I think one of the reasons I love this trip so much is because 2004 was really at the cusp of the when online inner-connectivity started. Smart phones weren't around yet , I mean honestly texting wasn't even "a thing" yet. Social media hadn't invaded our lives yet. It was just a simpler time. A time that provided much more spontaneity in my opinion. If we had access to those things back then, this trip would have never worked out like it did. And was probably the last real adventure I had before all of that technology came in.
Now that I've rambled enough, let's get started....
So it was March 2004. I was a college freshman and just had this desire to go on an adventure. So I made this plan in my head. I wanted to get a few friends, load up in my bus, drive south to the beach, and just see where life took us. I didn't want to make concrete plans, just kinda blow with the breeze and see where we ended up. So I needed to assemble the team. First, I had this new friend named Crissy. We had been hanging out all day, everyday. So naturally, I'd invite her.
Next, of course, I would invite my best bud April. We'd been friends since we were 14 and she always brought the fun!
I figured four would be a good number for the trip. So I needed one more and wanted to invite a guy friend to even things out. I worked at Applebee's at the time and had a co-worker named Reed. We had hung out a few times. He was so chill and hilarious. Plus he had dread locks and drove a scooter around town so that instantly made me bring him on board.
Team Assembled. Crissy and I went to the store to get supplies for the trip. Basically, we bought banana moon pies, bubbles, paint, canned meat, and a road map. Remember this was before cell phone cameras, and digital cameras were still very expensive, so I bought a few disposable film cameras to document the trip. Remember those?!? I loved them. So, the night before we loaded up the bus with all of our stuff, and I had to map out a route to get us to the beach (avoiding the interstate). We couldn't use the freeway because my bus maxed out around 50 mph and would blow off the road if I went faster.
We woke up the Monday of Spring Break and loaded in the bus and took off. We had been driving an hour or two and things were already super fun. Reed brought a bunch of instruments, so while I drove those three sat in the back and played/sang songs.
So this is when the first unexpected bit of adventure pops up. Since I was driving, I put the back seat in charge of the map. I guess they were distracted by playing music because we ended up in the middle of nowhere. So I turn around for them to show me where on the map we were and found out they were literally holding the map upside down. We had been driving in the wrong directions for like an hour and were basically lost.
So after about another 30 minutes of backtracking, I was able to figure out where we were and plan out a new route to the beach. This was a pretty scenic route apparently, because soon I was driving on a tiny, washboard dirt road. After a few minutes on this rural street, I see a huge 18 wheeler barreling towards us. It's coming closer and doesn't appear to be slowing down. Of course, when it reaches us, this guy is barreling down this tiny road at like 60 mph. I see our lives flash before my eyes. I swear to miss this guy and run off of the road so we don't all die. When that happens, the bus starts bouncing around, coming off the ground, and all of the windows start to fall out of my bus .When the truck passes, we all have to get out of the car and walk up and down the road looking for my windows.
So we found the windows, loaded up, and finally (after about 5 hours) ended up in Fernandina Beach, Florida. First things first, I gotta pee. We find a little local beach shop. In that store Reed buys this giant straw hat. I swear that hat, shorts, and a bathrobe were his wardrobe about 80% of the entire week.
After I pee and Reed buys his hat, we head off to the beach to go play and find somewhere we can camp out for the night. When we get to the beach, we found that is was super rocky and probably wasn't a great idea to swim around. So we roll down some hills, take some pictures, and act like statues to confuse families walking by.
