I am getting to the point in life where I am less interested in getting “stuff” for my birthday, and am more interested in experiences. Todd and I decided to buy each other experiences for Christmas, and it works out well because you can buy tickets for something that’ll happen later on in the year. It’s like Christmas keeps on happening when we get to do something cool together later on.

Friday was my birthday. And Todd, in true awesome Todd form, surprised me with booking me in to the Writer’s Digest conference in New York City this summer. He also got me new seat covers for my car, as Potter likes to snack on those on occasion. But the best thing I could have gotten was the ultimate in cool experiences.

A week prior to my birthday he sent out a message on Facebook to a few of our friends. “Beej and I want to go on a road trip for her birthday, wanna come?”

“Sure,” most of them wrote back. “Where are we going?”

“Here’s the thing…” he began.

Here’s the thing. Usually not so good things start with “here’s the thing.” But this time the “thing” was very cool.

“Here’s the thing. We’re going to rent a van, fill it with gas, roll the dice and drive in that direction until the van runs out of gas.”

“Cool!” our friends wrote back. “We’re in!” It was seven of us in all: me, Todd, Nikki, Shawn, Allie, Tyler and Sean.

On Saturday morning Todd rolled up in the Adventure Van he’d rented. Our friends got to the house. Nikki and Shawn made T-shirts. They said “BJ’s Birthday Adventure Squad” on the front, and a compass on the back that said “Are we where yet?” around it. We put on the T-shirts and piled into the van. The first stop was the truck stop to fill the tank. Then we stood around while I rolled a die. Because we live in Rhode Island, we can’t exactly go east. We’d eventually drown. One and two were for south, three and four were for north, five and six were for west.

I rolled a six. We all hooted and hollered. New York! Pennsylvania! Do you think we could get to Ohio on this tank?

We set out west and crossed Connecticut. Half way through Connecticut we stopped at the Saint Clements Castle. Nikki had gone there for a wedding once, and she said there are gorgeous views of the Connecticut River from there. We parked in front of a sculpture. Todd rolled down the windows and blasted Rush while we positioned ourselves around the sculpture. Just as I was about to take the picture, the staff from the castle came running out of the place and bee-lined to us. “What are you doing here? You can’t park here!” They were totally about to kick us out.

Then they saw the T-shirts.

Saint Clement Castle Connecticut

“OK, who’s BJ?” I raised my hand, they wished me happy birthday. They took our pictures. Told us what the cool things are to see inside the castle, where a good view of the river was. Nikki and Shawn saved the day with those shirts. We explored the castle and then headed into Middletown for lunch.

We continued west until we got on a highway and crossed the state line into New York. We still had three quarters of a tank to go. We continued west into Pennsylvania, the miles flew under our wheels. We listened to music. Laughed, sang along, quoted movies, ate donuts. All those fun things that good friends do in a large van barreling to the unknown.

We arrived in Scranton, Pennsylvania. We still had enough gas to take us 120 miles. We stopped to look at the map. There was nothing exciting to the west of Scranton. We rolled the dice. Odds for north, evens for south. Six. South. What’s south of Scranton? Gettysburg. We all like history, let’s go check out Gettysburg.

We headed south, watching the miles remaining on the tank tick lower and lower. We discussed the pros and cons of running out of gas on the highway or off. I feared getting into a high speed accident on the highway. We pulled off when we only had a few miles left.

The display read zero. We kept driving through back roads. One of them was even a dirt road. We went fifteen more miles on zero. Then twenty. We got back on the highway, lamenting the time we’d wasted. We could have been in Gettysburg by now! Twenty five miles. Thirty. Then once we approached thirty five miles, the engine died and Todd steered it into the breakdown lane.

We ran out of gas just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Todd brought out the jug of gas he packed in the back. What? Did you actually think we’d set out to run out of gas without having a jug? I am married to an Eagle Scout. Dude had this plan on lock.

He and Shawn poured gas into the tank, then we drove through Harrisburg to find a station. “Oh, this one is $1.95. Maybe we should keep going until we find something cheaper,” I joked.

We continued on. Nikki booked us into a Wyndham Hotel in Gettysburg. We went to dinner and window shopped on the historic looking street.

Nikki and Shawn in Gettysburg

The next morning we arrived at the Gettysburg National Park to explore the battlefield. The battlefield is in an area that is a three mile by five mile rectangle. Monuments dot the entire field. We hired a tour guide to ride with us in the Adventure Van and tell us all about the epic battle that tool place over three days in July 1863. The story of the battle was very convoluted. This general was over here, that one was over there, there was another one on that hill, then another one over there and over there and over yonder. It sounds like it was just utter chaos for three whole days until finally all the generals exhausted themselves and the battle ended. We went to the spot where the Gettysburg Address was delivered by President Lincoln.

After two hours we said goodbye to our guide and headed east to make it back home. We cleaned out the van. Hugged our goodbyes. We just spent 30 some odd hours together in a van, and we all still like each other after all that time.

I will never forget this birthday for as long as I live. Thank you Todd, Sean, Nikki, Shawn, Allie and Tyler for making this an incredible birthday. I am so happy to have friends who are willing to go on a spontaneous adventure and let the dice speak to where we are going. Love you guys!

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.