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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