An epic journey for epic beats…

Posted on Saturday 14 February 2009

(Answer to: Share the longest road trip you’ve ever taken.)

It was the spring of 2001. Back in the day when I was a bit more into the whole partykid thing, my girlfriend at the time (who was also a partykid) and I and a couple of our friends decided we would make the ultimate pilgrimage to one of the biggest parties on the east coast, Ultra – the 12-hour beach party at the heart of the Winter Music Conference.

Now, I’ve traveled father than Miami – I’ve lived on the eastern seaboard for the majority of my life, in places as north as Maryland and as south as Georgia, and I have family in Nova Scotia in Canada – so my family and I have regularly driven to see them from any point on the coast we’ve lived. What makes this trip different is that I drove. The whole way. In one shot.

The whole story, behind the jump.

Since we only had a few days in our respective spring break vacations, and every day we each took off unpaid from our respective worthless jobs meant we had less money in our pockets (not that we had a lot to throw around on this trip in the first place), we hurried to make arrangements to get down there. We would stay with a friend to save money, and everyone would chip in for gas, and since my car was incredibly ancient at the time, we’d have to rent one.

The only problem was that I was the oldest in our group, and I wasn’t the minimum 25 required for most car rental companies to rent to you without strings. I managed to find a compay that would rent to me anyway, and even though they charged me a fee, I managed to get us a shiny white 2001 Ford Taurus.

I made the reservation, we pre-ordered our tickets for the 12-hour event, and we packed our bags. I wished my parents goodbye, telling them I’d be staying with my girlfriend at the time for the weekend (which they HAD to see through) and drove to the airport, where I picked up the rental. I parked my car at the airport, intent on retrieving her after the trip, and slid into our shiny, brand new rental. She only had 250 miles on her, and she was gleaming white. We named her Ivy.

I picked up my girlfriend and her two friends, packed the trunk with our bags, and set out on the long drive to Miami. just as the sun was setting that early evening. Since I-95 was our route of choice, we got onto the interstate and didn’t look back – it was a straight shot south.

Now you don’t know life until you’ve driven 20 hours straight, watching the sun set on one side of your car, rise on the other, and then set again on the other without stopping to sleep. With no breaks outside of gas stops, bathroom stops, and the occasional distraction for snacks and beverages.

20 hours after we departed, we pulled into a McDonalds parking lot in downtown Miami. i was delirious at that point, stressed from driving and sleep deprived – a few hours earlier I had been seeing things; like danicng yogurt cups in the taillights of the cars I was driving behind, testing the limits of cruise control and how long I could doze at the wheel without losing control of the vehicle. (terrible, I know!)

So we pulled into this McDonalds to phone our friend who offered to house us; begging him to tell us where he lived so we could hurry there and pass out. Our friends in the back at this point took the opportunity to tell us that he lived not in Miami, but in Clearwater, FL.

If you know Florida, you’ll understand how morbidly hilarious this is already. If you don’t, let me explain. Miami is at the tip of the Florida peninsula – at the southernmost tip on the Atlantic side. Clearwater, however, is about 4 hours north, in the center of the state, on the Gulf coast.

So back into Ivy we slid, discontent at the 4 hour drive ahead of us. I kept telling myself that if I could do 20 hours, I could do 4 more. Instead of taking 95 north along the eastern coast of Florida and cutting an hour or so across the state, we decided to drive through the Everglades, around the cape of Florida, and up the Gulf coast.

It would have been beautiful if I weren’t incredibly tired. I can remember flashes of the drive; beautiful waterways, and billboards every couple of miles advertising "HOVERBOAT RIDES! COME SEE THE CROCS!" to which we laughed and pressed firmly on the accelerator, no desire to stop.

