Monday, December 05, 2005

Special people and a special day

Photo: Eventful Woman making lunch, using
the Land Rover's foldway table, at
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USA


Back at the Land Rover, TH had spread out our picnic lunch of bread rolls, cheese and meat on the foldaway table on the back of our Series IIA. As I approached, I noted the scene was a classic snapshot of most of our tea or lunch breaks.

A number of friendly people and families had clustered around, with TH happily demonstrating some of the unique modifications we had made to the Land Rover for our journey, and what was in our storage drawers. I noticed F1 and F2 standing to one side. With my heightened sensitivity around F2’s recent behaviour, I wasn’t sure if they were simply lacking in confidence to join in, or whether they were being deliberately aloof. Either way, they didn’t look very friendly or approachable.

People were fascinated with how we managed living and cooking for 12 months in our short wheel base Series 2A. We had built a series of custom made compartments into the back of the Land Rover for camping equipment, food, clothes, tools and parts. Wood was the main building material, as it was easy to work with, durable, cheaper and lighter than metal. The joints were glued and screwed, and the corners were finished in vintage coach-building style, with metal gussets.

With lunch done, and the crumbs flicked away, we hit the road again. The road snaked downwards, and gradually the countryside flattened to snowy paddocks. Patches of grass broke through and stretched out like islands in a sea of white. Eventually the islands became continents, which outgrew all of the snow.

Our destination was the town of Klamath Falls, at the southern edge of Oregon State. TH had "talked" with a couple called Anne & Mark on "Rovernet" (email chat site for Rover and Land Rover owners) and, sight unseen, they had kindly offered to host us for a couple of nights.

I had been expecting a couple in their sixties. Mark had his head under a car bonnet when we pulled into his driveway. Even from that angle I knew he has much younger – closer to thirty. He was tallish, while Anne was tiny (less than 5ft) and the welcome they gave us was big hearted and very warm. What a thrill to be staying in a home, and with two such lovely people.

The next morning, I wriggled out of my sleeping bag to another blue skies and sunshiny day. Although a rest day meant there would be some chores - Land Rover maintenance, diary notes, washing – there would be respite from packing up, navigating, deciding when and where to stop, and finding somewhere to kip at the end of the day. I was surprised that I took the most pleasure in already knowing where my bed was going to be that night. Such a simple thing, but it meant a lot to me.

Anne and Mark, cooked up a huge plate of pancakes. They were stacked in glorious dappled brown layers, on a large platter in the centre of the big rectangular dining table. I snuffled up a great, sensuous waft as I took my place and rolled the first warm forkful straight into my mouth, without syrup or topping. It was a taste redolent of home, of long slow comfortable Sunday mornings. We all dived in, as if starved of such comforts for a whole year instead of just a couple of weeks. Anne kept pace, as she flipped more and more onto the platter. Finally we were all satisfied and we lay back in our chairs with contented sighs.

The men whiled away the rest of the morning in the garage, crawling in and under the Land Rovers. Washing and other chores done, F2 picked up her embroidery, which she always kept close at hand. She was working on a Disneyland type underwater scene, with cheerful cartoon dolphins and brightly coloured, striped fish darting through bobbing seaweed. She was happy to stay at the kitchen table where she could spread out a number of silken threads, in order to make the best colour selection.

Anne and I settled in the cosy lounge for a long chat. Most of all on this trip, I wanted to talk with people and learn about their lives. Inevitably there would be comparisons and contrasts with my own. I envied Mark and Anne’s decision to leave their bigger city hometowns and choose the lifestyle of Klamath Falls, which had a population of only 40,000. I had made the jump in reverse from small-town New Plymouth to Auckland, but had always remained ambivalent about living in New Zealand’s largest city.

Until now I had thought that the job opportunities had outweighed the downsides of living in an overgrown metropolis. But, as Ann and I talked, I became less sure. The sun glowed in large window shaped panes on the wooden floors and on Anne’s head as she chatted about the great outdoors, their trips to Yosemite National Park and their four-wheel-drive adventures in their own Oregon State area. The day lengthened and the sun’s rays slid up the walls to highlight the black and white Ansell Adams Yosemite prints hanging there.

It was a perfect rest day. Quite seductive, in fact. I knew I’d treasure the experience, and the thought of Mark and Anne’s lifestyle choice, for a long time.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Monday, November 28, 2005

There’s no business like snow business


Being dressed in sponsors clothing and having "antique jeeps" sure means you get noticed. I was conscious that we were always "on show". Even if we weren’t employees of our sponsors, the clothing and company logos on the Land Rovers meant we would be judged as if we were. For the most part, this was easy. People were just so interested and friendly.

For example, the seemingly routine matter of packing up each day: - TH would load our Land Rover with whatever we had taken out the night before. We had built a set of drawers into the back and, as space was tight, everything had its place. When we packed up in the motel’s car park the next morning, a man who was vacationing at the motel, came out to watch. He was fascinated with our storage system and how well we had utilised the space. He chatted to TH about the expedition. When I arrived with more belongings he asked if I was "the wife".
"That’s me", I said.
He replied that he was enjoying seeing my "clever" husband at work stowing things away, and how lucky TH was having a wife life me who was happy to join in on this great adventure. He was such a delight to talk to.

I returned to our unit with a big smile, to collect the last of our things. That done, I pulled the door shut and I looked over to F1 & F2’s unit to see if they were ready. We should have shared a motel unit, as motels were costly compared with the camping we had planned to do. But, when we had arrived the night before, F2 had insisted on separate arrangements. I was surprised at her sudden assertiveness after a day of being tearful and saying she couldn’t cope. At the time, though, I had just written it off as her needing some space after what was probably was quite a stressful day for her.

F2 was now standing in her unit’s doorway, unseen by me. You can read a person’s true feelings, if you observe them when they think no one is watching. She was frowning and her expression was as if she could smell something distasteful. But she was looking at something, not smelling. I followed her gaze. She was staring straight at TH. I stood frozen, not believing it, flicking my eyes from one back to the other. But, I was not mistaken.

The "film reels" in my mind suddenly flashed back over a number of incidents – the odd sarcastic remark directed by her at TH, her sharp reaction when he was trying to take photos the other morning, the occasionally audible sighs when he stopped to talk to people while on the expedition and, of course, last night’s determined refusal to share a motel unit.

Any joy I had felt in the day was instantly sucked out, to be replaced by rage. Attack of a loved one can have a galvanising effect. How dare she think she was superior? TH and I had done so much to make the expedition happen. It had taken years and years of blood, sweat and tears. Whereas she was new to the team and, as yet, unwilling or unable demonstrate that she could do anything useful.

I wanted to stride over there and slap that look of her surly face. Before I could move, a sharp pain in my palms snapped me out of it. I was still holding onto the unit’s door handle. During my fit of rage, my fingers had curled around it, and my nails had dug into my palms.

I realised I was being overly sensitive and emotional. Out-of-control emotions can be explosive at any time, but particularly on an expedition like ours. I had to get real. Just because F2 disliked TH, didn’t mean it was the end of the world. I had already accepted that she was well out of her comfort zone and that this would mean irrational behaviour or impaired judgement.

And, I also conceded that I couldn’t expect everyone to love TH like I did. While managing this new situation wasn’t going to be easy, at least I now knew where F2 stood on one matter. I ran over the options in my head - asking F1 for help was a waste of time. Previous experience had shown me that he didn’t notice the behaviour quirks or body language of others. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. He was just always focussed on whatever task he was doing.

I didn’t think I could tell TH what had happened, either, as I felt it would be too painful. I peered anxiously in his direction. TH has a talent for languages. Like most people with this gift, he also had sensitivity for social and cultural mores. He was still chatting to our friendly admirer and appeared oblivious to my little frozen moment of revelation.

So, I just decided that we would go on as before. Except, I wouldn’t accept any more sarcastic remarks about TH. Depending on F2’s reaction to this, I would be able to assess whether her likes and dislikes were going to cause serious problem. Then, I’d handle that situation when and if it arose.

We drove away from the coast, towards the Umpqua River Valley and Crater Lake National Park. Umpqua was the local Native American word for "full belly". The area was lushly wooded with a long gorge carved out by the river. This river rushed along in rapids or stopped to linger in cool green pools.

Little side roads occasionally joined the main winding road. One particular warning sign stated: "Trucks entering highway at 1200ft" and I immediately had the impression of lorries plummeting out of the sky, rather like the whale in "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy".

We stopped at the "Dry Creek Store" to buy some lunch provisions and hot water for our tea. The proprietors wanted to know all about us, and our "cute little jeeps". TH and I showed them over our Land Rover. They loved everything. We were given free boiling water for our morning tea cuppa, they topped up our thermos flasks with more water for later and also gave each Land Rover crew a calendar and postcard. I beamed a smile at F2, as if to say, "see what happens when you stop and talk to people".

A church group, on an outing to the snow at Crater Lake, had also stopped at the store. One of the men came over to introduce himself. Over morning tea, Howard and I shared stories of growing up, particularly after I had told him of the day trips I had enjoyed with my family, and church group, up Mt Egmont, in Taranaki (New Zealand).

