From left: Monica Horsley, Kate Semp, Kelly Vance and Kate HallPhoto by Ash Daniel
The ladies at Richmondmom.com don't need OnStar when they hop on the Information Superhighway. The same is not true when navigating the intricacies of downtown Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"Even with OnStar, we drove around for 45 minutes trying to find our way," says Monica Horsley, who was one of three West End social-media mavens asked by Richmondmom.com founder and über-blogger Kate Hall to drive 1,500 miles from Richmond to Austin, Texas, in March, raising money for underprivileged schools while blogging and tweeting like mad about their experiences as part of the Chevy Roadtrip Challenge. The final destination was a five-day stay at South by Southwest, taking in everything techno and new at the country's pre-eminent music, film and technology event.
"Basically, I got this email asking me, ‘Will you participate?'" says Hall, who didn't hesitate to jump at the chance to spend 44 sweaty hours in a cramped Chevy Traverse. "Everybody [in Richmond] kept saying, ‘Oh, my God, I can't believe you're going to have four girls in a car that long,' but it's been fun."
Hall's other two draftees to her team, optimistically named RVAEpicTales, were Kate Semp and Kelly Vance.
While in Tuscaloosa, the four women stopped by Alberta Elementary School, which was destroyed along with a fair bit of the town by a powerful line of storms and tornadoes last spring, in order to spread joy, paper products and Richmond-style goodwill. Another stop at a school outside Austin rounded out the pre-SXSW portion of the trip.
At Richmond's own George Washington Carver Elementary, the women stopped by on the first day of their drive to drop off about $1,100 with their adopted teacher, Alexander Mustico, whose third-grade class tracked the women online during the trip. The funds were raised through donations to the nonprofit organization Adopt-A-Classroom.
By the time the crew rolled into Austin, that amount had swelled to more than $1,300. In the end, they raised closer to $1,500, though the exact total is uncertain because some location donations went directly to the designated schools in Tuscaloosa and Texas.
"We've been joking about the whole ‘Richmond is the next Austin' thing while we were here [in Austin]," says Horsley. But all four women now agree, Richmond doesn't need to be Austin because it's already got moxie.
Chevy plans its own trip to Richmond to follow up with the group on July 20, paying due respects at a meeting of the Social Media Club of Richmond.
The four travelers gathered recently at Short Pump's newest hip hangout, the Wine Loft, for a post-challenge debrief. All four looked no worse for the wear — even Vance, who is expecting a child — and all enjoyed talking about their trip over a glass or two (of water, in Vance's case).
Perhaps the trip's most absurd moment, the group agreed, was the night they tried using the Traverse's wall-socket-style electrical outlet. Horsley got clever, whipping out a multiplug power strip that allowed them maximum screenage, and the crew proceeded to plug in just about every gadget in their considerable tool chest.
Predictably, the Traverse's electrical system could take only so much, and the fuse blew. Hall immediately threw up a jokey post about tripping the circuit with a hot curling iron.
"They thought we were serious," Hall says. The folks at OnStar decided to teach them a little lesson about overloading circuits with household appliances.
"When we got in the car the next day, the lights were miraculously back on," Horsley says. It wasn't until Austin, where they met with members of the OnStar team, that they found out that the fuse had been reset remotely for them — but only after depriving them of juice overnight.
"How were we supposed to know they'd take us seriously?" asks Hall.