This seemed like a fitting day to post the account of my recent cross-country horse-towing sprint. For America.
You can see the related gallery (and original post) here, but it’s reproduced here in all its lengthy glory down below:
There are as many ways to receive the Sacrament of the Open Road as there are roadside tourist traps. Some choose to make meticulous road-trip plans revolving around specific destinations. Others crisscross the country on a Kerouacian voyage of self-discovery until the allure of the road begins to fade.
Sometimes, however, the opportunity to hit the highway arrives spontaneously, leaving you no time to prepare. You must ditch reason, abandon any attempt at proper planning, fly out to California and then spend two days trailering a giant, wooden Trojan horse to Detroit.
I should know, because that’s exactly what I did a few weeks ago. It all started with a Thursday afternoon text message from my buddy Kolin:
“Wanna go to california and then drive back a mr perks size animal across the country?” he wrote.
A bit of background: Mr. Perks is a giant fiberglass pig that Kolin and I drove around southeastern Michigan for a state senate campaign a few summers ago.
I soon learned that the “mr perks size animal” in California was a massive Trojan horse. Apparently once you break into the giant-novelty-animal transportation business, it’s hard to break out.
Kolin didn’t know why the horse was in California or who, exactly, needed it in Michigan—or when it needed to arrive, for that matter. A former boss passed the job on to him, but little else about the assignment was clear. Faced with a lack of details, I told him I’d have to think about it.
Minutes later I came to my senses. When you get the chance to road-trip a giant wooden horse cross-country, you don’t say no.
The following Sunday, after an early-morning flight from Detroit to L.A. and a $160 cab ride from LAX to Laguna Beach, we met the 12-foot tall Trojan horse. The towering beast had an intricately carved head that contrasted with its crude plank sides. It was too small to conceal Greek warriors, but I half expected to find a few kilos of cocaine or bricks of cash in the horse’s body. The trip would have almost made more sense if I had found contraband—and, really, who would suspect a giant Trojan horse? — But either there wasn’t any contraband in there or it had been concealed exceptionally well.
After a quick lunch we were itching to get on the road. That’s when the downside of our poorly selected tow vehicle—a prematurely aged Ford E-series U-Haul cube truck—quickly became apparent.
A “0% oil life” alert popped up as soon as we turned the key. “Don’t worry about it,” the U-Haul representative told us when we checked in. We couldn’t afford to worry about it. Poor engine maintenance was the least immediate of all the challenges the truck/trailer combo threw at us.
Most alarming was that it was impossible to see the horse and trailer while driving as it was exactly as wide as the truck. The only time the horse did become visible was midway through turns taken a bit too sharply, a lesson we learned after coming within inches of obliterating a BMW on the narrow streets of Laguna Beach.
After that near disaster, the trip out of Los Angeles was blessedly uneventful, even disappointingly so. Those excited, bikini-clad Laguna Beach babes? They were looking at the horse, not me.
Once we crossed into the desert, I pushed the cube truck’s performance capabilities to their limits. I didn’t have to push very far. Acceleration and braking required careful planning; steering was vague at best, and handling could be described as hippopotamus-like. A steering wheel that was canted about 30 degrees to the right was jarring initially, but after a few miles of steering right to drive straight we learned to adapt.
Of the truck’s many weaknesses, fuel economy might have been the biggest. Green bars on the instrument cluster were supposed to light up when we drove in a gas-conserving manner. The feature was no doubt developed by some cruel engineer purely to taunt drivers with the prospect of better fuel mileage. It was far from useful; we only saw the green bars when coasting downhill or parked, and the damned thing never delivered any better than eight miles per gallon.
The first night had taken us out of California, across Arizona and almost to the New Mexico border. I was driving into the desert sunrise somewhere west of Gallup when my extra-large truck-stop coffee, the smell of cigarettes, and the sound of CCR’s “Up Around the Bend” came together to elevate me to a Zen-like state of perfect clarity. I may have been behind the wheel of a wallowing cube truck dragging a giant wooden horse, but I didn’t notice. For just a few miles, it was me, the road and the feeling that I could keep driving forever.
Save for the shockingly frequent stops for gasoline, we passed through the southwest as quickly as our struggling cube truck would permit. Although the desert-crossing I-40 lacked much of the visual drama of a more mountainous route, we knew that we would find a certain beauty in the enormity of the West’s vast, flat wasteland.
Also, I wasn’t sure that the truck would survive the Rockies, and I didn’t want to be stranded on a mountain pass with only a wooden horse to eat.
Here’s where I could tell you about how we barely escaped a band of meth addicts holed up in an abandoned gas station in the Mojave Desert, how we wagered the horse in a high-stakes backroom poker game in Albuquerque and won or the vicious hailstorm we survived outside of Amarillo. Those stories would be fascinating, to be sure. They’d also be complete fabrications. None of those things happened.
The roughest stretch was the hundred miles or so of New Mexico desert where the only music we could find on the radio sounded as if it was piped out of a Holiday Inn lobby, circa 1973.
We also experienced some sort of time-distortion field while driving through the plains of the Oklahoma. In the Sooner State, every mile seemed to stretch out to infinity, and Oklahoma City actually seemed to be getting farther away the further we pressed on.
Over a Spicy Chicken Sandwich Deluxe at the Chick-fil-A located on Garth Brooks Boulevard in Yukon, Okla., I theorized that everyone must encounter this sort of bizarre time dilation at some point on a road trip, and that we should be thankful to have made it to the halfway point before the clock slowed. That realization didn’t make the next thousand miles any less exhausting.
By the time we neared the exit for Troy, Ill., we were too burned out to see whether the Trojans would fall for the old wooden-horse trick again. Illinois, Indiana and Ohio passed by in a haze—and I was better rested than Kolin, who couldn’t sleep at all in the truck. The end of a journey is usually at least a little bittersweet, but I felt nothing but relief as we crossed the state line into Michigan.
Later, after I had recovered a bit from the blurry, grueling, cross-country blitz, I realized that I didn’t have a whole lot to write about. Was it a worthwhile experience? Definitely, but precisely why is difficult to convey.
There were no fiascos, interesting encounters or moments of deep personal insight to reflect on. Sometimes, though, it’s satisfying enough to know that you’ve pulled off a truly bizarre feat, doing battle with the road and the limits of human endurance in the process.
Maybe once you’ve hauled a giant wooden horse across the country in two days, you’ll understand.