EAST COUNTY — East County resident Joseph Axtell doesn’t normally enter contests.
But, after a long day of meticulous planning and aggressive social-media recruiting, Axtell won a coveted prize.
Axtell, a 23-year-old University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee senior business major, won the #VolvoJoyride contest on Pinterest sponsored by Volvo, earning a four-day, three-night road trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., in his dream car.
The package included a free two-night hotel stay, $250 for gas and food, $200 for clothes and a $50 iTunes gift card.
Volvo went over budget for Axtell, allowing him to stay an extra night and paying for his fiancé, Michael Nedervelt, to ride with him.
“I was ecstatic the whole day when I found out I won,” Axtell said. “Anything you win is interesting and fun. I’ve never won anything this big. The only thing better would be winning the car.”
From Dec. 1 through Dec. 4, in a 2013 Volvo S60 T5, to the pace of Lady Gaga tunes that blared from the speakers, Axtell and Nedervelt crossed eight states, burned through nine tanks of gas and drove nearly 2,500 miles en route to the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.
In between the 31-hour trek, the couple made stops in Ashburn, Ga., to see the world’s largest peanut monument; Nashville, Tenn., in a quest to taste fried green tomatoes; and St. Louis, where the Gateway Arch awaited.
To win, Axtell had to pin his ideal road trip, to a destination of his choice, on his Pinterest page, including pictures and captions that described the attractions he would attend, the clothes he would wear and the music to which he’d listen.
Volvo selected the winners — Axtell was one of three winners in the United States selected out of 700 applicants — based on which page had the most likes, comments and repins between Sept. 5 and Sept. 26.
For Axtell, that meant pushing his Facebook friends to get involved.
“That was the real legwork,” Axtell said. “My friends probably got annoyed with me.”
A car enthusiast and social-media junkie, Axtell follows Volvo on Pinterest and saw the details of the contest the day it was announced.
That day, Sept. 5, Axtell plugged in a route to Colorado Springs, a destination he chose because he could visit friends, through Google.
Throughout the route, Google recommended attractions. Axtell then vigorously researched each, selected some that interested him and sprinkled eccentric details to the trip that gave it “Joe style.”
On his Pinterest page, Axtell posted a picture of a Volvo dealership in Colorado Springs where he could drop off the car for an oil change. He even detailed the name of a potential salesman there.
He posted a caption that detailed his devotion to his ride, how he would hand wash the Volvo S60 T5 and scrub its snowy floor mats if it got dirty.
He gave a shoutout to Lady Gaga, telling followers, “It is highly likely I will listen to songs from her album, ‘Born This Way,’ multiple times during the trip.”
By the end, each picture earned about 31 to 35 likes.
“I think Volvo liked that I was conscientious about maintaining the car,” Axtell said. “I’m very meticulous about keeping cars clean. I geared the trip toward me, and maybe that is why I won. I mean, not listening to Lady Gaga would not be me.”
As the Oct. 1 deadline to announce the winners passed, Axtell grew nervous and began pestering Volvo with emails for a week.
“I was like, ‘Come on, who is winning here?’” Axtell said.
Finally, during the second week in October, Volvo messaged Axtell on Twitter.
“It was obvious I won then,” Axtell said. “No one believed me.”
After he learned the news, Axtell teamed with the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee to host a send-off party at the school with his friends.
Axtell and his school teamed up to create a Facebook fan page, and USF livestreamed video and photos.
Axtell also promised Volvo he would blog about the trip throughout.
On the morning of Dec. 1, Axtell and his fiancé picked up the vehicle at the Volvo of Sarasota.
The trip started out like any other day.
On the trip’s second day, Axtell took a break from a “boring and gruesome” drive through the cornfields of Kansas to pick up a 150-watt power inverter for his Apple laptop and spent hours locked up in his hotel room cranking out a business plan due for a class that day.
Later, Axtell and his fiancé enjoyed the unusual.
Axtell went nose-to-nose with a squirrel outside the Cheyenne resort when the rodent boldly approached him.
“Squirrels don’t normally do that,” Axtell said. “It was memorable.”
To cap the trip, the couple took a two-hour detour to Breckenridge, Colo., where they stopped to chase a herd of horses and pet a donkey before they drifted on a gondola lift — a cable car aerial lift propelled by cables — above the snowy mountains of a ski resort.
“The mountains were mesmerizing,” Axtell said. “Breckenridge was so homey and nice. I wish I could live there.”
As he reflected on a trip that surpassed his expectations, Axtell made a plea to Volvo.
“Hopefully they saw how passionate I was about their brand so maybe I can work for them one day,” Axtell said.
BY THE NUMBERS:
86.059 Total gallons of gas used
9 Total stops for gas
12 Total number of listens to Lady Gaga songs
8 Total number of states driven through
1 Number of audio books listened
to during the trip