Category Archives: unplanned adventure

Road Terror

Numana Italy

My toes are cramping from curling them, my teeth are aching from clamping them and my stomach is in knots. I’ve given up with faux braking and am assuming the fetal position.

There is no need to seek out a theme park for a thrill ride. Any Italian road will do, whether on foot or in a car.

Boldly striped pedestrian crossings meant to give one the right of way appear to be optional for the motorist.

Once across the busy north/south road along the promenade in the seaside town it was tempting to let one’s guard down only to be taken out by a cyclist on the cycle path.

The promenade was no sanctuary for the unwary as cyclists sought their thrills weaving in and out of pedestrians or taking a high speed direct line to watch unsuspecting pedestrians leap left and right like a bowling ball down the middle of the pins for a strike.

We fared no better in my (new!) car. Himself braked for a cyclist who cut in front of him then he swerved as she proceeded in front of him completely oblivious while talking on her phone. When he swerved left to avoid her, a car came out from a side road on the left and having avoided that a whole family stepped out onto a pedestrian crossing in front of us.

Numana Italy

I assumed the autostrade – being wider with no pedestrians and limited access – would be less nerve-wracking.

We watched a car full of young lads tailgate a motorcycle to within a meter of him. The motorcycle was boxed in with nowhere to go. As we were all doing 80 mph, we willed the motorcyclist to hold his nerve and not fall off.

The style of driving here is to stay as close as possible to the motor in front whether traveling at 15 mph or 80 mph. A 15 mph rear-ender would be annoying. At 80 mph it would be deadly.

The tailgaters on the autostrade – predominately BMWs, Mercedes and Audis – given an open road are easily motoring at 120 mph.

I’m going to close my eyes now and pretend I’m not in the car.


Okay. Awake now. We survived. Toll to be paid. Himself pulled up to an automated toll booth. Great. Cash only. Oh wonderful.

I inserted the ticket I’d taken at the start of the day (remember we are in a right-hand drive car in a country of left-hand drive cars so tackling tolls is my job – lucky me). The digital readout was €28.50. A ten and a twenty. That should be easy.

I tried to insert the ten. It wouldn’t go in. I turned it over. Nope. I turned it around. Nope. And over. Success!

The machine sucked in the bill, spat it out again and it blew away! I couldn’t open the door as himself had thoughtfully pulled up to the toll gubbins as close as he could so I could reach. He pulled forward at an angle so I could squeeze out of the door in my bare feet (no time to find flip-flops). In my panic I hit my head, knocking off my sunglasses (****!) then chased the bill down the road.

Back in the car:

“Back up!”

“I can’t!”

“You have to! I can’t reach!”

“There’s a car behind me!”

“The barrier’s still down!”

“I know!”

He did back up. Now what?

We certainly didn’t have €28.50 in coins. I tried the ten again. The machine sucked it up and I slapped my hand over the slot. It didn’t reappear. I tried the twenty and slapped the machine again with more than necessary vigor. It disappeared too and change tinkled out.

I think the toll machine is related to our SatNav – another long tale of woe to follow.

The same three cars were still at the toll booth in the next lane as our barrier went up and we drew away.

So it’s not just me.

Or is it?

Where’s my sofa? I want to go home.

Numana Italy

The photos in this post, taken in Numana, Italy, are completely irrelevant to the subject matter here and are purely to keep me in a calm frame of mind as I read and proofread the post.

You Can’t Get There From Here

“Were you bored out of your mind?”

“No. I enjoyed it. The fellow across the aisle was bored. He woke himself up twice snoring.”

We were killing time and had just been to the cinema to see a film chosen for my sensibilities, not the blood and guts, mumbling gangster type of movie Jimmy prefers.

It seemed that the only purpose of our “world” tour was to see the Grand Canyon and we just couldn’t get there.

We had a deadline for the end of March for flights booked from Seattle and as it would be a 2,200 mile detour added on to the next leg of the tour, it seemed sensible to bide our time for a day or two.

Each of the last three campsites on this leg – Hope, Cottonwood and Prescott, all in Arizona – was a staging post to get us to Williams, Arizona, the nearest practical campsite for us to drive to the Grand Canyon. Now here’s the rub. Williams was snowed in.

Click pic to enlarge.

Waiting for it to become passable and campable (yes, spellcheck, I know that’s not a word. I’m American. I make up words) we’d been for coffee, for lunch, toured the local area including Tuzigoot and Jerome, done laundry, washed the car, made soup, baked a cake, surfed the web, dawdled at the local discount store, hired DVDs, cleaned the trailer inside and out, caught up with correspondence and still couldn’t get near Williams.

After a daytrip to Flagstaff three feet of snow blanketed the entire area and the weather was coming towards us so we retreated further south from Cottonwood to Prescott only to find that it was colder there. I was hoping we’d flee further to Hope, or better still evacuate to Yuma with all the wrinklies baking in the hot Arizona sun for the winter.

