And just like that, it’s over.
Whew! What just happened?
We’re back at our home outside Austin (for the first time in about seven weeks) and trying to settle back into our “normal” lives. But after trying for a couple of days – and after everything we’ve experienced the last few weeks – we’re pretty sure that our “normal” will never be the same. And that’s an exciting thought.
When we last left you here in the blogosphere, we had just left beautiful Baker City, Oregon and were making our final run toward Seattle and the closing ceremonies for the Best of the Road rally. Driving west out of Baker City we came alongside the beautiful and majestic Columbia River, and the Columbia River Gorge. And if you’ve never made that drive, you definitely should. At least once. There’s one point in the drive when the gorge opens up in front of you, and Mount Hood just appears – magically, it seems - in all its majesty right there in front of you. Just like that. Truly an awesome sight.
We made it as far as Portland, where we locked ourselves in our room for couple of nights at a cozy Comfort Suites, and hammered out our final few blogs and videos from the road in order to meet our Best of the Road deadline. Portland, as we understand it, is a beautiful town… but unfortunately we got to see very little of it over the course of two days. We did stop by and get a couple of crispy burritos at Taco Time, however. Does that count as a “Portland” experience? Doubt it.
Still, we got tons of work done during our stay, and before we knew it we were in the car again – this time for the last time – and on the road to beautiful Seattle.
Looooks Liiiike We Maaaaaade Iiiiiitttt…
A crazy feeling, rolling into the Emerald City. We’d driven so far – more than 5,600 miles in fact – and we’d seen and done so much in the previous four weeks that it was truly and honestly very difficult to believe it was already about to end. This was literally the fastest month of our entire lives. And boom! It’s over! Wow.
Once we got into town, we got settled into the fabulous W Hotel downtown, where the good folks at Rand McNally put everybody up for the weekend. (Cheers guys!) And we spent the first day there exploring a bit of Seattle, enjoying beautiful weather, the easy-going vibe, and a couple of quiet meals in the shadow of the Space Needle. Very cool.
And then came the really hard part.
We spent much of Friday night preparing our final presentation, which we were scheduled to give to the panel of judges on Saturday morning. We tried our best to distill our entire cross-country experience into one short hour, and hopefully make it clear, coherent, compelling and somewhat entertaining. Although when we finally put the finishing touches on it about 2:30 a.m., we weren’t sure it was any of those things. So we went to bed, got about five hours of sleep, woke up and hoped for the best.
The presentation, we thought, actually went very well. Especially considering we were literally adding and changing a few things at the last minute. The judges were very gracious and all took our material to heart, but even as we left the presentation room we were still pretty anxious. The other four teams in the rally were also giving their presentations that morning after all, and each of them had an outstanding chance of taking the big prize. Win or lose, we decided, we would simply be grateful to have had such an amazing opportunity.
But we didn’t have time to dwell on it much (thank goodness) because as soon as we finished our presentation we had to make a bee-line directly to the Washington State Convention Center, where the final shots for the Travel Channel show were being taped. After cruising around the block a few times looking for a parking spot, we walked in to the convention center and were immediately taken aback by what we saw. In the middle of a huge open area of the center, crews had constructed a huge set for the show, with cameras everywhere, cables snaking across the floor, huge lights perched around the room and massive white, light-diffusing panels above it all. Far out. When do you get the chance to walk onto the set of your own Travel Channel show? Very far out.
It just got crazier from there. We actually had make-up artists come over and touch us up before the cameras started rolling, and the ladies were gracious enough to pose for some cool pics with us. (Our very first make-up artists! Woot woot!) And after a bit longer, they turned the cameras on and we all went to work.
Well, we call it work, anyway. We had the easiest jobs of anybody there. And really, it was little more than going up and down a set of stairs a few times, standing in place for a couple of hours, and saying what we had to say when Bert (the host of the show) called on us to talk. And that was about it. We actually wrapped a couple hours early and went straight to the bar at the W for a little “unwinding.”
(BTW: The show will air on the Travel Channel next week! July 25th at 8 p.m. Eastern. So be sure to tune in and watch! We’ll be as interested as anyone to see how it turns out. How exciting!)
The Closing Ceremony
So the really exciting stuff happened later that night.
Instead of a big, public closing ceremony, the Best of the Road folks opted for a more intimate, more private affair – the idea of which we absolutely loved. So they treated the entire BOTR gang – all the teams, the folks from Rand McNally, the folks from USA Today and the CBS/Travel Channel guys – to a private dinner cruise of Lakes Union and Washington. And it was a beautiful night. Just perfect.
We spent the next several hours having an absolute ball. Eating, drinking, talking, smiling, laughing and trying to soak up every last minute – every last second - with all these amazing people who have become like family to us. So happy that we could all be there together – one last time – before saying goodbye and heading back out into the real world (and back to our real lives). It was truly a special night we’ll always remember.
Then, of course, came the presentation of the winning team.
Through the course of the night, we had both come to accept the notion that we didn’t win. As we mentioned earlier, we had simply decided to be grateful just for being there, and for having seen and done everything we had experienced over the last month. It was an amazing experience (as we’ve said a thousand times already) and one that may result in another seismic shift in our lives. And we were truly happy for that alone, and content with the idea that the grand prize was going to another team. So when they pulled out that big check with “Team Two for the Road” written on it, we were floored. Overwhelmed. And overcome with emotion.
We both cried like babies as we stood in front of everybody and did our best to thank them and tell them how much they – and this experience – meant to us.
What a moment.
What a night.
What a month.
What a ride.
Again, there are so many people to thank for this experience. Rebecca, Ashley, Blair, Ryan, and the whole gang at Rand McNally. John, Victoria, Laura and the team at USA Today. All of our fellow teams: Rick and Sandi. Jen and Bob. Anna and Patricia. Mike and Brian. You guys will forever be our brothers and sisters out there in the trenches. All the folks on the road who treated us like royalty, showed us around their beautiful towns, and totally re-affirmed our faith in people (and in small towns). All of you who have been so great about reading our blogs, watching our videos, and keeping us company via social media on the road. And our incredible friends and families, who have been so supportive, so loving and so reassuring throughout this process. We hope we made you proud!
Lastly, a very special thank you to the two people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder (many times literally) with us during this entire experience, and have become two of our dearest friends. To Bill McCurdy and his daughter Lauren – our crew from CBS/Travel Channel. Many of you guys got to meet Bill and Lauren while we were out there on the road, and you know what incredible people they are. And we can’t imagine what this trip would have been like without them. With them we shared lots and lots of laughter, lots and lots of great wine, a few tears here and there, and some incredible highs as well as frustrating lows. And through it all, we stuck together and we made an amazing team. So cheers guys! Here’s to the finest crew (available)!
God Bless y’all! More to come, if you can believe it… so stay tuned!
Nik and Dusty