Travel Essay: The glory of friends and the open road

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When four friends stuff themselves, their backpacks, and pounds of snacks into a Honda Element for a weekend of adventure, the destination is almost irrelevant to the fact that a good time will be had by all. That is not to say that the trip will be free of awkward moments, little annoyances, or temporary frustrations. It is a given there will be plenty of those as well.

Most of my BlinkPacking adventures have been the solo variety, offering earthy simplicity to the trip. A council of one easily approves the lunchtime sandwich stop, the redundant bathroom break, the mildewy hotel room, the rest in the park, the questionable jaywalk… To travel alone is to stay light on the toes, an approach with clear merits and virtues.

However, the solo road can be an echoey one, the hollow quiet of a lone journey often leaving me aching for the companionship of kin back home. The excitement of an opposite experience had spikes of adrenaline tangoing through my veins as we four friends launched our duffels through the open rear hatch. I drove the first stretch, bounding up the hill, over hither drive and past thither stop sign, toward Atlanta’s northeast freeway and a park full of famous and insanely good roller coasters in Dothwell, Virginia.

Road trips in the rearview have a rosy glow, and with good reason. After all, friends plus open roads plus kitschy American destinations equals barrels of fun. And traveling with companions enriches the friendships with waves of shared experiences and memories that wash away the grit and sand down the rough edges.

I know I have already forgotten the post-barbecue methane blasts emanating from somewhere shotgun-ish while I tried to catch some zzz’s in the back seat, just as I hope my friends have forgotten the bad jokes I insisted on telling. I have moved on from the two-hour restaurant wait that dumped our schedule in the trash, just as I hope my friends have put my congested snoring out of their memories. And I can not recall the incessant Fat Albert imitations akin to fingernails on a chalkboard, just as I hope my friends have forgiven my sneak back into an empty coaster seat for a second ride while they wondered of my whereabouts.

What I will always remember is the laughs, the first-hill plummets, the tunes juking from Pandora radio, the homemade beef jerky, and those long, winding conversations born of a dark night and an endless road.

The coasters a speck in the rearview, we neared Atlanta’s city limits. Outlines of familiar buildings against a dark sky stirred nagging feelings that work and responsibility, tensions and headaches, and Monday, were all just around the corner. The Element navigated one of the final turns as Bob Marley came across the Pandora airwaves to sing us a song.

“Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right. Let’s get together and feel all right.”

We had, and we did.
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