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A little bare patch for us. Looks innocuous doesn’t it?

A good internet signal allowed us to watch the weather and when a day came with no snowflakes falling from the cartoon cloud picture for Williams we made a run for it. It was very beautiful when we arrived. And very white. We hadn’t taken into account that although it wasn’t snowing that day it had already snowed – a lot. What is obvious to normal people isn’t always apparent to us.

We successfully pitched our camp in the sunshine and twinkling snow – someone had occupied and vacated a campsite and left a handy bare spot for us – and the following day we had our first experience of the Grand Canyon from the south rim. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know that it has to be seen to be believed. If you haven’t, words (and pictures) can never do it justice. The vast splendor of the canyon can barely be taken in whilst there.

The weatherman had a little game with us and promised snow for two days and so we hurtled along the rim of the canyon where the National Park Service has made the rugged landscape accessible to tourists, stopping at every viewpoint and snapping hundreds of pictures to get that last perfect shot just before the weather closed in.

Defying the meteorological experts, the vistas became brighter and clearer. Though treacherous underfoot with hard packed snow and ice, even the coach parties dressed in their capris and canvas shoes were able to make the most of the winter viewing. That was in the daytime. The daytime weather was good.

I’m too cold to continue. I’ll see you same time, same place on Friday.

They’re Not With Us Officer

Source: Public domain

There is almost always a choice of routes to take. I’ve opted out of making a final decision. Whatever happens after we set off will be Jimmy’s fault. The interstate, a U.S. route, a state route, a county road, a farm road – his choice.

Traveling from Deming in southern New Mexico to Bisbee, Arizona, Jimmy took the scenic route, a pale pencil mark of a road in the road atlas, and he regretted it almost immediately as our teeth juddered in our heads and the trailer bobbed manically behind us on the rough road surface.

Struggling steadily uphill, we emerged onto a high plateau of desert where a huge azure sky formed a canopy to distant golden mountains. We were adventurers on a high sea of desert and we had this pristine landscape to ourselves. We settled into a companionable mutual admiration of our surroundings until hunger distracted us.

The narrow verge offered no place to stop but a picnic area was marked on the map just over the Arizona state line. We cruised until it came into view and . . . there was a car. Our desolate picnic stop was marred by evidence of humanity when we hadn’t seen another car for at least an hour.

The driver’s door of the car was hanging open, legs were dangling out of the passenger window and the hood was up. Something at the back of my brain struck me as odd that in 79 miles of deserted road this car was able to break down at the picnic area. And the lounging legs seemed a little nonchalant for potentially being stranded in the desert.

The paved picnic area was spacious so as Jimmy pulled off the road I dismissed my concerns and I began routing around on the back seat for the picnic bag, bottles of water, potato chips, a useless cell phone.

I had hopped into the trailer to retrieve some crackers when I heard, “Sir. Excuse me, sir. Do you have any water? We have overheated,” in Mexican-accented English.

“We’ve only got drinking water,” Jimmy replied.

Not wanting to seem uncharitable I didn’t care to waste our meager supply of bottled water into a possibly empty and leaking radiator. “I think there’s a little water in the tank. I’ll see if I can fill the kettle,” which I did and handed it out the door. I now saw a slender dark-skinned lad of about 22 with Jimmy and they walked across to a silver sedan where another lad stood. They were both dressed in jeans and checked, collared shirts and both spoke good English – just a couple of Mexican/American young men driving an American car – nothing unusual as we were no more than 25 miles from the Mexican border.

As I busied myself with setting up our lunch on the picnic table a faint unease settled over me. I heard the lads querying Jimmy about a Border Patrol checkpoint we had been waved through earlier in the day and the distances between there and the town of Douglas in the opposite direction. Didn’t they know which way they wanted to go?

Checking my phone, it was still searching for service so it was useless. I began calculating the distances between the trio at the silver car bent over the engine, myself, our car and trailer – both unlocked, my handbag, my keys and considered sprinting to . . . . . .  where? What did I think I was going to do? Lunge for the car and scream, “Run!?” Uncertainty tinged with fear prickled through my body.

Jimmy loped back to the picnic table at this point, empty kettle in hand, and as he sat down beside me I tried to dismiss my misgivings. After a top up of cool water in their engine the boys had settled into their earlier relaxed poses.


Staring across at the boys who seemed to be out for an afternoon’s nap in the desert I asked, “Was the engine very hot?”

“No. It didn’t seem hot at all.”

“I don’t like this. Something’s not right. I think we should go.” Jimmy snatched a sandwich from me as I began to repack the picnic. He was ravenous and had more hours of driving ahead of him.

