundings suggested we’d find little more than a snake and a sketchy trucker named Bob in that distance, we pulled off and turned to technology for help.
Spoiler alert: technology did little to quell the bubbling panic attacks.
A gas station? It asked. Sure, how’s one 130 miles away? Terrible, thanks.
Mind you, we were still a solid 3 ½ hours from Bend, a.k.a our second destination, a.k.a home to my best friend, Allison, who was anxiously awaiting our arrival, and had no interest in hearing about us getting murdered by a sketchy truck driver named Bob after running out of gas in the middle of a remote Oregon highway.
“Wait, I found one that says it’s 12 miles from here,” my sister said just as I was about to consider crying as a solution.
She’d forewent Apple Maps and went straight to Google with a blunt cry for help: “GAS STATIONS NEAR ME.” This had brought up Rome Station, which supposedly sat on the other side of hill in the (not quite but might as well have been) opposite direction of where we were headed.
Recap: we only had 39 miles left of gas, so if Rome Station was a bust, we’d waste 12 miles, and possibly put us somewhere even more worrisome than our current location.
To try and counteract further destruction, my sister made a phone call:
“Rome Station,” a man’s voice said on the other line.
“Yes, hi, are you really a gas station?”
“Good, I’ll be there soon.”
The next 12 miles were almost completely silent. We both kept our eyes on the road hoping, praying something would appear in the distance. At one point the navigation said, “2 miles to go” and with still nothing in sight, I was sure we were just going to find a guy standing on the side of the road with a phone and years’ worth of anticipation to finally say, “You just got pranked!” At about the half-mile mark however, a building materialized seemingly out of nowhere, with a sign out front that read “Rome Station.”
It was old school. We parked our car next to a gas pump the 60s left behind and walked into the café/store combo to find one guy talking on the phone. It was undoubtedly the same gentleman who, 12 long miles ago, had answered a very important question, and when he turned to face us, I wondered both if he knew it was we who called him, and if we looked as desperate as we felt.
Thankfully, he proved to be polite and normal and completely lacking the grimy requests, murderous tendencies, or persistent meth offerings crime shows had prepared me for. So after we filled up, we said our thank you’s and left without having to self-defense murder the guy with the high heels we had in the backseat. I also bought this magnet to commemorate one of the most terrifying hours of my life. So all in all, it worked out.
A few hours later, after post-traumatic/12 hour drive delirium had completely set in, my sister and I entered the town of Bend to the styling’s of Aaron Carter (a.k.a a road trip staple) and we spent a half hour describing our day to Allison and her boyfriend, Mike, who looked at us the way I imagine I would look at us if I heard the story rather than told it.
That night as I lay down, I thought of all that had happened since the last time I had lay down. Was that really only 24 hours ago? Was I even the same person I was then?
This road trip was in full swing.