Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#WanderlustWednesday - That Time I Slept With A Bunch Of Truckers

My beloved Kellylou is doing a linkup this week for Wanderlust Wednesday, so head over to link your travelish posts or just read about the adventures of others! 

Throughout this month, I've shared most of the story of my weird, short little trip to New Orleans, but I haven't written about the trip back home yet! I was originally supposed to continue on from Louisiana to Florida to hang out with all of my friends for a week or so, but problems with my car and my health totally killed that plan and resulted in heading back home after a mere 17 hours in the city I'd just driven 15 hours to reach. 

When we left off, I'd just made it out of New Orleans at the really unfortunate time of 5 p.m., which meant driving through the city at rush hour. Along the way, I had some decisions to make about route (I did NOT want to drive back through the construction nightmare I'd just been through on my way down) and where to stay (my meager funds for a hotel on the drive home were still tied up by my NOLA hotel's weird deposit policy.) In a totally uncharacteristic move for my personality, I decided to just wing it and hope for the best. As someone who usually loves nothing more than extensive travel planning and research, this was totally weird.

I ended up making it about 200 miles (a little over 3 hours) before needing a break. Okay, "needing a break" is an understatement. Here's the fun thing about this road trip - I have a history of having panic attacks while driving. It's something I've gotten much better at dealing with over the years, but it's definitely still a thing. For some reason, driving at night is one of the worst triggers for it. (I think it might have something to do with the lights? Brains are really weird, y'all.) Knowing that, it's not a big surprise that about the same time the light started fading, my ability to cope with the stress of the drive did, too. I made a point of not stopping for gas or *anything* while there was still remaining daylight so that I could squeeze in every possible minute of not driving in the dark. My gas tank hit critical level at about the same time the very last of the light disappeared, so I ended up at a Walmart in Clinton, Mississippi so that I could use my last $30-ish stash of Walmart gift cards for gas. (Close to half of the gas for my trip was funded by gift cards that I either won in giveaways or received for various blog posts. Hooray for "free" gas!)

After feeding my hungry gas tank, I just plain could not deal with the concept of getting on the road again, so even though it was only about 8 p.m., I decided to give sleep a try. I found a spot in the parking lot that was away from the store but not too distant (and still near a security camera), put some soothing music on my phone to try to drown out the random noise and attempted to relax.

LOL NOPE. I have trouble sleeping at the best of times, so despite being exhausted from my day of exploring and the previous day's crazy drive, I could not get my adrenaline to chill out enough to let me get any rest. I decided to go wander around the store for a while to try to get my body to relax, and ended up discovering the fanciest Walmart bathroom ever:

The other side had a bunch of cute, colorful paintings of the "Shoes are awesome!" variety. Blame it on two days of gas station bathrooms, but I was totally enchanted to find so much thought put into the kind of place that I'm usually thrilled just to find paper towels and basic standards of cleanliness. Isn't it weird what an impression the small things make sometimes?

After about half an hour of wandering the store and snapping photos of the restroom like a total nutjob, I decided that if I wasn't going to sleep I might as well put a few more miles behind me, so back to the road I went. I was okay for about half an hour until I saw a sign that announced I was entering Louisiana and had a minor freak out wondering if I'd gone the wrong way or if my route was just super weird and I had somehow crossed back over. Thank goodness for the fact that I actually had wireless service (I got no reception through most of Louisiana and Arkansas), because I was able to pull up my location and see that I was actually on the right track, I'd just somehow missed that my route crossed back into Louisiana for a bit before I hit Arkansas. 

By the time I recovered from that moment of panic, I was done for the day when it came to this whole road trip thing. I also knew that I wasn't far from where I'd be turning from my nice lovely many-laned interstate to the smaller two lane highway that would take me most of the rest of the way home, and I was way past the point of wanting to drive that in the dark. I was thrilled to see a rest stop a few miles into Louisiana and although it didn't have the "24 Hour Security Provided" sign I'd seen on many along the way and that I'd been hoping to find if I did choose to sleep at a rest stop, I didn't even care at that point. I pulled in, sent a note to a friend via social media with my location in case something terrible did happen, and then somehow managed to get some rest. 

Well... sort of. Have you ever tried sleeping in the front seat of a car? (My back seat was too stuffed with stuff to even consider.) Have you ever tried sleeping in the front seat of a car when you're just shy of 6 feet tall? And when your lower back is already crying out in pain from what you've put it through the past couple of days? It's not fun. 

I should mention that I was not alone at this rest stop. Even though it was only around 10 p.m., at least a dozen semi trucks had already pulled in for the night. By the time I woke up, the entire loop was filled with trucks, probably 40 or more. It was slightly weird to think that I was camping out there with a herd of truckers and a handful of people in other cars. 

Thanks for the visual aid, Google Maps! As you can see, I was sleeping approximately 20 feet from a bunch of strangers. Good times!

I can't say that I slept well by any means, but I did manage to doze off for half an hour here and there, even managing about two solid hours before a man with a VERY loud voice who had parked right next to me woke me up at 4:30 a.m. Pro Tip for being a human: If it's four effing thirty in the morning and you're at a place where people are obviously trying to sleep just a few feet away from you, please keep your voice down. After that rude awakening (and let's face it, when you're a woman sleeping alone in your car just off the highway with a bunch of strangers, you're a little worried you're going to get woken up in a scary way) there's no way I was falling back asleep. Thankfully, I had a can of Starbucks espresso with me (never go anywhere without coffee!) so I dug the praline out of the gift bag the hotel had given me and had a totally delicious, sugary breakfast.

