Sometimes, in the excitement of preparing for a long road trip, the parties involved forget to sleep.
“We may as well get started,” the text message read, and I couldn’t have agreed more. A good 900 miles stood between Independence, Missouri and Bay City, Michigan, and we hoped to make this, the first leg of our trip to Erie Beach, Canada, in twelve hours. Just why my friend had decided to hit the road at 2AM still eluded me, though I had to admit his arguments made some sort of sense . . . less traffic, and we’d be able to put in a few hundred miles before driving into the sunrise.
The only problem? It was nearing midnight, and both of us were already wide awake. In fact, I hadn’t slept at all.
He picked me up around 12:30AM. The night only grew darker as Interstate 70 took us farther and farther from town. But we hardly noticed. He was happy to return for the church camp at Erie Beach, a spot of earth nestled securely in his heart . . . and happy that he’d actually convinced me to tag along. Me? I was thrilled to leave my hometown behind and go on an adventure!
Well, turns out mile after mile of flat Missouri farmland is a wonderful antidote for adrenaline. Minutes multiplied and became hours. Our initial excited chit-chatting faded into longer bouts of silence, broken only by the lively music blaring from the CD player. “Still awake?” he kept asking me, probably to make sure he was. Every now and then we’d pass through some boring little town, and he would announce, “We are currently entering Sweet Springs, Missouri,” or “Welcome to Kingdom City,” as if he were the tour guide for some grand and exotic adventure. I tried to keep my eyes open, but it was beginning to feel like my eyelids were magnetically bound to each other.
Several hours passed in a haze of darkness and loud music. Eventually, a dull glow began to tint the eastern horizon, and we pulled over at a rest stop. “All right, your turn to drive,” said my friend, looking as if the effects of his two-hour nap the previous evening had long since worn off.
We traded seats. I blinked the sleepiness from my eyes and forced myself to focus. Key in ignition. Turn key, push petal. Foot on brake. Shift into reverse. Check mirrors, look through rear windows as car begins to move. Only, instead of backing, I felt the car inch forward. I stepped hard on the brake.
There was a moment of silence. “Did you just put it in drive?” A slow grin was spreading across my friend’s face.
“I’m tired,” I said, grinning, though I didn’t find the situation particularly funny, and shifting into reverse for real this time.
“You all right for driving?”
“Yeah . . . think I’m awake now.” The car backed out of the parking spot.
“You put it in drive,” he snickered, still grinning and shaking his head at me as we pulled back onto the interstate.
Several hours and a couple of states later, he was back behind the wheel, having made the switch somewhere around the Michigan border. It was, by this time, early afternoon. We’d already missed the goal of reaching Bay City in twelve hours, so we decided to take the rest of the trip a little slower and entertain ourselves with a few tourist stops along the way. We drove through his hometown, then started heading toward an interesting little place called Frankenmuth. I hadn’t seen it yet, of course, but my friend told me the town boasted an old-fashioned Bulgarian village and the largest year-round Christmas store you’ll ever see.
On our way to Frankenmuth, we made a quick stop to look at a map of the local area. I stayed in the car, leaning back in the seat with my eyes blissfully closed. I heard him open and close the door as he got back in; heard the car start and felt us roll slowly forward before making a quick and abrupt stop.
I opened my eyes and sat up, grinning at the grove of pine trees not too far in front of us. “You did it too, didn’t you?”
“Just . . . making sure you were awake,” he grinned, backing out of the parking spot.
Some time later, following a visit to the year-round Christmas mall, it happened again. In fact, thinking back, I’m quite sure I saw him put the car in drive this time, but I was so tired my brain didn’t register the fact until I felt the now-familiar hard stop.
I laughed out loud. “You did it again!”
“Shut it!” He was smiling in spite of himself. “Just shut it!”
It may surprise you to learn that, eventually, we made it to Bay City without any truly serious incidents. And, after catching up on some much needed sleep that night, we continued on to Erie Beach, where we arrived the next evening with car, luggage, and selves all intact.