File:Border Patrol in Montana.jpg

Just then the Border Patrol pulled up – a car and a van – in their distinctive livery of white with a bold green stripe. “Look at that Patrol car. They’ve hidden themselves behind our trailer.” Once the Patrol car was in place, the van did a swift u-turn and parked on the opposite side of the road. They were prepared for a pursuit in either direction. Fear should have kicked in, but curiosity got the better of me and anyway we weren’t in crossfire range.

Things were looking up now. An American citizen and a green card holder, passports at the ready in the glove compartment, we felt safe in the company of the Border Patrol so as I unpacked our picnic again, we watched the drama before us.

No one moved for a few minutes, as though the Border Patrol had just stopped for an afternoon break. Then a tall, dark, handsome Border Patrolman, in his uniform of green combat dress, his hips swinging with a black belt full of paraphernalia – revolver in a holster, radio, cell phone, night stick, hand grenade, no, not a hand grenade – now strolled casually over to the lads who no longer looked relaxed. “You guys haven’t gotten very far.”

“No. We’ve broken down.”

“What’s the problem?”

“The engine has overheated. We’re waiting for it to cool down.”

Which of course was not the truth but the rest of the conversation was lost as I attacked my salad of cucumber, celery and other noisy food that always makes Jimmy want to abandon me at mealtime so he didn’t hear any more either. The Patrolman strolled back across the road to his three colleagues and everybody just stayed put.

We ate lunch, the Border Patrol waited and the boys tried to pretend that none of us were there.

“Nope! No water!” the Patrolman shouted across to the boys after a few more minutes. Which couldn’t be the truth either. Border Patrol in the desert with no water?

Eventually the boys in the silver car sat up, slammed their doors, started the engine and pulled off slowly in the direction we would be going, calling out clearly to the group, “It’s cooled down now. We’ll just take it easy, not drive too fast,” and they coasted out of sight.

Happily the end of the show coincided with the last bite of our lunch so we prepared to leave. As we got to our car, the same man who had spoken to the boys approached us, “Have these guys been here long?”

“They were here when we got here.”

“How long have you been here?”

A U.S. Border Patrol agent reads Miranda rights to a Mexican national (not our “friend”) arrested for transporting drugs Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

“About 20 minutes.”

“Was the hood popped when you got here?”

“Yes. They asked us for water too.”

“These cats are playing a game with us,” he said grinning, although I don’t think he found it amusing. “They’ve been cruising up and down this road all day.”

We came to the conclusion that the boys in the silver car were making a pick up – drugs? illegals? – when we became part of their plot. The hood was popped as a ready excuse and they even drew us in when they asked us for the water that they clearly didn’t need.

We set off no more than five minutes behind the silver car on the winding desert road that led only to Douglas, 40 miles away, with no turn offs and no more picnic areas, clear views in all directions for miles. Keeping up a steady 50 miles per hour we never saw them again.

How exciting it all was in hindsight.

We Should Have Stayed at Home

In a change to our regularly scheduled program . . . . .

We were frightened witless last night. Well I was. Himself was stoic. We picked the wrong day to take the travel trailer out of storage and head in any direction from Phoenix. Thunderstorms, high winds, flash floods, hail and wild fires abound in the rest of the state.

Sheet lightning lit the distant mountains we could see from our apartment balcony and had provided entertainment every night for a week. But there had been no rain, no thunder and only a light wind.

Just seven miles up the road from our built up town we towed the trailer into the county park with panoramic desert and mountain views in every direction. A coyote greeted us as we drove around the campground, indicated which site he thought best, then gathered his mates in the dense scrub and sang a welcome chorus.

Shortly after we unhitched and shut ourselves into the air-conditioned trailer for the evening the lightning started. I opened all the blinds to watch. Black skies advanced and forked lightning flashed to the east. The sunset, to the west of course, was glorious with bold stripes of gold, pink and white and it lit half the cloudy evening sky in a seductive dusky pink.

The wind suddenly picked up and gave us a little shake. Jimmy and I glanced at each other but didn’t speak. The looks said uh-oh.

The sunset disappeared under impenetrable black clouds. Forked and sheet lightning flashed in every direction, rain battered down and we were thrust violently side to side by the wind. Thunder began to rumble and then hail crashed down on our poor little box home.

“Did you wind the steadies tight?”

“Of course,” said himself, slightly offended. Corner jacks in England are called steadies. They’re called that for a reason. “I think I’ll go and tighten them again if this ever stops.”

We sat, away from the windows – all of three feet, and stared at each other not voicing our thoughts. I wondered if we could blow over. Should we have stayed hitched up to the truck for extra stability? Could a gust blow the truck and trailer both over? The gas was on low under our gently thawing dinner. Should I turn it off? Would it blow up if we blew over?

Rain pounded us and created leaks we’d never had in three-and-a-half years on the road.

