We couldn’t believe our luck: two e-tickets for a megabus, Milwaukee to Minneapolis, with our name on them. We had argued against James buying them, but he absolutely insisted. What a dream.
We were staying with Couchsurfing hosts Melissa and Josh on the other side of town and with heavy bags we figured it would probably take us 45 minutes to get to the bus station. We decided to leave at 9.30am to give ourselves AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE.
So of course, it all went wrong.
We arrived at the bus station at half 10. Perfect! Settling ourselves inside near to the departure board, we waited for 11, excited for a 7 hour journey where we didn’t have to talk to anyone new – just sit with headphones in. We love meeting new people and talking to everyone about their story and ours, but sometimes a little silence is a good thing. Minutes passed and our bus wasn’t on the departure board. Strange. “Well, not strange for a Megabus to be late” we rationalised and continued to sit, contemplating what snacks we would eat from our food bag on the journey.
Finally, we reached the time when our bus should be leaving, let alone appearing on the departure board, and we decided it was probably time to go wait at the bus stop itself. Great plan, we thought. Good thinking, we thought. Oh shit, we thought, as we watched our bus sail quietly passed the window and on to the highway.
We had missed the bus.
I can truly say I’ve never felt such a sinking feeling of disbelief as I watched that bus leave without me. We are doing this entire trip without money, and the moment someone does something as amazing as buy us a bus ticket, we miss the damn thing through complacency. We couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and a few seconds went by where in my head was just white noise and the Megabus man waving to me smugly from his painting on the back window.
All we knew was this: we could not let James down. He was fully expecting to meet us at the bus stop in Minneapolis in seven hours time and come hell or high water we would be there as if nothing had happened. There was no other option: none that we would consider. We would be at that stop.
Grabbing our hearts and our bags from the floor, we galvanised and sussed out the best place to hitch on the highway out of Milwaukee. We wrote our sign as we walked, speechless except for half sentence variations of “I can’t believe it…”, “How could this…”, “For f*cks sake…”…
The hardest part was looking fun and carefree to potential lifts, when all I wanted to do was throw an on-the-floor tantrum like a child.
After a while we were picked up by Tad, a newly devout cycling enthusiast who had just completed a morning 70 mile cycle. We laughed as we told him our story and chuckled at our own stupidity. We sighed as we said “oh well”, smiles glued on our faces. He dropped us off at a gas station about 40 miles up the road and despite there being a petting zoo nearby, we immediately stuck out our thumbs.
Actually, a whole lot of time passed with car after car after car cruising past with drivers casting nothing but looks of “sorry!”, “wrong direction” and “are you insane?”. A nagging voice started asking me to check my watch more often. A smaller voice started asking if we would make it on time.
Finally, after more than an hour (which felt like a day in the heat and with the Megabus driving further and further away), a black jeep pulled over and offered to take us north of Madison, a solid 1 hour and 30 minute journey. I was happy as anything to be back in a car, but that voice in my head said it wasn’t far enough…
Nick, our driver, was amazing. Stopping to take the roof off in the blazing sunshine, we listened to reggae on the radio and discussed the wonderful world of camping and American national parks. Our spirits lifted. Perhaps it didn’t matter if we were a little bit late? Perhaps we could tell James not to worry about picking us up, and that we would make our own way to his house? I still couldn’t believe we’d missed that damn bus.
After 90 minutes of sunshine, Nick announced that his exit was coming up and that he could drop us off at the truck stop there. Perfect, we said, reluctant to start hitching again when each minute passing was a minute later to Minneapolis. Pulling in, however, Nick shook his head.
“No, this one isn’t good enough – I’ll take you to the next one. We should keep driving.”
We questioned whether he was sure, knowing that this was his exit and to continue driving would mean going well out of his way, but he said he didn’t mind and that he had a feeling we’d have more luck at the next stop. He had a feeling.
So onwards we went, at least 10 miles until we saw the signs for another truck stop leaping out from the side of the highway.
It was really hard not to feel sad about getting out of the car. Nick drove fast – fast enough to make us feel like we had a chance of making it on time. The roar of wind through the open roof drowned out the “you’re an idiot” mantra spiralling round my head. The feeling of certainty, of moving forward, was far preferable to hopelessness, watching cars drive away and watching out for hitch-hiker hating gas station employees. It was hard to summon a response when Nick asked where we wanted to be dropped in this new truck stop, but I had a look around the expansive parking lot anyway…
There, parked to the side, was a Megabus – Chicago to Minneapolis emblazoned proudly on its windscreen. Nick slammed his foot on the accelerator, veering diagonally across the empty spaces of the lot, coming to a sudden halt directly in front of the bus. “They’re not leaving without you now!” He cackled as we screamed with disbelief at our luck. Before the car had fully stopped we leapt out and ran to the open door of the bus, brandishing my phone with e-tickets to the completely confused driver. Looking at me with suspicion, she studied the phone in my hand.
“Okay, someone is sitting in your seat but give me a second and I’ll move them”
We couldn’t believe our luck. We had made it, four and a half hours later, onto the Megabus we had missed so stupidly that morning. We had not only hitched fast enough to catch the bus, but we had managed to find the exact stop out of a whole range of choices where the driver had chosen to stop for her break.
We arrived in Minneapolis exactly as planned, and James was none the wiser…
Until we told him over dinner.
Hey, as my mum has always said, life is either a great experience or a story to tell!