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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