“I wonder how long the electricity will stay on? That,” said Jimmy, mopping water off the floor in front of the fridge, “is coming right through the fuse box.” He could have kept that thought to himself. If we lived through the storm we’d gently steam, like our dinner, all night without the benefit of air conditioning. The desert can be cold at night, but not here. Not in August. “Maybe we should go home.”

“I don’t like to leave the trailer with all our things in it.” After last-minute trailer repairs in the morning, we’d spent all afternoon packing up, carting stuff and loading the trailer in 100+º heat. There was no question of hitching up in wild weather and if we did, nowhere to park the trailer at our apartment complex. We could only sprint to the truck and abandon the trailer to the storm.

In my tired and fractured state of mind it seemed better to sit tight with my things and get blown over with them than to sleep safely in our apartment. Just seven miles down the road.

The wind and rain, lightning and thunder raged on. The sudden buffeting gusts were the most unnerving. Our whole tiny world was shaking as though we were in an earthquake. I tried not to think about a lightning strike. The high ground site the coyote chose for us had afforded good views, but apart from two saguaros and one twiggy tree our roof was the highest point for some considerable distance.

We did the only sensible thing given our vulnerable position. We closed the blinds and opened a bottle of wine.

I’m sensing some judgment. So what would you have done?

Please click to enlarge pictures.

The next morning I read an email from a friend in England asking how we got on as we’d been messaging the day before. My reply:

Exciting evening. Terrific thunderstorm. Trailer shook till our teeth rattled. Lightning in every direction. Battering rain, then hail. Thought we were going to blow over. Other than that, ok.
P.S. Sign on ladies loo, “Please keep door closed. Snakes are out.”

McDowellMtnPk 010

You may recall that what seems moments ago we were on the east coast in the last post in a place with a remarkable lack of saguaro cactuses. (If you are still judging me, the plural in Latin is cacti. Cactuses is ,are?, acceptable in English.)

That was then. This is now. All was revealed in The Confession. We will return to our regularly scheduled program on the east coast. Unless something else hair-raising happens out west in the meantime.

Did You Say 70 Teeth?

We set off on foot on the nature trail at Magnolia Plantation to hunt ‘gators after a wasted boat trip where the captain/guide nudged all the alligators into the water rather than slowing down for a viewing. “Do you think we’ll see any alligators this early in the day? It isn’t very hot yet.” Alligators, being cold-blooded, don’t hibernate but aestivate, or lie in a state of torpor during extreme heat. Jimmy and I aestivate after lunch most days.

“Do you really think this is safe?” The impatient tour guide had informed us that alligators can swim at 15 mph, run on their little stumpy legs at 35 mph and using their tails, jump up to five feet. So once you’ve upset them . . . hmmm . . . rip and swallow, rip and swallow we’d been told. If a turtle can satisfy them for a month, a human “bean” must be good tucker for at least six months. “I wonder how recently they’ve eaten?”

The day before, I had seen a man gamely striding around the Plantation on two artificial legs. The image of him and the size of the alligators’ toothy, bone-crushing jaws played on my mind. Being one of the oldest reptiles on the planet, alligators are certainly survivors and I didn’t fancy my chances in a face off. “Do you think we’ll see ‘Big Red October’?” He’s the 50 year old resident of the estate measuring 14 feet long and weighing 800 pounds. “They told us there’s never been an alligator fatality in South Carolina.”

Beginning to jabber with nerves, I distracted myself by photographing egrets, herons, turtles, coots and moorhens, having completely forgotten that snakes were known to nest in logs near the trail – some of them, like the cottonmouth, being poisonous – until Jimmy reminded me. I then tiptoed prissily down the center of the wide, well-trodden path.

As we walked the nature trail alongside the pond, all the strategically placed basking planks in the pond were empty except for the tantalizing snacks of turtle perched on the ends. Having taken a particularly pleasing photo of a cormorant with his wings outstretched, drying them ready for his next fishing expedition, I began telling myself that all was not lost; it was a lovely day for a walk and I had some good photos to show for it.

I was just beginning to stroll as we rounded the bend onto the straight piece of trail where the camera battery had died. This, it suddenly occurred to me, was where we had seen most of the alligators the day before. The basking planks, like little ski jumps, were aimed towards us so we were unable to see anything until we walked further and alongside them.

“LOOK!” and I throttled Jimmy as I grabbed the binoculars hanging around his neck. The telltale triangular ridges of the ‘gator’s back were just discernable to the naked eye, but I wanted to be sure so squinted through the binocs. “There’s one! There’s one!” but Jimmy was snugged up too close to me, tethered as he was by the binoculars’ strap, to see anything but my ear.

As we hustled along the path, two alligators were clearly visible on planks erected 30 to 40 yards out in the pond. “The light’s wrong. The sun is shining into my lens. I need to walk further down and shoot back at them.” But I fired off a couple of “rounds” at them anyway in my excitement.

