Skip school and road trip to South Dakota

How accidents can turn into memorable experiences

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It’s 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday in February when the squad — which, at this hour, is currently reduced to my buddy John and me — rolls back to my apartment after a big night out. I turn on the TV and see news about the South Dakota pipeline fiasco. While watching, John and I end up having a thoughtful and deep discussion about the importance of civic activism, fighting big oil, how students can get involved — real mature stuff. Delighting in my ability to hold rational discourse at times like these, I fall into a deep and peaceful slumber.

I wake up startled on my couch. My head hurts. The room is in disarray. There’s Christian’s everywhere. I reach for my phone and I see that John texted me. I smile — I assume he wants to follow up on our great talk from last night. Probably something about Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act or Marathon Petroleum’s financing sources.

“Dude, I don’t know what happened last night, but apparently we decided it was a good idea that I buy a rent-a-car after we talked about the South Dakota thing and it’s non-refundable,” he said. “You tryna Venmo me?”

I was, in fact, not “tryna Venmo” him. Naturally, we entered into a flurry of fast-paced texts:

“How many days did you rent it for?”

“Five.”

“God d—n it. For when?”

“We would have to leave tomorrow.”

“You’re joking.”

He was, in fact, not joking.

After a period of reflecting on how I make my life choices, I decided to look at my schedule. Really, it seemed like the worst that could happen from missing a week of class was losing a couple attendance points for Managerial Accounting. John was in a similar spot, and we decided to go. The next morning, we Ubered to the car rental place and eventually found ourselves on the way to South Dakota.

There’s a couple things you realize when you’re driving to South Dakota —

1. The drive is an absurd 22 hours long.

2. Being stuck in a car for 22 hours sucks. Like really sucks.

3. When you’re driving through nowhere at 3:00 a.m., you can shorten the time by going really fast.

4. The police aren’t required to have their headlights on at all times.

5. Calling your mom in the middle of the night to tell her you got a speeding ticket in Iowa while missing class because you didn’t see the cop is a really good way of making her angry.

Regardless, we made it to South Dakota. Our first stop was Badlands National Park, where we spent the day hiking, wandering around trying to find buffalo and generally having a good time. We ate at the nearby town of Interior, S.D. and then slept in the car.

Fun fact — in the middle of winter, in the middle of South Dakota, in a turned-off car, it gets very cold. So cold, in fact, that a little man-on-man snuggling might have been warranted to stave off the wintry hands of death. Anyways.

We persevered. The next day we drove around the state — Mt. Rushmore, Rapid City, etc. Our time went quickly and before we knew it, we had to go back to Charlottesville. After a brief stop in St. Paul, Minn. to visit friends, we were on the road for the next day. Although the drive back went by surprisingly quickly, I was kind of relieved Friday morning when we rolled back to the University.

I’d like to say I learned a lot from the experience, but the takeaways are not particularly academic. Regardless, I’ll leave you with these —

1. You definitely can take a week off school to go do whatever.

2. South Dakota is a buck-wild state that I highly recommend everyone visit.

3. Unexpected circumstances can lead to cool and meaningful experiences.

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