The all night drive is a roadtrip classic, and I’m not even sure one can claim to be on a roadtrip if there isn’t at least one dusk till dawn segment. For some reason, I am properly equipped to do this kind of thing with minimum fuss.
I simply require a small cup of coffee at every fill-up, the occasional rest stop, and permission to eat whatever insane junk food catches my eye at the service station.
In return I can remain alert and drive all night long, so long as there is a monstrous breakfast and an immediate nap in the offering.
After our successful summit of Turk Mountain, we tucked the girls into the back of the truck, strategically embedded pillows around the cab, turned on the radio and started moving south.
Val and I chatted away and felt no small amount of regret that we were deviating from our original plan to spend some time in the Smoky Mountains, but we promised each other we’d simply return to them on the northward leg of the trip, whenever that was (whenever, of course, meaning any time that was not winter).
The trip had us cutting through the Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama before making our way to the panhandle and Pensacola, where Gulf Islands National Seashore waited for us.
We stopped for lunch, snacks and dinner at various rest stops so the girls could burn off energy (Turk Mountain didn’t seem to consume nearly enough) and then, at about nine or ten, everybody dropped off to sleep and left me alone with my thoughts.
Val did rouse herself at a gas station in Alabama that I had pulled into, and busted me returning from the mart with not just a cup of coffee, but a bag of salt and vinegar pork rinds and some jerky. Her vegan mind raced to process these developments as I cooed “this is all a dream” at her.
The deep of night was upon me, now, all greys and clouds and I watched, with satisfaction, as the thermometer in the truck kept creeping higher and the air began to take on the scent and humidity of the sea.
Leonie woke with a start at five or so in the morning, and leaned forward between the seats to check on me. I was driving on a pretty barren spur of I65 heading toward Mobile, my eyes wide open as, through the bands of fog that curled out to the roadway from the dense woods, I could see dozens and dozens of deer, lining the side of the road.
I pointed them out to her, these shadows, and she tried to keep count but gave up well into the thirties and drifted back to sleep. For my part, these ghosts, each one a potential catastrophe should they mistime a leap onto the road, served to keep me wide awake for the next hour or so when they all simply disappeared, as if by consensus, and were replaced by the sun.
At the next service station, Val took the wheel, and I burrowed into the pillow next to her seat and dozed off for the next two hours as she piloted the last leg to Pensacola.