Four girls crammed into one vehicle. We were stuck together for a 16-hour road trip, and we could forget about any personal space. As members of the MSU Women\’s Ultimate Frisbee team, we – Kristi, Michelle, Alicia and I – traveled down to Tybee Island, Ga., for a weeklong tournament. The Michigan weather was cold and dreary, and sunny skies and sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean were less than a day away.
As a means of long-distance travel, automobile road trips are popular among college students; most of us have access to a car, and it\’s cheaper and easier than flying. But no matter where one travels, it seems each road tripper experiences the same sequence of emotions: a tingling anticipation for arrival and a high tolerance for the annoying little habits of the fellow travelers occur on the way there, but coming home, this happy feeling quickly dissipates into one of irritation and overwhelming desire to get back to home turf.
Alicia had willingly provided her maroon Pontiac Grand Prix for our adventure, and as we left East Lansing around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, the gas tank was full and our hopes were high for a problem-free vacation. Alicia pulled out onto I-127 South, accelerated to 74 mph, and we plowed on, eager for the 30-degree temperature increase waiting for us in the south.
Friday, March 2: Departure: 3:30 p.m. Arrival: 8 a.m. Saturday.
Seven: States driven through

Instead of taking the traditional I-75 south route, we drove east through Ohio and stuck close to the coast on our way down to Tybee Island. Ohio single-handedly won the award for Worst State to Drive Through: the boring flat highways were more than enough, but then at one point, US-23 became a road with traffic lights, slowing the speed limit to 55 mph as we passed through Columbus. Only in Ohio, we thought wearily, as we braked for yet another red light in the middle of the highway.
[cameras] Best state? West Virginia. I pulled the midnight to 3 a.m. driving shift, and I was a little worried about nodding off at the wheel. But I bought a big cappuccino and hit the mountains of West Va. Racing down paved hills next to barreling semis, coupled with the changing speed limits because of sharp curves and intense slopes, kept me more than awake. The car pushed through Virginia, N. Carolina and S. Carolina before hitting the Georgia border: a gorgeous state to drive through because of the old, elegant architecture and stately neighborhoods of Savannah, about 30 minutes away from Tybee.
6:30 p.m.: Dinner stop
As if we don\’t eat enough fast food as college students, we chose Taco Bell to satisfy our hunger pangs. We crammed into a vinyl booth, and crumpling wrappers and crunching shells were the only sounds emanating from the table. I eagerly ripped into a packet of taco sauce, only to squirt some of it onto my pants. Undeterred, I quickly dabbed it up with a napkin and continued to eat. I failed to notice the sauce dripping onto my lap from the other end of the taco until I felt it soak through on my leg. Being a light packer, these were my only pair of sweatpants for the week. I dashed to the bathroom and tried to wipe it off with water, and the stains turned a pukey yellow color. I tried to blow-dry the sauce out, standing under the wall dryer and stretching my pants up to the air spout. No luck. Not only was I sitting in the same clothes for 16 hours, now they were dirty, too.
10:30 p.m. Traffic Cone Attack!
[sun] Michelle cruised at a cool 70 mph; I constructed a pillow fort in the backseat in an effort to get some sleep before my impending night shift. Through my haze, I heard snippets of a conversation about Michelle\’s ex mixed with melodies from the iPod. I thought I had finally found a decent burrow in the backseat when I heard – and felt – a huge thump.
\”Oh my God!\” Michelle shouted. \”I think I ran over a traffic cone!\”
My first thought was of a construction barrel: wide and stout with a tiny light on top, and something that could seriously damage a little ol\’ Grand Prix. My second thought was how anybody could miss a traffic cone along a deserted highway at 10:30 at night. My third thought was if we damaged the car, there would be no spring break. I listened closely for any kind of alarming noise; I heard a whistling sound, and I smelled burning rubber.
Of course, the nearest exit wasn\’t for a few miles, so we averaged 35 mph on I-77, dragging the cone underneath the car. Michelle guided the car up the exit ramp, and I heard a popping sound, and the whistling ceased.
We pulled over and hopped out of the car, bending down to look at the underside. Nothing. \”I think we lost the cone on the exit ramp,\” I said. Satisfied that all was well, we piled back inside and re-entered the highway. No weird noises or smells, and we settled back in relief. Michelle claimed she didn\’t see it coming, as the cone was resting in the left lane of the highway; I hoped the next person to use that exit ramp would be able to avoid our traffic cone deposit in the middle of the road.
Three: Times we lost the directions
After a stop to refuel, I manned the wheel. I fiddled with the iPod for a few seconds and asked my co-pilot Alicia for the next exit. She rummaged through the bags, CD cases and snack boxes littering the front seat floor space, and reached back and ran her hands along the bottom of her seat.
