What’s Your Worst Road Trip Experience?

Illustration for article titled What’s Your Worst Road Trip Experience?

We love even the shittiest road trip, but there are many times when the thrill of the road tests our resolve and our sanity.


Personally, I've never had to deal with anything worse than getting misdirected a couple dozen times on some minor Houston highways, or finding out late one night that travelling businessmen had rented every single room in the Nevada boomtown we were just driving into.


What's been your worst tale of woe related to a road trip?

(QOTD is your chance to address the day's most pressing automotive questions and to experience the opinions of the insightful insiders, practicing pundits, and gleeful gearheads that make up the Jalopnik commentariat. If you've got a suggestion for a good Question of the Day, send an email to tips at jalopnik dot com.)

Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove

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In 1999, my buddy and I were going to drive straight-through from Grand Rapids, MI to Glacier National Park in western Montana to do 2 weeks of hiking and backpacking. Neither of us had a reliable car (he was 19 and I was 20), so we borrowed his mom's 1992 Jeep Wrangler Renegade. We finished packing the Jeep at about 11pm and were going to leave first thing in the morning. Being too excited to sleep, we decided at around midnight that we should just hit the road. As soon as we hit the freeway, the soft top started luffing in the wind, creating a "whoop whoop whoop" sound. Less than 40 miles into the trip, the aftermarket soft top pulled loose from the lip on the Jeep body and started flapping wildly in the wind. We pulled over and reattached it. About an hour later, it happened again. This continued all night long.

Somewhere in southern Wisconsin, we stopped at a hardware store and I bought several rolls of black and red duct tape (red Jeep, black top) to discretely secure the top. This gave us about 4 hours between failures vs. the previous 1 hour reattachment intervals. We started out intent on driving in 8 hour shifts, but this quickly digressed with both of us too tired to drive anymore. 23 hours later, we could see the lights of Billings, Montana and a huge thunderstorm rolling in from the west. We decided to get a hotel for the night, but there was some big event in Billings and all the hotels were full. We ended up finding one in a tiny town outside Billings at around midnight. What was supposed to be a hotel was actually a crusty mobile home with phone number listed on a sign out front. We opted to tough it out and continue on the freeway.

Just outside of Billings, we hit the heaviest thunderstorm that I have ever driven in. It occurred to me that for the last several hours, I had been hearing an occasional metallic "tick" coming from the windshield area. In the middle of the storm, the sheetmetal screws that held the metal lip to the top of the windshield frame let loose partially, opening up a 1/2" gap. Sheets of water were pouring in through the gap in the pounding rain. I threw the cd player in the back and soldiered on. After getting through the storm at about 3am, I pulled into the rest area where we managed to sleep for about 4 hours.

When I woke up at 7am, all foggy-headed, I started the engine and took off, without ever getting out. I found a hardware store in the next town and bought a box of self-drilling sheetmetal screws. With my trusty Stanley 1/4" drive screwdriver, I drilled/installed about 12 new screws by hand through the lip into the windshield frame. Problem solved.

We got into West Glacier later that afternoon and set up camp.

The next morning, we drove "Going to the Sun Road" through the park and ended in Waterton, Alberta in the Canadian part of the park. Unexpectedly, we had to pay to enter Waterton, day passes for our vehicle, in addition to backcountry passes to hike in the park. It became evident that we would be spending way more money on the trip than we had expected. When buying our passes, we were told that a number of the trails that we wanted to hike were still snow covered and closed (20' deep snow in some areas). So we had to dumb down our hikes to some less interesting trails that were actually open.

The following morning we completely emptied the Jeep to get our backpacks stocked for the first hike. While I started arranging all of our stuff on the picnic table for repacking, my buddy was cleaning up from breakfast. He, for some unknown reason, brought a glass french coffee press along. He had his hand inside of it cleaning it when it suddenly broke, slashing his hand deeply across the palm and up to the web of his thumb and forefinger. He clearly needed emergency attention, but it was Sunday morning in a tiny little town in the mountains in Alberta. We got his hand bandaged up so he wouldn't bleed all over and I went to the Mounted Police post in the town to get some assistance. Of course, the post was not staffed and I ended up using the call box outside. The person on the other end of the line in Calgary directed me to drive him to Cardston, about 40 miles away.

I went back to the campsite and packed up anything valuable, leaving the rest scattered on the picnic table and we high-tailed it to Cardston. Upon arriving at the hopital, we were told that his injury was not significant enough to require emergency service. They directed us to an urgent care clinic across town. About an hour later, he emerged with 10 stitches in his hand. Since his insurance didn't cover him in Canada, he had to pay cash out of pocket.

So with our plans effectively trashed, we decided to crash in Waterton for a few days while his hand healed up. Of course, the rangers would not refund our backcountry passes. After a few days, we got in a short overnight hike and decided to head back south, through Glaicer and down to Yellowstone. Being idiots, we bought some whiskey, beer, and cuban cigars (all things we could not get in the states) before heading toward the border.

As we arrived at the border, the border control agents "randomly" chose us for a complete shakedown. After finding the contraband, they proceeded to completely tear into the vehicle, looking for drugs or other something more significant (we didn't have anything else). They took us inside for further interrogation. When asked for our identification, he produced his military ID. However, he had not signed it before it was laminated and the border guards accused him of trying to pass a fake ID. After detaining us for three hours, they turned us loose, but not before taking us to the bathroom to pour out the beer and whiskey. They made us twist up and destroy the cigars over a trash can. The older guard said to us, "Boys, it's a sad, sad day" as the Jack Daniels swirled toward the drain in the sink.

When we got back outside, the entire contents of our vehicle were in a pile on the pavement. They had torn off the bottom of my thermos, opened my camera and exposed my film, and opened sealed boxes of cereal and other food looking for contraband. Rather than packing things back up neatly, we just piled/jammed/stuffed everything in the back and got the hell out of there as quick as we could.

At this point, we were both so upset/tired/defeated that we decided to bag it and head back to Michigan. We drove 36 hours back straight through (stopping every 3-4 hours to re-tape the top), mostly in silence. When we got back home, we recounted our story. His dad walked over to the Jeep, pulled the side of the soft top loose, simply folded the edge over once, and tucked it back into the lip, all tight and secure. Son of a......