Chapter 1: Out of the Vein, Part 1: The Road to Wisco

Seattle to Boise

The look on Megan Mill’s face matched that of a soldier’s moments before he was to storm the beaches of Normandy. It was the beginning of a dreadful two-week long heat wave across the Pacific Northwest with scorching temperatures that would result in a large number of forest fires and grumpy residents all across the region. Hoopfest just so happened to land on the onset of those treacherous two weeks, with Megan Mills being one of the many unlucky souls who had volunteered to suffer.

“110 degrees, are you kidding me?” said Megan Mills, not at all enthused at the extended weather report displayed on her phone.

“…Man, that really sucks Megan Mills.” It was pretty much the only response Bill and I could give for what the participants of the annual 3 on 3 basketball tournament in Spokane, Washington were doomed to endure. The once energetic outing that brought about the most competitive of stars to test their skills on the court each year was now a ticking time bomb of gloom, a definite death sentence for all of its attendees.

“People like, die in this kind of weather! We won’t even be able to sit down on the pavement it’ll be so hot! And you know they never provide enough shade, and what about water? They better have water… God, we have to play at least three games. This is going to suck… big time…” Yes, the further Megan Mill’s talked of this year’s Hoopfest and the thought of her buns being given a permanent branding whenever she was to sit down on the sweltering pavement, the further her face filled with despair; preparing the eulogy to her own funeral.

It was an expression that was in stark contrast to the one’s on my and Bill’s face, for the heat wave she talked of was one that would not be felt by either of us. The trunk of my Mercedes-Benz E350 was nearly packed, ready to embark on an adventure, away from this retched two-week hot spell of which they spoke of, and that we were conveniently avoiding.

 

***

 

“So where are we going to stay?” asked Bill the night before as we shared a beer at a local bar in downtown Boise, a fancier joint that had a nice collection of microbrews, one that we were slightly underdressed for.

“Um, well, I guess I hadn’t really thought of that… Maybe we’ll just wing it or something.”

“Hmm. Sounds like we probably should’ve planned this a little better.”

“Ahh, we’ll figure it out. We got friends all over the place. Denver, Minnesota, Wisconsin—hey, doesn’t Shaun live in Pocatello?

“Yea, maybe we should call him up.”

“Ok, I think I will.”

At that point, how we would get there, what sights we would see, which locals we would meet, what stories we would excavate from their heads, and all the other important matters obviously weren’t given the appropriate amount of thought as it probably should have. “Oh well, too late now!” I thought to myself. Any worry of the matter would be useless. We had a little over a week to make it to Wisconsin to watch our friends Beth and Blake unite under the banner of holy matrimony (i.e. get married, get hitched, jump the broom, whatever…), and despite our lack of planning, we were excited, and we were almost ready, and all there was between us was 2,500 miles of country.

 

***

 

The extrovert inside of me was in full display that morning as Bill and I prepared for our departure with a few last minute to-do items left on our non-existent checklist, delaying Megan Mill’s of a departure of her own with our non-stop chatter, whose only supposed purpose was to further fuel her anxiety. “Hey Megan Mills, what do you think of Donald Trump? He might be the president someday? Oh boy, he sure does speak his mind! Are you mad? What about Bruce Jenner—“

“That’s Caitlin Jenner!”

“…Right, so sorry. He just got a—“

“SHE!”

“…Yes, oh boy, my mistake. She just got a major award. That’s going to turn the sport world upside down! And what time are you heading out to Spokane? You probably want a head start—you know, now that I think about it, I wish you would’ve told me! You could’ve stayed at my parent’s place, free of rent… oh, you’re staying at KCR’s in Kellogg? Geez, that’s like an hour away! Oh well, I guess it could be worse, but I bet Gretch will be complaining the whole time…”

Unbeknownst to me, an important meeting was awaiting Megan Mills at work, and it was her own politeness towards her guest that was the cause for her late exodus, one that risked an unfavorable chance of getting fired, or at least harsh chastisement from her superiors, a scenario equally as bad. Her tension was in full display each time she reached for the door, unwilling to show offense with a blunt statement in order to end the conversation. I, however, was blinded by an excitement steadily built up during my 7-hour drive from Seattle the day before, where a wonderful night’s sleep on her couch did nothing to curb the sensation. It was way beyond anyone’s control at this point. “By the way, where’s Gretch? Shouldn’t she be here to wish us goodbye?”

“I don’t know. Ask Bill, she’s his sister.”

“She’s your best friend Megan Mills!” he shot back.

“I can’t believe this!” I said, throwing up my hands in disbelief. “I drive all the way to Boise, and she can’t even stop by and say hi… a bunch of bull crap if you ask me.