081107Ch'ston 170

Jimmy paused while I took the photos and then began to stride off when I snagged his arm and sank my fingernails into it. “Lo-o-ok,” I barely said on a breath, and Jimmy followed my gaze with his eyes. No more than three paces ahead lay a 10 foot alligator dozing happily in the mud beside the path. Had Jimmy walked on, she (well she reposed in a languidly female way) could have taken his leg off at the knee with hardly a twitch.

Jimmy reviewed the situation while I snapped a few more pics using my zoom lens. My feet were rooted to the spot. Caution held me back but stupidity kept me there. “We can get back to the plantation house this way can’t we?” asked Jimmy, indicating the path past Ms. Jaws.

“I’m not walking past her.”

“She’s asleep. She won’t bother you.”

081107Ch'ston 172“Nope. I’m not getting any closer.” After a close encounter with a buffalo at Yellowstone, I’d become a little more wary, although at 35 mph neither of us had a chance even now if Ms. J. had decided it was lunch time. She was sleeping prettily with her mouth closed but I knew 70 some teeth lurked inside her enormous head so I zoomed in on it for one last shot, then backed prudently away and Jimmy followed suit.

What she would have looked like if we woke her up!!
What she would have looked like if we woke her up!!

As we retreated, we passed several smiling hikers, cameras in hand, striking out on the nature trail. I had thought to warn them of the alligators but then thought heck, let them make their own fun!

National Geographic won’t be breaking down my door with a contract to be their intrepid new nature photographer but I do have a rather splendid photo of a cormorant doing his batman impression.081107Ch'ston 141

Liar! Liar!

We put our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Jimmy felt quite pleased with his achievement after driving 8,000 miles to get there from Washington State (although it is only about 3,000 miles in a straight line. Ho hum). “Not so much of an achievement for you,” he said. “You knew where you were going.” You might dispute that if you’d seen us driving up and down the coast at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, doing U-turns and snarling up the heavy traffic towing our ponderous trailer looking for State Park signs. All my fault.

Days earlier, Jimmy had been reading the guide book and asked, “Have you heard of Myrtle Beach?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well it says here it’s a really tacky seaside town.”

“We’ve got to go there, don’t you think?”

Not actually Myrtle Beach boardwalk. I'm claiming artistic license. This is Destin FL but you get the idea.
Not actually Myrtle Beach boardwalk. I’m claiming artistic license. This is Destin FL but you get the idea.

So there we were, happily camped at the Myrtle Beach State Park, an unadulterated two mile stretch of sandy beach and dunes, with towering hotels visible to the north and south. “Our” beach was interrupted only by the narrow boardwalk which snakes through the dunes, put there to stop us trampling the natural habitat.

As we walked along the surf, a snowman appeared in the distance. People gathered around it, obviously posing for pictures. I thought I saw the snowman move and then spotted Dracula. Well it was nearly Halloween. As we got nearer, we could see the group was a wedding party. The snowman was a beaming bride in a flowing white dress and shimmery shawl and Dracula turned out to be the vicar. It must be time to get my eyes tested.

You can see a snowman can't you? Dracula is to the left.
You can see a snowman can’t you? Dracula is to the left.

As we strolled along we stopped to read the nature information boards placed along the walkways. Sea turtles somehow find their way to this small piece of tranquil beach, sandwiched as it is between resorts, to clamber out at night and lay their eggs. Dolphins are visible along this stretch of coast in October and November making their migration to warmer waters. “Look! There’s one now,” I said as I caught a splash out of the corner of my eye and conjuring up a sighting.

Anyone can see that is a dolphin!
Anyone can see that is a dolphin!

“Oh, sure.” We tell each other so many tall tales that it is now difficult for either of us to know when the other is telling the truth. It is particularly difficult to convince the other if the truth is a little too convenient.

We made our way out onto the fishing pier. A fishing pier in a conservation area – a bit of an oxymoron? But this is America, and huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ is part of the culture of this young nation which not so long ago was a wilderness. Several fishermen, survival coded into their DNA, lined the pier dressed in camouflage gear in order to hide from the fish. I’d been scanning the ocean eagerly looking for dolphins, ever hopeful. “There’s another one!”


“I’m not kidding!” I said rushing up to the rail to get two feet closer to my sighting which was at least half a mile out at sea.


Well it is my fault. I’ve pointed out too many “bears” to Jimmy over the last few months, turning every shadow into a creature. He has long since learned to ignore my wildlife sightings.

“I’m serious,” I shrieked, my voice rising an octave. “Just look out there,” and I stood at point like a hunting dog. Something about my tone or posture made Jimmy deign to look in the direction I was pointing.

There! See?
There! See?

“I see it!!” he yelled, joining in my exhilaration at last. The dolphins were indeed swimming south to warmer waters as they disappeared behind the end of the pier. We rushed along to see them come around the pier and proceed to feed right in front of us in ones and twos, some pairs being mother and calf. “See?”

