Monday, January 16, 2006

The Gloves are Off


In the afternoon, we decided on a drive around the back roads of Klamath Falls. Mark & Anne led the way in their practical Chevvy Isusu ute (pick up). With snow on the roads it was a fun adventure, although very cold on exposed hands and faces.

I had packed two pairs of gloves for the trip. A driving pair which had pinprick air holes to allow hands to breathe in the milder New Zealand winter, plus a smart, dressy leather pair, without air holes, which had belonged to my mother. I was wearing the dressy pair and was thinking about slipping the driving gloves on, over the top. A cold numbness was creeping up my legs.

Knowing we would be travelling in old, primitive Land Rovers (without air conditioning or insulation), TH had carefully researched our expedition route and likely temperatures. As our official route master and, following consultation on what we all wanted to see and do, he changed the planned route several times to achieve the optimum compromise between sights/experiences desired, weather conditions, obligations to sponsors and most efficient use of our limited time and money.

Prudent route planing would help us avoid the most extreme temperatures (hot or cold). But we knew we would definitely touch on the sharp edges of early spring in the States, especially for F1 & F2 in their open, canvas topped Series 1 Land Rover on the scenic, more mountainous paths. I had written gloves and long thermal underwear on the list of essential items for everyone. TH had fitted a Land Rover heater to our Series 2A. It turned out to be not very effective, when compared with modern car heaters, but it did help.

We had been lucky so far to encounter mainly sunny days, which had provided more tolerable conditions in the cold. However, Mark and Anne had warned us to "rug up warm" when we had left the house earlier. Early on in the run, we stopped to admire a view. I noticed F1 & F2 hunkered down in their Land Rover. I peered in through the driver’s window. They were shivering, hunched into their jackets. F1 was blowing on his blue hands.
"Forgot your gloves?", I asked.
F1 nodded. I could see his lips were also blue.
"I’ve got a spare pair with me, if you’d like. They slightly too big for me, so they might fit you."
As I handed them over I could feel he was very cold.
"Maybe we should head back, so you can get on your gloves and thermals."
They hesitated.
"It’s not far", I suggested, "we’ve only just got started. I could ask Anne & Mark."
The silence continued. I thought maybe the cold was having a more severe effect and I had a closer look at them. They both had an odd expression. Apprehension, maybe?
"What’s wrong?", I asked.
F1 finally opened up, "We didn’t bring them with us."
"Yes, I know, but we can go back for them."
"No, we didn’t bring them at all. From New Zealand."
"But, they were on the essential list."
"Yes, but….", F1’s voice faded away.

I stared from one to the other.

F1 finally blurted it out - they hadn’t forgotten to pack them. F2 had decided that they weren’t necessary.
I was amazed, "What about TH’s research? The weather patterns… the high altitude roads…? We discussed it."

There didn’t seem to be any logical reason for this calculated omission of warm essentials. I stopped and thought. Although not stated, it probably got back to F2’s dislike of TH. Dislike can manifest into distrust. Distrust will always erode shared decision-making. I could read their expression now. It was guilt, and I instantly felt betrayed. I stood there for what seemed forever, while the enormity of this conclusion sunk in.

If F1 & F2 distrusted basic advice like this, for no other reason than one of them disliked the source of the information, then we were in deep trouble. What else had they decided weren’t going to do? I had to "get my head around this". What to do? What to do? I needed to think. Trouble was, I was dumbfounded.

In the end, I just said, "we can ask Anne and Mark where to buy cold weather gear."
Then I added, "we may need to have a longer chat about other things, later."

I was very worried. I did not know whom to turn to, to discuss this. For the first time I considered going it alone, just TH and myself. We knew the route, were competent navigators, we could get by in other languages, we had our own tent and cooking gear, and best of all we knew our own stress levels and how to cope with each other. And, I knew all of the sponsors. But, that was the rub. I had negotiated the sponsorship deals, and I knew we had huge obligations to complete the expedition in the way the sponsors wanted. To do that, we needed a Series 1 Land Rover, and the owner of that Land Rover seemed to governed solely by what his girlfriend (F2) wanted.

