Oh what a Lovely Day! Adventures in a Chrysler

Written by Dietrich Balsbaugh

“On the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

—Willie Nelson

Smoke billowed from the hood. The six of us packed into my friend Henry’s 2004 Chrysler Town and Country sat in mild shock. I say mild because we had only gone a block from the house and also with Henry’s car this was nothing new. The smoke was alarming to say the least, but we knew that no matter what, we would be driving the eleven to twelve hours to Minnesota that night. Nothing stops the Minnesota carpool, especially in Henry’s car. Sure enough, we opened the hood, fanned it out, made sure that nothing was seriously damaged, and went on our way.
While a large portion of Hillsdale College students hail from Ohio and Michigan, there is also a large contingent of upper midwesterners from Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Depending on when you hit Chicago—a major factor—these states are all roughly a seven- to thirteen-hour drive from Hillsdale, and I-90 eastbound is an oft-traveled road by these students. After making this treck many times during my time at Hillsdale, I contend that very few things build stronger friendships between odd assortments of students than these car rides together. So without further ado, this is the tale of the Great Minnesota Caravan.

Preparations:

As semesters draw to a close or breaks approach, usually three or four weeks in advance, it dawns on most of the Minnesotans that they should probably figure out how to get home. People start asking around to the people who have cars and seeing where the room is to make the journey once again. (Writer’s Note: Believe me, ask anyone from Minnesota, and they will know who has the cars capable of making the trip. They are a hot commodity.) Occasionally a Wisconsinite or Iowan will join the ride to be dropped off along the way. Usually at least one driver overbooks his car and some reshuffling has to happen, but by the time the last day of classes before break hits, everyone has a ride. Drivers themselves prepare the night before, making sure to stock themselves on fuel and snacks for the ride, as well as double checking the all important auxiliary (AUX) cord. Packing is almost always rushed, but it gets done eventually, and the travellers go to bed, ready for the adventure to come.

Departure:

Perhaps one of the most variable aspects of the Great Minnesota Caravan is the departure times. Some drivers elect to forgo classes in order to get on the road early in the morning, while others choose to wait until the morning after classes to have a more leisurely drive. Still others brave the late night driving and leave in the afternoon, relying on music, food, and massive amounts of singing and talking to carry them through the night. Most of my pilgrimages to Minnesota have been of this last sort. Finally, through an often jumbled communication system due to the lack of phone numbers or other complications, caravans slowly assemble and, as the old saying goes, strike the asphalt.

DJ:

Never was the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” more applicable than when applied to calling shotgun. This person, whomever it may be, must not only keep the driver awake and alert but also provide entertainment for those in the back. Finding the right passenger for the job is tough but a sacrifice that some brave souls are willing to make. Some of the best road trip songs are: “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, “Var” by Sigur Ros, “I Can Go The Distance” from the Hercules soundtrack, and “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts. (Remember, it’s up to the Dj!)

Technical Difficulties:

Of course, in the storied history of the Great Minnesota Caravan, there are dangers and perils and times when things go a bit south (literally and figuratively). There are bad roads, oil problems, smoke, and even the occasional directional blunder. I can now tell you from experience, for instance, that driving through downtown Chicago with your friends at 5:00 p.m. is a recipe for the “extended” edition of the Minnesota Caravan. Or I can tell you exactly how much interior volume a 2004 Chrysler has for luggage and whether that will accommodate eight people as well (Hint: No, it won’t). Despite the occasional problems, even the tough travel days serve to build friendships as we take consolation in the fact that we are together.

The Ride:

DJ cues Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”

And they’re off. Once the Minnesotan Caravan is on the road, little to nothing can stop it. Many of the drivers are experienced winter drivers and have seen all sorts of road conditions. The conditions inside the cars varies as the trip continues. Some people nap, while other passengers catch up and debrief about the semester. Some of the best times of reflection happen as soon as the chaotic college life is just a few miles behind. Sometimes a massive sing-along spontaneously erupts at a particularly good song choice. In all, the stress of college life quickly enters a new perspective as students ride together back to their various homes. You simultaneously realize the scope of the work you have completed, while also coming to a new understanding of the friendships you’ve formed during your time here. This is true of many long carpools, whether students drive to Colorado or Pennsylvania, but I have personally made the Minnesota trek many a time—and hope to make it many more before my time is up.


Dietrich BalsbaughDietrich Balsbaugh, ’20, studies English and mathematics. He loves dancing of any kind and playing in any sort of water, particularly if it involves skipping rocks. If you see him on campus, he’s usually talking about fractals, writing, or tossing a frisbee. He doesn’t mind, so be sure to stop and ask him what he’s thinking about.


Published in April 2019