As a small child we would chug up Mt Egmont (Taranaki) in my Dad’s old Ford van, usually with half the neighbourhood kids on board. The first sight of snow was eagerly awaited. We would then excitedly count the patches of snow until they became too numerous and they all linked up into a giant white carpet. In my hometown of New Plymouth, temperatures were too mild for snow at sea level. Driving up the mountain was the only time we could see this cold "white stuff". It never failed to thrill me.

My conversation with Howard was fresh in my mind when I later glimpsed the first patches of snow. The road was slowly climbing to an altitude of just over 7000-ft. And, yes, I counted the patches of snow and got ridiculously excited.

We drove on through the snow ploughed roads, with snowdrifts up to 15ft high on either side. The snowfall on Mt Egmont was never this heavy at road access level. Snowy firs and spruce seemed to grow straight out of the snow and the orange of the road marking poles made bright colour splashes amid the stark monochrome. Looking beyond these poles was like being on the set of "Dr Zhivago", the scenery of which had made a huge impact on me when I had seen the film in my mid teens.

My exuberance may have become a little overwhelming. F2 was very reluctant to have a team photo in the snow. However, I insisted that we needed images of the Land Rovers in exotic locations for our sponsors. Three of us agreed on a photo with just the vehicles standing nose to nose in the snow. In my jacket and gloves I felt like a traffic officer on duty, as I waved TH and F1 in the Land Rovers into position. As we finished the shoot I glanced about to find F2. She was standing some distance away and looking down at the ground. Her jacket hood was up, her arms folded across her chest, and she was kicking at the snow with her boot. Again, I flashed her my "pearly whites" and said, "Isn’t it great we can get such wonderful photos for our sponsors!" I was probably insufferable, but I wanted to get the message across that sponsorship (which in effect had provided her with a subsidised trip) came with obligations.

We drove on up to the crater lake at 7122 feet and stopped in the car park. I was very keen to see the lake, which was hidden by the rim of the crater. A viewing tunnel had been carved through the icy wall of the rim. I gently eased myself along it, as the ice had made the floor very slippery. The lake was misted over. I waited, pleading for wind. Suddenly, there was a quick gap in the mist and I was almost dazzled by the brilliant blue of the lake. It was fabulous.

© Eventful Woman, 2005
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Monday, November 21, 2005

Trouble with Gas

There were no further incidents as drove we south, skirting Mt Saint Helens on the way. We left Washington State behind as we scudded over a long bridge, with the muddy Columbia River beneath us, to arrive in Oregon. Instantly the highway signs changed from the shape of George Washington’s head, to a more routine shield shape.

The blue sky, spring day had deteriorated into drizzle. We made a stop in Astoria, a forlorn little town near the mouth of the Columbia River. Half the shops seemed to be shut. The few that were open had drab awnings, which drooped sadly in the rain. It was a holiday place, waiting for the summer.

When we shipped everything from New Zealand, we had to empty the gas out of our camping stoves. Our research had suggested that gas bottle fittings should be the same as ours in England, but might be different in USA. Now that we were officially on the road, and planning to do more camping, it was time to see if we could fill our gas bottles.

We found a camping store and plodded in out of the rain. The response was as damp as the town. The shop assistant shook his head as soon as he saw our gas bottles. The bottles looked different and he wasn’t going to be bothered looking at the fittings. We plodded back out and headed for the coast and, hopefully, some sunshine.

Highway 101 undulates its way down the Pacific edge of America. New Zealand is also a Pacific Ocean country, glistening like a pearl in the far south of the globe. It was such a thrill seeing the ocean again. The surf thundered in, just like on the rugged the west coast beaches at home.

We passed a roadway billboard with huge letters: "Why does President Clinton wear boxers shorts?" The answer was posted on another billboard about 100 metres further along the road: "To keep his ankles warm."

It was the 12th March 1998. During our entire expedition, and until we rolled back onto our driveway at home in February 1999, America’s attention seemed to be taken up with whether/or not this President had sex with "that woman". In Bulgaria, Iran, or India, or somewhere else equally exotic, we would tune our little car radio to "BBC World Service" or "Voice of America (VOA)". VOA, which is broadcast into every country except USA, usually had a stronger signal and so we were forced to listen to this more often. Almost without fail, the news would lead with yet more wearying details of the President’s sex life.

However, back then in March ’98, President Clinton and the American public would not have known he was in for a tumultuous year. As it was to turn out, I was in for a rocky road, too, although not for the same reasons.

We found a cheap motel in Rockaway Bay, which actually had a kitchen in it. Most motels in New Zealand have cooking facilities, but we found that these were usually sadly lacking in America. But, tonight we had what we wanted to cook our tucker.

We had our dinner table discussion on the need for F2 to become a navigator and a part of the team. She seemed quite apprehensive and I reassured her that I would train her to read maps. I gave her the option of doing something else, but it got back to the original problem we had when we had our planning meetings. She either didn’t have other skills we needed, or didn’t/wouldn’t volunteer to do anything else. So, for now it was co-navigating.

The rain had dispersed by morning, but gloom still pervaded the motel unit. F1 took me aside. He was worried about F2, and that she was unhappy about being asked to navigate. I sat down with them both and talked over the details again. F2 was close to tears. I showed her our path on the map for the day, which was straight line navigating down Highway 101. Finally, it was agreed that TH and I would start off in front for the first stretch, and then hand over the navigating at the morning tea stop.

We continued south down 101. Just before morning tea we drove over the 45 meridian line north. It was the northerly opposite to Invercargill, New Zealand, and seemed a good place to stop. While we were waiting for the tea to brew, I showed F2 our map route. She still looked uncomfortable, but I was determined that she take her turn. I knew that, if she grew to accept this responsibility now, then she would develop great skills for map reading in much harder conditions.

Without the chore of map reading, I could really enjoy the run. It was a beautiful, warm day and soon we had our jerseys off. The air was so still that, in the rockier places, the salt spray hung in the air, like an early morning mist. I loved the little bays, the fish shop signs advertising takeaway food like "Halibut & Chips" and I smirked at the "twee" names for the motels - "Silver Sands", "Golden Sands", "Whispering Sands". Even the churches got into the seaside mood, with one called "Our Lady of the Dunes".

At our lunch stop, we found another camping store. The assistant loved our Land Rovers and said he would try to fill our camping gas bottles. The gas hissed and swirled around him as he enthusiastically tried to force it through the fittings. I do confess to cowardly sheltering behind the Land Rover in case the gas bottle exploded.
Attracted by "our funny looking Jeeps" (and some woman huddled by them) an elderly man, who was a World War 2 veteran, approached me. He’d enjoyed some R&R down our way, from his war in the Pacific. He proudly proclaimed, "I’ve been to New Zealand and visited Bondi Beach". (Note for readers who are not from NZ or Australia – Bondi Beach is in Sydney, AUSTRALIA.) Despite that geographical error, he was a good story teller and he made up for the disappointment I felt when the gas assistant had to admit defeat.

F2 and I had a look at the map together over lunch. I traced out our route, marking off the place names and showed her where we would turn inland, and on what highway. She didn’t look very happy and again F1 interceded on her behalf. He said she was stressing out and couldn’t cope.

I was quite worried at this behaviour. The map reading was really very easy stuff at this point, especially as we were driving in a country with excellent road signs. If we were to become a successful team, I knew that F2 would need to develop well beyond this, or at least develop a willingness to try. I agreed to navigate for the rest of the day, but stipulated that F2 would have to take another turn the next day.

We found a motel for the night went to bed early. That night I dreamed I was still working for my ex-employer in New Zealand, and that they forced me to stay instead of leaving on the expedition. I awoke with a gasp. I remember staring around the unfamiliar room, totally bewildered in the darkness, and wondering if I had been shut up in prison.

© Eventful Woman, 2005
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Saturday, November 05, 2005

A fraction too much friction

I was rolling up my sleeping bag the next morning, when I heard F2 shouting, "F**K the sponsors!"

It was followed by something I couldn’t hear from TH,

F2 replied, "Well, you’re taking too f**king long"

I dived out of the cabin, "What’s going on?"

F2 was attempting to load up the Series 1 Land Rover while TH was trying to get his photo of Land Rovers with woodsy cabins. I could see that TH expected F2 to behave like me, and to know to just get out of the shot. F2 was screaming that she didn’t see why she should stop for anyone for anything. It was as if she thought her task was the only thing that mattered.

It had been a normal morning - waking up, breakfast and then packing the Land Rovers. As this would be a year-long expedition, we had agreed on the amount of time for our morning routines – enough to be efficient, but not too much that every day would become a grind. It seemed comfortable for everyone.

But, this was also sponsored expedition, which had magazine coverage as one of the pay-back methods to the sponsors. Therefore, it was essential to take photos that captured the Land Rovers (with the sponsors’ logos) in interest-generating locations and action shots. (And, of course, the photos had to be in focus, and with no distractions in the background). Amongst his many other expedition duties, this was TH's responsibility.
As a professional photographer he was quick and adept in his work. But, it needs a high attention to detail and, to the uninitiated, it can all take too much time.

