These days, I consider myself a road trip expert. Here’s what’s in my car prior to leaving for any given road trip: six orange cones, a road flare, two blankets, two gallons of water, a box of granola bars, a compass, and a first aid kit. Why do I have all these things? Because in my youth, I sought to undertake a simple weekend trip. The goal? To get my girlfriend, Emily, and myself to Seattle, WA, from Spokane, WA. The estimated travel time? No more than 5 hours each way. The reality? A disaster. Do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes…
First of all, don’t drive a car with no air-conditioning. I mean, this should be obvious. Of course, you shouldn’t try to drive a car with no air-conditioning to Seattle in the middle of July. On a Friday. That would obviously be dumb. What would be stupider yet would be to start that trip at noon, ensuring that you’re traveling in the hottest part of the day. You can bet that at age 19, stupid is exactly how I did things.
“They exaggerate about how bad the traffic in Seattle is,” I said.
“Are you sure?” Emily said.
“Oh yeah, it’ll be fine,” I said.
I was so very wrong.
At 4PM, Emily and I entered the Seattle outskirts. At 4:02PM we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. We had our windows down, but the light, cooling gusts that we hoped for were hitting us all too infrequently. When the digital clock on my car radio flashed out 5:00PM, I finally understood that no one had lied to me about Seattle traffic. We had made only two miles’ worth of progress in an hour. Google Maps’ estimated-time-of-arrival figure increased slowly but constantly, in a clear effort to mock me. Why had I not listened to the warnings of the wise?
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bead of sweat roll down Emily’s temple. I suddenly became aware that it was my fault she was spending her day in a 1998 Ford Escort in 100-degree weather. I suspected she was aware of this fact as well. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw her eat the last of our snacks without offering to share. This made me extraordinarily anxious, which made me start sweating even more profusely than I already was.
Heatstroke is a funny little illness. You spend days at the beach with your family and never come away with more than a red forehead. Yet when you spend seven hours trapped in a car, doing an impression of a sauna enthusiast, heatstroke can really sneak up on you. As Emily and I edged into Seattle, I didn’t exactly notice my heat stroke, but I did notice other things.
“Hey, why is your face so blurry?” I asked Emily, slowly slumping forward in the driver’s seat.
“What?” Emily asked.
“Whyyyy is your face so blurry?” I said, annoyed that I had to repeat myself. My cheek was now resting on the wheel.
“Are you all right?” she replied, leaning in toward me with her increasingly blurry self.
It was a reasonable thing to ask, but at the time I found the question frustrating.
“Of course I’m all right — I’m not the one who’s all fuzzy, am I?” Emily’s face, from my perspective, had made the perfectly natural evolution from blurry to full-fledged fuzzy.
“Drink this,” Emily said, and held our bottle up to my lips and tipped it up, forcing me to drink a few swallows of water. She immediately became less fuzzy. Since the car was still at a full stop, I got out and poured a bit of the precious liquid onto my head. The shock re-awoke my system, and I realized that the heat had brought me dangerously close to passing out while at the wheel.
From there, things went comparatively smoothly. Emily and I got into Seattle too late to check out the Space Needle, but we had booked a Stay Alfred travel apartment for the night, so it was pretty easy to get back into the heart of Seattle in the morning. The next day I took Emily out for Thai food by way of apology for nearly having cooked her in the car, and we got to take in the Space Needle along with several other noteworthy Seattle spots. On the way back, we left Seattle at 6AM with a cooler stocked full of supplies and didn’t even have to stop on our way home.
The ultimate lesson here is just that it pays to be prepared. The real rookie mistake was my lack of forethought. Not planning my road trip did me in more than not having air-conditioning, although in the future I will always be hoping for some more of that cool relief. Stock up your car. Plan your stops. Stay safe. Hit the road at an optimal time. That’s all you have to do to avoid looking like a road trip rookie.