My trip.. Journey… QUEST to Kentucky began (technically) Wednesday evening.
You see, every year since 2008 my college friends have gotten together at our friend Mark’s apartment in Ashland, eastern Kentucky to celebrate Christmas together. During college, we would make the quick two hour drive from campus to spend a long weekend in Ashland before going our separate ways back home for Christmas. After college, we would drive without any problems in smooth weather or find incredibly cheap round trip airline tickets. This year’s venture however can only be described as the threshold of hell.
For the first time in four years, my best friend Jason was unable to come to the annual tradition due to conflicting work schedule. All of us were disappointed, but the show must go on.
Wednesday night I decided to leave my apartment in Ocean City, NJ and head to Princeton where I stayed with my lovely friend Kim at Rider University, attended an amazing comedy show and met some genuine new friends. In the morning, after only about three hours of sleep, we stumbled out the door to the Princetonian diner for breakfast before I headed over to the Trenton airport to catch my 11:50 AM flight to Columbus, Ohio: A dumpy city that’s two hours from Ashland where Mark would pick me up.
Upon arriving at the one gate/terminal Trenton airport I learned that my flight had been delayed an hour. Not a big deal, I thought, more time for me to catch up on some things. An hour delay turned into two, and then three… and then four… It turned out our plane was in Raleigh-Durham and had attempted to take off twice en route to Trenton to pick up our crew and take us to Columbus. Twice the plane had to return to Raleigh due to maintenance issues, which left everyone feeling uneasy about boarding this plane when and if it ever arrived in Trenton.
Four hours turned to five, and at this point I ordered myself a nice meal at the one restaurant, wishing I had slept in at Kim’s apartment. Soon after I finished and paid for my meal, an announcement was made that they were giving out free meal vouchers for anyone waiting for the Columbus flight…
Five hours turned to six and then seven and as I sat there, a shell of myself trapped in purgatory since the early morning, I realized I could have driven and made it hours ago…
The tension was boiling over at the airport and the employees who could not answer a single question and claimed to know absolutely nothing were beginning to fear an uprising. The meal voucher wasn’t enough, passengers wanted answers.
Finally, as many expected but were forced to wait eight hours, the flight was cancelled. I was already heading to my car when I got the notification on my phone. I walked back inside the airport to reclaim my money but the line was gargantuan. I was given a 1-800 number to call to receive a refund. I decided, after that day from hell I would drive to my parents house in Delaware County, just ten minutes south of Philadelphia and an hours drive from Trenton. As I started my car, I called the 1-800 number and put the phone on speaker, listening to the stupid recordings and music until someone finally answered.
I drove, through heavy traffic on I-95 south, finally making it to my parents house well over an hour later. The recording was still going, I was still on hold. I walked inside, greeted my parents and talked, unpacked my bags and started running the bath. After a day like that and no sleep the night before, I needed a hot bath. Finally, someone picked up, my hour + wait on the phone was over.
I explained the situation and was told I would receive a full refund. About 15 minutes went by where all I heard was this man vigorously typing away at a computer. Finally he said my refund would come in 7-10 days which we all know is pretty much 12-14 (if it went through, that is)
My plan B was driving, but I didn’t want to drive my precious, vintage, classic 1981 K car. I called up my friend Steve-ohh who has a massive van that he uses to go on tour with his band and asked if he wanted to depart the next day (Friday) around 2 pm. He spontaneously agreed and so it was decided.
Our quest began smooth until we reached bumper to bumper traffic in Baltimore. Finally, west of the city, it was clear except the heat in the van decided to crap out on us. “Oh, it’ll come back,” Steve said, “It happens every now and then” as he slammed on the dashboard…
Dinner time, we stop at a Chick-Fil-A in godforsaken Frederick, Maryland where the employees were being passed off as human-beings but we had seen Men in Black and knew that it was bullshit.
After that creepy experience we journeyed on, bundled up and praying for the heat to return. It did in tiny spurts but it was no match for the arctic Appalachian air outside that turned the van into a speeding ice capsule.
By the time we reached godforsaken Morgantown, West Virginia, the state that never advanced with the rest of America, we stopped at probably the only Starbucks in the state only to discover that they were out of coffee and creamer and looked at us funny for just wanting coffee and not ordering a fancy-schmancy drink.
Onward! As we struggled up mountains and barreled down them it appeared that the van was about to overheat. Oh wait, on a second glance, it was about to explode and we were going to have to flee the soon to be smoldering vehicle.
We coasted through the pitch black of forgotten West Virginia and made it to a gas station where we filled the van up with antifreeze coolant. The heat returned and tears of joy streamed down our face. It was now well after midnight, a seven hour drive turned into a 13 hour quest… for fun.
Suddenly a wildly swerving drunk hillbilly started tailing us, seconds away from causing an accident. After miles of nothing, passing villages in desolate valleys with names like Big Otter, Hurricane and Big Chimney, we realized finding more coffee any time soon was out of the question.
Suddenly, the heat disappeared again, and the freeze returned, this time worse than before. I feared for my laptop, the temperature seemed to drop 40 degrees. The van, exhausted from what we put it through, showed new signs of struggle. It was now the early morning hours of Saturday…
“The official hashtag for this trip is definitely #ThresholdOfHell,” I said. And just then it started to hail out of control, so much so that we were sliding across the highway and the windshield fogged up. “I don’t have a defro,” said Steve. “Oh yeah?” I said, “well it looks like we’re fucked.”
We pulled over and scraped the ice off the windshield, and pressed on through the tundra, passing Charleston and finally Huntington. The worst state in America had put up a massive fight, but we had pushed through, defying the odds, from the disaster at Trenton to the deep freeze of Appalachia. And then, we saw it. Just beyond the “Welcome to Kentucky” sign, that old familiar refinery casting billowing plumes of steam into the arctic air illuminated by the blinding glow of orange and yellow lights. There it was, quite literally, the threshold.
The longest trip I have ever taken to Kentucky began on Wednesday evening in Ocean City, NJ and ended around 4 am on Saturday in Ashland, KY. It was a quest I will surely never forget.