Cross country adventure creates memories and closer friendships for group of Northsiders
15 days, nine guys, eight states, one van all add up to one unforgettable experience.
Nine 2018 Jackson Prep graduates decided to take to the open road for the customary senior trip. However, traveling with friends was the only way this group’s trip was traditional.
Reed Peets, Tanner McCraney, Spivey Gault, Landon Wilbanks, Mitchell Boulanger, Kelly McBride, Ryan Myers, Parker Daily and Wilson Mink got their hands on a van large enough to haul them across the country and then they began to plan.
“McCraney had the initial idea to forego the typical senior trip and do something more adventurous,” said Peets, who kept a journal detailing their travels.
They began by gathering a few times on Sunday nights to make preparations for the trip. During these meetings they loosely planned an itinerary and assigned responsibility for stops they wanted to hit along the way.
Each guy was given a specific area to find an Airbnb or campsite to spend the night and find things to do in that area while they were there.
McCraney’s dad bought the van, with the agreement that the dealership would buy it back after the trip because the guys were too young to rent a vehicle.
“Each of us kind of picked a spot based on our connections there,” he said.
Peets had Fort Worth, which was on the last leg, because he has family members living there. He also planned the Denver stop because his brother lives there.
“A lot of us had connections to the different places we were going,” he said. “Our only restriction was that we had to be in those particular places at the time to check in.”
Other than that, they had freedom to do whatever they wanted along the way.
Peets said the most important thing he learned on the trip was the importance of fellowship with friends. He also credits these experiences with bringing him and his group of friends closer.
“I kept realizing how important and how valuable and much fun it was to be at a campfire or sitting around a table or hanging out in the living room and just having good conversation,” he said. “The kind of conversation, timeless conversation, where you don’t care about anything else but what’s going on right there.”
“The most important thing I learned was the real power of good fellowship and conversation, because I think a lot of us grew in a lot of different ways just from substantive interaction,” he added.
The trip started in Oxford for freshman orientation. Several of the guys who took part in the trip – including Peets – plan to attend Ole Miss in the fall.
They departed Oxford with their sights set on Petit Jean, Ark. With only a short distance under their belts, the group encountered their first obstacle.
“In Memphis, the van was hit by what we think was a golf ball, but what felt like a gunshot,” Peets said.
The impact left a small hole in the windshield, which spiderwebbed across the glass. Mink, who was driving, had glass on his arms.
They had to pull over and duct tape the windshield.
When they arrived in Petit Jean, they set up a campsite for the night. After hiking to a waterfall the next morning, the group set out for their next stop, Tulsa.
Peets said they spent the night in a single hotel room for all nine guys.
They spread out their sleeping bags on the floor. Who got to sleep in the beds was determined by the “ID game.”
To decide in what order they drove, who sat where in the van and who took the beds during their stops, they played this game.
Someone would take everyone’s driver’s license, shuffle them up and someone would pick at random to make it fair.
“We would do that to decide just about anything,” Peets said. “We would do this when we had to drive for long periods. We would ask if someone wants to drive. Someone would usually volunteer, then we would take the IDs, shuffle them up put them in the seats. We would flip them over and that would be where you sat for the entire trip that day.”
This eliminated the shot gun rule and any arguments over seats.
“Because not all of those van seats were created equal,” Peets said. “The back, middle seat was miserable.”
The group made their next stop in Denver, Colorado, where they went to a concert at Red Rocks and went to a Rockies game.
After that, they drove to Rocky Mountain National Park where they rented a campsite and went hiking. Peets said they went on a two-mile hike to Emerald Lake before hitting the road again for their next destination, Moab, Utah.
The drive to Moab was long, but Peets said it was worth it to see Arches National Park. When they arrived, some of the group hiked and watched the sunrise over the Delicate Arch.
“That was probably the coolest thing from the entire trip,” Peets said.
From there, they went to Zion National Park.
“Zion was like Pandora in Avatar,” Peets said. “It’s a huge park.”
Some of the guys hiked Angel’s Landing, which is a 1,488-foot tall rock formation in Zion National Park.
“We hiked the narrows, which are rocks that have been pushed together,” Peets said. “At points you can touch either side. There were so many awesome views.”
The first night, the group had a campsite at Zion. Since campsites were limited, they could only get one. However, the campsites are meant for only six people each, and park rangers were out in full force to enforce those rules.
Some of the guys were going sky diving in Hurricane, Utah, so they took the van and slept in it in the facility parking lot.
“We did front flips out of the plane,” Peets said. “After that, you realize you’re falling to the Earth and you kind of freak out. So, then you think, I’ve got to do what they told me to do and you get into position. Then, you kind of get your wits about you, and you’re able to look around. Then you fall for about 45 seconds, then you pull the cord. As soon as you pull the rip cord, it’s this tremendous shock.”
“It’s a silence as if there was never any noise,” Peets added. “You pull the cord and the parachute just yanks you. You have all of this wild commotion of air whizzing past you, and it just stops and you’re just like ‘whoa’ and you can see everything.”
Peets said the instructor would yell out: “Welcome to the sky.”
Following their stay in Utah, the group made their way to Flagstaff, Arizona.
“We got up the next morning and went to the Grand Canyon,” Peets said. “It was probably the least exciting of all of our big stops.”
By the time they made it to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the guys were all exhausted from their travels. Peets said their plans were to get to the Airbnb to eat and relax.
They departed for Amarillo, Texas, then Fort Worth as they made their way back to Mississippi.
From long days of driving to their in-depth conversations to all the adventures and memories made in between, the trip brought the group closer.
Their adventures weren’t over when they got home. The final stop before going home was to clean out the van, which as one could imagine, was quite a sight after the trip.
The next journey they will embark on will be attending college in the fall.
(photo) Kelly McBride, Mitchell Boulanger, Parker Daily, Wilson Mink, Reed Peets, Spivey Gault, Tanner McCraney; (front) Ryan Myers, Landon Wilbanks