All this should have amounted to no more than a slightly disgruntled discussion. But here was no minor spat. What had surprised me was the intensity of F2's rage. She seemed close to being out of control and boiling over into a full scale tantrum. This was a big deal to her.

I had expected some conflict amongst us, but thought this would be later on, in the "wilder" countries. I didn’t expect problems so quickly and while we were still in easy touring country. We had been on the road as a team for only TWO days. How did this happen and how did I miss the early warning signals?

It guess it goes back to when we started planning the expedition. The expedition had originally been just TH, our Series I friend, F1, and myself. Over the 5 years of planning, we have developed an easy relationship between ourselves. We each had a contribution to make and we respected what the others had to offer.

In the 18 months before we left New Zealand, F1 had met F2. She was keen to come along, and didn’t seem to want to interfere with the plans we had in place. But, she was a bit of an unknown quantity. She had sat in on all our later planning sessions, and heard what we had to do to make it happen – including delivering on the expectations of our sponsors. But, whenever I had asked for input or how she wanted to contribute, she had demurred. Over time, we weren’t able to define a clear role for her. She gave the impression that this was OK with her.

I see now that this had been our mistake. In a team, everyone needs to have a job/jobs to do. Otherwise they can feel left out and/or lack the understanding to value the overall contribution of other team members. I also should have realised that some people have smaller comfort zones and adjust more slowly to being outside of them, than others. We’re not all cut out to be adventurers. F2 appeared to be struggling with the day-to-day adjustment to life on the road and, probably, her fears for the unknown challenges ahead.

Hindsight is a great thing. But, I didn’t have it then. At that point, I was apalled by her behaviour and extremely annoyed. This expedition had been YEARS in the planning, with little or no input from her. In addition, TH and I had endured days of uncertainty clearing U.S. customs, acquiring petrol cans, and getting the Land Rover going, whereas she had only flown in after all this work had been done. Two days of quite pleasant motoring and she was yelling and swearing. Frankly, I was pissed-off at what I considered to be her over-reacting to a tiny matter of difference.

I snapped at both of them. I told F2 to chill-out and let TH get on with what had to be done. I also snarled at TH to hurry up. It was unfair on both on them. I should have had a good quiet talk with F2 and I should have let TH have the time he needed for the photo shoot. I depend on him for good photos to accompany my magazine articles. He always had to anticipate what I would eventually choose to emphasize in my articles and I would complain if I didn’t have the right accompanying photos. Looking back now, I realise how demanding I could be.

The mood for the rest of the packing-up time was tense between the three of us. F1 didn’t appear to notice. The relationship between TH and I was very frosty as we set off on the road. It took 100 metres (110 yards) and an irate motorist coming the other way, tooting angrily at us, before we realised we were driving on the wrong side. The bad feelings rumbling around my head had affected my judgement. I was also disturbed that the Series I team had simply trotted along behind us, and didn’t seem to realise either that we were all driving on the left (as we do in New Zealand) rather than the American right side.

I had a good think. We couldn’t continue like this. Another mistake like that could cost lives. We had to have all occupants in both Land Rovers alert and focussed. Not stressed out, but not just tagging along for the ride either.

I thought that F2 might cope better if she felt she was a greater part of the team. I decided to have an open discussion with everyone that night on what had happened that morning, and what could be done. Perhaps I could train her to be a navigator, as a starting point? That way, TH and I wouldn’t always have the somewhat onerous responsibility of being the lead vehicle.

My heart lifted at this possible solution. I also said I was sorry to TH that I had yelled at him. He is quick to forgive and I love him for that.

We settled into the new day and to enjoy our drive ahead. It was hard to be down when all of America wanted to wave, smile at, and enjoy our "antique jeeps".

© Eventful Woman, 2005
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Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Capital Place to Visit


We hit Interstate 5, heading south out of Seattle. The motorways are not my preferred form of travelling, but useful when needing to exit from, or bypass a large city. Mt Ranier loomed large on the skyline in the crisp, spring air. It was the first time I had seen this mountain. It can be elusive and often hides under cloud – much like Mt Egmont/Taranaki, in New Plymouth (where I grew up in New Zealand).

I found its presence a welcome reminder of home, and noticed the locals referred to it simply as "the mountain", just as we would have in Taranaki. It’s amazing how the littlest of things provide comfort, when feeling homesick. All over the world people are moulded by their natural surroundings, as well as by their families and other circumstances. When I meet others who have a bond with similar natural surroundings to mine, I feel like I have met a distant relative.

My usual optimism was restored, dispelling the doubts of the night before. TH and I led the way in our trusty Series IIA, with the Series I cradled in our slip stream. (Well, as much slipstream you can get from an old Land Rover).

A vision of loveliness drew us off the Interstate about 60 miles south of Seattle. Like a siren, the sight of the Washington State capital of Olympia "called out" to us. I was drawn by it’s beautiful capitol building which, to my uneducated eye at that stage, looked like a copy of its bigger "cousin", the capitol building in the District of Columbia (Washington DC)

Olympia’s Capitol building stands on a grassy knoll (no, not THAT grassy knoll (in Texas)), surrounded by park-like grounds and overlooking the Southern tip of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Constructed with truckloads of Alaskan white marble, it gleamed purely in the late afternoon sunshine. It was a heady mix of Roman, Greek and neo-classical architecture, topped with an exterior cupola. I just had to venture inside to see what glories lay within. The huge, Tiffany chandelier took my breath away. The rest of the interior was pretty damn good, too.

A conveniently timed public tour of the building provided entertaining stories and insights regarding the construction, which was completed in the 1920’s. With plotting, planning, building delays, cost overruns and politicians grandstanding nothing much has changed. Of particular note, though, the inspiration of the design was from a man who was eventually shot by a jealous husband. For those who want more about this history, check out:
http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5443

I found out later that 40 out of the 50 American state capitals have a cupola (dome) in their government buildings. However, my personal opinion is that Washington State has one of the most beautiful, and in one of the prettiest settings. For more details on USA State buildings:
http://www.cupola.com/html/bldgstru/statecap/cap01.htm

We were allowed a wee peek into both debating chambers – the House of Representatives and The Senate. I noted that the discussion topic underway in The Chamber was common to politicians the world over – whether to name a city park after one of them who had long service, but was still serving (i.e. not dead). Of course, the parties were divided into whether they were on the same side of the house as the politician in question. The tour moved on, and I never got to find out who won. A cynic would say that the answer would be obvious. Eventually, even if not on that day, somewhere in the city a park would be named after a politician.

There were a lot of people milling about in the halls and corridors – aides, lobbyists, "rubber neckers" and tourists. We were dressed in our Land Rover branded gear. I was approached by two men – they were tall, clean-shaven, were wearing smart suits and had the air of someone used to their surroundings. I mentally summed them up - too old to be bodyguards and too smooth to be under cover cops. Lawyers, maybe? Not my favourite species.

"Do you have anything to do with those historic "Jeeps" outside?"

"Yes, and they are Land Rovers"

"We’re interested in them"

"Why, are they illegally parked?"

"No, ma’am, they’re allowed to be in the parking lot, like everything else".

I nodded. I was always careful where we parked. I looked at the men curiously. They seemed lost for words. Maybe not lawyers, after all.

As it turned out, like most other Americans, they were simply interested in what we were doing on the expedition and why. They were oil company lobbyists, who spent vast amounts of time trying to influence the decisions of politicians. Bored with the debate in The Chamber, they had wandered in the lovely grounds outside, seen the Land Rovers and then found us inside the building.

I got the impression that I was to be the entertainment, while they waited for the politicians’ debate to finish. It was getting late, and we needed to move on. Always a marketer, I suggested that there was an opportunity to become one of our sponsors. They politely declined, said their goodbyes and wished us well with our travels.

We needed to find a bed for the night. The tourist office suggested "Olympia Campsite", just a few miles further south. It was quite cold when we motored through their gates and we settled for two little woodsy looking cabins. Each had a double bed. The bed head and footboard were made of moulded plastic tree trunks - just like Disney Frontierland.

We bought provisions in the camp store and whisked up a feed in the deserted cook room. It was still only early spring and not yet camping weather. We noticed some large RV’s (recreational vehicle campervans) with their lights on, and assumed our fellow campers were cacooned inside with heaters blazing.

The cold was starting to bite at our fingers. TH, F1 and I quickly huddled over the road map and planned the next few days’ travel. F2 completed a few more stitches of her embroidery. Then, we retired to our cosy cabins and the comfort of our three-season sleeping bags.

Note: Photo is of the Land Rovers at Camp Olympia, with the woodsy (somewhat twee) cabins in the background.
© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Almost Flying

Photo: A funny sign for a New Zealander to see in USA

After a few wrong turns, we found our way back to the Seattle customs broker. It didn’t take so long this time to get the Series I Land Rover fired up and ready for the road. Our friendly customs broker, Linda J, already had the petrol can filled up and waiting for our arrival. The Series I had been lazing around in the shipping yard, and was already warm in the spring sunshine. It soon coughed into life.

As Linda J had grown rather attached to the petrol can, we gave it to her as a farewell gift. She seemed quite chuffed with her new toy. I overheard her say to a colleague that it would come in handy if she ever ran out of gas (petrol). HAH – I just knew they were human after all.