So it's getting dark, and I start to look for somewhere to camp. I find a little place and start to get out the tent. Suddenly, the police show up and tell us it's illegal to camp on the beach. Well. Great. Where the heck were we going to sleep. I suggested we go get some food and talk about it. So we drive around and find a little mom and pop seafood place. While we were discussing it, our waitress hears us talking and offers us the chance to sleep at her house. Sweet! She seemed normal enough so we took her offer. It's basically closing time at the restaurant, so we hang out until her shift is done and follow her to her house. She invites us inside to hang out for a bit before we pitch our tent. Crissy and me go inside while Reed and April just hang out in the bus. Soon, her boyfriend comes home and starts talking to us. I get the feeling that somethings not quite right. That feeling is confirmed when he takes off his shirt and he's covered in racist tattoos. Soon, he busts out a photo album and starts to show us pictures of his last White Power rally. (Weird fact: He also showed us one picture of him and a famous, current musician (who will not be named) doing a hail hitler sign that he had framed). Not even thinking about it, I instinctively blurt out that I find that incredibly offense. The blood drains from my head as he just starts to stare at me. I tell Crissy to go ahead outside, because he's just quietly staring at us. So it's just me and him in the living room now. He insists that we go outside and pitch the tent together. I tell him we don't have a tent and are just planning on sleeping in the bus. So he follows me outside still insisting that we still spend the night in his backyard. I'm trying to figure out how I'm supposed to get us out of there. Finally, he goes inside and I jump in the car and drive us away from the house. By now, it's the middle of the night. So I just pick a random spot on the side of the road, park the bus, and I let them get some rest. I didn't really sleep that night. I was just constantly looking for his truck to drive up behind us.
So as soon as it was just a little bit bright outside, I woke everyone up and we quickly made our way out of that town.
Waking everyone up at the buttcrack of dawn to get outta there.
We are now back on the road. The sun's up. I'm feeling much happier (and safer) and spirits are back high. Before we left on the trip, we made some plans to meet up with some friends at the St. Augustine public campgrounds. So we are now just cruising down the road, enjoying conversations, and snacks.
We were just talking about the fun plans once we get to the campgrounds. Suddenly, I hear a huge pop and feel the bus us to the side. Yup. We just blew a tire.
So I get us to the side of the road and literally have no clue what to do. I didn't have a spare and we were on a highway with nothing really around us. A police officer pulls up. Thank goodness! I explain what happen and ask if she would drive me into town so I can replace my tire. Well, a classic VW bus doesn't work on police officers normally. I guessed she figured we were all stoners and got ultra rude. Basically, not only did she not offer to help, but told me that if my bus was still on the side of the road at 5pm or if it was left unattended, then she would have it towed to the impound lot. Crap. At this point, I have no idea what to do. I just pray "Ok God. You gotta do something here."
Literally like 3 minutes later, we see a giant van pull off the road behind us. It's our friends we were supposed to meet at the campgrounds. They were running a little late and just happened to see my bus on the side of the road. Yay!! They agree to drive me into town while Reed, Crissy, and April hang back to sit with the bus so it wouldn't get towed (the police officer is just sitting in her cruiser across the street watching us). Once I have the car jacked up and wheel removed, I realize that I don't have a jack stand in my bus. So I'm forced to leave my bus blowing around by the breeze of every passing car (VW buses are extremely light) and only propped up by a tiny jack. So I tell my crew to hang tight while I go into town with our friends to get my tire patched.
We get into town and only find one tire place. I ask them if they would patch it up. Of course, it can't be patched and don't have my size tire in. They wouldn't be able to get my size tire in for a few days (again, VW buses had thin, narrow tires that are uncommon nowadays). So again, I just pray that someone works out. We load up in my friend's van and keep driving. After a few minutes, we spot a Wal-Mart with a tire center. Against all odds, they happen to have a tire that fits my bus. However, it's going to cost me the rest of my money I had set aside for the trip. I didn't really have a choice, so I bought the tire and we raced back to my bus. In my head, I'm picturing my bus being rolled over in the ditch and my friends sitting on the side of road ultra bummed/aggravated about how this trip is going. We are pulling up and I just close my eyes and hope for the best.
I feel the van stop and open my eyes to find Crissy, April, and Reed dancing around my bus, banging tambourines, laughing and singing. (If you ask April, she'll tell you that when it blew a tire was her favorite part of the trip, hahaha) I pop on the new tire, and we caravan to the campground with our friends.
We get to park and find our campsite. It's a fun night of stories, music, and laughing.
We wake up early the next morning, pack up the tent, and head out to the beach
At the beach, we run into some more friends that we had been planning on meeting up with on the trip. We spend pretty much the entire day playing in the ocean, blowing bubbles, and flying kites.
It seems we are going to have an event free day. I'm pretty stoked with so smooth everything is going. After the beach, we head back to our friend's motel and all jump in the pool/hot tub. While in the hot tub, someone get's the idea that it would be super fun if we all painted our bodies and went back to the beach that night. So of course we did.
