There are times in our lives where our best adventures come along with unfavorable circumstances.
My great friend BJ moved recently, 3000 miles from our homes in North Carolina to Arizona. With any move, your stuff has to get there somehow and that includes your vehicle. He packed down his car and we had no other way but to drive. He didn’t really need both of us for the drive, but it did help. Plus, almost any road trip is better with a buddy. While it was miserable in some senses, it was an amazing trip in its own right. I had never been this far west before, nor had I seen any sort of desert. In fact, the farthest west, and closest thing to desert that I had experienced was San Antonio. So, having the opportunity experience this new part of the country for myself more than plenty motivation for me to go. There was also the fact that this was a road trip with one of my best friends. For BJ this move marked the end of one chapter of his life and the start a new one. He could have asked several other guys to go with him but luckily, he asked me instead. I forgot to mention. I only had one day off of work, and BJ was starting his new job the following Tuesday. We tackled this entire trip over Memorial Day weekend.
Since we were driving his car out to Arizona, I left my truck at the airport in Raleigh, in the long-term lot so that I could drive home when I flew back in. We met at the airport after work on Thursday, and started the drive south through Charlotte and to Atlanta. We made good time through to Charlotte and stopped for a burger and milkshake at a Steak-n-Shake. BJ drove this entire leg as I tried my best to keep him company. I did not do so well, but fell asleep just before Atlanta. I did wake up long enough to remember BJ experiencing a very sketchy situation at a very sketchy gas station in West Atlanta. We stayed Thursday night with a young pastor in Atlanta, who was single at the time. Shout out to DJ for being willing to open his house to us. This guy takes southern hospitality to another level. He took us to breakfast the next morning, and gave us a tour of the church there in Atlanta. We got to his place about 1 Thursday night, and sat talking about preaching, ministry, and all of the things in between until almost 4. Because we sat talking so late, we slept in. And, coupled with breakfast and the tour, we didn’t actually leave Atlanta headed west until 11 on Friday morning. Fellowship like that is increasingly rare and was worth the consequence of being beat that next night.
As we drove the rest of the way through Georgia, we switched drivers just shy of the Georgia-Alabama state line. I did my first driving of the trip, and drove clear through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. All three of these are both really easy drives. Flat straight, and about 4 hours each. The hardest part about these three was the patches of really heavy rain that dropped visibility considerably. Weather other than sunny is not very conducive to any kind of travel, anytime. It rained most all the way through Vicksburg, and quit just on the west side of the city. Once we hit Louisiana we were in the clear.
On any road trip that I take I put an emphasis on food. I really like to eat. Particularly I like to try local places that I cannot get back home. These little dives often times make the best stories. DJ had already taken us to a local bagel shop for breakfast, so we wanted to continue the trend for lunch. On recommendation from my uncle that lives in Mississippi, we stopped in Meridian and ate at a local fast food chicken and burger joint called Vic’s Biscuits and Burgers. After a bunch of bathroom stops, plus a bathroom/stretch/goodie stop at a Chic-Fil-A in West Monroe, we made it to Bossier City. For dinner that Friday night, we happened upon a restaurant called Bodacious BBQ. BJ was navigating and looking places up, and halfway through reading the description, our decision had been made. This little BBQ joint was in an old gas station storefront and is locally famous for their dish called the Bodacious Botato. This baked potato was topped with chopped brisket BBQ, cheese, and sour cream. I wasn’t even that hungry, but this amazing invention was one for the books. That little find right there was one of the highlights of the trip.
Our dinner in Bossier City was just before the Texas line and by this point I had driven all day, across 3 states, so we switched drivers again. BJ had slept off our decision to stay up till 4 the night before, on and off throughout the day. We had made the decision a little earlier to drive straight through the night. Instead of trying to find somewhere to stay in Dallas, we figured we’d tough it out. Also, this way we wouldn’t be getting into Tucson super late on Saturday. It would give us some time to explore around. So, at 9:00 PM on Friday night, we entered into the longest and most challenging portion of the drive. We said hello, and bring it on Texas.
I didn’t stay conscious much past the Texas state line. Wanting to get some pictures, for this post of course, and see the small town of Dallas/Fort Worth I had BJ wake me up just before 11 as we were driving through. I learned firsthand that BJ has an affinity for QuikTrip convenience stations. We stopped at around 3 just in the DFW area. We were looking to put air in the tires to alleviate our eardrums being burst every time we hit a pothole. The first two stations that we visited had air stations, but they were broken or inoperable. The third time proved to be the charm, we got air, and from Fort Worth, we pushed on through the night. BJ drove all through, except for about 2 hours that I took over for him. We found out the Texas is a really wide state. At 5:30 AM on Saturday morning when we stopped for breakfast at a truck stop McDonalds, we had only made it about three quarters of the way to El Paso.