As soon as F2 arrived from the bus station, we were on our way. It was well into the afternoon, but we were only headed to nearby Everett, about an hour away.

We were finally going to get the "show on the road". If this was a movie it would be about now that the fanfare, "big things are about to happen" music would be cued. When TH and I had left this same yard a week earlier, we had skipped out like two excited lambs on their first spring adventure. But, F1 and F2 were tense and nervous. Cut the music. Of course, the act of driving out of the safety of the shipping yard and on to the "mean streets" can be a bit of a gulp moment. We led the way out, and the others tucked themselves right in behind.

The NZ dollar was stumbling along at around $US0.50 at that time. So, everything was twice as expensive to us (except the petrol of course). We agreed we would share a motel at Everett.

I stayed in the unit to finish the Land Rover article I had started in Vancouver, while the others went foraging for food. It was the first time I had been alone for days. I had grown up in a big family and had been used to the hum of life happening all around me. Now, in the unaccustomed quiet, I missed everyone. It had been years since I had felt homesick. It was such a strange feeling, considering I had left my childhood home over 20 years ago. Looking back I realise that this was the first inkling I had of how this journey was going to affect me.

Fortunately, the pressure of a publishing deadline pushed such thoughts aside. Just as I was finishing my last edit, the others came back with a congealed mess on a paper plate. At least growing up in a big family meant that I wasn’t a fussy eater and I wolfed it down.

I was going to email the article to the publisher along with the digital images that Eric had taken in Vancouver. However, the images had somehow corrupted. I wondered if Eric still had his copy of the photos and whether he could help me out. It was just on 9pm. Hopefully, it wasn’t too late to ring.

Linda (Eric’s wife, not the customs broker) answered the phone. What a treat it was to hear her warm contralto voice and I poured out all that had happened during the day. If she wondered about this gush of detail from me, she never questioned it. She was so positive and enthusiastic. I always felt 3 metres high when talking to her. No wonder I couldn’t shut up.

When I was finally through, I realised I hadn’t got to the point of the call. She said that Eric had gone to bed early and I felt very guilty when I remember the long nights that he and TH had put in, when trying to fix the email system. However, she was sure Eric still had the photos and she generously suggested that I email the article to her, along with the address for the publication, and she would ensure the publishers received everything they needed.

The entire conversation with Linda had taken place in the motel reception area, where I was using the phone. The proprietor had listened to every word. She apologised for eavesdropping, but she said it was such a brave and exciting story that she couldn’t stop herself. What’s more she said she wanted to help. She would not charge me for the phone call, as I had more than paid for it in entertainment value. Wow, that was really great.

When you’re feeling low, someone like Linda or that proprietor can make such a positive difference. Time and time again this happened on the expedition. People would stop amidst their busy lives to assist us. People who never knew us, and who never expected anything in return. This always humbled me and I never failed to be buoyed up by their kindness.

That night I slept very well, soothed by the soft breathing of my sleeping travel companions. We were in two double beds, almost side by side in the small room. The cosy atmosphere reminded me of me of my early years, when I shared a room with two of my siblings.

In the morning we set off for the Boeing Factory, located in Everett. This was an eagerly awaited visit, which we had planned long in advance for. They have a special visitor centre, with models and interactive displays. Gawking and admiring these displays keeps visitors amused until it is their time to visit the factory itself.

The factory is huge. At one point the staff were working on FOUR jumbo jets (747’s) in one central place. We were escorted along specially constructed walkways above the factory area. The workers looked like miniature robots scurrying around these gigantic aeroplanes.

Our tour guide was an ex-test pilot. He was clean-cut and handsome, in a Ken doll sort of way. He welcomed questions and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t answer. It didn’t seem to matter than none of our group of 20 would probably ever buy our own aircraft. He treated us all like potential customers. Very smart marketing. Nearly all of us would fly in a seven series jet at some point in our lives, even if we didn’t own it. Therefore, we were all potential customers of Boeing’s customers.
Check out the website on:
http://www.boeing.com/companyoffices/aboutus/tours/

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Core business for U.S. Customs


The "Three Musketeers" drove out of Vancouver, as soon as the rush hour had subsided. Crammed into the front cab of our Series 2, we were excited and upbeat. Sardines on happy pills. A row of New Zealand apples had also hitched a ride. Like rotund red soldiers, they were lined up on what passes for a dashboard in the Land Rover.

It had been sad saying good bye to Eric and Linda. They had been such a great support and so positive about the expedition. They hoped they would visit New Zealand in about three years. At that point, three years seemed liked a million years away. But, with the email problem fixed, we would be able to keep in touch. And, we still do today. (Hey, Eric, if you’re reading this it’s now been SEVEN years since you promised to visit. Come on over!)

F2 took the bus, as there was no room in our Series 2 Land Rover. We would meet in Seattle, where F1 would collect his Series One Land Rover.

We saw some amazing signs on the entire expedition. Many were in North America as, from our point of view, they have a curious way with words. Just north of the US/Canada border we spotted a sign: "Respect slow moving agricultural vehicles". Maybe this was meant to be a warning about possible encounters with tractors crawling along the country lanes. I suppose they couldn’t say, "This is a country area. Slow down you impatient city slickers". As Land Rovers are considered to be an agricultural vehicle in New Zealand, especially older ones, we took this as a good omen for the expedition.

In fact, I thought they were giving us a special welcome at the border. As we slowed to join the queue of cars I could see a large sign. From the distance I could just make out the letters on the first word "RESPECT", but the rest was a blur. TH has very good eyesight. "Uh oh", he groaned, and then, "How fast can you eat those apples?"

The sign said: RESPECT OUR FRUIT MARKET – DO NOT IMPORT FRUIT AND VEGETABLES. I had been munching on the apples almost as soon as we left Vancouver. From the battalion that we set off with, a small squad of four remained. Food lover I might be, but scoffing this lot in a few minutes was beyond even me.

A tall, rangy looking border guard was slouched at his post, on the American side of the border. He looked bored, giving each vehicle and its number plate (licence plate) a desultory glance, before waving it through. All the cars in front of us had either Canadian or USA licence plates. In less than a minute we were at the front of the line.

Our appearance had a galvanising effect. Lazarus rising from the dead! He sprang out into the road in front of us, raising his hand into a "HALT" position. He inspected our Land Rover, walking completely around it. He stopped at my window, which was the passenger side in our right-hand-drive vehicle. I saw his look of astonishment when he realised I didn’t have a steering wheel in front of me. However, as I was sitting in what he considered was the driving seat, he addressed all of his questions to me.

Unfortunately, I could barely understand him. He had a thick, southern state American accent and spoke with what was probably his local jargon, "Y’all got a licence for this here buggy?" (He pronounced "this" as "they-is" and "here" as "hay – er").

TH has a real talent for language and accents. I gave him a frantic look. TH translated, "He wants to know if we have a road registration." I gave the border guard a wide smiling yes and pointed to our New Zealand registration sticker on the windscreen.

Like most countries, we pay a tax (registration) to our government to drive on the roads, which is linked to the number (licence) plate on the car. On payment each year, stickers are issued to show that the vehicle’s registration is current. Our stickers are rather dull. They are small, white and rectangular, with the vehicle’s identification (number (licence) plate) printed in black computer-generated ink, which includes a bar code. It all makes sense if you are familiar with how the numbers work. Understandably, Americans are not used to our system. Adding to the confusion, New Zealand records the date as dd/mm/yyyy, whereas Americans work in the format of mm/dd/yyyy.

The sticker was on the top left hand corner of the windscreen, facing outwards. From my position in the seat directly behind it, I could see the confused expression of the border guard, as he stared at our registration sticker. He could not make head or tail of it.

I started rifling through our official papers folder for our "Carnet de Passages en Douane", (a sort of passport for a vehicle). As long as a vehicle is registered in its own country, having a Carnet (pronounced car-nay) means it is exempt road tax/charges in most other countries it is driven through. We had purchased a Carnet before leaving New Zealand, as we knew it was essential for many countries, although it is not usually required for foreign vehicles passing through USA or Canada. For more information about a Carnet check out:

http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/tripplan/paper/#CarnetExplain
or
http://bptravel.tripod.com/vechimpt.htm

I flapped the Carnet triumphantly out of the window. However, the guard waved this aside. I think he’d decided the vehicle was all too hard. Instead, I think he probably thought we were illegal immigrants, especially as we didn’t seem understand English very well. He asked for our passports.

Although New Zealanders don’t need a visa for USA, I had visited the US Embassy in Auckland to obtain one for each of us. I knew we’d be driving across the Canadian and possibly the Mexican border a couple of times and, as we would be in "funny looking Jeeps", I knew visas would smooth our way. Thank goodness, they worked. Our guard diligently inspected our passports and visas, lifting his eyes to scrutinise each one of us in turn. This was something he really understood.

He took his time. I reached out for one of the apples, thinking I could eat my way through the wait. They looked so inviting with their polished red skins gleaming in the sunlight. And then it hit me. With all of the fuss over vehicle registration, I had forgotten to declare the apples. It was true that he hadn’t asked, either. But, that was probably not going to count in our favour. "Here comes trouble", I thought.

