The Five Phases of an Early-Morning Adventure Carpool

There’s a scientifically proven*, direct correlation between outdoorsiness and driving long distances early on Saturday morning. I call this the early morning adventure carpool and it’s kind of a big deal for the modern day adventurer. While many find it grueling, I believe that embracing the drive is your ticket to a lifetime of outdoor-trip-based nirvana. An enlightened adventurer knows that the highway is just as much a part of the journey as the trail.

Finding joy in the routine will be your key to success. You see, every early-morning adventure carpool has five basic, unspoken phases in between home and the trailhead. No matter whom you’re with or where you’re headed, the drive will more or less fit into this formula:

Phase 1: The Pickup –Typically lasts 15-45 minutes (depending on group size and distance between friends). Highlights include: running 10 minutes late, waking up a friend when you call to say that you’re outside, trunk Tetris, people asking if it’s okay to eat breakfast in the car, still-too-hot coffee in thermoses rolling around on the floor, and having to go back for something forgotten. During The Pickup, music if often quiet or non-existent and likely to still be set on whatever was playing last night.

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Phase 2: Great Expectations - Typically lasts 30-60 minutes (depending on size of trip). Highlights include: merging onto the first stretch of highway, trying to find the trailhead on Google Maps, catching up with old friends, discussing the weather forecast, speculating on trip outcomes, and realizing you forgot your trekking poles but can probably make do without them. During Great Expectations, you can expect medium volume, medium tempo music—whatever you think sets the scene for adventure.

Phase 3: The Lull – Typically lasts 30-60 minutes (depending on how many people failed to bring coffee). Highlights include: initial stoke wearing off, staring out the window and watching the sunrise, everyone admitting they got way less than eight hours of sleep, someone falling asleep in the back (Peter, I’m looking at you), and multi-minute periods of literal zero conversation. During The Lull, listen to someone’s work or study playlist at a low-medium volume and tempo, or an episode of the driver’s favorite podcast.

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Phase 4: Gas Station Pit Stop – Typically lasts 10-15 minutes (depending on line for the restroom). Highlights include: Scoffing at gas stations that aren’t directly visible from the highway, filling up (on gas and coffee), trying not to touch anything in the restroom, someone buying a questionable breakfast food item, stretching next to the car, and switching drivers. During The Pit Stop, if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to a gas station playlist, which has a significantly higher than average chance of including Nickelback.

Phase 5: The Final Countdown – Typically Lasts 30-90 minutes (depending on how far into the wilderness you’re going). Highlights include: People in the back leaning forward to see a mountain that just came into view, contagious stoke, speeding on forest roads, dodging potholes, and chugging the rest of your coffee and urgently having to get out and pee in the woods shortly before arriving. For music, you can usually expect up tempo, up-volume beats. Better yet, roll down your windows and blast John Denver, singing along loudly and proudly.

Remember that reading about the five unspoken phases is no substitute for real world adventure carpooling. You and your bleary-eyed friends need to get out there on the open road and experience the thrills and chills of rural gas station bathrooms for yourselves.

*To my knowledge, no “scientifically proven, direct correlation” actually exists. But come on. You know it’s true.


Photos by Forest Woodward and Elise Giordano.