Mother and baby. I was vindicated for now.
Mother and baby. I was vindicated for now.


“I told you so.”


“You never believe me.”

“Yes I do.”

“One of these days you’ll miss the sight of your life.”

“Oh, shut up and watch.”

The dolphins’ characteristic arcing, with dorsal fin appearing and disappearing, was mesmerizing and we would occasionally see a spout of water from their blowhole or a tail fluke. One energetic fellow leapt out of the water completely and slapped himself broadside into the sea three times creating a show and eliciting shrieks from his audience on the pier.

We really had seen a bear some months previously. He had to run out in the road in front of our car for us to spot him. It was hardly a PBS “Nature” moment, but exciting nonetheless, just as our dolphin watch was.

P.S. We missed hearing our freight trains in Myrtle Beach as we have come to expect them right next to the campsite and feel comforted by them chugging past, but we’ve gone one better. As we sat round the campfire, our singsong was interrupted every five minutes by a jet screaming directly overhead. We were right next to an international airport.081102MyrtleBch 137

An apology to the residents of Myrtle Beach:

We liked Myrtle Beach. Jimmy had been reading out of a snobby guide book that really only praises the National Parks. If you want to visit a tacky seaside town, England has quite a good selection.

Sat Nav to the Rescue

Map of Interstate 40

We realize now that all the exits off the scenic parkway have similar looking, unobtrusive tourist signs, not INTERSTATE 40 LEADING BACK TO YOUR TRAILER signs, so we didn’t think too much of it when at the bottom of the (wrong) exit ramp it looked a little different than we remembered and we couldn’t turn left as we both thought we should. Jimmy simply turned right and then executed one of his customary U-turns (first perfected over solid lines on a bridge in Toulouse, France where he was stopped by two scarily-clad-in-black-leather French motorcycle cops). After ten minutes of suburban touring along a five lane road with big chain stores looming over us, he finally said, “This doesn’t look familiar, does it?”

Compass (Photo credit: Roland Urbanek)

No, it didn’t look familiar and a quick glance at the compass prompted me to say, “We’re going south-west. I would have thought we should be going north-east.” I might just as well have spoken Japanese to him. For a man with a good sense of direction and the ability to find places by following his nose, he has never gotten his head ‘round the points of the compass. And we needed a town plan, not the state map that I clutched on my lap as a security blanket.

After shooting me a look of incomprehension, Jimmy suggested trying the sat nav. We pulled off the road into a strip mall parking lot, fumbled around under the seats, in the door pockets and finally in the glove compartment for the sat nav disk, dusted it off for its first outing in two years and popped it into the radio. The only instruction on the screen was to read the manual . . . which was in French. (Ha, ha, ha. So Teddy, the car salesman, had the last laugh. When we bought the car, he had tried to sell us the disk “at a really good price” but we had refused to pay for it as the car had been advertised with a sat nav and we contended that it wasn’t much good without a disk. Teddy magicked the disk out of the used car lot and the manual came from . . . . France?)

This is not our sat nav. We'd never get there using this method.

At a loss as to what to do next, we did what anyone in a similar situation would do and started jabbing the sat nav screen and swearing.

“What’s the ****** address where we are staying?”

“I don’t know. The zip code is 28778.” But of course that would be too easy. We couldn’t find anywhere to enter a simple five digit code. “Try Swannanoa, the suburb of Asheville where the campsite is.” The computer screen wouldn’t accept the second  “n” in Swannanoa. It blanked it out.  “Try Patton Cove Road. That’s near enough.” After the first few letters the computer suggested Patton Camp, Patton Hill, Patton Hollow and Patton School but wouldn’t allow Patton Cove as an entry. Jimmy jabbed back, back, back.

Swannanoa River at Asheville, North Carolina.
Swannanoa River at Asheville, North Carolina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There. Look. Phone number. Try that,” I blurted, my desire to articulate now gone. The sat nav wouldn’t accept the 800 free phone number I had looked up in the camping directory which came as no surprise as we were trying to pinpoint a location with it.

“Put the interstate in.” After much heated discussion as to whether it was I40, I-40 or I_40, the in-car computer refused to accept any variation of Interstate 40, faltering at the “0”.

“Here’s a phone number for the RV dealer next door to us! Try that!” I exclaimed triumphantly. The area code and first five digits of the phone number went in a treat but the contrary computer refused the last two digits. After three aborted tries, I snapped at Jimmy, “Oh put anything in for the last two digits. See what it comes up with.” We then had directions to First Presbyterian Church.

From memory of the directions we’d followed originally to the campsite the church was near where we wanted to go. Guidance Gertie now helpfully instructed us in her slow parlance for lost dummies, “Move out onto the indicated highway and verbal instructions will begin.” (Kind of sad and a little creepy that I’ve named the sat nav.)

