During a recent trip to England, a plague of ladybugs in Tennessee had taken up residence in our trailer and accompanied us to North Carolina, reminiscent of our flies encounter in Washington. Taking it in turns (which we argued about naturally, “There’s one.” “I got the last one.” “I only just sat down! You get it”) we scooped them off windows, walls and ceiling and carried them to the door.
As they were launched into their new state, some did a swan dive and arced gracefully into flight while others took a nose dive and concussed their little heads on the pavement. After placing the next dozen or so ladybugs carefully on the step, I took a hard stance and launched them all, no longer suffering angst over their fly or dive abilities.
A day trip to the Smoky Mountains had been disappointing for the autumn color but in the Blue Ridge Mountains the trees were just about a week away from bursting into glorious Technicolor. We noticed daily changes in the intensity of color and I was waiting anxiously for Jimmy to experience his first full-blown encounter with an American autumn.
Whole mountainsides would be ablaze with flame yellows, ember oranges and dots of hot reds – a sight which is possibly taken for granted by the Americans who see it every year and perhaps think oh, that’s nice but in the words of the mum in the changing room in England with her daughter who was trying on a prom dress, “it’s stunnin’ innit!!”
Looking for “stunnin’-innit” views we set off full of anticipation for the Blue Ridge Parkway, a winding road that makes its way along the ridges of the mountain range. Gasping with appropriate tourist awe at the trees that were dressed in their seasonal best we had relaxed into our glazed but happy mode saved for when we think we know what we are doing.
So Grassy Knob Tunnel came as a bit of a surprise when the automatic headlights on our car did not automatically come on. Lack of headlights combined with wearing sunglasses meant we were plunged into complete blackness and as Jimmy’s are his prescription glasses, taking them off was not a helpful option. He said . . . well I can’t tell you exactly what he said, but the gist of it was, “I can’t see anything at all.” As he stomped on the brakes and fumbled for the light switch, we heard the impatient blast of a car horn behind us. We told ourselves self-righteously that the car was traveling far too quickly but the fact is the driver was probably quite startled to come up behind a car all in darkness tooling along at 10 mph on a blind bend in a tunnel.
As we approached Pine Mountain Tunnel, I saw Jimmy’s hand snaking discreetly towards the light switch in readiness. He wasn’t about to make another daft-old-man blunder.
It was a perfectly glorious day; Jimmy was delighted (not!) to stop for me every half a mile, at every overlook, along the 40 or so miles we cruised of the three-state-long Parkway so I could take 116 photos of breathtaking views across the valleys, many of which in the photo folder on my computer now look dull, flat and exactly the same. We drove until the sun started to dip in the sky and then turned ‘round to retrace our steps so we could view it all again in the soft afternoon light and return to our trailer. Easy, yes?
You probably know the answer to that by now.
Don’t like to drone on too long. To be continued. And you may wonder why it is suddenly autumn. See The Confession.
“Ooo! I’ve got to stop here. Turn around. Turn around,” I said like an overexcited eight year old. “Just five minutes. I’m not going to buy anything.” Who would believe that? Not Jimmy, obviously as a huge sigh escaped from him, but he did turn around and pull up to The Largest Gift Shop in Kentucky.
“Don’t leave me out here too long to sweat to death in the car,” he ordered.
“You could come in.”
“No,” he said emphatically. I knew he’d say that.
On entering the shop a disembodied voice asked, “Do I know you?” There didn’t seem to be anyone there and I made the mistake of turning around to try to make eye contact through heavily stocked glass shelves of rocks, gems and jewellery.
“Have I seen you before?” was her ploy. I peered to see her, surrounded as she was by trinkets stacked high. Although she was seated naturally enough behind the counter, it was as though she had positioned herself at a secret vantage point hidden from the door. As I homed in on the voice I could see long grey hair tightly coiled and pinned flat to her head, an intricate hairdo that said I’m unconventional.
“No,” I answered when I’d given her a good look.
“Have you been here before?” she asked with a quizzical look on her face.
“Have you been to Kentucky before?” she persevered, perplexed that she couldn’t place me.
“No,” I said emphatically, but thinking I’d take part in her game.