I sat there turning over excuses and explanations in my head. The guard seemed to be taking an absolute age. Finally, he nodded and handed the passports back. Despite all the convincing phrases I had silently practised, I blurted out "We’ve got these" and pointed to the apples.

He barely glanced at them. "They-er are ray-ed", he drawled, "grain (green) ay-ples are bay-inned". I peered desperately at TH for another translation. He’s wicked, you know. He smiled up at the guard and said, "Ma wy-ife is a bay-it de-af."

The guard returned the smile sympathetically. He turned back to me and shouted "Ray-ed ay-ples OK."

We all thanked the guard and scooted out of there. I gave TH a hard dig in the ribs for his cheekiness. He grinned back at me, "have another apple, sweet-hayart."

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Vancouver Vacation

Photo: Cleveland Dam/Lake Capilano, North Vancouver, with "lions"

We cruised into Vancouver just on dusk, catching the tail end of the rush hour. Crawling along in the traffic we had time to admire this pretty city. The lights were starting to twinkle on and, in the fading light, I could just make out some hills or mountain ranges hugging the harbour.

Before long, we pulled into the North Vancouver driveway of our Canadian friends, Eric & Linda. What a welcome they gave us – warm, happy, enthusiastic and very friendly. It was just like home and, like us, they had Rover cars in their garage, too.

I had met Eric via the Rover Car of Canada, when we were both the editors of our respective Rover Car Club magazines. In the days before email, we had exchanged our magazine. A correspondence and a friendship had grown between us.

Eric had been my guiding light for clearing American Customs at the start of the expedition. The length of this task had forced us to stay three nights at our arrival port of Seattle. Each evening, I rang Eric & Linda to advise of our progress and whether we thought we’d be joining them the next day. They were always reassuring and they inspired me to remain patient, rather than charge through, "bull at a gate" style that I am prone to. It’s probably because of their wise advice that I eventually talked my way through U.S. Customs, rather than get arrested for shouting and swearing.

And, here we were at last in their warm and comfortable home. The next few days became a pleasant hiatus after all the work/stress to date and before we would finally set off in earnest.

Vancouver is an attractive place. We toured around admiring its many charms, swayed on the Capilano swing bridge, craned our necks to admire Lions’ Bridge and also at the totem poles in Stanley Park. I particularly loved the Cleveland Dam and Capilano Lake area near Eric & Linda’s home, with its "picture postcard" Canadian beauty. Two sharp peaks in the mountain range soaring above the lake are called "The Lions". On the way there, I got all eager and excited when we passed a road sign warning of bears in the area. But, it was too early in spring and they were probably still hibernating. For now, I’d have to be content with the "lions".

One evening we ate at the fabulous "Salmon House". Now, I’m not much of a fish fan but I had never before (or since) tasted such wonderful salmon. This was wild (not farmed) sock-eye salmon, grilled over an open flame with green alderwood. Wow, sock it to me, baby! The restaurant d├ęcor is wood and slate. Very posh, yet comfy. And, as the restaurant is perched in the hills above Vancouver, the view is to die for. www.salmonhouse.com

While the days were idyllic, there was plenty to curse about at night. We were travelling with a lap top computer and wanted to use email to keep in contact. This was 1998 and early days for portable computing and emailing from "abroad". Internet cafes were not common then.

We had two different modems – one for a data capable mobile phone and the other for use with a landline. These days, of course, the modem is a combined device, and Internet Cafes abound. Back then, knowledge about using such technology when away from home was very limited. Almost up until the day of our departure from New Zealand, our mobile phone provider was not even sure how it would work, including the I-Pass numbers. They managed to find the one person in the country who knew enough to talk us through the steps. TH spent an intense hour on the phone with him to learn the ropes.

It didn’t work in Seattle and it didn’t work in Vancouver, either. TH and Eric spent long hours each night working on it, testing, re-installing programs, re-testing and talking to "experts". I have the greatest admiration that they just stuck at it, especially as Eric is a Mac user, until the numerous problems were solved. The root of all computer evils (nothing has changed today, of course) was with the program of a well-known, giant computer company, based in Seattle. Without TH and Eric’s dedication, I’m sure a laptop would have been hurled through that company’s windows, when we headed south once more.

Monday 9 March 1998 was our last rest day in Vancouver - Day 7 in my diary. I was recording each day in three-digit format and I was rather amused when I typed in 007. Round the word odyssey - licensed to thrill?

However, it proved to be a very quiet day. We had now been joined by our two travel companions - F1 and F2 (Friend 1 who owned the Series One Land Rover, and his partner, F2) TH and F1 repacked and re-arranged our two-seater Series 2 Land Rover to fit an extra person. The three of us would be driving back to Seattle together, so that F1 could collect the Series One Land Rover, which was waiting at our shipping agent. I spent the day writing my regular expedition article for a British Land Rover magazine. F2 embroidered. The rain poured down outside. Inside, spirits seemed damp and subdued. The weight of what was to come was pressing down once more.

Suddenly, the doorbell clanged into life. F2 and I started in surprise. Eric and Linda were both at work. We wondered who had splashed their way to the front door. I peered out. How bizarre - there was a delivery person holding a large box, which was emblazoned with "New Zealand Apples from ENZA". I flung open the door, so the poor wet man could "splodge" his way inside.

It turned out to be a gift from one our sponsors, ENZA, the then New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board http://www.enza.co.nz/ It’s amazing how a taste from home can lift your spirits. The day was no longer quiet. We crunched and munched happily, while the earlier depression dissipated. It began to feel like we were finally ready to go.

Some might say, "an apple a day, keeps the doctor away", but my motto is "on a full stomach, anything is possible". This was to serve me well throughout the expedition.

© Eventful Woman, 2005
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Monday, August 15, 2005

Signs of the times

One thing that really took my fancy throughout the expedition was the signs. No, not the "road to Damascus" ones! The advertising / road / and instruction signs that we encountered along the way.

Like on our very first night away from home:

After a marathon 16-hour flight from New Zealand, via LA, we staggered onto the downtown Seattle airport shuttle bus. On arrival, and as befitting an expedition on a "shoe-string", we checked into a central city back packers, and collapsed onto our bunk beds.

But, in just a few minutes my stomach started growling and gnawing with hunger. I tossed about. Sleep was impossible. I moaned to TH that we’d have to go foraging for a meal. TH can go for hours on an empty stomach, but I get rather irascible when I’m hungry (well, so I am told).

There were a few grams of energy left to heave ourselves up and off on the quest for food. It seemed a scruffy part of town and we quickly ventured into a handy "greasy spoon" - a Chinese restaurant with the unlikely name of "Tropical Deli". It was a very silent meal, while I shovelled in fork loads of food. TH looked white and exhausted. He just pecked at his meal, with his eyes closed for most of the time.

Food normally perks me up, but even I felt like I could barely make it back to the hostel.

Stumbling out of the restaurant, TH suddenly pointed across the road to a "massage parlour". There was a huge sign above it, which said:

"50 beautiful girls PLUS 3 ugly ones"

It was just the lift we needed. We laughed right out loud, holding onto each other to stay upright. We almost skipped back to our lodgings, and were still chuckling as we clambered back into out bunks.

We both fell asleep almost immediately.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Monday, August 08, 2005

The Road to Canada is Paved with Gold

(Photo: Land Rover and totem poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver)

The burden of leaving my home and the wearying "show down" with U.S. Customs fell off me, as we headed north from Seattle to Vancouver.

Tonight we would be sleeping in a safe haven at the home of Canadian friends. The sky was bluer and I’d like the say that the grass was greener, but we were still on motorways. For the first time in days I felt free.

On reaching open country I leaned out the Land Rover window and sucked in great gusts of crisp spring air. Hundreds of trees were bursting into blossom, a weird sight from the autumn we had just left in New Zealand. While this made me feel I was in a parallel universe (in a galaxy far, far away), I didn’t care. I was very happy.

We swung into Canadian Customs with high enthusiasm. We got a few questions about where we were going and how long it would take. Then, they asked to see our drivers’ licences and our on-going air tickets. I groaned inwardly at this. Thinking that we wouldn’t need the tickets for two months, we had packed them in a safe place in a bottom storage locker of the Land Rover. Now, we would have to unpack everything to get at them.

TH showed them his driver’s licence first, which was snuggled up next to his gold credit card in his wallet. The Customs Officer spied the gold card. These are very common in New Zealand but, as we soon learned, rather rare in Canada at that time.

"Is that a GOLD credit card, Sir?"

"Yes"

"May I see it, Sir?"

TH handed it over. It has his photo, as well as his signature on it.

Careful comparisons were made with his passport photo and signature.

I was rather nervous at this sudden focus on credit cards, and I stopped hauling our possessions out of the back of the Land Rover. I pretended to fiddle with a latch, while I covertly studied the Customs Officer’s body language. He was concentrating on the comparison job. I tried to "read" whether his actions were simply professional or something more sinister.

He suddenly beamed at TH, "That all seems to be in order, Sir. With one of these cards, I know you will be able to fund your trip. You may proceed".