\”Um, I can\’t find the directions.\”
\”I left them up there on the seat,\” Kristi mumbled from the back, her head stuck into her pillow.
\”Well, they\’re not here.\”
\”Do you think we left them at the gas station?\”
\”I don\’t know.\”
\”Well, what should I do?\”
\”I don\’t know.\”
I veered off the expressway so I could enter in the opposite direction, except I wasn\’t going in the opposite direction. I was on a different highway. I think. At this point, Michelle told me I wasn\’t going the right way, I struggled to read ANYTHING along the road with no streetlights, and Alicia kept reiterating she \”couldn\’t find the directions.\”
\”Ah!\” She shouted triumphantly and held a wrinkled piece of white paper in the air. \”I found them!\”
I got back on the correct highway and drove the 10 miles we backtracked in our effort to relocate the directions. After this scare, we also almost lost the directions in our house in Georgia (luckily, I found them underneath a sleeping pad about one minute before we headed home) and somewhere in the Carolinas on the way back to Michigan. For four girls with printer access, we should have made some copies.
5:30 a.m.: The invasion of inebriation
I didn\’t possess Alicia\’s remarkable ability to sleep through everything, so I woke up to alarmed gasps and whispers of \”Oh, my God. What should we do?\” Before I nodded off, Kristi and Michelle had been tailing a group of boys in a car with a Florida license plate. They were bored, pacing down miles of desolate highway at a lonely hour, and without the distraction of a friendly trucker, they opted to become fast friends with the guys. \”I think he\’s drunk!\” Kristi hissed, and she tapped the brakes of the Grand Prix. And when Kristi drives less than 85 mph, something is wrong.
I pulled my cramped body up and peered at the road ahead through my bleary eyes. I saw the Floridians speed up, but slow again when they couldn\’t pass a Jeep Cherokee. The Cherokee was braking erratically and weaving in an ironically controlled fashion, left to right, left to right. When brave motorists passed on the right side, they hugged the solid white line as much as possible. All of a sudden, the driver flicked on the right turn signal, and we braced for an absolute collision about a quarter-mile ahead of us. But the driver managed to pull over and put on the hazard lights. We, along with the Florida car, made it through the scare, and we kept driving in awed and bewildered silence.
Two: Hours we spent passed out in front of our condo
[sign] The sun rose slowly, spreading its orange and yellow hues over the calm water of the Atlantic. The ocean was visible from the parking lot of our condominium, and the waves lapped in quietly – a stark contrast from the whipping wind that lashed water along the coast on the day that we left to go back to Michigan. A three-story structure, the condo was painted a shocking blue, making it visible for at least a mile around. Because we couldn\’t get the keys until later that afternoon, and the city had yet to wake up completely, Alicia pulled in front of the house, cracked the windows and turned the music off. I nestled into my pillow fort and drifted off to the sounds of seagulls chattering and the occasional tourist\’s car speeding along Tybee Island\’s single highway.
When we woke up, we walked to a nearby restaurant and ordered a ton of pancakes, doused in butter and maple syrup. We scarfed in silence, pausing only to wash our food down with orange juice; apparently, road trips really take it out of you.
1/2: Percentage of time on the road spent listening to \’90s pop music
It\’s funny how lyrics from boy band and pop princess music stay with college students for years. We all loved the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears until about age 13, then swore them off because they weren\’t cool anymore. But the music made a comeback around sophomore year of college, and on our road trip, the iPods were chock full of jams from middle school years. We had *NSYNC and Destiny\’s Child, Christina Aguilera and Five. A good pop song would instantly transform the mood of the car. We would morph from weary, irritable women to carefree girls, all in the course of a few familiar chords at the beginning of the song. If only our class notes were arranged in such an upbeat fashion; then I\’d be able to memorize everything before my exams.
Three: Digital cameras passed around the vehicle
The beauty of digital cameras is their shifting permanence: moments are captured and able to be downloaded on a computer or scanned and printed in hard copy form – that is, until someone hits the delete key. We took out the unflattering angles and questionable smiles and blank stares, leaving only the most polished version of the days at the fields and the night parties. The clicking sound of moving through albums was punctuated only by laughter and gasps, as the whirlwind week slowly came back into focus. And it made the long drive home a little bit easier.
Friday, March 9: Departure: 9:30 a.m. Arrival: 2:30 a.m. on Saturday.
I wearily opened the door of my apartment, threw my bags down on the floor and slumped over into my bed, relieved to be done with my awkward car nap. I don\’t even know if I brushed my teeth. As I drifted back to sleep, I reminisced about the spring break I would never forget, my eternal love for ultimate frisbee, how much fun I had with my friends – and how happy I was to be away from them and out of that damn car.

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