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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