“Where are you from?”
“Baltimore.” I said in my best clipped English accent, to throw her off the scent, not sure I should be telling her anything.
She was persistent. “Have you or any member of your family worked for the government?”
“No. Well, yes. The military. Not me, but my family.” Accurate I thought, but brief, wondering where this was going.
“I knew it! That’s the connection! I knew that!” What connection? At this point I didn’t know whether to continue or start backing away, but I stood my ground, smiling tightly at her.
She was well practiced at her art. “Are you a spiritual person?”
Umm. Dunno. I guess so. “Yes.”
“Do you believe in The Lord?” There it is! She had me hook, line and sinker. The hook was the government employee question. They’re the largest employer in the country so between myself and my family I was bound to say yes, but she made herself sound intuitive. The line was the spiritual question. She’d piqued my interest and could see she’d started to reel me in. The sinker was The Lord but as her tiny eyes beamed fervently at me from her sweet, pudgy face I didn’t have the heart to cut and run.
“Were you brought up Catholic?”
Wrong step. One in three people in the United States were brought up Catholic but she came up empty with this bit of fishing. “No.” Economical answer again. Not giving anything away. Go fish.
“What religion were you brought up with?”
Baptist, but I’m not telling you that. “Protestant.”
Now sensing my reluctance she said, “I’m a spiritual person but I don’t believe in any one religion. Religions have caused a lot of problems. And because of the sins of the flesh, God made childbirth ten times more painful and gave the desire to men. Look at all the problems that has caused.
Where did that come from?
“Have you felt since you were a little girl that you are here for a purpose?” I’d taken a step back at this point, uncomfortable with the whole encounter. Goose bumps popped up on my arms and in my mind she morphed into Medusa,
her coiled hair turning into snakes. “The Lord has a very special purpose for you. You need to communicate with The Lord and He will reveal his purpose to you. I don‘t want you telling me what I need to do. “I knew you were a spiritual person. I could see it in your face, in your eyes. Well, just behind your eyes.”
I‘m trying to picture what is behind my eyes and it is my brain saying get me out of here. “You are a spiritual and very open-minded person. As long as you are open-minded you will learn.” I can go along with that but I’m not going to discuss it with you.
Hearing a slight finality to her comment I rushed in with, “It’s been nice to talk to you,” and retreated. I don’t know why I felt the need to stop, listen and be polite. Perhaps I had been drawn into her spiritual world as her eyes locked onto mine and with mesmeric guile she had rooted my feet to the ground. Had she looked into my eyes and hypnotized me? I couldn’t recall anything of my surroundings after she started to speak except for staring intently at her moist, doughy face, piggy eyes and serpentine hairdo. It was quite a surreal experience – a little spooky and a little comical; I was truly wanting to step away and yet leaning forward the whole time.
“Have a look around. If you see anything you like, I’ll work with you on the price.” I won’t be buying anything. I just wanted to leave and once the spell was broken I took a cursory look round the shop and left. As I stepped over the threshold I pictured the serpents on her head coming alive, her eyes rolling back and sinking into their sockets, her tongue extruding in a black twist to reach across the room and snare me. I only dared say goodbye when one foot was firmly outside and I was pulling the door behind me. I did not break stride. The “connection” wasn’t completely severed until I closed the door and stepped into the sunlight of a balmy Kentucky afternoon. I will only discuss religion on my own terms. And I won’t go back to that shop.
Later in a post office, in a conversation with the clerk about our accents and origins and Jimmy felt he could ask her if there was anywhere nearby we could buy wine. She had just started to shake her head no when Jimmy said, “It’s just beer or whisky here, isn’t it?”
She continued to shake her head no and laughed, “Moonshine!” and we joined in her laughter.
Call me shallow. I’m more comfortable with that kind of casual conversation.
Have you ever had a spell put on you?
And can you read the moonshine recipe on that barrel?
Hello Ladies and G’s, Followers and Casual Drop-ins,
I have a confession to make.
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:
We will return to our regularly scheduled program on Friday.
After our unnerving drive to Laramie on a back road through a mountain pass we drove the Happy Jack Road as much for the name as the monoliths (or were they just socking great piles of rock?) lining the road to Cheyenne.
