The last weekend before dead week is an academically serious one, though not an Adderall-fueled study binge like the two weeks to follow. This year, Memorial Day weekend was a gentle, deliberate windup in preparation for the fastballs on their way: papers, projects and exams.

A gentle windup unless, like me, you spent the weekend in Las Vegas.

I crammed myself along with 50 or so others into a bus equipped with no luxuries except for the loudspeakers constantly blaring EDM tracks at ear-splitting volume. With the mood set, we drove for more than seven hours through blazing deserts on both sides of the state line, finally reaching Las Vegas. We had just enough time to check into The Paris and gawk at the human masses spotlighted by the sun before getting started on the weekend.

Now, the particulars of my vacation are not exactly germane here, so I won’t include them. The nature of the destination, though, should give you an idea. Suffice it to say that when we boarded the bus on the morning of Memorial Day, we were haggard, sunburned and utterly unwilling to suffer through another seven hours of blasting EDM.

The bus (the same bus whose air conditioning broke down the previous Friday) was in even worse shape. Its mobile toilet had acquired a peculiar defect, shooting urine back at its surprised and dismayed users. Of course, the air conditioning was unfixed, so we opened the emergency exit windows to avoid heat stroke. Going back, we were joined by the tens of thousands of other travelers who thought Memorial Day was a good time to leave Las Vegas; traffic was unmoving. In our desperation, we opened a previously disguised sunroof and welcomed all the hypnotizing noise of the highway, alleviating the burdensome heat only slightly.

When finally we reached the California border, traffic opened up and the once-slight relief of the sunroof became a glorious stream of whipping wind. The drive through the desert was hours-long, and in the confluence of all these conditions (wind, heat, aridness, exhaustion, boredom, white noise, etc.), I came to a different state of consciousness that I will call Highway Nirvana. It is now no wonder to me that so many of the world’s great religions were born in the desert; extreme conditions have a very curious effect on the soul. As a result of this elevated state of mind, I feel I am now better prepared for the last sprint of the academic year than if I had spent the entire weekend in Davidson.

And I would like to share a few of my revelations with you:

Don’t let yourself be too comfortable. This was hard-learned by the dryness of my palate and the wetness of my perspiring head. When we mentally picture productive study sessions, many of us like to think of a teenage girl’s slumber party: lying in bed, snacks all around with feet kicked up over the belly-flopped body. Unfortunately, this is not a good setting for learning; this is a good setting for snacking and napping.

Challenge yourself. The ride through the desert was a lot easier when I asked myself the tough questions. Am I the kind of person who can’t handle a bus ride back from vacation? Do I want to be the kind of person who breaks down because bus ride conditions have made him, like all his friends, suffer a little? These kinds of leading questions motivate studying as well. Ask yourself if you’re the kind of person who can digest the dense material textbooks are made of. You’ll find the answer right in front of you.

Finally, remember that the whole thing will be done soon. As much as I hated the pain of the experience, now that the bus ride’s mercifully over, I can’t help thinking about the fact that I survived it with some degree of pride.

Maybe a return trip to Vegas next year, with all that entails, will be just the way to bring my mind back to that elevated consciousness that only true discomfort can bring.

Ben Moss picked up something new in Sin City.

 This article appeared online only at on Friday, May 31, 2013.
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