There's nothing quite like riding on a bus for 27 hours with a few dozen software developers.

That's exactly what I did last weekend on my way to and from DevLink in Murfreesboro, TN.

The DevLink bus was the result of much hard work by Amanda who did most - if not all - the organizing.

The bus began its odyssey Wednesday night in Grand Rapids, MI before proceeding to Lansing.  When the bus picked me up in Plymouth, MI at 9:15 PM, it had already been traveling for 3 hours.  From there, it rolled on to Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati (its final southbound stop at 4AM) before proceeding to its final destination in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. 

The first half of the ride was great fun.  I met new people; I reconnected with old friends; and I met people face-to-face with whom I had only communicated electronically.

Event the two times the bus driver got lost couldn't dampen our spirits.  We were having too much fun.

After about 4AM, the trip began to drag.  Everyone was exhausted and the seats were too uncomfortable to allow more than a few minutes sleep at a time.  This was clearly a bus designed for cross-town trips – not cross-country trips.  DVDs provided some entertainment ("The Big Lebowski" and “Office Space” cracked me up) but you can only focus on movies for so long and the acoustics were less than ideal.

We arrived at our hotel worn and weary at 9:30AM Central time, over 13 hours after leaving Plymouth and 16 hours after the bus began its trip. 

24+ hours of sleep deprivation left me physically ill and I spent nearly all of Thursday in bed.

It was good that I did.  The conference began Friday morning and I awoke refreshed and ready to absorb and exchange ideas at what turned out to be an excellent conference.  (You can read more about it here.)

The ride home was an adventure.  Although the conference ended at 6PM, someone decided the bus shouldn't leave town until 9PM so we had to kill a few hours at a restaurant before heading out. 

Although we picked up at least one new traveler on the ride home, we lost a few more.  Some folks booked a flight to Chicago for a Monday business meeting and a couple people elected to rent a car and drive home rather than subject themselves to the length and discomfort of the bus ride.  I was tempted to join them but I stuck with my plan and boarded the bus at 9.

The mood was more subdued on the return trip. We still had some good conversations early in the ride but the environment lacked the energy sparked by seeing people for the first time in months.

About 2AM, I had just begun to drift to sleep when a sound like a jackhammer awakened me suddenly.  I was sitting just above the tire that blew flat traveling 65 miles an hour on I-71 just north of Louisville, KY.  We pulled off the highway in front of a Waffle House in Carrolton, KY and waited 3 hours for the tire to be fixed.  The repair would have taken far less time if the repair guy had not allowed a drunken Waffle House customer to play with the lug nut gun.  He sheared off the bolts on wheel, forcing the repair guy to return to his shop for more parts and weld on new bolts.

Waffle House provided some entertainment.  Corey attempted to start a relationship with one of the waitresses; and the manager tossed out a drunk who wouldn't stop ordering pork chops long after he was told the restaurant was out of pork chops.  Apparently the Carrolton Waffle House is a magnet for drunks at 2AM Saturday night.  Go figure.

We got back on the highway about 5AM so exhausted that even the uncomfortable seats wouldn't prevent a few hours dozing.

I thought things would go quicker after this because the drivers knew the route better, having just driven it 3 days earlier.  Alas, we became lost in northeast Ohio and drove nearly to Cleveland before turning west toward Toledo.

At 12:30 Eastern time - 14.5 hours after leaving the hotel and 17.5 hours after the end of the conference - we pulled into the parking lot in Plymouth.  I was never so happy to see my car and the 40 minute drive home seemed trivial. 

I was scheduled to read aloud at the 12:15 mass in my church and the last minute substitute is probably still angry with me for missing this, but we all arrived safely.

Was the bus ride a success?  Would I do it again?  Would I take a bus to a distant location with dozens of others like me?  I've decide that, if I can be promised a more comfortable seat, I will do it the next time it's offered.  Everything else was easily tolerable and I did enjoy the fellowship that came with such a long ride with like-minded people.  I even got a few job leads from the conversations I had on the two rides (I am between jobs for those who don't know).

If you go on such a trip, my only advice is

  1. Be prepared for anything
  2. If the Waffle House waitress in Carrolton, Ky tells you they are out of pork chops, shut up and order the hash browns. 

Note: Click here to see more photos from DevLink and the famous bus ride.