For breakfast, we stopped in the big oil town of Pecos, Texas. Driving that morning was a surreal experience for me, and I loved it. I was tired from fitfully sleeping, but even more so I was infatuated with the terrain and the seeming untamed lawlessness about the land. I-20 through oil country doesn’t seem like much more than 2 wide strips of asphalt, a few stripes of paint, and sparsely placed road signs. Large semis with tanks or work trucks were the only vehicles around. This major highway felt like a secluded road that had just been built, that still didn’t have any law. I felt like I should have been doing 120. These odd sand plains built up into the rock hills of the Big Bend.
A lot of this area between Odessa and El Paso is really the epitome of Texas desert. There were a lot of little abandoned shacks and most of all, abandoned campers with lean-tos. If that isn’t the epitome of late 1900’s Texas imagery, then I have been watching too many movies. El Paso lived up to its image, too. Driving through on I-10 more than half of the road was a bridge. They literally built that town on the lower side of the mountain, just above the Rio Grande and Mexico. While on the subject of Mexico, being able to see it from Texas was close enough for me.
After 14 hours, we finally exited Texas into Anthony, New Mexico. Driving along the southern tip of New Mexico was a very flat drive. The constant view of mountains on either side felt like the highway was situated perfectly between them. Never came any closer, and never got any farther away from them. Had I not grown up in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains, I would have really felt in the complete middle of nowhere. There is no comparison in my head that I can draw between those deserts and my home state. They are truly unique.
I was enamored with the rest stops all along the trip. The stops in each state were different and unique. In New Mexico, the bathrooms were block and concrete in the center of the stop, and there were picnic tables inside of Cordoba shelters scattered around. In Texas, most of them were open air. The roof and walls never actually met. There were no parking spaces either, you just pulled up along the sidewalk, did your business and left. In the southwest, they’re all pretty much the same.
Through the rest of New Mexico and most of Arizona we didn’t hit a single major city. But then, the only big city in New Mexico is Albuquerque. Each of those states only have two or three major cities in them as a whole. I never considered or thought about how empty and open they are. If I really want to disappear in the mountains somewhere, I know where I am going. There are lots of Ghost towns and towns that are not far away from being deserted along that highway in the desert. Thankfully, there are several truck stops still running strong, because without them we would have been in trouble.
We finally arrived in Tucson just before 12:00 PM on Saturday. We promptly got off of the interstate and hit up an In-n-Out Burger. In-n-Out was top on the list of places to eat given its western fame, and being that I’ve never been out west. I was definitely going to be trying it at some point. The contrast in Tucson is a bit mind boggling. All of the foliage is either an off shade of green or brown. You have the cactus and other greenery, then you have the rocks and the dust. It’s enticing and perplexing all at the same time. On the same token, the valley that Tucson sits in is as flat as they come. Yet on either side of this valley there loom jagged, brown mountains. Through the midday heat haze, you can see the crags and boulders that line their exterior. I couldn’t help but imagine how miserable it must have been to cross those mountains on horseback, on foot, or worse in wagons and buggies.
After lunch, we went and got a tour of the church that BJ now goes to. We checked into where we were staying, and ended up having to pay a visit to Walmart. The Air BNB that BJ booked was a studio with a couch only, and not with a couch and a bed. So, we needed an air mattress and a steamer. Totally prepared for the trip. Our plan was to take a quick nap, then get dinner and do some more exploring around town. That never happened. We both ended up passing out around 4, and essentially slept until 6 the next morning. 14 hours of sleep after that grueling drive was glorious. Plus, the next morning, we were starving and decided to splurge at a popular brunch place called Prep and Pastry. That breakfast was an absolutely heavenly godsend. It is a little more upscale, and I hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours. That speaks for soul just thinking about it.
One of the mountains overlooking Tucson is named Sentinel Mountain or “A Mountain”. This mountain is a state park. On the summit, you can walk a short ways around to the top and overlook 360 degrees of Tucson. The reason it’s called “A Mountain” is that there is a giant “A” fashioned out of rocks and something else that are painted red and white. It also directly lines up and overlooks the University of Arizona, which makes up part of downtown. Don’t worry. I got plenty of pics.
So, I think that covers about all of the trip. Sunday night at 9:30 (AZ time) we headed to the airport and I left my best friend in a new chapter of his life. I hopped on a red-eye where I started writing this (flights on Memorial Day are expensive), and jetted back to NC. I sat in a coffee shop in Raleigh to finish writing this, and began thinking about all of the times past with a great friend. I had to start looking forward to our great lives and new friendships in new chapters of life. Realizing that these are memories and stories that I will cherish forever, while understanding that there are oh so many more to be made, and so many more stories to be written.
I have been sitting on this story for right at a year, and it has not lost a single bit of significance. I still cherish it for the memories that I was blessed to make, and for the bittersweet-ness of a friend moving on.