The Road and the Mountain Like all great endeavors, our journey to the mountain started with

a party. I had arrived in South Bend on a Friday night after driving six hours from Pittsburgh with my sister. It was the second day of the new year. We pulled up to a house owned by somebody on the Notre Dame ski team, where a roaring party was already going on. I grabbed myself a Solo cup and headed into the fray. Ping pong balls were flying through the air, foamy beverages were gushing out of taps, and the most popular songs boomed out of the stereo, synthesized hip hop and bubblegum country. A group by the stereo was drunkenly hopping around, trying to two-step; others were leaning against the walls and jabbering or just hazily milling around. My sister had gone off somewhere with her boyfriend; I didn’t see her much for the rest of the trip. When everybody was thoroughly muddled and confused, at that drowsy hour of the night, the party started to fall apart, as all parties do, like a soggy piece of bread dissolving in a lake. A lot of people slept at the house. I was planning on crashing on the floor, but two of my friends had gotten a hotel room nearby, so I went with them instead. One of them drove us in his beat-up old Cadillac, the long kind with fishtail curves. We went to a gas station, avoided a cop car parked there, and then went through the Taco Bell drive-through, laughing like idiots the whole time. Finally we fell into bed at the Comfort Suites and passed out. The next morning, hungover college students dragged themselves to the snowy parking lot where the busses were to pick us up. Everyone was bustling everywhere with suitcases, ski and board bags, cases of beer. There were two busses. We piled into them and we were off. First things come first, so the bus ride started off with Franzia and Mad Dog for everyone. The chatter in the bus rose to a babble and then to a collage of shouts and exclamations as we plowed across the flat Indiana and Iowa land. The crazier ones in the back of the bus eventually passed out; someone threw up in her seat and then went to sleep. The dirty Midwest slid by outside. We went by about fifteen different “adult” stores out in the middle of nowhere; I wondered how they managed to stay in business. There were a few lonely cars in each parking lot. When the night fell outside the bus, we started the riot up again. Singing along to oblivious nineties music, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, Omaha passed us by on the right. At a stop, I got a hold of a blank CD from someone and quickly burned a techno mix on my laptop. Then we blazed off through the night again. Everyone was standing and swaying back and forth with the rocking bus. Frantic electronica pounded over the speakers and we passed bottles around, drinking straight whiskey with no shotglasses available. It was mad. If anyone in the passing cars had happened to look into our bus, they would have gaped in amazement. We flew across America in a big rectangular box containing all our energy, all our wild frights and ecstasies. The roaring mechanical leviathan steadily bore our techno-whirring, smart-savvy Eastern getups into the open West. I woke up with blue-white light seeping into the bus. Everything was blurry; I put on my glasses and looked outside. We were in the mountains. Snowy crags hung over us, boulders surrounded us. The busses needed chains on the wheels, which ended up taking the drivers about three hours to affix them. We were stopped at a mountain lodge, and I wandered in to use the bathroom. When I tried to buy some chips from a vending machine, it ate my dollar, and I had to ask the lady at the front desk for a refund. She graciously reimbursed me without a complaint.

We rolled into the town. There were no fast food chains or neon signs; it was all little wooden storefronts and ski houses. There was a Wal-Mart, though, a little ways outside of the town. We stopped there to buy the cheapest food we could find, Ramen noodles and generic brand macaroni and cheese. The upperclassmen headed to the liquor store across the road to buy booze. Finally, we moved all our stuff into our rented condos, and the trip was underway. For a week we rode the mountain during the day and partied at night. The pattern was sleep, ski or board, hot tub, alcohol, sleep. Repeat. The mountain loomed over us, the crested butte. One night I drank and smoked a little, and when I looked out the window, the moon hung over the mountain and gave it a cool blue glow. It was unlike a neon light; it was only the pure light of white stars that had flowed through space to bounce off a roving sphere and give our dust a little luminescence. At the bottom of the mountain clustered alpine cottages with square yellow windows and tiny twinkling Christmas lights. Humans huddled in these little boxes with their electricity and their technology, pathetic and small against the huge western Rocky Mountain wilderness. We went into town a few nights. We didn’t really have any aim or purpose in this; we just wanted to see what there was to see. We were too young to go to bars, too poor to buy souvenirs, so we just walked around with our eyes open and hearts young. There was a little store called Blue Moon Books that I wanted to go inside, but it was closed at night. All the lights were off inside except for a neon beer sign in the back that lit up the books with a moon blue glow. We went into every shop that was open, just to dig the crazy t-shirts and junk. In one store I bought a plastic fly for ten cents, just for kicks. I figured it would be good for a few laughs if I put it in someone’s drink. I gave the lady a dime and she said it would actually be eleven cents because of tax, but then she just grabbed a penny out of a shotglass on the counter and used that for the extra cent. I never remembered the fly after I put it in my pocket, though, so I never got to use it. It’s probably still in there right now. My friends rushed into snowboard shops like kids into candy stores, even though they knew they wouldn’t buy anything. I followed them and admired all the colorful Day-Glo jackets and sweatshirts, but they were too expensive, and I wouldn’t have been able to pull that style off, anyway. In Go Big Mountain Sports, a tiny little store, the proprietor gave us some free stickers advertising the shop. He lived in the back of the building, which was really a converted house. He said he had just opened it about six months ago as a consignment store, but now he was starting to get shipments of new skis and boards to sell. On the way back from town in the shuttle bus, I sat and looked out the window. The full white orb of the moon stayed in the sky over the bare mountain, content and unruffled in the vast black void, as we snaked along a winding mountain road to the resort. When it was time to go back to Indiana, we piled all our stuff back on the bus. During the day, we stopped in South Park, Colorado for lunch. It was the only place for miles to eat, and all they had was a Pizza Hut and a Subway in a gas station. We stormed into the restaurants, foreign invaders from the East, and gave the workers something to do. I bought a two-liter of Pepsi to use as a chaser on the bus. The guy behind the counter at the gas station was tall, lanky, and wrinkled, with crooked teeth and big bug-eyes behind thick, round glasses. He talked with a very slow drawl; I couldn’t tell if he was actually slow or if that was just how people around here talked. A large banner hung on the inside wall of the gas station announcing that a Colorado lottery jackpot winner had

