By Julie Pendray
This is the second installment in my story of my 6-month motor home trip around North America in 1989.
You may recall that we embarked on the adventure in our early 30s, my former husband and I. We were young enough to mountain climb, camp in bear country, snow ski, water ski, snorkel, hike and fish our way through the 26,000-mile adventure.
Scenic parks and misty lakes weren’t our only destinations. We walked the corridors of the U.S. Supreme Court, several state capitol buildings, Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello , the New York Commodities Exchange, museums and art galleries. We “crabbed” in the bayous with the Cajuns, tried our hand at two-stepping and speaking their version of French (we were useless at both) and soaked up Civil War history talking to Southerners. We went wine tasting and souvenir hunting and we savored the local specialties, visiting an alligator farm for dinner supplies and letting the butter drip down our chins as we ate Maine lobster. Alligator tastes like … well … more on that later.
We were two curious people on a journey that changed us forever. Re-reading my journals lately has been tenderizing. Some of that is about the vital days of young marriage, with all its fun and new experiences. The rest is nostalgia about the great sights of North America. There’s nothing like seeing places for the first time.
I set out on the journey with the idea of publishing stories at the end. However, I didn’t feel confident enough at that age, with such a short time in this country, as an ex-pat “Kiwi,” to put it all in proper perspective. I got busy with work and family.
Now, I can write with a greater understanding of the United States and with the maturity to value even more what turned out to be the greatest education I have had. It seems like a perfect time not only in my life but also in the life of this country, for an account of some of the great beauty, diversity and history here and the value it holds for all of us.
To make this series useful for anyone planning a trip, I may flesh out some parts with updated details of locations.
To pick up the thread, I invite you to read the introduction to this story by clicking here.
Now, let’s get on with ….
What We Packed
I deferred to my American-born mate on this subject because he knew the terrain we’d visit. We packed and unpacked, packed and re-packed until we achieved a balance. He is a master of traveling light and using space wisely. I am less so. Neither of us is particularly tidy. We wanted the trip to be fun, so we needed our play things. Yet, we didn’t want to be cramped by them. Also, we had to consider the possibility of objects banging around as we drove along or flying through the living space if they accidentally came out of overhead cupboards. One final thought: we had to leave space for souvenirs we might collect along the way.
Looking back, it was an amusing assortment of objects that ventured with us out of our driveway. We carted them all across North America and never regretted what we’d taken or left behind. Anything can be purchased on the road or sent home.
My husband decided there was sports equipment we could rent along the way, such as snow skis. But a water ski might not be easy to find if we saw an inviting lake. The ski we took carried each of us serenely across Lake Powell on the Utah/Arizona border, where we rented a boat. We also used it on mini lakes in Maine and Canada.
The climbing gear also made it on the “to go” list. An inspiring boulder might appear across our path, we thought, and my husband could grab his rope and have at it. How could we have known that as we entered Grand Teton National Park we’d see a course advertised that would lead to his ascent of Grand Teton that week.
We added our leather hiking boots, hooded jackets, thick socks, bathing suits, shorts, jeans, T-shirts, backpacks, camping gear and a few tools for any necessary “shadetree” mechanical maintenance. We snuggled his 35mm Minolta camera with the zoom and macro attachments into a cozy spot. This was a well-worn assembly that had endured bumps and scratches on his motorcycle journey around New Zealand in 1979. We’d met in Queenstown in the South Island. Photography was one of our common interests. On the trip, the camera sat behind the driver’s seat, on the carpet, so we could quickly grab it should a photo op appear.
Six months later, we returned from this trip with fairly close-up shots of moose, elk, bison, mountain goats, a black bear, trout and deer, plus pictures of us grinning from ear to ear at Niagara Falls and Lake Louise, Canada. Still etched in our minds, without the photos, are the eagles and the ground hog, and although we didn’t see the builder, we saw a huge beaver dam in the Rockies. Only if you are from a tiny nation such as New Zealand can you appreciate the delight and wonder that these wildlife engendered for me. Though I no longer possess the photos (I have the journals, he kept the visuals), I’ll never forget the imagery or the moments.
One odd addition to our belongings became part of an interesting story on our return. I decided to pack two table tennis paddles. We never played with them on the trip but to this day I’m grateful I took them because they may have saved our hides. I’ll leave you to wonder how we used them. The answer will unfold in a few weeks.
A top priority in our luggage was a cluster of Automobile Association of America (AAA) guide books and maps, acquired at the Auto Club of Southern California. These were supremely helpful and well organized. They also provided fascinating history.
I also found nooks and crannies to store my journals and a few books, including Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi.” I often tell people I was reading Twain’s book as we crossed the Texas/Louisiana border. His details so enriched my understanding when I saw that mighty waterway, that I stood in awe. I highly recommend taking books like this with you. I also took my watercolor painting supplies and a sketch pad. Obviously I thought I was going to have more time on my hands than was the case!
My hand-written cookbook made it into a kitchen cupboard. I remember this because I made scones for a couple of hikers one night with my mother’s recipe from my childhood.
Also included was a small tape recorder, so I could interview people for travel stories. Time didn’t permit much of this and I found it was nicer to relax instead. However, I may still have my interview with Cajun Jack. I did it at his wife’s restaurant in Patterson, Louisiana after taking his tour of the Atchafalaya Swamp. He was a “real character.” A perfect interview. I also packed writing materials so I could send mail home to family in New Zealand.
Since our space was limited, there was no “yours” or “mine.” All our gear was interwoven, as were our lives. There was almost zero privacy in this environment. It didn’t matter. When you go on an adventure like this, you learn aspects about yourself and each other. You rub the rough edges off each other. You must function as a team. We are very different but as we traveled, each day brought so much fun and adventure that we made it through the challenges.
The following journal accounts are brief and impressionistic. We usually hit the sack early and “dog tired” each night after driving hundreds of miles or hiking, cooking dinner and doing dishes. Sometimes several days would go by before I had time to write, hitting the highlights. Some aspects aren’t for worldwide distribution on the Internet but they may appear in book form.
Now, imagine you are with us and live in the moment as we go.
Journal 1: Las Vegas to Ottawa Canada
Leaving Las Vegas
From my journal: We drove north today, with windshield wipers flapping. Up ahead, as the showers subsided, we saw a double rainbow over the highway that looked like a big “M.” I’d never seen such a thing. It seemed like a promise of a wonderful trip to come.
We agree that we want to have fun, relax and not have expectations or pressures on this journey.
To be continued …
© Copyright to Julie Pendray. No permission is given for re-publication.