Section: Features

With airplane travel restricted, Kenyon students hit the road

With airplane travel restricted, Kenyon students hit the road

ALEX GILKEY

With COVID-19 presenting new challenges for travel, many Kenyon students chose to opt for road trips instead of flying to and from the Hill this winter. Some encountered unexpected problems and interesting stops along the way.

For Alex Thoms ’23 and her housemates, the journey home from Kenyon to East Lyme, Conn. at the end of last semester was a triumph against all odds. Trouble began before the trip even started, when the group had to finish their exams, pack their entire apartment into a small car and store their belongings in just two days. Even rest proved difficult. “We were sleeping in sweatshirts that we packed that night on the blue slab of a college bed,” Thoms said. 

Things only got worse when they hit  the road. Not only was the car so packed that luggage blocked the rear window, but the highway was dominated by semi trucks. “I was driving there in the rain, completely dark, at 6 a.m., surrounded by trucks and they were out to get me,” Thoms recalled. Despite all this, Thoms and her housemates pressed on for over 10 hours and made it home in time for Thanksgiving.

Driving from Gambier to Akron, Ohio over winter break, Kate Berges ’23 and Delaney Gallagher ’23 ran into trouble. Exhausted from hours of driving and having difficulty seeing the rural Ohio roads at night, Gallagher thought nothing of the trash in the road — until she heard two loud thuds. “Kate starts freaking out and she’s like, ‘Delaney, you understand you just ran over two raccoons having sex in the middle of the road?’” Gallagher recalled. The two pulled over to check that the car was not damaged and discovered the raccoons were dead. They completed the rest of their journey safely and can now laugh about the situation. 

Caleb Stern ’23 and his roommate, William Newhart ’23, made the most of their 2,300-mile journey from Gambier to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving, following a list of “touristy kitsch” roadside attractions as well as historic sites. In Illinois, they visited the world’s largest ketchup bottle and the Piasa Bird, a giant, cliffside painting of a yellow and red scaly monster overlooking the Mississippi River. The painting belongs to the Illini tribe and was created before European colonizers settled in 1783. In Missouri, they stopped at the world’s second-largest rocking chair and the ruins of a European-style castle in Ha Ha Tonka State Park. The ruins are the abandoned creations of Robert Snyder, an American businessman who imported stone from Europe and began construction on the mansion in 1905, but died tragically a year later. All that remains of the fantasy are tall stone walls and window holes. Stern described his first trip west of Ohio as a “fun drive with beautiful scenery.”

Niall Regan ’21 took a “wicked cool” cross-country road trip from Massachusetts to San Diego and back while taking the fall semester off. Regan left home with a loose plan, and spent the month of November driving through 22 states with a friend he met while studying abroad. They saw products of the current political moment, like the boarded-up windows and quiet streets of Minneapolis, Minn. and police dressed in riot gear in Madison, Wis. 

Regan also witnessed the span of America’s beauty in the sublime landscapes of various national parks. He visited Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Badlands, among other national parks. The trip was not without conflict — when he was leaving Jackson Hole, Wyo., a long stretch of highway was shut down, forcing Regan to drive through the snow in an 18-hour loop through Idaho and up to Montana in just one day. Regan was able to experience the full range of U.S. environments from the driver’s seat of his Chevy, from cities to mountains to beaches. 

“It’s actually easy to do cool things, and I would have loved to travel abroad, but this has shown that there is so much beauty in our own country,” Regan reflected. “It was nice to really appreciate how diverse and beautiful the country we live in is.” For future trips, Regan said, he wants to see more of the Pacific Northwest.

As more Kenyon students have taken to the road for long-distance travel, many have discovered the journey to be worth sharing — whether because of rocking chairs, ruins or rugged mountains. Regan offered this advice to fellow adventurous spirits: “It’s a lot easier than you think. You can make it cheap, you can make it accessible, you can make it fun as long as you’re with the right people.”

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