(Click on pics to enlarge. Escape! to return.)
Ok. I got that wrong. Click on a gallery pic to enlarge, click arrow to see others in gallery and escape to return. Click on a single pic to enlarge and back arrow (top left) to return. Don’t bother clicking on the slideshow pics. Nothing will happen except pause, forward and back. Clear as mud?
We scaled the heights of the Rocky Mountain National Park in the car (sans trailer) where we barely made it from the car to the Visitor’s Centre and back, altitude sickness at 12,000 feet making itself very apparent to us, unfit as we were from the confinement of trailer life.
In Deadwood, we saw Wild Bill Hickok get shot dead in the #10 Saloon – moved to this venue to relive his murder for the tourists day in day out after the original saloon burned down. He revived himself to pose for photographs with the kiddies, and me.
A multitasking mum of three – one on the hip, one by the hand and one loitering by her side – offered to take our photo in front of Mount Rushmore, the four stony-faced presidents carved into the Black Hills.
We tiptoed through the out-of-this-world landscape of the Badlands constantly watching where we put our feet and looking for rattlesnakes.
In Golden, Colorado we toured the Coors Brewery and drank free beer. Yay!
Then there was Denver. Sublime to the ridiculous comes to mind. The Denver Botanical Garden
was an absolute delight – full of color, and a single, whopping water feature flowed throughout the garden, springing up in fountains and tumbling in waterfalls. Even Jimmy didn’t get bored. We spent a quiet and restorative Sunday morning in one of the few independent bookstores left in the country. That was sublime.
The Bump and Grind Café provided the ridiculous.
How to describe Bump and Grind? Alternative? Bohemian? Grungy? No, wacky. Sunday brunch is traditionally served by transvestites – that being the only traditional thing about the restaurant. Dressed in my brightest pink top and wearing plenty of eye makeup to be part of the scene, I was looking forward to the experience, not quite sure how, or more to the point why, Jimmy had agreed to go.
I had visions of the girly boys in Brazil who are mistaken for beautiful women. We were both in for a shock. The waiters at Bump and Grind had made no effort to make themselves look attractive. Mini-skirts barely covered you-know-what. Exposed hairy legs – some skinny, some chunky – topped huge clumpy high heels. Make-up was slapped on giving a clown-like appearance and ratty wigs looked as though tiny birds could colonize them. Broad, spotty backs exposed by halter tops were only slightly less disconcerting than the see-through fabric at the front and to top it all off were the detachable falsies which frequently slipped out and bounced across the floor. They were shoved back into place amongst great hilarity.
The restaurant was packed so we weren’t the only voyeurs. No, make that I wasn’t the only voyeur. As I took it all in, Jimmy perched uncomfortably on the edge of his chair, not daring to turn his head every time I gasped. Our lofty, base-voiced waiter touched Jimmy’s shoulder affectionately every timed he passed our table. What an experience! We’d love to go back to Denver, but sadly the Bump and Grind has closed.
Moving on to Dodge City, Kansas I was a little perturbed to read in the camp brochure, “If you feel threatened by the weather anytime, day or night, please feel free to come to the main building.” I was thinking Kansas. Dorothy.
Our second night there, I was sure we were “off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz” when we were woken by the wind slamming into the side of the trailer, rattling our teeth. We lay across the bed, noses at the window, entertained by lightning. The buffeting wind turned our bed into a rocking cradle as if by an unhinged and vicious auntie. A tornado was about to rip through the campground and between flashes I was mentally cataloguing what I would grab on my way out the door to the promised haven of the main building. We foolishly stayed put and tracked the storm across the horizon, mesmerized by nature’s force.
Eventually the wind died down, we tired of the 3 am show and went back to sleep. Bit of an anti-climax for you. I hope you weren’t picturing our trailer whirling through the heavens.
When we arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, to experience it’s incredible Gateway Arch – the beginning of the Louis and Clark Trail – Jimmy had driven the 250 miles from Kansas City trying to see the road through his eyelids due to extreme sleep deprivation. In addition to wild weather keeping us awake, I’m sure the train drivers have a sadistic streak as they do their Whoo! Whoos! all through the night.