We all drove down out of the high country, so F1 and F2 could warm up. We stopped a few times, once because the Series I was having minor engine trouble, and then at various places of interest. I spied my first tumbleweed. My troubles were temporarily forgotten, when I imagined Wild West ghost towns, where these round, windswept plants bumped across a desolate and empty landscape. I picked up the loose plant and examined its interlacing twigs. Then, I gave it an experimental roll along the ground, much to Mark and Anne’s amusement. But, to a stranger, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Towards sunset we stood on the edge of the huge Klamath Falls lake. It was man made, or as Mark pointed out, woman-made. Local folklore suggests that, years ago, the town’s brothels paid for the development of a lake, for the good people of Klamath Falls. Mark told us that the history books record the investment came from rich men’s estates. But, as he pointed out, that’s where the brothel’s money probably came from anyway.

It would be our last night together, and Mark cooked his special family chilli for dinner. He showed us how to wrap the fajitas around the chilli to make easy to hold packages. It was hot, tangy and delicious. Tasting different foods was high on my personal agenda for the expedition and this was really yummy.

It should have been a happy meal, but tensions were high. F2 let off a few sarcastic barbs at TH whenever he tried to talk. I spoke sharply to her each time, until she dropped into a sulky silence. I’m sure Anne and Mark noticed, but they were too polite to say anything.

That night, I had another dream about the company that I used to work for, which was a records management/document storage company. I dreamed that I was searching for something, and I had to look in millions of boxes. The dream went on and on, much like those dreams people have about trying to run and not being able to. I was opening boxes, looking and searching, never stopping, but never finding what I wanted, either.

In the morning, we hugged Anne and Mark goodbye and headed south across the Klamath Basin, which is ringed by hazy blue mountain ranges in the distance. The canopy of sky was huge and billowing. Everything looked so far away, like peering through the wrong end of a telescope. I felt small and insignificant. Even the Land Rover seemed like a little ant, scurrying across the wide-open plains.

We crossed over the California State line and the highway signs changed from Oregon’s shield shape to California’s half circle. Just over this line was Tule Lake and the Lava Beds National Monument. Not a statue as the name indicates but an area of natural interest, which has Federal protection (rather like a National Park). Check out: http://www.nps.gov/labe/

Lava Beds NM was just like I imagined "Mordor" would look like in the book, Lord of the Rings. (This was still only 1998, and we had no idea that the movie would later be filmed in New Zealand, using one of our own volcanic National Parks.) There were acres of rugged, uneven block lava, almost impossible to walk over. The lava was dark and brooding and I could imagine Frodo and Sam limping and struggling over it on their quest. I discovered a new word on one of the interpretation panels. Written as "aa" and pronounced "AH-ah" it is the scientific word for block lava.

Unlike the day before, the morning was getting hot. The sun beat down on the lava, beaming more heat straight onto us. I was still angry about the gloves incident and, all morning, things had been tense between F1 & F2 and myself. Matters were still unresolved in my head, and the unexpected heat added to the strain between us. We found the Merrill Ice Cave, which had been created by bubbles in the molten lava, centuries ago. We rested in its cool interior, sucking in the fresh air, and admiring the icy stalactites and stalagmites. We wondered about ‘tites and ‘mites and which was which. F2 offered a saying her brother used: "Tights must come down". This funny little absurd phrase lifted our spirits. The tension broke and we all laughed together.

Crawling out of the cave, I looked up into the wide blue sky and saw my first bald eagle soaring above. From the name, I had always thought this bird really did have a baldhead and I had wondered why Americans would choose a national emblem that looked like a vulture. Silly me. As it swooped down I could see that it had white feathers on its head and neck. These contrasted with its black feathered body, giving an illusion of a baldhead. That is, the learned, balding head of a judge, rather than the skinhead, "bovver boy" look of a vulture.

We drove on until we reached the little town of Susanville. The sun was setting as we arrived, glowing softly behind the distant ranges and lighting up their snowy ridges. We found a motel and settled in together, chatting happily about the day.

While preparing dinner F2 and TH talked about Lord of the Rings and discovered that they liked many books in common. I sat on the floor at the foot of one of the beds, propped up on cushions, and tapped my diary notes into my laptop. F1 was on the phone to friends further south in California. He was organising accommodation for us all for the next night. Everything was going well at last. Everyone was happy and there were lots of laughs over the meal. It was like a bad spell had been broken.

I could not have been more wrong.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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