Well, how about that? It was a huge and pleasant surprise. TH slung the few things I had dragged out of the Land Rover back into place. We both grinned at the Officer, and sailed out of there as fast as an old Land Rover could.

The man actually saluted us.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

American Love Affair

Photo: Land Rovers in LA, California (Click on the photo to increase its size)

Driving on the right (to us wrong) side of the road was the start of an affair. There we were in old, slow, quaint, non-American vehicles, usually motoring sedately along around 45 - 50 m.p.h ( 70 - 80 km). Before we began the expedition, I wondered what the Americans would think of the Land Rovers.

From the moment we hit the freeway north out of Seattle the people loved them. Friendly toots and waves, cameras clicking with everyone smiling and grinning. Kids were agog. They would peer out their back windows, mouths open and keep on waving until the vehicles they were in were too far out of sight in front.

When we stopped it was like being minor rock stars. During our morning "cuppas" in roadside rest areas people would cluster around. They loved our accents. They loved our matching "sweaters" and most of all they loved our "awesome trucks".

TH and I were working as a photojournalism team and so, despite the historic look of the Land Rovers, we were equipped with the latest technology. At that stage (1998) digital cameras were quite rare. They also looked quite odd compared with traditional cameras.

Many people regretted they didn’t have their cameras with them, when they met up with us. TH would whip out the digital camera and photograph them standing them in front of the Land Rover. They often didn’t recognise it was a camera and frequently they looked stunned in the photos. I called this the "I’ve been captured by aliens" look.

TH would download the image into our laptop (far less common then, too), hook it up to the portable printer, and crank out a photo right before their eyes. People would be incredulous. They couldn’t accept the incongruity of modern technology, and an "antique jeep", all at the same time. They would stare with astonishment at the photo in their hands, then up at the Land Rover, and then back down to the photo again. Sometimes they’d turn the photo over and look at the back. I wondered if they were expecting to see photo of themselves with an alien, as well.

After awhile they would recover their manners, thank us very much and wander away scratching their heads. We’d sometimes hear them muttering things to themselves like "dang" and "wait until I show honey and the kids."

Most people waited until we had stopped by the side of the road to talk to us. However, in California we were almost run off the road by a very excited driver in a huge "yank tank". He was "parping" his horn and vigorously signalling us to pull over. I thought that one of our wheels was about to fall off, or he was going to shoot us.

However, he had seen the "Lucas" logos on the side of the Land Rovers. His name was Lucas and he thought he had found some long lost cousins from "Noo Zeeeee-land".

(Note: although the expedition was sponsored by Repco New Zealand, they had chosen their global brand name of "Lucas" to name the expedition in all countries (except in NZ and Australia, where Repco was better known))

We never quite got used to all the attention on American roads, which was only matched later on by the people in India. But, it was a wonderful beginning to our expedition in USA.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Arriving in USA: Cultural and language challenges

Photo: The Land Rovers are
released from their sea
container in Seattle, USA.
Eventful Woman (in red jacket) keeps a watchful eye on the proceedings.

The cultural differences between New Zealand and USA are huge.

No matter how carefully you plan for things, you can’t anticipate it all. It’s often the little, unexpected things that mark the difference between countries, as much as wider issues. In this case, it was all about a petrol can. You know, those simple little 5 litre (1.5 US gallon) containers (either metal or polypropylene plastic) that can be purchased in any New Zealand petrol station.

New Zealanders tend to be a do-it-yourself nation of people. Nearly everyone buys a petrol container at some point – to top up the lawn mower, or some other do-it-yourself power implement (like a chain saw or leaf blower). Then, there’s petrol required for the boat, the jet ski, the 4-wheel-drive, the generator – all of which require a handy container for top ups and emergencies. These cans are sold at petrol stations, which makes a lot of sense to us. They’re also really handy for anyone who runs out of petrol and who has to walk to the nearest fuel stop, buy a container, and trudge back to their car with it. Naturally we thought it would be the same in USA. Not so.

To ship the Land Rovers from New Zealand we had to drain out all petrol. On arrival, we would need to purchase a small amount of petrol (in a can) to get the vehicle going and into the nearest "gas" station. It never occurred to us that this would cause any difficulties.

While we were doing battle with US Customs (refer blog entry Wednesday 13 July) we asked our Shipping Agent, Linda J, if she could acquire a petrol can. She had no idea what we meant. We described what it was, including that it could be plastic or metal. She looked quite bemused asking, "Why would people have one of those?" We explained about the lawn mower, etc etc. She lived in an apartment, as did most of her friends, and mowing the lawn was not something she did.

"What about when you run out of petrol?’ I asked

"Americans don’t do that!"

It was my turn to be puzzled. People have run out of petrol as long as there have been motorised vehicles. I thought that maybe I had stumbled over a hidden secret about American car manufacturing. Maybe they made such "gas guzzlers" because they never ran out of petrol? I began to think that we should be touring the world in a Jeep.

However, Linda was a very resourceful woman. She telephoned a number of petrol stations. At each negative reply she asked each for ideas on where to purchase such a thing. Finally, one suggested she try a hardware store. She took TH with her so he could identify the object and show her how it was filled with petrol. They returned with triumphant grins and a full can of petrol.

Finally we were reunited with the Land Rovers in the shipping warehouse. Our possessions were neatly stacked around in boxes. Linda had spent a few cold hours in the warehouse checking off our inventory, so that US Customs could pick over every item.

We had stored spare half-shafts (axles) in a handy, long space inside the linked-up front seats. Linda had told us that, as the Customs Officer had reached inside the gap, his hand had touched the long, metallic bar of the axle. He had called out, "Say, I think they’ve got a gun in here" and had enthusiastically dragged it out. He was so disappointed that it wasn’t a gun, that he spent the next 15 minutes trying to work out what sort of weapon it could be converted into.

Linda kept pointing to the words half-shafts on our list. If we had only written the American words "axle shafts" things may have progressed much faster. The Officer only relented, when there were no other items to tick off on our inventory and therefore the half-shafts had to be the axle-shafts.

The Land Rover engines were cold and damp to our touch. I remembered the hot humid day we had loaded the sea container in Auckland and guessed that the air must have cooled dramatically on the journey to early spring weather in Seattle (March). The cold engines grunted and wheezed as they strained to pull the petrol all the way through the fuel lines to the carburettor. At last, they coughed into life.

We re-stowed our possessions, posed for Linda’s camera, and finally set off into the warm spring sunshine. I was clutching a map that Linda had drawn to show the way to a nearby petrol station and then to the freeway north out of Seattle. Linda had been a tremendous help and she became the first of many, many people whose kindness and goodwill eased our journey around the world.

At the petrol (gas) station an old, wizened fuel pump attendant filled our petrol tank. As he hunched over the nozzle, he peered suspiciously at the Land Rover. "Funny looking jeep", he muttered, fixing his beady eyes on TH, who was sitting in the driving seat. It was then that the attendant noticed our right hand drive steering wheel. His eyes nearly boggled out of his head. I suppose that he’d never travelled out of left-hand drive America.

"What’s the steering wheel doing there?"

"That’s where we have it in New Zealand."

"Doesn’t it make it hard to see, when you overtake."

"No, we drive on the other side over there."

"Never!"

We laughed about this as we found our way to the freeway. I said to TH, "Well, have we started yet?"

We had discussed what would be the real beginning of our adventure several times since leaving New Zealand and TH’s reply had always been, "Not until we’re driving the Land Rover on foreign soil."

His answer now was, "Well, its not soil, but it is foreign."

"It’s us that are foreign, now", I said.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

For more posts by Eventful Woman (prior to 31 July) please click on the "July 2005" archive button (back up near the top of the page)

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

About to be swamped by a big wave – leaving NZ


Five long, slow years of preparation slammed into reality a few short months before the "big off". Time, which had slowly stretched out like a huge elastic band, stung as it snapped back into the here and now of "its really going to happen". There were great flurries of activity as we raced to finish our preparations.

Finally, on one stinking hot, humid February day the Land Rovers were led into their shipping containers. TH and F1 broiled inside as they lashed them down and nailed the chocks around the wheels.

In times of stress I often think about food, and I suddenly remembered I hadn’t packed a large cooking knife. This was a great omission for a "foodie" like me. I rushed home and kidnapped the carving knife straight out of my kitchen drawer. I came racing back into the shipping yard, brandishing it about like some demented banshee. There was only time to throw it inside the Land Rover and then the big container doors were slammed shut.

All our hopes and dreams were sealed up in that metal box. The next time we’d see our "precious babies" again, would be almost half the world away in Seattle, USA.

TH and I went home and stared at a very empty and silent garage. This was the start of the emotional roller coaster ride. Up until now we had been calmly fixed on preparing the Land Rovers, securing the funding, planning the route, packing tools, parts, camping gear, getting ourselves jabbed full of vaccinations and doing everything needed to meet the shipping date. Now, we had three weeks to pack up ourselves, our homes, our careers and fly over to the States in time to meet the Land Rovers.

