Wednesday, 1 October 2014

On The Road....

Get in the Van Part I

Nando, our guide, laughs and stomps his bare foot on the gas, Lucy finds her gear and lurches forward.

(The van all 13 of us travellers are cramped into has been christened Lucy by our Puerto Rican driver as “she looked like a Lucy” to him and we have dubbed ourselves Nando‘s 13)

After a few turns we are on the road, the open road, destination: Grand Canyon. Lucy eats up the miles. She is as white as a comet and like all good comets has a tail, in her case a trailer packed with tents, bags and beers.

We are on the road - like Cassidy and Kerouac, Dean and Sal. Kerouac’s On The Road is one of my favourite books and OK, so we aren’t as innovative or pioneering as the Beats but we are just as excited to be zooming across California, Nevada and Arizona in search of adventure.

Lucy roars across Arizona and away from the suburban sprawl of neat houses and shopping plazas America is just as I had imagined and hoped it would be.

We pass rickety metal windmills and rusty water towers, motels, diners slip by. A small town cinema is showing Tremors, in my opinion, the best film about small town America being invaded by killer worms (admittedly there aren‘t many to choose from but still…). Whether this is the real America or a tourists clich├ęd view of the States I’m not sure, but to be honest I don’t care much right now. I’m just enjoying looking out of the van window as we zip along.

We stop for burgers in a proper burger bar, wash them down with sweet peanut butter shakes and root beers.

Back in the van and we continue. From the window I see Turkey Vultures and Prairie Dogs. A lone Loggerhead Shrike is sitting on a roadside fencepost. By dilapidated shacks beat up classic cars are left to decay in the sweltering sun.

The whitest clouds dot the bluest sky.

Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” shuffles round on the stereo (sometimes I think i-pods just know…) Overtaken by a wave of Thoreauvian transcendence I find a marker pen in the seat pocket and as we leave the outskirts of another town I scribble the last lines of Kerouac’s novel on the window.

Habitats and landscapes whiz by in a blur. We pass through thinning mesquite woods into proper desert. Low scrubby plants, twisted and spiky, adaptations to minimise water loss, are dotted across the sands looking like a plague of hedgehogs advancing over the desert.

After a few hours in the van we reach the Canyon, stopping for the obligatory “with the sign” shot.

Back in Lucy as we approach the rim I am thinking of books on a bookshelf. Before retiring my mum was a teacher specialising in geography. When I was a kid I remember a set of text books she kept on a shelf in the house. Each one was about some great landscape in the world. I recall looking at the Great Rift Valley in west Africa, the Rockies and the Sahara Desert in these books, but the one that has always been stuck in my head was the one about the Grand Canyon. It seemed made up, like I was looking at pictures of Mars not Earth. It was the one I wanted to visit most. And now it is just minutes away.

Nando gets us as close as he can in Lucy, implores us to hide our eyes then leads us to the rim for the biggest of big reveals.

It doesn’t disappoint. I can’t really do justice in words to what I’m seeing and the widest of wide angle lenses on the flashiest camera couldn’t either. It is somewhere I think that you have to go to yourself. Just go there.

The sun is starting to set and the desert is cooling. One of Nando’s 13, Ben, remarks that he has goosebumps from both the cold and the view.

As the sun sinks the colours in the rock flare into vivid life and the shadows cast by the convoluted canyon walls deepen. It doesn’t look real. As the scale is too much for my camera I decide to concentrate of these colours and shadows.

Darkness falls, we retreat to camp and fill up on pizzas before gathering around a blazing campfire courtesy of Nick from Nando’s 13 to contemplate the day.

Before I go to sleep I watch the stars for a while, the canyon is awesome at night too, no light pollution means an incredible celestial show. I fall asleep not quite believing the day.

In the morning we set off on the road for more adventures in the western USA.

Nando laughs, stomps on the gas, Lucy finds her gear and we hurtle on like a comet across the desert.

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