As 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!


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