the weather in North Carolina steadily improved and summer
approached, we could see the end of our exchange experience.
Since August of 1995 we had lived as Americans, except,
of course, for Dave who arrived some months later. By April
he was every bit as American as the rest of the group.
A mixture of sadness and anticipation filled us as the final
semester of college drew to a close. By this time each of
us had gotten used to our new lives away from our families
in Europe. Indeed, America is the Land of the Free, and
we all enjoyed the freedom that our temporary lives as Americans
had offered us. Before resuming our real lives we needed
some way of finalizing the memorable stay.
Until this point in time we had only gone on minor unsupervised
trips - although not all four at the same time. For instance
Dave and Manuel went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, while
Marco, Dave and Niels visited the Outer Banks and Virginia
Beach in April. Taken into consideration that each excursion
only lasted a few days we had gotten along very well. The
foundation of something bigger had been formed.
When you went to Greensboro every once in a while to buy
cheap CDs, you drove along Interstate 40, knowing that the
road wouldn't end until Barstow, California, some 2300 miles
away. It was strange to think about. A road that on the
way to Four Seasons Mall seemed rather characterless also
went through far-away states like New Mexico and Arizona,
past towns with exotic names; places that made you wonder
what they would be like. The sheer vastness of the road
inspired us. What kept us from exploring below the horizon?
The initial steps were taken by Marco who could borrow David
McCusker's (Mark's host dad) Chevy van, which at the time
was up for sale. At first the idea was to convince 5 or
6 of the other exchange students. Dave and Niels liked Marco's
plan and so did Maja Dragland, the Norwegian exchange student,
at first. However, after some consideration she backed out
of the project. After this, the venture looked to be an
all Guy thing. Manuel was also asked and although he liked
the idea of going to California he wouldn't give us a straight
answer. Apparently he had several other options to choose
from; one of which was to go to New York City.
Then suddenly, some weeks before school ended, David McCusker
sold the van, which, needless to say, radically altered
our plans. At this time the trip had grown on us. We had
passed the point of no return; it couldn't be called off.
This was simply something we had to do. Without the van,
though, we were in a difficult situation. We realized that
we had to go by car but the three of us couldn't possibly
be in one car and still have room for the luggage. It meant
that we had to go in two cars. This alternative, three people
in two cars wasn't really an option either because it required
that the driver of the second car would be on his own, which
would be intolerable. Once again we pleaded with Manuel
and finally we were able to convince him.
The formal outline for the trip was drawn up in early May
1996 at Hardee's near exit 145 in Burlington. Each of us
made a list of sites he'd like to visit and soon the entire
trip took shape.
It wasn't difficult to choose cars. Mark's Mustang was an
obvious choice; the condition of the car clearly outranked
all the other cars: Manuel's 1975 Mercury, Dave's Escort,
and Niels's Camaro, the latter being the one with the second
best service record of the four cars. Going in two cars
meant that if one had a breakdown way out in the boonies,
the other car could pull it to the nearest garage. For that
exact purpose Dave McCusker had given us a strong towrope.
He claimed it brought good luck but his statement proved
to be somewhat questionable!
Day 01: Leaving NC
Day 02: Tupelo, MS
Day 03: Henryetta, OH
Day 04: Roswell, NM
Day 05: Flagstaff, AZ
Day 06: Las Vegas, NV
Day 07: Victorville, CA
Day 08: Long Beach, CA
Day 09: Los Angeles, CA
Day 10: Thousand Oakes, CA
Day 11: Malibu, CA
Day 12: Lompoc, CA
Day 13: Lompoc, CA
Day 14: Palo Alto, CA
Day 15: Palo Alto, CA
Day 16: Fallon, NV
Day 17: Escalante, UT
Day 18: Grand Junction, CO
Day 19: Lafayette, CO
Day 20: Colby, KS
Day 21: St. Louis, MO
Day 22: Knoxville, TN
Day 23: Burlington, NC
Epilogue: Author's notes