I woke up the next morning on the bus to the sound of Hannah’s return. (what? didn’t you guys get a hotel room? Yes. Yes we did.) Considering I didn’t even get back to the bus until after sunrise, by the time I woke up the sun had already been cooking me for a number of hours. Even with all the windows down the bus had become like a sauna, in the same way that a car with a dog locked in it with the windows up on a hot summer day is like a sauna. It was a death sauna.
I was more than a little disoriented, a bit irritable, and sweating like an Italian.
I was instantly resentful that I had been awoken into this wholly unpleasant situation. Fortunately Hannah knew just what to say to avoid my unjustified wrath. Before I could so much as roll over she blurted out: “I brought you a bacon sandwich (marry me?), and an orange juice. I’m leaving now to run some errands. You can go back to sleep if you’d like, but remember they have air conditioning and cold showers up in the room. Bye!”
Any lesser statement might have drawn a harsher reaction than the pathetic whiny groan that I uttered, but it seemed Hannah had become my patron saint of rough mornings. Where I found such tolerant and nurturing friends I have no idea, but goodness I’m grateful. After everyone had a chance to step in the shower in an attempt to wash Vegas off of their bodies and out of their minds, we piled into the bus to start our trek east towards Zion National Park. The relief that had been provided by a cold shower ended the second we left the hotel. I cannot overstate the oppression of the Las Vegas heat. I am convinced that Las Vegas is the worst city on Earth. I had never been there before, and I don’t plan on going back anytime soon.
Flying down the highway at 50mph did little to cool our kittens. You’d think all the airflow through the bus windows would help, but you’d be wrong. Rather than the soothing cooling effect of a fan it felt like you were trying to cool yourself with a hair dryer. In the midst of this will-to-live crushing heat Justin captured a rather unflattering photo of my pale shirtless body laying on the floor of the bus sleeping with my arms above my head, and two cold gallons of water from the gas station tucked between my shoulders and my neck. I have so far been unable to delete this photo from his phone, and judging by his rigorous back-up regimen I’m sure it’s already too late. (edit: god damnit, Justin.)
As the hours slowly passed the surrounding atmosphere began to cool to tolerable levels, due partly to a nearby storm, and partly due to our acceptable distance from that pit of a city that shall never be named again. In the mid-afternoon we stopped for gas and refreshments. Stopping at a gas station for refreshments when you’re thirsty and dehydrated is like shopping at the grocery store when you’re hungry, but more disgusting. Sam, Hannah, Lacy, and I became hypnotized by the slushy machine and its syrupy offerings. Sam and I were foolish enough to grab the largest cups available and fill them with sure-fire diabetes, Lacy and Hannah were a bit more reasonable with their small cups, but Justin and Ethan were the only ones sensible enough to forego this misadventure altogether. The first sip was followed immediately by regret. Even now, recalling this experience is causing me to salivate uncomfortably and hover on the edge of vomiting like a cat who ate too much hair. Most of us gave up, but Sam heroically finished his slushy, if only to punish himself for such misguided purchase.
Shortly after our stop we arrived at Zion Canyon, which was packed full of the types of scenic vistas the bus trip has become known for. The canyons wrapping 360 degrees around the vehicle are experienced through the hatch in a way no other vehicle can fully provide. When we arrived at a tunnel cut deep into the canyon walls, everything came to a halt as traffic came under control of the park staff. Due to the narrow nature of the tunnel traffic was no longer allowed to travel both directions, so we sat in queue, waiting almost ten minutes for our chance to pass.
Apparently the bus was too big to travel with the rest of the vehicles, and we were asked to hold back for a few more minutes. When we finally got the go ahead, we were giving instructions to drive down the middle of the tunnel to avoid the sloping walls from clipping our roof. This resulted in one of the most exhilarating skylight rides yet. Flying down the pitch black tunnel, lit only by our dim headlights, we screamed at the darkness just to giggle at our own echoes.
We’re pretty sure the ceiling was high enough not to be an issue, but we didn’t reach our hands up to test it. This joyride was punctuated by brief, blinding moments of daylight where the tunnel momentarily punctured the canyon wall giving stunning yet fleeting views of the rocky canyon we were flying through. Things were looking up.
Shortly before we arrived at our camp for the night, as we rolled into a small-town gas station at dusk, we found the day’s silver lining.
While the gas pump quietly chugged diesel into our tank, we enjoyed the faint sounds of classical piano music being played through the gas stations speakers.
Wait a minute. Is that old guy playing a piano?
Sure enough, up against the rustic cedar facade of the gas station, dropped next to the ice box, underneath the buzz of a fluorescent light was a zebra-striped upright piano, and an elderly gentleman sitting alone at the bench, twinkling a tune he probably learned as a child. By the time we parked the bus and and the rest of us made our way to the black and white upright, he had finished his performance and shuffled off. We were a bit sorry that we only caught the end of this event, but Ethan was more than happy to take this opportunity to stretch his hands and treat himself to some time in front of the keys. While the bus is on the road, Ethan spends his time either napping or playing music. (Any exception to this would probably involve snacking.) His favorite new toy for the trip was a mini-keyboard that allowed him to play physical keys while composing on his ipad, but with hands large enough to play octaves at rest, a mini-keyboard can be a little claustrophobic. Like a hot shower or a home-cooked meal this unexpected upright was a refreshing taste of home for Ethan. As usual he was kind enough to let others join in on the fun, playing “April, come she will”, an old Simon and Garfunkel tune that I could sing along to, while Sam watched Ethan’s hands and quietly filled in a harmony a few octaves above. Our friends sat quietly beside us to enjoy the moment, and few patrons stopped to let us serenade them. When the tune was over, I felt like I could take full breaths again. I had let my life become incredibly hectic and unnecessarily stressful for the last few days, and once again Ethan helped me establish a bit of peace. It would probably do my heart good to see him more than twice a year.
The campsite that night had electrical hookup, private showers, and even washing machines (which weren’t actually utilized, but having the option was nice). We slept soundly, reassured that we were getting a full charge and a fresh, clean start.
After experiencing a bit of tension and stress while traveling with only three people on the bus, I had serious concerns about life with six riders. I was genuinely worried that space would be cramped, personalities would clash, and we’d be trapped for a week and a half in tense, sweaty tin-can. My concerns couldn’t have been more misplaced. If anything our party of six worked more fluidly than our small crew of three. We survived what could have been a miserable day and turned it into a memorable experience. From a practical standpoint, everyone understood that the close quarters required more diligence to maintain, and we ran a tight ship. With everyone stepping in regularly to assume duties and responsibilities, we never allowed ourselves to get burnt out or behind on chores. This would of course been impossible if we didn’t also have such a collaborative blend of personalities. We fed off of each others energies, played into each others jokes, and let ourselves become a micro-community. We recognized that this trip was special. We were living a dream that many people envied, and we were incredibly grateful.
If anything, we were worried that we had now set the bar too high. Bus life is the shit.