The first day of our road trip was also our longest, a seemingly endless procession of wide roads and stretching legs numbly in parking lots at gas stations. The conversation ebbed and flowed from confidential to light banter and all the way into hysterical tiredness. It was also psychotically beautiful – we drove out of Ohio, into Kentucy and then into the green, misty hills of West Virginia. Dense, cold looking trees lined the highways, and even though it was hot and humid and summer when you exited the car, I could imagine these mountains in the winter. Birds of prey circled in the distance, and I asked if they were potentially eagles, knowing how obsessed ‘Murica is with eagles, but I was told they were falcons. Honestly falcons are also really cool. For a while every falcon I saw, I’d say ‘Hello Tobias’, but not everyone in the car had read animorphs.
Michelle got really excited as we passed into West Virginia, which is where she comes from. She told us that she would never want to live there again, would never raise a family there, and sometimes feels guilty about that, about not supporting the state and working to make it better, instead moving to somewhere else. But when she drives into it, and the vista suddenly plunges from smoothness into long ripples of small green mountains, she says it feels like home.
She drove us though the town she went to college, and we ate lunch. We also visited every gas station in search of diesel, trawling up and down the same main road. While we did this, we learnt about the town – about how it was a major drug distribution centre, and how for years and years the FBI had run one of the gas stations in town as a front in order to catch the heroin runners. We didn’t go to the FBI gas station.
It was late at night when we finally pulled into the cabins we were staying at in Fayetteville. Fireflies sparked and the air felt clean and leafy and cicadas hummed in the distance, and I think even if we hadn’t been driving for a thousand hours, the place would have still felt enchanted. We decided immediately that we should stay another night here, as in the morning we were scheduled to be on the road again.
And while we were grateful to be out of the car, and to run around catching fireflies in our hands and eating a dinner of cheese and berries, we were still happy, which is how I knew this would be a successful road trip. I’d been on journeys two hours out of Sydney, where I already knew that I couldn’t spend a minute longer with my friends. This was hours and hours and while some of us knew each other really well, and some of us were strangers, the group dynamic was fresh and newborn and strange and could have simply refused to work, through no fault of our own. But when everyone decided to play a game where we pointed at things we saw off the road and explain them to me as different types of eagles – cows were beef eagles, horses were saddle eagles – I realised I was with some pretty stupid people, and I’d fit in just fine.