The day could not have been more fun. And still nothing crazy had happened. However, of course that wouldn't last. After about an hour of running of body painting, someone asked "Where's April?" Crap. No one knew. We checked the motel room, the beach, the cars... No one could find her. We run up front to ask the motel management if they had seen a girl recently. The motel worker replies no, but we should probably be worried because there are always a bunch of weirdos roaming the streets this time of night. Double crap. So we start running up and down the strip in full body paint, going into each store frantically looking for our friend.
"Where in the heck is April?!"
Finally after checking every single store on the strip, we run back to the hotel to call the police... Of course, she's magically back and sleeping in our friend's motel room. By now, it's the middle of the night. So my crew (minus April) all pass out in my bus in the parking lot of the motel.
We wake up, have a water gun fight in the parking lot of the motel, and head back to the beach. However, I distinctly remember something happening that morning while she was spraying me with the water gun. I remember just having these strong feelings of affection come over me for Crissy. It's just neat to reflect on that moment when I first had the thought of us being more than friends.
After we at the beach for awhile, we head back to the motel. My crew eats some lunch and then go jump in the hot tub. This is the last full day of the trip, so I'm glad it's going smooth for once. Everyone kind of breaks off to do their own thing, while Crissy and I just hang out by the pool enjoying the breezy weather. I'm really enjoying this time alone with her. This is the first time it's just be her and I the entire week. We were just hanging out and I was actually thinking of making my first move on her, until this lady walks up to us. She sits down and starts making small talk. We chit chat for awhile, then both of us get up and start to leave. Suddenly, she runs up behind us and says she's had an emergency come up and needs to go to the front office to take care of something. We just look at each other puzzled and tell her just go there then. I mean what did that have to do with us. Then she tells us that she has two special needs children and they are in her motel room. Before I can even ask why she left them unattended, she grabs both of us by the arm pulls us to her hotel room. She unlocks the lock, flings open the door, and sure enough their are two special needs kids completely unattended and bouncing back & forth on the bed. She begs us to watch her kids for just a second so she can run to the front office. So trying to be polite, we say yes. Then she looks at us weird, picks up our camera, takes a picture, and starts to back up towards the door.
"What the heck is going on?"
Immediately, I look at Crissy and give the "we gotta get the heck outta here" look. But before we can, the lady just kind of makes a break for it and starts running in the opposite direction of the front office. Suddenly, I see her start to unlock a car door and climb in. "Heck no!" I think as I'm sprinting behind her. She tries to drive off (leaving her kids with us), but I jump in front of her car so she can't leave. I make her come back to the room, so I can get Crissy and we can leave. So I'm walking her back to her room and she's just rambling on about some nonsense. She's clearly on some kind of hard drugs. Finally, she's back in the room. She again grab my arm and starts begging us to stay with her. We both just kind of break free and run to the front office to call the police. When we get there, the front office worker isn't really concerned with our situation. He's more concerned with the fact that our friends had like 17 people sleeping in one motel room last night and we were camping out in his parking lot. So to avoid that fiasco, we just leave the motel, go to the beach, and sleep near the dunes so we wouldn't be seen or get in trouble.
The next morning, we swing back by the motel to see how things worked out with our friends. Apparently, they smoothed things out with the manager last night but were told to leave this morning. So April traded her spot in the bus with our friend Clark who rode home with us.
We got into Valdosta, dropped off Reed and Clark, while Crissy and I headed back to my parents house. When we got there, her and I just talked and laughed about the trip. I realized that it was over the course of that week that I developed strong feelings for her. I remember taking this picture and vowing to myself that I was going to marry her one day.
When I was thinking about typing up this story, I knew that me falling in love with Crissy over the course of the trip would come up. It's so interesting talking about this story nowadays. It's like reading the first chapter of one of my favorite books. It's nice to be able to reflect back and think about it, however, even though it's clearly in the past and not a part of my future, I think I've hit the point of confidence and peace with my life/emotions/feelings that I can enjoy fond memories without confusing myself or getting sad.
So back to my parents house, I remember that this was the day that I started to pursue Crissy romantically... I've talked so much of our divorce on this blog, that I'm thinking about writing about more of the good times in our relationship. I think you guys would enjoy reading about it. Well, I think it would be fun to write about at least. Ok, this post is freaking long as crap. Hope you enjoyed it.
Be Blessed and Be a Blessing,