Around hour 2 in our 4 hour trek north, something happened. Ivy stopped running so smoothly, and while she still ran, she would rev loudly when I tried to get up to highway speeds. Low gears worked fine, but no matter how much i tried, she wouldn’t kick from 2nd gear to 3rd and take us up to highway speeds. The only way I could get past 45 mph was to let the car drop into 1st and then slam my foot down on the gas to get it to kick into 3rd, bypassing 2nd gear entirely.

We pulled over and I grabbed my cell phone, only to realize that no phone ever made could stay on and uncharged for 20 hours. I had left my car charger in my car at the airport and had packed my wall charger instead. Somehow I managed to be the only person in a car of four people with a cell phone. My battery was dead, and pulling up to a roadside emergency phone revealed three buttons: police, fire, and ambulance. Since it wasn’t an emergency and the car would move, we decided to press on anyway.

So on we went, shuffling and slipping and shivering between gears all the way north, with the sparkling Gulf to our left, and swamp to the right. Several hours later, we managed to get to our destination – more delirious than we started, desperately needing sleep.

We met our friend, and he took us into his condo, where it turned out a few others were flopping in his living room. We was designated sleeping space on his bedroom floor, in between his piles of clothes – my girlfriend at the time and I were lucky – at least we were able to bed down in his closet. We had a door, at least.

In the meantime, my allergies (and at the time undiagnosed allergic asthma) had been acting up the whole time. It was springtime, and I was already miserable; the discovery that our benefactor was not just out of crash space but also owned probably the most evil, sheddy, long-haired feline I’ve ever seen in my life (even to this day) didn’t help matters any. So popping Sudafed like an addict was the order of the weekend.

I plugged in my phone to the wall and tried to relax, sure I was going to be able to find a pillow without quite so much fur on it somewhere and crash for the night, to try and be refreshed for the party the next afternoon.

But our friend had other plans! He had to, he said, take us to a street festival in downtown Clearwater that night, and show us his favorite record stores! Never one to deny the opportunity to see a record store and thankful for his hospitality, we I grabbed my 30-minute charged phone, grudgingly got back into Ivy and shivered downtown to the street festival.

I picked up a few records, and remember eating the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had (nothing here at home has ever come close), but that’s about all I remember. I had been up for over 32 hours at this point after having gotten all of maybe 4-5 hours prior. My logic center had already checked out.

We shuffled and shivered the car back to our friend’s condo in just enough time to get 2-3 hours of sleep. After all, we had a 4 hour drive to get back to the party, and we wanted to be there at noon sharp for the opening of the event on the beach. My girlfriend and I laid down on a blanket in the closet and managed to catch some wheezy sleep.

The following morning, we took the car to the local branch of the same rental company, who gave us a 2000 green Ford Taurus of the same model (without a CD player, dammit). We named her Shiver, after the shivering and shuffling behavior of her predecessor.

Into the car we hopped, and drove south to Miami. We were a touch late getting into the party, but nothing serious. We stayed essentially the entire time; all of our favorite DJs and musicians were performing (and if you know Ultra at all, you’ll know this is completely normal. If you can name them, they’re doing a set at Ultra.) and it was an amazing time.

What’s probably ironic about this is that a couple of my friends from college were making this same pilgrimage, except they did the right thing and stayed in a hotel and drove down with their cell phones charged. While we were driving to Clearwater, they were in their bathing suits on South Beach checking out the hot bods. In the end, I wound up getting underpaid by my friends for gas, I spent way too much of my own money on the car and the trip itself, and there were some disagreements with my girlfriend at the time and her friends over when to leave the party and such.

That all being said though, and even though I would hesitate to say that it was all worth it, it was an amazing experience. From the road trip to the party itself; the furious dancing among the crowds who all loved the music, the people I met and the photos I took, it was all a blast; an experience I’m glad to have in my memories and one I’ll take with me fondly forever. I’m still friends with my girlfriend from that time, and I’m sure she’d agree – we could laugh over those memories now.

But seriously? The next time I want to go to Ultra? I’m booking a hotel room and hopping a plane. First class, dammit. Seriously, that was bullshit.

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