Next? A creepy encounter in Kentucky.
“How wide are we?” I asked my driver.
“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.
“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.”
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.
If you don’t read any more posts please send out a search party.
I made fun of Jimmy. No change there then he would say. Walking to the Pacific shore from our secluded campsite on a sheltered path amongst scrubby shore pines, he stopped suddenly, grabbed my arm and said, “Listen. Sea lions.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said laughing.
“Yes. I heard it. Don’t be silly. It’s not sea lions.”
“Yes it is.”
“Well where are they? Hiding in the sand dunes? Camouflaged by the sea grass? Sunbathing on the beach? Arguing over brunch in their RV? There must a dog kennel over there somewhere.” I waved my hand in the general direction of the barking and waltzed off not taken in with his fanciful imagination for one moment.
It’s funny how, at a certain age, information surfaces in the brain, briefly, and then sinks without trace, but if you can hook it, reel it in and throw it into the hold of memories before it sinks it could stop you making a fool of yourself.
The next day, driving towards the local town of Newport, Oregon, I saw a sign for the Historic Bayfront and remembered having read something fascinating about it in the guidebook before we set off on our trip. But what? It wouldn’t come to me.
We swooped off the main road and parked in town beside the picturesque fishing fleet. As we got out of the car a cacophony of barking sea lions filled the fishy sea air. There were dozens of the blubbery creatures, some reputedly weighing up to a tonne, wallowing on the rocks and low-lying jetties, sunning themselves and napping. Like so many giant slugs, a great heap of sea lions appeared to form an island in the middle of the harbour. They slept on their backs. They slept on their fronts. They held tricky yoga poses. They lifted their faces to the sun, eyes closed, like New York office workers on their lunch break. But the sea lions that weren’t napping were barking. Just like dogs.
Oh yes, I remember now. I read about that in the guidebook.
I have to say, Jimmy did not gloat with triumph as I would have done. It was definitely this barking we had heard the day before and the sound had travelled a good four miles to us on the beach. We admired them from the fishing wharf until we were too cold, went for a walk, had some lunch and came back to see that many of them had not moved.
You might think one sea lion looks much like another but number “95” – distinguished by a brand on his butt – had not given up his prime position with his harem. Apparently a bull will protect his cows, as many as thirty of them, and go for weeks without food to herd them because the cows are not particularly faithful! The greedy devil! The cows!
So I stand corrected. He did hear sea lions. I was wrong and he was right, but don’t tell Jimmy. He likes to write down these occasions in his book.
I tried to spell the barking noise. Is it EU! EU! EU! or EUW! EUW! EUW! or OOOH! OOOH! OOOH? I guess you had to be there.
Our first stay in our brand, spanking, new trailer was at Fort Stevens, an Oregon State Park on the coast. We stayed from Monday to Friday to endure all the previously mentioned disasters/mishaps/stupidities and then returned to our apartment. On that Sunday the Pacific delivered one of its howlers to the west coast, downed many tall trees and knocked the power out from thousands of homes in Washington and Oregon.
We returned to Fort Stevens with the trailer a week later as a staging post on our way further south congratulating ourselves that we had ridden out the storm in the relative safety of our apartment. On arriving we discovered that in just one small loop of the 495 site campground, six once-soaring conifers had been blown down, hoisting their alarmingly small root systems from the horizontal to the vertical. The downed trunks, what was left after the rangers had been busy with their chainsaws, pointed this way and that, but amazingly none of them had come down across a campsite. Nevertheless, we were unnerved.
The campground was almost unrecognizable with more light penetrating from the now thinned tree canopy, branches piled high on the roads and verges, and the occasional unscathed RV surrounded by tree rubble looking like a ship tossed up on the beach after a storm.
The fir tree’s root system seemed not to be enough to cope with the fir’s towering height, the tallest in the area except for the coast redwoods. It is possible for densely grown trees to interlock their roots. Would that mean that should there be more ferocious winds they would hold each other up or would one weak link bring down its whole circle of friends?
We maneuvered carefully through the tree detritus and looked for a site out of range of the remaining trees. Not possible. We chose a spot, prayed that our tree neighbors had re-established their grip in the week since the storm and had a very uneasy night.