“Well if we knew which highway to get on and in which direction, we wouldn’t be asking you, would we?” I yelled at Gert. Somehow it seemed slightly less

We weren't this far off course. it just seemed like it at the time.
We weren’t this far off course. it just seemed like it at the time.

deranged to bellow at a talking computer that couldn’t hear me, than my usual state of affairs – at a silent computer that couldn’t hear me.

As Jimmy pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway in the opposite direction to which we had been traveling, I glanced at the compass. It said NW.  “Yes!” and I punched the air gleefully.

“Proceed along the indicated road for five miles,” Gertie told us.

“Let’s see if she takes us to the church, shall we?” I suggested.

“I was intending to,” said a newly confident Jimmy. And she did. And she took us to Swannanoa with two n’s along I-40 with a zero and straight down Patton Cove Road past our campsite.

Can you find your way around with technology or is there some IT disconnect in just our brains?

The Confession

Hello Ladies and G’s, Followers and Casual Drop-ins,

I have a confession to make.

You are on the naughty chair
This is me on the naughty chair.

This blog started somewhere in the middle of things, jumped around a bit, then settled down at the beginning of our travails (no, that’s not a typo) with the occasional excursion to the present (i.e. UK, Australia, France). I have notebooks full of sorry tales which I’m ploughing through on WWN101 in the hopes I get back to the present before the travels/travails start again.

I’ve had to confess as it will soon become apparent that the blog is set in a completely different season to the rest of the northern hemisphere.

We opted out of the wheeled life after 3 ½ years on the road to have comfortable chairs and beds,  beds I can make without turning the air blue (c’mon you RVers, you know what I mean, Nightmares Before Bedtime), more than one room, slammable doors between the rooms, our own laundry facilities that some dirty devil hasn’t just used before I put my whites in, a full immersion bath – not a footbath/shower, the same neighbors day after day (not always a good thing but we’ve been lucky here) to say hello to, dry towels, walk-in closets where I can make a considered choice instead of just wearing whatever is on top of the clean pile, a sofa that is out of earshot for the one who isn’t snoring, a recliner we can fight over and all the stores my little heart desires a few minutes’ drive away.

Now through circumstances beyond our control (and himself is bored) we are giving up the above amenities. Trailer life is looming large again due to uncertainty about our next step.

So we haven’t been, strictly speaking, homeless the whole while I’ve been publishing this blog, just unsettled and undecided apartment dwellers with containers full of furniture and who-knows-what stored and festering in another country for seven years.

When I said at the start “the beginning of our travails” that only referred to the American segment. There were European travels (with consequent notebooks of stories) before that.

I should make a change to my blog header and change one word by one letter – from homeless to hopeless!

As you can see below, I am rather reluctant to leave our stunning balcony view. I just need a lightning shot and the set will be complete:

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We will return to our regularly scheduled program on Friday.

It Wasn’t My Idea to Come This Way

“How wide are we?” I asked my driver.

My expert driver managed this one. Surely a canyon in Wyoming would be no problem!
My expert driver managed this one. Surely a canyon in Wyoming would be no problem!

“Eight feet,” he replied. “Why?” with an edge to his voice.

“Did you see that sign? It said, ‘All loads over 8½ feet wide require pilot’ That doesn’t bode well does it?”

“Do you think we should turn ‘round?”

“I have no way of knowing,” I said, unhelpfully. You’re not going to catch me that easily. “You decide.” Jimmy kept going towing our eight foot wide box home behind us as I knew he would.

After I had studied the road atlas and found two routes for the day, he had chosen this particular byway to Laramie. I refuse to have the final say in choosing a route for our wanderings after our fiasco of overheating and driving at 10 miles per hour up through the Bighorn Mountains with an unhappy parade of vehicles behind us.

Gradients are not shown on our road map, only the steepest elevations. If the engine is going to blow up, let it be on his head, figuratively speaking, you understand.

Is that where we're headed?
Is that where we’re headed? There’s snow on those mountains!

“Well, it’s pretty so far,” Jimmy said, optimistically as we drove through rolling countryside towards the snow-capped bursts of the Rocky Mountains.

“Yes, well it’s flat so far.”

The sign I’d just seen was obviously niggling Jimmy and visions of getting stuck in narrow winding canyons must have been plaguing him when he said, “It’s that 8½ feet that worries me. We’ll have three inches to spare each side.”

“Yup.” He still didn’t turn around and as the road began to climb I wondered if we should have an altimeter installed in the car.

“It’s 98° outside,” Jimmy informed me, avoiding both the gradient and width issues.

Well, that will help the engine temperature when we start to clamber through the Rockies won’t it? I thought uncharitably. We maintained a groaning 35 mph in 3rd gear as we climbed steadily upwards. The peaks loomed nearer and looked even more daunting from our new height. “How far have we come on this road?” I asked Jimmy.

