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Hit the road, Jack

Nicole Zook | Thursday, October 14, 2004

Every year over fall break, I do the same exact thing. I make the four-hour drive home, work two jobs all week and spend every single spare minute possible with my family and friends. It will be no different Saturday, when I’ll kick off a week of baseball watching and assistant accounting for the third straight year.

Only this time, when I climb into the driver’s seat, I might not want to go back to Central Illinois. I might just keep on going, south and west to the warmest weather in the country. For the first time in my college career and even my life, I’ve got travel fever.

It began earlier this year, with a badly-conceived plan to drive from South Bend to Los Angeles to see a friend get commissioned into the Marine Corps. It was a must-see event, so I plotted with my cousin and two then-seniors to start the summer by making the 2,000-mile journey. Flying was far too expensive, so that left us with one option: road trip.

We had no money, no map – just motivation. We didn’t know exactly how we were going to get there, or where we were going to stay along the way. We just packed, got in the car, and set off for California.

It. Was. Amazing.

Being completely broke made us the most innovative girls on the road, stopping at crazy family diners and the shadiest $20-a-night motels you could ever imagine. We managed to get parking for free, housing with friends and cheap tacky souvenirs. We lived off chilidogs, water and bananas with peanut butter.

Being relatively mapless forced us to find our own way. Sure, we had general direction – west. But we wove our way through the country like it was our job, taking shortcuts, longcuts and certainly the road less traveled. We went miles out of our way to see things like Shamrock, Texas – the most Irish town in America – and giant dino-saurs in the California desert from a PeeWee Herman movie. We stopped to appreciate somber moments at national landmarks like the St. Louis Arch and the Oklahoma City National Memorial, drying our tears with hugs and the call of the open road.

When we finally reached our destination, we jumped into the Pacific Ocean with all our clothes on. Our friend’s ceremony was well worth it, but what we realized was that the trip itself was the best part. Somehow, in two weeks of living out of suitcases, eating diner food and sleeping wherever we found space, we had changed from uptight college students to true road warriors – bad girls with wild and reckless abandon. We found friends and a home on the road, we found each other, and as cheesy as it sounds, we found ourselves.

My road sisters have graduated and moved on. There will be no more chaotic travel for me. But I urge you to do what I can’t – take this fall break and use it to discover who you and your friends really are.

Hit the road.