“Tell me about it,” replied Bill. “And get this. She expects us to pick her up at the airport. Fat chance!”

“I agree!” It was quite apparent that morning that Megan Mill’s gracious spirit would not be properly recreated by a certain Boise resident, of whom I was more than willing to meet and share a few polite words with, up until now. I mean, c’mon! All we asked for was a simple goodbye from a friend, and in some regards, a relative; one goodbye that would bring luck to a couple of hunks who were about to travel thousands of miles across the country… luck that was expected, but never received. It was official. Gretch had stood us up. “Whatever. That just pisses me off. Where’s my freaking Rockstar?

“Where was the last place you left it?” asked Bill.

“I don’t know! Obviously I would’ve checked there if I knew!”

“I saw one sitting on the counter. I put it in the fridge a couple of minutes ago,” said Taylor, Megan Mills’ boyfriend.

“…Oh, thanks dude… Say Taylor, you’re from Wyoming, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. You guys planning to cruise through there?”

“…YEA—duh, I mean no—well, the thought crossed our minds,” replied Bill.

“Yea, it’d probably be cool to see the Gran Tetons or something, if that’s even cool to do nowadays.”

Gretch’s actions, or lack there of, would no doubt prove to be detrimental given the amount of festering that was to be done while driving through flyover country. However, her inconsideration was set-aside for the moment, as picking Taylor’s brain became our principal priority. Besides, we would have plenty of time to plot our revenge on the road.

“Yea, the Tetons are cool, but damn, Jackson Hole is crawling around with waaay too many tourists this time of year. It kind of sucks dealing with them all. It’s like none of them have ever seen a wild animal in their entire life. ‘Oh my God, it’s a moose,’ somebody will say, and everybody looses their damn minds!” I took in Taylor’s advice with great deference while Bill gathered a variety of Cliff bars that Megan Mills had kindly bought for us, knowing we were in for some long stretches. “Just don’t draw attention to the fact that you’re a tourist and you should be fine. All you gotta do is treat the locals coolly and calmly, and they’ll give with the same respect.”

“Understood,” I replied, with a heavy and sincere nod. “Yea, those types of people can be pretty ridiculous,” reaffirming his annoyance and scoffing in mockery of the stereotype. “Not me though.”

In time, the unfortunate working souls found their window of escape after I sporadically decided to burn a few calories around the block before our departure, presuming it would be difficult to continue with my normal exercise regiment during vacation, no matter how hard I tried. By the time I had returned and cleansed my body of the thick membrane of sweat developed during my run, it was only Bill, their two cats and I left.

With Taylor and Megan Mill’s gone, and Gretch—well, Gretch was pretty much dead to us at that point—there was nothing left for us to do. Our bags were packed, our teeth were brushed, deodorant applied, and after several months of anticipation, it was time. “You ready,” I asked Bill, having climbed into the Benz, waiting for his answer before turning the ignition.

“Did you ever get a hold of Shaun?”

“I did. Looks like we’re staying in Pocatello tonight.”

“Poci huh? I’ve heard… things…” Bill looked forward and took a deep and anxious breath. “I’m ready.”

I cracked open my ice-cold Rockstar Energy drink and took a long swig, letting the wonderfully processed chemicals assimilate into my bloodstream, something I would come to depend on throughout the duration of our trip. The engine turned and I pulled my Gucci sunglasses over my eyes. “Let’s do this. Say goodbye to Boise.”

“…Goodbye Boise…” Bill’s goodbye was soft and sentimental, as if it were his parent’s on his first summer at camp. His stare was blank as we pulled out of Megan Mills’ driveway, on our way towards Interstate I-94.

It’s hard to accurately describe the feeling one gets at the beginning of an adventure in a single word or phrase. It’s like a turning point, or a crossroads where a false known awaits you. There’s an intriguing element around the corner, yet a slight sorrow that exists over what you’re leaving behind, and what you’ll eventually come back to. And whatever sorrow you’re feeling is partly overcome by a sense of accomplishment, taking part in something not many have ever attempted before you, something proudly displayed like a medal of honor. It leaves you in a state of ponder, encouraging you to begin your search, to try and understand the mysteries of life.

And we had more than plenty of road to ponder, search and understand in front of us…

The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” played through the speakers, a personal tradition of mine to mark the beginning of a journey as official, and into the east we drove with the ongoing keyboard loop to one of the greatest rock songs ever made, pushing us towards several more hours of daylight. It was now officially official. Our adventure had begun.

“Oh, by the way, do you mind if we stop at Carl’s Jr. before we go?”

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