“About two miles. Why?” he said abruptly. He is always suspicious when I ask a question I should already know the answer to.

“We’ve still got 50 miles to go on this mountain pass.”

“I only picked this short cut to make you feel better about your navigational gaff last week.”

It looks like a dead end but I assure you it isn't!
It looks like a dead end but I assure you it isn’t!

Yeah. Yeah. As we reached a high plateau, the road ahead formed a thin, looping ribbon and disappeared into steep altitudes. The landscape was barren with rocky outcrops and low growing, arid-loving sagebrush. The road narrowed and its surface deteriorated so I looked up into the sky, hopefully, only to see two nasty looking turkey vultures circling overhead so dropped my gaze to a disconcerting number of skid marks showing hasty exits from the roadway into the ditch. At least here in Wyoming there aren’t the disturbing little white crosses beside the road that show traffic fatalities as in South Dakota.

Of the 600 species of animals purported to be in this area, I was unnerved to see only the creepy turkey vultures. I sneaked a look at the gas gauge and was comforted to see we still had three-quarters of a tank to get us out of trouble but became uneasy again when checking my phone. There was no signal. Jimmy became quiet as the turkey vultures circled hungrily and the thrusting Rockies taunted us in the distance.

Who would find us out here? We hadn’t seen another vehicle in an hour. The only signs of human existence were the deadly skid marks.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture (Photo credit: Jim Bahn)

If you don’t read any more posts please send out a search party.

The Wrong Way

“The next time I choose a route, we’ll go that way.”

A cute distraction while our car overheated.
A cute distraction while our car overheated.

“I know,” I said contritely.

“I don’t want you to interfere.”

“I know.”

”You can’t leave anything alone.”


“I expect the other way was shorter as well.”


“I can’t turn around now. The engine is overheating. I can’t even stop on this steep grade. I’m afraid we’ll never get going again. I don’t even know if we’ll make it to the top. What will we do then? I can’t reverse down the mountain. You had to . . . .”

“Awright! Awright! Awright!” Any little inkling of contrition I had felt was seeping away with this barrage, despite it being (possibly) justified. Jimmy’s estimated “easy” 140 mile leg of our journey towing our travel trailer to Garryowen had turned into a mountain climbing expedition. Our V8 engine was happily slurping gas as it whined uphill in first gear at 10 miles per hour towing 7,500 pounds behind us.

No end in sight!
No end in sight!

I had simply looked at the map before we set out from Cody, Wyoming and saw what I thought was a more direct route than Jimmy had chosen to Garryowen, neglecting to notice the tiny symbols denoting the Bighorn Mountains. They bisected our route with the road peaking at a summit of 9,430 feet while skirting Bald Mountain at 10,042 feet and Hunt Mountain at 10,162 feet. Also, the Closed in Winter designation should have been a hint that it was going to be a tricky road, but I had only judged the distance with a quick glance. A flashing yellow sign warned “Steep Grades Ahead!” some time after we had set off but I kept schtum hoping himself hadn’t seen it. We were already committed.

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, 1885
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, 1885 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little background to these little known western towns. Cody is named for William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, apparently the most famous American at the turn of the 20th century. He was by all accounts a splendid chap – handsome, smart, a family man (though is rumored to have had an affair with Queen Victoria), enterprising, heroic – and used his superior shooting and horse riding skills to produce “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” which toured Europe and America for 30 years. Appearing in his show over the years were Annie Oakley, of sharp-shooting fame, Calamity Jane, an illiterate alcoholic and part-time prostitute (did Doris Day know?) and Wild Bill Hickok, a gunfighter whose early demise while playing poker makes me uncomfortable sitting near the door of a restaurant even now. Not that Bill frequented restaurants, but if he’d sat with his back to the wall at the saloon in Deadwood I wouldn’t have this hang-up.

Garry Owen ( was Custer’s favorite marching song and now is the name of the only town within the battlefield of The Battle of the Little Bighorn or Custer’s Last Stand. It is little known that George Armstrong Custer was the George W. Bush of his day – a lousy student at uni and a questionable military strategist. George C. graduated bottom of his class at the United States Military Academy. George B. was an average student at uni and was accepted into the Texas Air National Guard with the lowest possible passing grade on his written aptitude test. George C. arrogantly (can be interchanged with overconfidently, patriotically or zealously depending on your point of view) attacked an encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians under the overall command of Chief Sitting Bull. Instead of waiting for reinforcements, George C. was wiped out along with over 200 of his men by 2,500 Indian warriors. George B. . . well you know that sorry tale.

George Armstrong Custer, U.S. Army major gener...
George Armstrong Custer, U.S. Army major general, killed in battle at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We will return to our badly planned mountain climbing expedition in the next exciting instalment!

For my followers: We’re back in the USA, but I’m sure you noticed that.