In March, the indie music group boygenius announced their return from hiatus with a new album and an accompanying summer tour. Two of my best friends, Maddy and Morgan, and I were thrilled, as we had lived out much of our high school years listening to their first EP.
I was looking at the list of tour dates and ambitiously suggested buying tickets to the performance in Bonner, Montana. My idea was fairly simple: three 21-year-old girls embarking on a cross-country summer road trip with limited funds, questionable planning skills and no previous experience in National Park hopping.
Our time together was rarely supplemented by activities or travel, and many of our previous big ideas had fallen victim to the abyss of group chats and hectic college lives. This time, we were determined to bring our plan to fruition.
Without talking to our parents, making transportation arrangements or considering potential work commitments, we bought the tickets for boygenius’ August show in Montana, and considered ourselves bound to the trip.
We planned to use Morgan’s newly purchased, but slightly-used, Subaru to get us out West, and we opted for tent camping most nights to save on boarding costs and to immerse ourselves fully in the new places we were visiting.
On day one, with a car full of camping gear, Maddy, Morgan and I hit the road at 5 a.m. for a 13 hour drive, heading from our hometown, Nazareth, Pennsylvania, to Madison, Wisconsin. In between naps and stops for gas, we listened to our favorite music, laughed at midwestern billboards and attempted to play ridiculously boring car games.
We arrived at our first hotel in Madison: a dingy Econo Lodge situated on a hill, overlooking a highway and a Hooters. I’ll never forget how beautiful the sky looked. The three of us stood at the edge of the parking lot, admiring the view and eagerly anticipating the rest of our trip.
I knew that in the days to come we were going to be faced with breathtaking landscapes and once-in-a-lifetime experiences far beyond the sun setting over a Hooters. Somehow, though, I was just as content at that moment, grateful to be anywhere with Maddy and Morgan.
The next week was an unbelievable blur of driving, camping and sightseeing. We made stops in four national parks across several different states: Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota, Glacier in Montana, Yellowstone in Wyoming and Badlands in South Dakota.
We slept in a tent night after night. We built roaring fires. We cooked hot dogs and soup on a propane stove. We hiked and saw mountains, wild animals and natural horizons I could hardly fathom coming from such a small and overdeveloped town.
The trip also had its bad moments. We got back aches from sleeping on rock-solid ground. We built fires that died out in minutes. We bickered as we set up the tent. We held jealous resentment toward the person who got to sit shotgun. We laid awake for three hours in Yellowstone, convinced there was a grizzly bear sniffing around our tent. Maybe that was just me. We got lost and spent days without cell service, and in moments, we seemingly grew tired and irritated with each other.
Those feelings were inevitable after 10 days in such close quarters, but they never lasted. The anger and annoyance faded quickly into nothingness when we laughed at the same stupid jokes, fawned over the beauty of our surroundings or stopped the car to sit and let a buffalo cross the road in front of us.
Maddy, Morgan and I had hours of time together to fill with conversation, allowing us to not just have fun, but to be vulnerable and to share these life-changing experiences with one another.
During the boygenius concert at the KettleHouse Amphitheater, we stood with our arms around each other during the song “True Blue.” I couldn’t help but feel like our relationship paralleled the lyrics:
“It feels good to be known so well, I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself. I remember who I am when I’m with you.”
I met Morgan in preschool, and although I don’t have many memories from that time in my life, our 2006 class picture shows us sitting next to each other, donning small bow headbands and awkward toddler grimaces.
I also met Maddy in preschool. Our older brothers were on the same little league baseball team, and we always spent our time together when we were dragged along to games. We still laugh about one of the first times we played together when a bird pooped on my jacket as we wrestled on the side of the field.
More than 15 years later, I stood between both of them, halfway across the country as fully-grown and independent women. We each shared so many experiences together, from the simple joys of girlhood to the devastating lows of being a teenager, and now the vacation of my dreams.
As we returned home, I recognized the road trip as a testament to our unbreakable bond and a reflection of our longstanding relationships; the places we visited and the memories we made were incredible, but the best part was the time I got to spend with my friends.
Regardless of where I go or what road lies ahead, I know that the people by my side are what truly makes the journey worthwhile.