A Kiwi American’s Travels

Motor home journal wildflowers
An Aboriginal dance group in Kuranda Rainforest, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Julie Pendray.

An Aboriginal dance group in Kuranda Rainforest, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Julie Pendray, 1994.

By Julie Pendray

IDYLLWILD, CA. — As we enter the holidays, I have some stories of my own to tell and a new section to launch on this web site.

I’ve been going through boxes of my old photographs and reading my journals dating back 35 years. Whenever I do this, I’m reminded to be grateful for a life that has been rich with travel and adventure.

Over the years, I’ve been inspired to take trips because of my family and the culture of my native New Zealand. When you’re raised in a tiny nation at the “ends of the earth” (or ENZ of the Earth as we call it ) you tend to want to go somewhere, perhaps like “The Hobbit.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 8.24.35 PMOften the prospect of interesting employment takes us over the ocean. However, the wanderlust is also because we meet so many visitors from all over the world in such a small land mass that it makes us want to jump on a plane and go see their countries, taste their food and hear their languages. It helps us put our little islands into perspective.

Aboriginal didgeridoo player and dancer. Kuranda Rainforest, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Julie Pendray, 1994.

Aboriginal didgeridoo player and dancer. Kuranda Rainforest, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Julie Pendray, 1994.

When I was young, my brother worked as a pilot in the Northern Territory of Australia, then later in Papua New Guinea, and he had fascinating stories about roo-bars and crocodiles. His letters used to arrive in our Auckland mailbox still smudged with the red dust of the Aussie Outback. We were intrigued.

My sisters worked in Switzerland and Canada, sending me pressed alpine flowers or writing about people skating to work along the Rideau Canal.

Inspired by all this, I developed my own travel dreams. Studying French in school and Hemingway in my adult years made me want to blend in with the bohemian artists and sidewalk cafes of Paris some day. (That is yet to come.)

In my early 20s, when I’d already done my U.E. (University Entrance exam), I felt it was time for my O.E. (overseas experience). As I finished my college courses, I  casually pondered the idea of a brief stint in Australia joining a girlfriend who was flinging fleece for the shearers on a sheep station. It seemed like an  earthy break from academia and she was getting really fit from doing such hard work.

At the same time, I considered a trip to visit a Kiwi scientist friend who’d moved to Monterey, California.

Such choices!

Then came summer and a hitch hiking trip with a girlfriend to the beautiful lakeside village of  Queenstown, beneath the Remarkable mountains in the South Island. By then, I was a reporter for Radio New Zealand.

On a hike to a New Zealand glacier. Photo: Julie Pendray.

On a hike to a New Zealand glacier.

One night, while taking in the jazz, I serendipitously encountered a dark blond, blue-eyed American, who was motorcycling, camping and photographing his way through the country. I liked to photograph too and I’d had my own motorcycle. We were both down-to-earth. He gave great hugs and used funny American expressions. I made him laugh. Most of all, I liked the way he talked about his closeness to his family.

To cut a long story short, seven months later, at age 22, I found myself alone on a plane going to a country I’d never visited to marry a man I barely knew! We tied the knot in San Diego a few months later. I never made it to the Aussie sheep station but we did visit my college friend in Monterey.

What a huge adjustment! I felt like a fish out of water for several years. Trips to New Zealand and Australia kept me grounded.

Meeting kangaroos in Queensland, Australia, 1994. Photo: Julie Pendray.

Meeting kangaroos in Queensland, Australia, 1994.

Pat & Julie waterskiing Colorado River

Learning to slalom ski on the Colorado River in the 1980s.

Though I’d done a bit of hiking in New Zealand and learned the rudiments of snow skiing and water skiing, I was more of a book worm.

But even a couch potato can be pried off the couch.

I credit my husband for enticing me, over 18 years, to go beyond my comfort zone to go rappelling and mountain climbing and camping in bear country. We even spent six months exploring North America in a motor home in our early 30s — a trip of a lifetime. My university degree pales in comparison to the education that provided.

Pat & me Mt Whitney summit

Mt. Whitney summit in the 1980s.

I’ll admit sometimes I had to be prodded into the next uphill hike that led “nowhere” except for a view. I wasn’t so excited about the hours-long, twisting, 30-mile bike rides. I didn’t do the parasailing with him, I balked at bungy jumping (though, of the two of us, I came closest) and I can’t dive because of my ears. In New Zealand, in my teens, I was talked out of jumping out of a plane by a girlfriend who thought it was too dangerous. But I have a brother who did it.

Even on high altitude trips in California, I still usually had a book in my back pack, which was mind boggling for a man for whom every square millimeter of packing space mattered!

Yes, I married someone with energy to burn and it was good for me to go places and do things I never would have done on my own initiative. We saw stunning scenery and had heartwarming wildlife encounters. Sometimes we’d hit the ski slopes, driving through the night to Mammoth or Lake Tahoe. That’s how we celebrated anniversaries and birthdays.

In recent years, I’ve moved and traveled on my own or in a group on work assignments. It has been my joy as a journalist to relate my experiences so readers can enjoy the trips vicariously. As a friend told me, “You’re doing what a lot of us want to do but we don’t have the courage or ability to take off.”

Sonoma vineyard autumn

Sonoma Valley vineyard in autumn. Photo: Julie Pendray.

Travel comes with sacrifice. We have to be thrifty. It also flies in the face of a settled “normal” life. My life hasn’t been a linear path. But the rewards and relationships run deep. I’ve left a part of my heart in every town in which I’ve lived and I’ve taken a part of the town’s heart with me. I’m grateful to still be in touch with so many people via the Internet.

My travels have taken me all over the United States, Canada, Baja California and the South Pacific. I’ve snorkeled in the Florida Keys, fished in Wyoming, gone whitewater rafting in New Zealand and floated in an inner tube in the muddy waters of the Papua New Guinea highlands. I’ve enjoyed a glass of wine while lying on a coral beach with the water lapping on my legs in a lagoon in the Cook Islands. I’ve stalked moose and elk in the Rockies, crabbed in the Louisiana bayous, soaked up Civil War history in the Southern United States and heard the eerie cry of a loon on a foggy Canadian lake. I’ve visited caves, state capitols, film festivals, museums and galleries.

Along the way, I’ve made quick notes and sketches in journals. Some of these books still contain the wildflowers I grabbed at the roadside and pressed immaculately between the pages. I’ve taken good care of them as precious parts of my life, tucked away. I always meant to write the stories and share them. Now is the time.

Today, I’m launching my travel section on SpecialsNotOnTheMenu.com . It will be a reminiscent journey, with updates to make the information relevant. Look for stories about new adventures too, as time and resources permit.

Now, I hope you are encouraged to enjoy your own travels while you are young or not so young. Seize the day.

As James Madison, former United States president, wrote to a friend, “Let me recommend the best medicine in the world: a long journey, at a mild Season, thro’ a pleasant Country, in easy stages.”(James Madison to Horatio Gates, 23 February, 1794, National Archives.)

Happy trails my friends.

Copyright to Julie Pendray and SpecialsNotOnTheMenu.com

6 Comments on "A Kiwi American’s Travels"

  1. Can’t wait to read more.

  2. I enjoyed it a very much and look forward to more interesting stories from you.

    • Thank you for commenting. It’s good to know who my readers are. I see you worked at The San Diego Union-Tribune, so your comment means all the more! I am enjoying writing in this voice, which is more personal. I hope to hold your interest as the rest of the story unfolds. — Julie

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