been sold there. Outside the gas station, some dude rolled by us in a Chevy SUV, blasting rap music. It was weirdly out of place, but for some reason it wasn’t all that surprising. Everybody does the same things everywhere in America, even in the nowhere towns of desert Colorado. The sun was sinking behind us as we passed Denver. We were driving away from a blazing fire in the sky, leaving it behind us when all I really wanted to do was run back and dive into it. I kept looking backwards out of the wide panoramic windows of the bus at the orange sky with golden clouds above the expansive plateau of Mile High City. But we were going back East. We drove into the evening, towards the purple dusk and a low slung full moon, with a few early stars already visible ahead of us. Everybody was tired at first, but when night finally fell and we broke out our last stores of vodka and rum, the party was quickly revived. I retrieved my techno CD from the other bus and we put it on, rocking with the bus as it shot across the country. I stood sideways in the aisle like I was surfing the road, and I was. If I crouched down a little, I could see the dotted yellow line zooming underneath us as we sped toward the lights of civilization in the distance. At one point, I had to piss pretty bad. I’d been holding it for about half an hour. I struggled out of my seat and down the aisle, stepping over obstacles until I got to the little toilet in the back of the bus. There was some kind of liquid sprayed all over the seat, so I opted to stand. When I was done, there was a lot more liquid all over the seat. We had been driving through the mountains, around steep S-curves, and I had been bracing my legs and holding onto a railing with one hand while aiming at the toilet with the other hand. It was challenging, but kind of fun, like a little game. The only thing about this game was that when you lost, you got piss on yourself. Later on, when I was pretty far gone, I looked up from a hazy dream and saw a huge white windmill right outside the bus, looming in the night. I thought I was Don Quixote. At some point I passed out. I have vague recollections of waking up at a gas station. An animated children’s movie was playing on the bus’s TV screens. I went back to sleep. When I finally woke up in the morning, we were at a truck stop in Iowa, the “World’s Largest Truck Stop,” to be exact. I found I was wearing shoes with no socks. My socks were lying on the ground, soaking wet and covered in bus floor debris. I then remembered that I had walked back to the lavatory in my socks and that’s how they had gotten wet. I didn’t know if they were soaked with water, beer, urine, or a mix of all three. Everyone stumbled out of the bus like sailors stepping onto dry land for the first time in months. Little flurries of snow blew up all around us and whirled off across the plains. We went inside the facility, which was more like a small city. It had several floors, with restaurants, snack shops, souvenir stores, a theater, a barber, and even a dentist. I got orange juice and mini muffins and explored the building with some of my friends, digging the fake jewelry and painted wooden horses in glass cases. Then we got back on the bus and onward we went. When we finally arrived back at the Stadium Club apartments by Notre Dame, bleary-eyed, pale and weak bodies climbed off the bus and dragged their bags out of the cargo hold and into freezing cars. We said our goodbyes. It was hard to return. We all felt different somehow; we shared something that nobody else could understand but us. We had eaten together, slept together, drank together, partied together. We had lived under the mountain together. Our souls had all been inextricably linked together by this one little trip, this microcosm of time we had spent in the strange wide West. Now we would all

return to our routine, ordinary lives, but a tiny piece of the trip, a trace of the road and a shard of the mountain, now lodged within each of us like shrapnel stuck in a veteran’s chest. The splinter sent a small pang through me as I slowly made my way back to the compartments of my fluorescent-lit dormitory.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful