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Fall Break road trip proves life's a journey, not a destination

Some wise person once suggested that one's problems are never solved by running away. Those with troubles do far better to stand their ground and work out their difficulties rather than to turn tail and run. I have never been particularly wise, so when Fall Break arrived I looked at the pile of applications sitting on my desk, the bookcase filled with pages demanding to be read and a calendar red with upcoming due dates and decided there was only one thing I could do: flee the scene as quickly as possible.

Instead of doing work, I decided to use my four days of freedom to partake in a rite of passage experienced by college students all over the country. Three of my friends and I embarked on a road trip. We set out to see a little bit of America (well, the part along the highway between Charlottesville and Charleston anyway), and to do some major soul searching a la the cast of "Road Rules." (I'm just kidding about that last part.)

We also aimed to provide answers to questions such as: "Can one function behind the wheel for five hours on three hours of sleep without incident?" And "Is it possible to resist the magnetic pull of outlet shopping even though there's at least six hours separating the stores from the final destination?" The answer to these questions, by the way, are yes and no, respectively.

I've never been a huge fan of taking long trips in cars. Memories of my family's semi-annual pilgrimages from northern Virginia to Massachusetts continue to haunt me at night. Still, when my friends asked if I'd be interested in getting the heck out of Dodge for the weekend, I decided I was up to the challenge of being trapped in a motor vehicle for hours on end. Traveling with friends had to be different from listening to my parents argue over which route to take, I reasoned.

Hitting the open road with my contemporaries would surely be as fulfilling and liberating as "Route 66" and "On the Road" always led me to believe. Adventure and excitement would abound as we threw caution to the wind and headed south to revel in our much-deserved vacation.

As my friends and I packed ourselves into a gold Accord station wagon, I should have known that my vision of us cruising down the highway in a convertible with our hair flying behind us was the stuff of dreams. Undaunted by the presence of a roof on our vehicle, I held on to my romanticized notion of the road trip. Two hours into our drive on a two-lane road with absolutely no interesting scenery, I still maintained that hopping into a car and just going was a very cool thing to do.

A bit later, while my friends attempted to get every truck driver we encountered to honk their horns for us, I began to have my doubts. Maybe car travel is never glamorous, I thought to myself. Whenever this thought entered my head, I would look up and see a sign for the fabled road-trippers mecca South of the Border, and my fears were assuaged.

In the week before we embarked on our journey, everyone who knew about our upcoming departure would say that we really must stop at South of the Border. Billboards up and down 95 South advertise the attraction which is located at the North Carolina-South Carolina border and word of mouth is that you can't just pass the place by. I was eager to see this traveler's utopia, to experience for myself the magic that is South of the Border.

Anticipation in the car grew as the billboards got closer and closer together. Nearing South of the Border brought a renewed energy to the vehicle. We stopped being concerned with how long we'd been sitting and sang along to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack with alarming enthusiasm. Finally, we arrived at the attraction's exit.

The excitement in the car was palpable. We were about to know the seasoned traveler's landmark first-hand. Stepping out of the car for the first time in hours, we surveyed the parking lot and various buildings that made up South of the Border. I took in the pink flamingoes, dilapidated arcades and sixty-foot sombrero and remembered how my friend Jen had heard of my plans to visit the tourist trap and noted sadly, "It reminds you that there are some places God forgot." I finally understood what she meant.

Minutes later as I posed for pictures on top of the sombrero, looking out over the "El Toro" and other equally deserted buildings, I had an epiphany. Laughing with my friends over the disappointing reality of South of the Border and the barren roadside, I was reminded of the words of a very wise man. It's the journey, not the destination, that matters. Road trips aren't about the kitschy things you see, or the absolute holes you stop in. Nor are they about visiting exotic locales. The road trip is all about gaining a sense of camaraderie through being trapped for hours with other people, junk food and expectations that will never be met. Oddly, they'll be surpassed.


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