The world around us became polarised into those who listened to our plans with a look of longing and dreams unfulfilled and the others - the doom merchants, who dwelled in the dark recesses of "what if something happens…"

People would clutch hold of me when they said their goodbyes and scan my face, as if they were trying to memorise it. I knew they thought that they would never see me again. I could read the anxiety in their eyes. I could almost smell their fear. Hey you lot. It is ME that is doing this, not you. I will come back. I’m Eventful Woman. I do things like this all the time.

The day before departure, I began to feel like I had prepared for a death - my own. When I had imagined this moment years earlier, I had expected I would fly gloriously away from New Zealand with maybe a small, sentimental tear shed for those left behind. Instead, as I sat forlornly in the window seat of our empty house, with the last of our possessions stacked into storage, I felt that life as I knew it was tidied away, neatly packaged with labels. I didn’t belong to it anymore, but nor did I jump forward to the new life of adventurer/heroine. I was lost in the no man’s land in between.

When good friends came to collect TH and I to spend our last night with them, I confess to floods of tears when I turned the key in the lock for the last time on our front door. The house was empty and so was I.

At the departure gate at Auckland International Airport on 3rd March 1998, I stopped for one last look back. Our friends had gathered into a warm little huddle. I felt swamped by the huge waves of my emotions. I poised on this last chance to change my mind and I wanted to rush back to their safety

But, Eventful Woman won the battle over Emotional Woman. I forced a smile, waved and stepped into the unknown.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

Note: Photo taken at Wave Rock in Western Australia. The small figure at the base of the wave is Eventful Woman.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Something for the blokes – "dirt under the fingernails" stuff




Believe it or not, Eventful Woman does know her way around an engine bay. However, it is best to give the blokes something to do on these expeditions. Afterall, I’m not "Wonder Woman".

I’m going to get most the technical stuff out of the way now, so those of you who are not interested can jump this bit.

There were two Land Rovers on the expedition:

1948 Series I Land Rover, petrol driven 80", 1595 cc engine – this is owned by our friend, F1. (The back vehicle in the photo)

1966 Series IIA (also known as 2A) Land Rover, petrol driven 88", 4 cylinder, 2286 cc engine (the front vehicle in the photo) – this is still owned by TH and moi.

(Note: The photo was taken in Nepal, while on the expedition. )

While there were some mechanical difficulties on the expedition, we were not stopped for more than a day on any one occasion.
OK – how many of you thought "gosh, that was lucky"?

You need to realise that luck is something that happens by chance. It is a random event, such as winning a lottery. The fact that the Land Rovers had few breakdowns was NOT because of luck. While I accept a chance event can happen, a SERIES of chance events doesn’t. So, the next person who tells me I was lucky, needs to go back and hide under their bed, as that’s probably how they think bad luck is avoided.

The "luck pessimists" think that you just buy an old Land Rover and set off at once. When it breaks down, they blame it on bad luck. So, if you’ve got a torch under those bedclothes, do read on. You might learn something about how to "make your own luck" happen.

Both F1 and TH completely stripped down their Land Rovers to bare chassis and rebuilt them, prior to the expedition.
With emphasis on preventative rather than breakdown maintenance the guys replaced a lot of apparently sound parts, which may not have endured a 31,000 mile (50,000 km) journey. This included a new radiator and hoses, heavy duty battery; new thrust washers, bearings and synchro unit to the gearbox; reconditioned distributor, generator, starter motor, drive shaft and exhaust system.

While the ability to cope with surprise can help, relying solely on this as a survival technique is not recommended. As well as good preparation, routine maintenance on the road is also essential. If you are not a mechanic or at least mechanically minded – then DON’T EVEN ATTEMPT AN OVERLAND EXPEDITION.

Regular oil changes and maintenance were carried out on route to usual schedules. Due to the long distances and terrible roads in some countries, the Land Rovers were checked daily by TH and F1. They identified and rectified many potential problems before they became breakdowns.

Specific expedition modifications were additional petrol tanks, heavier springs, front mounted jerry cans, lock boxes and good on/off road tyres – Dunlop Adventurers, provided by our sponsors, Repco New Zealand.

As these were old and sparsely furnished vehicles there was considerable road noise on the long hauls through the USA. Tired of shouting above the din, we fitted sound deadening material while in England. I think I may have suffered some hearing loss, but that could be ‘selective deafness’ common with most married couples.

Our exhaustive preparations paid off. While we had some mechanical difficulties with exhaust valves on the Series I, fuel pumps for both Land Rovers and the Series IIA’s generator, we were not forced to stop for long, thanks to on-board spare parts and the right know-how.

While it was tempting to take a spare everything, we had to prune down a list of parts to fit in the available space. We concentrated on what would assist or improvise continued operation. In addition to rubber parts (such as fan belts hoses and hydraulic seals), oil filters, fuel pump/carburettor kits, SIIA half shafts, ignition components and exhaust valves, we included supplies of string, parachute cord, plastic cable ties, wire, chain, glue, epoxy putty, duct tape and a selection nuts and bolts.

In addition to the standard tools, we included: timing light, multi meter, torque wrench, kinetic tow rope, metal shears, measuring tape, speed wrench, 12 volt soldering iron, Swiss Army knives and Crescent "Toolzall Pro" pocket multi tools.

With his knife and pocket tools hanging off his belt, I began to call TH "McGyver".

© Eventful Woman, 2005

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Shoes and clothes - what more does a gal need?


What to wear on an expedition?

I am a great believer the versatility of a pair of jeans, a little black dress and a smart pair of shoes. You can dress up or down, depending on whether you are going to meet an important sponsor, or simply wanting to be an unnoticeable traveller moving through unsafe country. I wore "sensible shoes" for most of the expedition and saved the glitzy sandals for moments when I needed to make the right impression.

Most of the time we simply wore what the sponsors had provided in terms of tee shirts, jerseys, hats and other gear. And so, we were often dressed like a matched pair. This usually invited comment, such as from an American woman in a supermarket, when we were stocking up on supplies. She gave us a huge smile, "Well ain’t that cute, matching sweaters an’ all". Imagine what she would have said if TH had sported glittery sandals like mine?

Other comments were more hilarious, like the time we were taking a short cut on an off-road track in New Mexico, after some wet weather:

Two large utes (known as "pick ups" in USA) were slewed across the track, blocking our way. They were up to their axles in mud, wheels revving, but digging in deeper. Three men were standing to the side of the track, shouting instructions to the drivers, as mud flew in all directions. The revving stopped and, in the silence, we all eyed each other.

The ones who had been doing the shouting "glugged" through the mud and over to us. They were all young and they each clutched a bourbon bottle. They seemed very drunk.
"Can’t go on. Track’s a mess ahead," one advised.

"Would you like a tow?" TH asked.

They goggled in disbelief at our old, short wheel base Land Rover.

"That little baby thing couldn’t move chicken shit!"

We waited, while they heaved and grunted to move the utes out of the sticky mud. Then, the pushing party puffed over to us.
"Help you turn around," they generously offered.

"Its OK", said TH, "THIS is a Land Rover".

Our little Series IIA circled daintily over the mud to pull effortlessly alongside of the utes.

"Hey, awesome truck," said one. He pronounced it "AH – some".

"Who are you?" queried another.

A third peered at our matching Land Rover jerseys and asked, "Are you twins?"

"We’re husband and wife".

"Are twins allowed to marry where you come from?"

"No, we’re not twins. Anyway, twins can’t marry in New Zealand."

"New Zealand – wow!"

They all took several swigs from their bottles, quietly impressed with this information. Then one, who we later learned was called Darryl, asked, "Did this here Land Rover come all the way from New Zealand?"

"Sure did!"

More swigs, while this was digested.

I could see that Darryl was really interested. Whereas the others were slouched and cradling their bottles, he was bouncing up and down on his toes, wide-eyed with excitement. "Can I sit in the driver’s seat?"

"Why not." said TH, climbing down from the cab.

Darryl raced around to where I was in the passenger side. He threw open the door and then looked shocked, "Where’d the steering wheel go?"
I pointed to it.
"How’d it get over there?"

We tried to explain. Conversation flowed on between TH and the others, while Darryl stood next to me, his brown eyes gazing in awe at the primitive driver’s compartment. The ancient dials and switches fascinated him. He gently touched each one in turn, as if terrified of an electric shock. His hand finally stopped on the hand-operated windscreen wiper.
"Well, ain’t that cute", he cried, as I cranked it into life.

His eyes fell onto the map.
"Can I look?"
I gave it to him. He squinted at it and, with my pen, circled a big dot, "You are here."
I nodded.

He then scrawled large, uneven words on the margins of the map, frowning in concentration. The letters ran wildly and I could just make out a name - Darryl Johnston, and a P O Box number.

"Send me a postcard from New Zealand?"

I nodded again and said that it would be in one year’s time. He happily grinned at me and took another large gulp from his bottle.

We drove off to hollers of good luck and enthusiastic waves. Looking back I saw them settle on and around their cars, bottles upended into their mouths. I wondered if Darryl would remember who we were, when he finally received our postcard.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

For more posts by Eventful Woman (prior to 22 July) please click on the "July 2005" archive button (back up near the top of the page)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sponsorship – the answer to everything or to nothing


Ok, so the question burning brightly out there, is how did we acquire the $91,000 required to actually do this expedition?