The next day the rangers were still working to clear the sites of brush and ankle-deep needles. I approached Ranger Bob and asked him, “So what kind of damage do these trees do if they come down on you? Would they slice through your trailer like butter?”
“Oh, yeah.” he told me candidly.
“So you could be killed then?”
“Oh, easily!” he told me with glee. We moved on right after breakfast . . . . . to a campground with smaller trees.
Explain to me the logic of returning to that same dealer for our next purchase. Could it have been that we’d trashed the engine on the Chevy Tahoe we bought from them using it to tow a heavy travel trailer twice around the United States so would feel some vindication trading it back to them? Were we feeling too good about ourselves and felt the need for a little abuse? Was it bad karma that for a second time when searching for a vehicle that only this dealer in the whole of the State of Washington had the exact make and model that suited Jimmy? Were the Gods sending us back there to punish us for some heinous crime we were unaware of. Perhaps we were too trusting in human nature. Or were we just stupid?
Disregarding the wrecked engine and gearbox which wouldn’t make itself apparent if it was trialled on the level busy roads around the dealership, Jimmy had studied the trade-in and retail value of the Tahoe and knew to within a few dollars its worth. After a satisfactory test drive in a new truck to pull our trailer, Jimmy quizzed the salesman. There was no sign of Teddy if you’re wondering. “What’s the towing capacity of the truck?”
“That’s the weight of the truck. What’s the towing capacity?”
“I don’t know.” Jimmy knew the answer. The salesman didn’t. Jimmy gave me one of his looks. Here we go again. All I knew was that I wanted the truck because it had a cool reversing camera.
After an appraising glance over our Tahoe, Jimmy was invited into the showroom to talk money. I can’t tell you anything about the salesman as I was trying to close down my radar to anyone involved in car sales after previous experiences.
I was languishing in our Tahoe when Jimmy, hotly pursued by the salesman, came steaming out of the sales office and yanked open my door. “They’ve offered me $8,000 trade-in!”
“You’re kidding!” I said.
“No. Wait a minute! Wait a minute!” trilled a harassed voice.
“That’s an insult!” Jimmy said.
“Come back in the showroom!” said the voice on the edge of panic.
“C’mon. Let’s go.” I said.
“Don’t go!” pleaded the voice.
“I don’t know why I came here in the first place,” said Jimmy.
“Wait, Jimmy. Don’t go!” The salesman, on the verge of a breakdown, obviously needed a few more lessons in the art of negotiation.
The lure of the perfect vehicle was not going to overcome common sense this time. Or was it? The sales manager, not the
lumberjack from the Tahoe purchase but a younger, more thrusting and aggressive man we’d been introduced to briefly before the test drive came running out of the showroom anxious to salvage the sale. His only similarity to the previous sales manager was his dress sense. His rumpled apparel wasn’t fit for a charity shop. So desperate and unprofessional was he that he actually grabbed Jimmy by the arm to stop him getting away! He wasn’t offering any more money, just using a rather surprising bullying sales technique. Jimmy struggled to extricate himself, got in the car, closed the door and started the engine. Why did we go back there? Why? Why? Why?
Driving away, my pulse and blood pressure began to slide down. The throbbing in my head had started to ease when Jimmy’s phone rang. He checked the number and didn’t answer. “It’s them,” he hissed as I continued with my stress-reducing deep breathing exercises. Five minutes later his phone rang again. Same number. I was chanting mantras now, peeeeace and serenity, calm, calm, caaaalm . . . . .
I’m sure anxiety over car purchases is now firmly fixed in my cell DNA. I may need therapy.
There is, however, a happy ending. A few days later, at a Chevrolet dealer just a few miles away from where we were staying in our RV we encountered a polite, laid-back salesman who offered Jimmy $13,000 trade-in for the Tahoe. Better still, he did a deal with the previous unmentionable dealership and got the truck we wanted, at the price we wanted. The icing on the cake was that the unmentionable dealership diddled themselves out of $1500 on the paperwork transaction which came off the final price!!!
We love our Chevy. Car salesmen? Not so much. Not all of them.