We Unintentionally (And Legally) Ended Up Cannonballing To Watkins Glen

The 1996 Chevrolet Suburban didn't let us down, not even at hour 29.

My son, returned from the war.
My son, returned from the war.
Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

There is a certain kind of pain unique to waiting for your car to return from the repair shop when you have places to be. I grew up with that pain; my family tended to drive cars that needed a lot of work, and I spent more than one morning waiting in the mechanic shop’s parking lot waiting for the first workers to filter in and return our car to us so we could get to school on time. It’s a whole hell of a lot worse when you were expecting this vehicle to power you through your vacation.


Yes, I’m talking about my sweet, beautiful 1996 Chevrolet Suburban, which needed a whole host of suspension repairs just before my husband and I were due to take off to Watkins Glen International, where we’d spend three straight weeks enjoying race car and living out of the back of our vehicle. Instead of a leisurely stroll to the track, the repairs meant we were staring down the barrel of a balls-out shot aimed directly at the track, where we’d pray for the strength needed to drive for as close to 26 straight hours as we could.

I’ve gotten a lot of flack in the comments for my foolhardy adventure, so I decided to spend part of my drive answering questions:

  • Why not take a different car? This is our single vehicle at the moment, so it’s this or a rental, and sourcing a rental is a pain in the ass in this rental market.
  • Why not buy literally any other car? My husband and I bought the Suburban for two reasons: sleeping in it at the race track and moving my shit from my Philly apartment to Texas. We wanted something with charm, and this specific Suburban had it in spades.
  • Why not do the work yourself? The Suburban is one of five cars currently parked in the two-car driveway at my mom’s house. There’s no room, there’s an HOA that says we can’t, and we waited an egregiously long time to start repairs, so we took it in to get it done.
  • Why didn’t you get a second opinion? I did, and they quoted my husband $5,000.
  • Why didn’t you do your due diligence as a buyer? I work four jobs and had three days where I could pick the truck up and drive it home. When I found out we couldn’t get it on a hoist, I sprang for it anyway. We checked the suspension at home, but without a hoist, we couldn’t tell it needed as much work as it did.
  • Are you stupid? Generally, yeah.

I was not expecting this truck or this drive to be a fully perfect or wholly enjoyable experience. I was just hoping it would all hold out until we had our own house to do repairs on our own. It didn’t happen, so… we got out truck back from the shop on Wednesday morning, stashed our shit in the back in as organized a fashion as we could, drank a Monster coffee in a single swig, and took off with the goal of Illinois in mind. If we could cross the border into Illinois on the first stint, we could consider ourselves accomplished and take a brief, much-needed rest.

The only problem was, as I have noted before, the fact that I work four jobs. We’d planned our initial route with my workday in mind, so my husband could do the bulk of the driving while I worked, and I’d pick up the bookend hours at the start and end of the day, since those are my favorite times to drive (and because my husband is notoriously slow when we are either leaving or arriving at a destination).

With a 26-hour stint in front of us, I’d still have to write. I obviously couldn’t put my husband in charge of driving the entire time because that would be inhumane. But I’d also need to be alert myself, which meant I couldn’t do what I usually do, which is work work work until we get where we’re going, at which point I immediately go to bed and sleep for 10 hours.

We had a great plan. I decided my husband would take the first stint, at which point I’d sleep and write. I’d hop in once it got dark, at which point he would sleep. And then he’d take over in the morning, driving us the rest of the way.

This was the trip where I learned my husband does not sleep in cars. Which means I also learned what it’s like to drive two seven hour stints on nothing but four Monster Energy coffee beverages and a nap’s worth of sleep. The sun went down in Arkansas, and I took over. When it rose again just outside of Ohio, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t even make it one more exit to the McDonald’s for breakfast—I had to pull over at a rest stop and let Chris take over. I have never had a harder two hour nap, which I’d hoped would last longer, but Chris’ lack of sleep meant I had to round out Ohio and take us through Pennsylvania. I turned it over to him in New York and nabbed another miniscule nap because he needed me to spot for him.


All told, we completed the 26 hour drive in just under 29 when you factor in stops for gas, snacks, and bathroom breaks. We got to Watkins Glen just in time for Thursday’s Happy Hour (which is, honestly, all the time), had a few well-deserved drinks, and took to the back of the Suburban for the best back-of-the-car sleep any human has ever had.

My husband kept calling what we did an unintentional Cannonball Run, and I can get down with that. We weren’t fast. We paced ourselves and didn’t drive any crazy or illegal speeds (pro tip: always drive a little bit slower than the fastest cars on the highway). We just drove non-fucking-stop until we got where we needed to go. And I hope we never have to do it again.


Orange Torana

Coming from Australia there are a couple of things I find hard to handle about the USA. HOA telling you what you can do in your own property? Working 4 jobs just to stay alive. How is this freedom?