Bus2Antarctica: The First 36 Hours

Traveler contributing editor Andrew Evans spent the weekend traveling by Greyhound bus from Washington D.C. to Houston on the first leg of his Bus2Antarctica quest, and just started the second leg, which will have him crossing over the Mexico border. Here’s a recap of what he’s seen so far. Be sure to follow his Twitter feed @Bus2Antarctica for up-to-the-moment reports on his adventure.

D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and then Texas. That’s eight states, America’s one and only district, and four buses. The first bus, a Metrobus, left National Geographic headquarters at 11:28 a.m. on New Year’s Day and cost me $1.35. The next bus left the Washington, DC Greyhound station at 12:40 p.m. and cost me $159.00.

The Greyhound station in D.C. is just a few blocks north of the magnificent beaux arts palace of Union Station. I have to say, in the last few years, the bus station has cleaned up a lot–I was surprised by how fresh and modern it looked inside and also how organized the whole boarding process was. 

“What’s your final destination, sir?” asked my bus driver. Antarctica was the real answer–my final destination is the bottom of the world–but even Greyhound doesn’t go that far.

“Houston,” I replied. My driver still checked my ticket and corrected me, “No, it’s Atlanta. Houston comes next.” Greyhound tickets are ticketed per leg of the journey, with different drivers only taking the ticket that their drive will cover. My ticket to Texas was eight pages long; my driver took the first three.

I sat in the front seat all the way to Richmond. Honestly, I was too excited to do anything except watch the view out the window. All the heavy snow had melted away, leaving a naked brown landscape of trees and grass. Right after crossing into North Carolina, the sun set in a stunning ball of fire.

In the early night we zigzagged across North Carolina, from Durham to Raleigh to Greensboro to Winston-Salem and then on to Charlotte. We stopped for a few minutes at every station–just long enough to get out and stretch our legs and just long enough for the guy sitting behind me to get arrested.

Greensboro, NC boasts a great little old-fashioned bus and train station that’s so well preserved that they’ve even kept some of the original polished, curved wooden benches as well as a fortunetelling machine [photo]. I put the requested quarter into the red slot and stood there for a good five minutes, waiting for direction. Alas, none came. Such is my fortune.

Even less fortunate was my seatmate on the bus, who tried to roll a joint and smoke it outside the station. Not three minutes later, he’d been arrested and carted off to jail for the night. The policeman boarded the bus to collect the offender’s bags.

“We keep telling ’em we got cameras everywhere in the station but they don’t believe us,” explained the officer.

In Winston-Salem it was I who was the offender. After a good eight hours on the bus, the driver finally explained that front seats are for the handicapped and that I looked pretty “capped” to him. Capable enough to sit in the back of the bus. Oops! I moved all my things to the far back and tried to sleep, but we kept stopping.

In Charlotte, the passengers all rushed to the recharging table–a strip of outlets added to most Greyhound stations to enable folks like me to keep tweeting all through the night. At first there were only four of us recharging our phones and a laptop, but the laptop was playing a pirated copy of Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” documentary (set for DVD release in February 2010), and that drew a crowd. The copy of the film was dubbed and subtitled in Ukrainian (a language that I happen to read), so I translated Michael to my new friends. Even more people gathered around us, and pretty soon, the bus station had turned into a midnight Michael Jackson memorial, with some women crying softly, others pulling up memories from the original Jackson Five. The impromptu experience was religious in feel, as more and more devotees came and paid their respects to Michael’s dancing, singing image on a computer screen with floating Cyrillic text beneath him.

I got a full hour and a half

break in Atlanta, Georgia, which (by the way) was the coldest part of my journey so far. Even at four in the morning, the place was hopping.

About a hundred military officers swarmed the place, including a pack of female soldiers who were discussing when and where it’s appropriate to wear makeup in the Army and comparing their favorite brands of steel-toe boots. They were all headed back to Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri.

The sun came up an hour outside of Columbus, Georgia and as we later crossed into Alabama, the scenery went from interesting to beautiful.

As we trundled across Alabama, I recalled my fondness for the South.

Even in winter, the cypress and cedar trees stood tall and green, while the red earth stood in stark contrast to the dead yellow brush of the fields.

My bus passed the great commercial icons of Southern living–Waffle House, Winn-Dixie, Piggly Wiggly–along with a range of conflicting memorials–to the Tuskegee airmen of World War II, to the first White House of the Confederacy, and Jefferson Davis’s post-Civil War home in Biloxi, Mississippi. And Gulfport–despite its scars of destruction that are still evident after Hurricane Katrina–is a town of lovely white sand beaches and stunning old Southern homes with two-story verandas that look far out over the flat blue Gulf of Mexico.

My second sun set was over Lake Ponchartrain, then New Orleans popped into view right at dusk. The huge, art deco bus station was also going full tilt at six o’clock in the evening. I suspect that it’s the only Greyhound station that sells Mardi Gras masks and feather boas. I regretted my limited time, wanting to go into the city, but I have buses to catch and mileage to make, so I continued onward.

It was dark for the second half of Louisiana but I could see the stars and moon reflected in the swamp below us. The twinkling lights of farms and distant oil refineries kept peeking through the shadowy shapes of hanging Spanish moss and spooky trees, and all I kept thinking was how much of an engineering feat is our highway interstate system, especially the section of I-10 that flies across such a huge stretch of water as Lake Pontchartrain (23 miles).

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In Baton Rouge, I was greeted by Twitter follower and local college student Sarah Miller, who showed up at the bus station to wish me well and to introduce me to Louisiana’s–Cajun and crawfish-flavored Crawtator potato chips. It was great to meet someone who’s been following along on the journey and to hear about her dreams to get to Antarctica someday, too. There’s a lot of us out there.

I missed the Texas border sign because I was too busy with my awesome playlist

chosen by all of you. Regardless, I was happy to be home: I am a born Texan and despite growing up in the Midwest, I’m still a Texan at heart. Even the road signs show off in Texas–the first green and white mileage sign said, “Beaumont 23, El Paso 857” which, reading between the lines translates as, “Heck yeah, we really are that big.”

The Houston skyline materialized from the pitch-black horizon at around one o’clock in the morning. The skyscrapers were barely lit and as we spun down from I-10 down into the city blocks below, I thought, “If Houston has perfected anything, it’s how to build freeways.”

My amazing dad probably thought he was off the hook after I got my driver’s license back in high school, but no, even now he still had to come pick me up in the middle of the night. This time at 1:30 a.m. from downtown Houston. For that he gets a medal.

After 36 hours I was just a little bit tired so I fell into a nice, comfortable bed and didn’t wake up for ages.

Andrew continues his journey today, when he will cross the border into Mexico. Bookmark all of his blog posts here, and follow him on Twitter @Bus2Antarctica. For more information about the Bus2Antarctica trip, go here.

Top photo: Brian Gratwicke. All other photos via Andrew’s TweetPhoto stream

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