That’s a lot of cash, when you’re staring straight at it. There’s no way of dodging this huge amount. And hoping it will all turn out somehow, won’t work either.

However, getting back to my talk on goal setting, if you’ve made up your mind to do something, then having a goal means you’ll find a way to make it happen. That’s YOU I’m talking about. You need to make it happen, not just waiting around for someone else to do it for you. Sure, you might get someone to pay for you, but you still have to make that happen too.

How did Eventful Woman pull it off? You already know that I refused to sell my house to make it happen. And, you also know that I’m not rich, and I probably didn’t rob banks, either.

In fact, I took the sponsorship route to finding the money.

Sponsorship – the answer to everything or nothing. It all depends on what you have to offer and how you go about it.
I’ve been on both sides of the sponsorship fence. Everybody, their dog and even the dog’s sports team has probably sent off a "begging letter" for sponsorship at some stage. And, these letters often look like the dog has written them, too – hand-written or typed with a clumsy paws, misspellings, scratchings out and the page is often rumpled and "dog eared". The message is usually plain and blatant: "give us money, because you’ve got some and we haven’t".

Get real, people. You are writing to a BUSINESS. You know, an organisation that works for the sole purpose of making money. It spends money to make more. Businesses are not charities. They’re not here just to spend their hard-earned dollars on you, because you want to play sport, daub canvases, or even drive around the world on some mad, but personal adventure.

Sure, businesses and corporations do contribute to charities and good causes. But, even these contributions are carefully considered, according to those that fit the corporate’s brand values or how much brand exposure (advertising) will be delivered.

Those seeking sponsorship must understand that sponsorship is a powerful marketing tool and appreciate that the bottom line for sponsors must be one or more of these outcomes:

1. Selling more product
2. Enhancing the company’s image – BRAND VALUES
3. Strengthening trade relationships
4. Opportunities to network with major clients
5. Generating significant media exposure

To do any of the above really well you need to be famous. I mean really famous and not a "wannabe". For example, in New Zealand you would be like: Sir Edmund Hillary http://www.hillarytrust.co.nz/ or http://www.nzedge.com/heroes/hillary.html
or Dame Kiri Te Kanawa http://www.kiritekanawa.org/
or Crowded House http://www.muzic.net.nz/artists/9.html

(you lot overseas think about Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Tina Turner, or Elton John)

If you’re a nobody (not even a wannabe) like Eventful Woman, you are going to have to find another way of getting noticed.

The key questions sponsors will want answered are:

Who are you?

What’s new?

So what?

Who cares?

Doesn’t so and so do that?

Since, I wasn’t famous I had to find a point of difference, to make me stand out from the crowd. If I wanted to have my expedition around the world funded, I had to do something very special.

Quite simply it was:

A) Use a 1948 Series I Land Rover (this is the oldest they get)
B) Do something with it to get noticed that had never been done before: e.g. Drive around the world with it and time the event to coincide with an up- and-coming milestone in Land Rover’s history – its 50th birthday in 1998
C) Do something that would provide me with some credibility (a letter from the Prime Minister, or high profile celebrity, will work wonders)
D) Provide opportunities for media coverage and a way of promoting the story

So, I had the point of difference – an interesting, unique story about to happen. As TH (the husband) was a photographer, and I could write professionally, I knew we could find a way of telling this story that would guarantee exposure for a sponsor.

I "pitched" the concept story to a British international Land Rover magazine, secured an assignment, and then (and only then) was an approach made to sponsors. Along the way, I wrote to our Prime Minster and asked for a letter of good will that I could take on the journey with me.

A successful pitch to a sponsor (or a magazine) will be conducted in a business like manner (which includes a high level of presentation). It will have anticipated all questions, have the answers ready, and will include:
1. Executive Summary
2. The Proposition/Options – be specific about all details; commit to the visibility of the business in clear and specific terms including how results will be measured
3. Investment/Financials
4. Benefits – understand what motivates the business to become involved (altruism or marketing); differentiation – what sets you apart/how you will get noticed
5. Deadline for decision – including follow-up opportunities
6. Appendix – supporting materials about yourself to establish credibility and capability

Using the above method, Repco New Zealand http://www.repco.co.nz/ was secured as our prime sponsor for my Land Rover expedition. At the time, Repco’s marketing slogan was "all the right parts in all the right places at all the right prices". Emphasising the marketing synergy of their slogan and my expedition, was a key part of the pitch.

I am very grateful for the professional and personal support provided by the then CEO of Repco, Bob Wyeth, and his extremely competent PA, Beryl Boon. Without either of these two people, and the financial sponsorship provided by Repco, I could not have carried out this expedition in the way I did.

While Repco was the No.1 sponsor, I did successfully negotiate with other sponsors with tremendous backing from Bob Wyeth. Remember what I said about the bottom lines for sponsors? Two of these reasons were about strengthening trade relationships and providing opportunities to network with major clients.

I was able to attract following sponsors due to the supplier/client links with Repco:
CRC Industries
BP Oil
Champion Sparkplugs
Kuehne & Nagel (shipping agent for Repco)

Other sponsors who supported the expedition were:
Rover New Zealand
Kiwi Camping Company http://www.kiwicamping.co.nz/
Cooper Tools
Scott-Young & Masters (tool provider)
ENZA (New Zealand apple exporter)

Sponsors that let us buy goods at cost were:
Kodak New Zealand (digital camera, as well as film for non-digital camera)
Toshiba (lap top)

I was also very appreciative of the letters of support and encouragement I received from the then Prime Minister, Hon Jenny Shipley, and also from Sir Barry Curtis, the Mayor of my home city (Manukau City, part of the greater Auckland area)
http://www.manukau.govt.nz


Finally, my special thanks to my family, friends, neighbours and business colleagues - without whom nothing would have been possible.

© Eventful Woman, 2005

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side of the border.

There’s a lot of work getting an expedition off the ground.

There seemed to be a zillion things to do, not the least of which was finding the $91,000 required for the expedition. That was my job. And, as my personal motto is "on a full stomach anything is possible", I also had to research best practice on foreign food and foraging techniques.

Being a bloke, TH (the husband) got the grunty, blokey, hard edged jobs to do – just little things like pulling the entire Land Rover apart with his bare hands and rebuilding it in preparation for the trip. To keep him fully occupied, I also gave him the task of route planning and border crossings.

We didn’t realise then, but our hardest and longest border crossing turned out to be our very first – arriving by ship from New Zealand and entering the United States of America. It took three days.

On that third day at US Customs I gazed once more at the customs form. It seemed that the only option to proceed was to take up American citizenship.

I eyed up the customs officer – he was large, rotund and his sagging stomach bulged over his straining belt. A tiny name badge was perched on the mound of his chest. Inspector Clark. He pronounced it "cluck" when he had introduced himself.

I noted the handgun resting against his ample hips. My eyes returned to his face, with his pink fleshy lips pursed like an overblown rosebud. They parted as he drawled, "Like I said to your shipping agent, if yer don’t tick the boxes, yer don’t get your stuff."
(The word "said" came out at in two syllables: "say – ed")

I examined the form again. The problem was not with the Land Rovers, but with our molehill of clothes, camping gear and spare parts. To avoid a mountain of duty I needed to tick the boxes which were positioned under the heading "FOR U.S. CITIZENS ONLY’.

I decided to play dumb to elicit some support and said, "Please could you help me? I’m from New Zealand. I can’t understand the form."

He gave a small, exasperated sigh, but nodded.

I rewarded him with a grateful smile and went on, "I can’t tick these boxes because they’re for firearms and explosives, and we don’t have any of those. That’s right isn’t it?"

"Uh-huh", he confirmed, with the tone that suggested he thought I was more than a little slow.

"And I can’t tick this next set of boxes because it says they’re for household effects. We only have camping gear, parts and things. They’re personal effects, aren’t they?"

I held my breath after this, because household goods were dutiable, whereas personal effects were not. According to our shipping agent, it was on this very point that she had stuck with U.S. Customs the day before.
"Uh-huh", he confirmed again.

"Got him!" I thought, but resisted the urge to sound triumphant.
I continued as evenly as I could, "Well, that means that I must tick these boxes for personal effects." I pointed to the ones headed "FOR U.S. CITIZENS ONLY".

"Uh-huh."

"But NZ is not part of the USA" and then I added, "yet."

"Like I said, if yer don’t tick the boxes, yer don’t get your stuff."

I hastily ticked the appropriate squares and nervously handed the form back.
Inspector "cluck" gathered the papers together and walked off.
I called helplessly after him, "What do I do now?"

"Yer wait!"

I looked at TH and we both shrugged our shoulders. I wondered if I should be studying The Constitution, or memorising the names of past Presidents, in case there was going to be some sort of test.

In less than 10 minutes our Customs Officer returned.
"What now?" I wondered.

"There yer go!" he said, and went to walk away.
"Oh, please wait. What do I do now?"

He turned and spoke in short sentences. His tone suggested that even an imbecile should be able to understand what to do next:
"Yer take these forms to your shipping agent. Yer collect your stuff. Yer free to go!"

© Eventful Woman, 2005