Monday, August 14, 2006

Big is beautiful

Big Joe loomed in front of us. A huge mountain of a man, with the flowing white beard of a hermit and an uncompromising hand gun on his hip.

I goggled at the gun, "do you get trouble around here?"

"Nothing I can’t handle myself," replied Joe, as his hand lovingly caressed the gun’s butt.

A snowstorm had blown us into the Red Lake Camp Ground and Hostel, several miles south of the Grand Canyon. Joe was the proprietor and local trouble-shooter. He looked us up and down and, despite our funny accents, decided we were harmless. He offered us a double hostel room for $US16.

The day had started with a frosty morning back in Tuba City, Arizona. We were warm in our three season sleeping bags, and were surprised at the 1-inch frost on top of everything outside.

Later we split up from F1 and F2, as agreed. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. On one hand it was so good to be free of the considerable encumbrance and rocky moods of F2. On the other, we had serious obligations to our sponsors to drive around the world with a 1948 Series One Land Rover for the marque’s 50th anniversary. We had waved off that very same Series One, leaving us in our classic, but not old enough, Series 2A 1966 Land Rover. While the plan was to get back together by Washington DC, I was having major doubts on whether the separation would give F2 the space she said she needed, or whether the whole thing was doomed to fail because of her difficult personality.

I was still maudlin as we drove into Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon looked wonderful with its dusting of snow and it was certainly vast and huge. All around me people were "ooh-ing and aah-ing", but I felt unmoved, like I was dislocated from the world. Maybe I was mourning the loss of everything the expedition should have been, and now wasn’t going to be.

For the sake of TH, I pulled myself together. The time with F2 had been very hard on him, much harder than on me, and I knew I shouldn’t spoil it further.

TH found a special viewing area, where there were fewer people and more shelter from the biting wind. We just sat and let the canyon work its magic. Its yawning chasms seemed to drop forever, right down to the small, silver sliver that was the mighty Colorado River at the bottom. It made me feel like all my problems were inconsequential specks in the gigantic cosmos. At last I felt calm, for the first time in weeks.

I didn’t notice the darkening clouds, or the increased snowflakes hurrying around me until TH touched my arm. Time to move on.

The storm gathered strength as we headed down to the town of Williams, still some miles away. Our primitive windscreen wipers dragged themselves across the screen, weighted by the snow. I could hear their little motors whining with the effort. We decided not to risk burnout of these motors and had to resort to hand cranking the wipers.

It was almost total whiteout conditions. We both peered intently ahead. TH was driving and I cranked his wiper every second. Occasionally, I swooped the one on my side across the screen. It was on one of these chance sweeps that I glimpsed the edge of a building.

"Stop", I said, "there’s something over there."

I cranked the wiper as fast as I could. Through the swirling snow, we made out a low-slung building and the word "HOSTEL".

"That’ll do", said TH and swung the Land Rover towards it.

We plodded inside to be greeted by this huge, gorilla of a man. Big Joe, with his big, white beard. He looked like Santa Claus with a gun.

It turned out to be more Santa Claus than a gun toting mad man. That said, I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to use the gun, if he needed to.

He offered a comfortable spot for travellers. His rooms were spartan, but clean and comfortable. There were also a reasonably priced washing machines and dryers in the laundry. We washed and dried a swag of washing, while cooking up a feed in the eating area at the back of Joe’s general store. Joe provided microwave ovens, knives and forks and free tea and coffee, if you bought the food in his store. He’d been a trucker and knew what comforts long haul travellers needed. He was also good company and he advised us of what to see and do on the road ahead.

That night I slept very well. The first time for ages.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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