Breakfast of champions! That colorful background is the beach towel I was using as a blanket. Oh, did I mention that it was around 60 degrees that night? Somehow the whole being cold thing hadn't occurred to me at all, so during one of my middle of the night awakenings, I'd piled on about three extra shirts and the towel. (I was using my bag of lingerie as a pillow. Classy!)

The best darn rest stop a girl could ask to spend the night at.

According to my handy dandy phone, I figured out that it should start getting light a bit after 6 a.m. so a just after 5 I set off for the restrooms to freshen up a little. 

Can we talk for a moment about the power of taking some time to wash up and take care of yourself? I spent a good 20 minutes in the restroom changing clothes, throwing a little dry shampoo powder in my hair, washing my face and putting on makeup, and even though I still looked pretty rough, I felt like a new person. 

The mirrors had a weird cloudyness to them, which was actually really a kindness given how most of us look on a road trip. If you ever wanted a photo of me at 5 a.m. after about 3 hours of sleep, here ya go. Also, I am wearing three layers of shirts. 

Once I got on the road (just as the sky was beginning to fade from black) I discovered something awesome - the rest stop I spent the night in was technically in Tallulah, Lousiana. If you haven't been around my blog for long, you might not know that I had a very loved cat named Tallulah for 11 years. I tried to celebrate the awesomeness of the town's name by checking in on Facebook (a thing I never do), but when I tried it wanted me to select a specific location within the town to check-in at, and the only option available was "white folks section" (I wish I was kidding), so I decided to skip that whole check-in thing. (I tried again a bit later to check in from Transylvania, LA, but couldn't get a signal. Damn.)

There isn't much to tell about most of the drive back from there. Although there were quite a few sections where I had to slow down to around 40 to pass through towns, the smaller road was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. Want to know what it's like to drive through northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas? Just put this video on loop for approximately 5 hours.

 Yes, I totally filmed this while driving. Don't worry, I somehow managed to maintain the flat, straight line and not hit any of the zero cars around me. Also, I fought with the video HTML for like an hour before giving up and uploading straight to Blogger. If it's not working, you can see it on Instagram here.

The less flat, straight parts of Arkansas look like this:

Other than the crazy amount of pain in my lower back, the rest of the drive wasn't all that bad. Getting about 4 hours of the trip out of the way the night before meant only about 8 hours of driving the second day, which was so much more manageable than the 15 straight hours on the way down! I mostly got through it by promising myself that I could stop in Harrison (about an hour from my house) to browse the huge thrift shop that I passed on the way south. (I stopped, I browsed a lot, I tried things on, I didn't buy anything. But oh man was that a nice break!)

I finally made it home around 2 in the afternoon, and somehow managed to drag most of my luggage and random stuff into the house before collapsing and sleeping for about a year and a half.

Lessons learned?

*Next time, fly. Just fly, dude. None of this, "I want to prove to myself that I can do this roadtrip!" stuff. No, no, no, just say no.

*Those mini travel packets of Nutella are a life saver on road trips, as is espresso in a can.

*If you drive 27 hours over the course of 3 days, have no ass and already have lower back problems, your ass will literally be numb for like a week after getting home.

*Do not expect fancy things like cell phone service in Arkansas.

*Tallulah, Louisiana exists. So do Portland and Moscow, Arkansas.

*All throughout Mississippi, there are signs that warn you that bridges will freeze before the road does. Do people really not KNOW that and need a sign?

*There's a super weird phenomenon in the southern half of Arkansas where people actually obey the speed limit. In general, if I'm on an interstate where the speed limit is 70 mph, I expect most people to be going around 75-90. In this part of the state, people actually drove 65-70. So weird!

*If you send your friend a text that says you're sleeping at a random truck stop in the middle of nowhere, it's a good idea to make sure that you send the "I did not die" follow-up *before* heading into an area where you won't have wireless service for like 5 hours. They really appreciate that kind of thing.

*Leaving your car upon returning home will feel weird. My car became an extension of myself. We bonded.

Speaking of which, I get to try to fix her brake light switch all by myself tomorrow, mostly because a) she won't come out of park until it gets fixed unless I do a slightly annoying bypass routine, and b) I can't afford to pay anyone else to fix it. Cross your fingers for me! (Note: I did not know until yesterday that a brake light switch was a thing that existed, so I expect my attempts to go splendidly.)


Kelly Mogk said...

OH man, you are way more brave than I am! I could never crash out at a rest stop. I am a scaredy pants wimp! And you are so right about service in Arkansas! None. Just forget it. Don't even take a phone.

Rachel said...

You are pretty brave to do a drive like that all by yourself! I detest driving and avoid it as much as possible--the longest "roadtrip" I've done solo is 2.5 hours one way. Which is pathetic. I'm actually very very good at sleeping in the car--I'd be nervous about falling asleep at the wheel if I were by myself on the road for a long time!

Jessica, Science of Parenthood said...

Wow! Brave! I've driven cross-country by myself -- not counting the two cats dancing on the dashboard. My trip was fairly uneventful -- stopped in Lorain Ohio, Des Moines, Denver and then Vegas. Yours sounds like quite the adventure. What doesn't scare us shitless, leaves us plenty to blog about, right?
Stopping by from SITS. said...

The lights get me too! And the trucks! I'm happy that you had this experience, you can't function in fear! #sitssharefest

Trish M said...

Oh my sounds like a trip and a half (Literally). I really want to do this at some point, but will have to plan for a decade lol. So glad you made it home safe. Very nice post! Stopping by from SITS!