Our 24 hour trip from Des Moines to Palm Beach in 1982 was a legendary excursion, over 3000 miles from start to finish. Traveling with twenty-four females and two other male coaches in 10-passenger vans wasn't on my bucket list, but that's the way it was done forty years ago.
Nonetheless, we got there with no major issues, staying in a rental house with two-bathrooms and four bedrooms only a mile from the beach. The Drake squad trained every morning at Florida Atlantic, went to the beach every afternoon, eating supper as a team before the athletes found evening activities. It seemed idyllic. Especially the sun and 80 degrees!
But after a week of sleeping on the living room floor and cooking meals for twenty-seven, I was glad to get on the road for home. Recapture some normalcy in my life. We took our first pit stop in Orlando on the return trip to Des Moines, two-and-a-half hours later in Valdosta GA. The van smelled like dirty clothes. And I was already tired of driving.
We loaded up after they picked up snacks and used the bathroom, heading towards Atlanta, our three Drake vans in a makeshift caravan, mine at the rear. There were no cell phones so we simply flashed headlights whenever a pitstop was needed or some emergency rose. Things were quiet in my van two hours outside of Atlanta, the thought of another eighteen hours and 900 miles exhausting.
In my mirror I spotted a Georgia Highway patrol car rapidly closing ground on us with his red lights flashing, the thought of another speeding ticket depressing. I flashed my headlights at the vans in front and they tapped their brakes.
I glanced in the rearview mirror as the patrol car followed me onto the shoulder. Please. No ticket. I grabbed my wallet, rolling down the window, pushing my license towards the trooper as he approached me.
"Come with me." Son of a bitch. What did I do?
Twenty-six heads turned to watch my walk of shame as I followed the trooper to the passenger side of his cruiser.
"Do you know this female?"
I leaned forward and looked in. What the...oh my God. It was our high jumper!
Anne opened the door and crawled out, the expression on her face halfway between mad and embarrassed, glaring at me before she walked to my van. The trooper turned to me.
"Apparently you left her in the gas station in Valdosta and I've been chasing you for the past forty-five minutes, praying you were on I-75 into Atlanta. She was crying up a storm but the gas station attendant was smart enough to call us. And that's how I got here."
We stopped at least ten more times before we got back to Drake, everyone diligent about keeping tabs on each other the rest of the way. I would like to say that was the last time Anne was late - but that wouldn't be true. She was always late.
Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.