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30,000 miles in the USA (Cindy Webb) PDF Printable Version E-mail


30,000 Miles in the USA

Cindy & Martin take their Pilote Atlantis across the Atlantic

Cindy Webb

February 2008

We met Cindy and Martin in Greece during the winters of 2005/6 and 2006/7. All four of us favour the southern tip of the Messinian peninsula, between Methoni and Koroni, as a winter haunt and no doubt we will meet there again (although at the moment they are in southern Sicily).

This is Cindy's third major piece for this website: previously, she has described journeys to Iceland and to the far east of Turkey. She has also made a great contribution to our A to Z of Long-Term Motorhoming. Their Photos of the USA journey are already on the website to accompany the following text. The article runs to over 12,000 words, hardly enough to describe such an amazing and successful journey - in fact, each word has to account for 2.5 miles!


In 1999, after many years spent teaching in Forces Schools in Germany, Martin and I (both in our early 50s) were lucky enough to be offered early retirement packages. Before giving notice to the tenants in our house, back in the UK, we decided to take a year out and ship our 3-year old Pilote Atlantis van 'over the pond' to explore the coastline of the USA and Canada.

Cost of shipping ($35 per cubic metre) was handsomely repaid by savings on our fuel consumption over 30,000 miles, compared to an American RV, and in taking all our personal belongings including bikes etc. Shipping was simple: in many ways easier than crossing the channel. Martin separated the cab from the main area with plywood sheeting (to secure our personal belongings) and we delivered the van to Southampton docks, flying over to Baltimore to collect it 10 days later. We used Wallanius Wallenson Lines and shipping agents at both ends, although for the return journey we did our own paper work, which was fairly simple and straightforward. We could not get the van insured for the journey, although on arrival we arranged one year's insurance with Progressive Insurance, joined AAA and purchased an annual ticket for the National Parks.

The van was allowed into the States for 365 days, our passports were stamped for 6 months. We had been advised to leave and re-enter (via either Mexico or Canada) at the end of this period, but we elected to apply for a one year visa via the Immigration Service, all conducted by post and fairly simple. One snag - we travelled through Canada to Alaska, then shipped out of Canada. Months after our return to UK we received an official enquiry (forwarded by the Shipping Agent in Baltimore) regarding the whereabouts of our van. The lesson learned is that we should have got the paperwork stamped at the USA/Canada border.

OCTOBER: Baltimore, Maryland

Coping with the culture differences well, although the language barrier is a challenge at the start of any journey. For example, did you ever use a PedXing to cross a Circle ignoring Hazmats? Work that one out!

While waiting to complete the paperwork for the van we drove out to the docks and saw the poor lonely thing sitting there, all locked behind wire fencing BUT undamaged and intact. Our hotel had a bar attached with Karaoke and several locals arrived for the 9 pm start, immediately filled in requests (the books contained 25,000 songs!) and took turns to file up and stand in front of the screen, singing in a lifeless manner, totally ignored by everyone else who was busy skimming the book for THEIR next number!

We had a day sightseeing. Baltimore is a superb old town with lots of history and we were continually told that THEY beat US in the last battle here! Oh well, wonder what OUR historians would say! Everyone was so friendly and helpful, One week down, 51 to go and we were set for a GOOD TIME. My dear sister gave us a parting present of lucky heather and a set of personalised wooden clothes pegs - she insists we are didicoys in disguise! Oh well, what's in a name, at least WE don't have to worry. We did see one sticker we liked: "Retired, No Pay Check, No Stress, No Boss, No Worries."

We picked up the van safely and spent a few days stowing and securing and sorting. What a good system to cross the Atlantic, easier than crossing the channel! Our camp site on the banks of Bush River (where John Smith first landed) gave us some gorgeous autumnal days, crisp bright reds and yellows, Canada geese migrating, lovely start. But after a few days we yearned for some warmth so headed south.

NOVEMBER: Charleston, Carolina & Savannah, Georgia

The famous Southern Hospitality sure is true, everyone is so keen to help. A few days exploring Rhett Butler country. Weather sub-tropical. Our ole van causes some merriment: gee the steering wheel is on the wrong side, gee you are driving a stick shift, etc. In fact our van is smaller than many of the vehicles their RVs tow behind them. Another fact: their RVs are the size of what the English would travel in with 55 other people to Spain! One MORE fact,: we parked in an RV multi-storey car park here in the centre of Charleston!!!!!!

Savannah, what a charming old city - one that, unlike Charleston, was NOT ravaged by Sherman as he passed through. And it whetted our appetite to investigate the cotton industry, from growing through picking, spanning and shipping, including slavery.

NOVEMBER: St Augustine, Florida

We visited a lot of good camp sites, finding that the State and National Parks offer the best views/sites and best value. We have sat by a gorgeous lake (NO swimming, NO feeding alligators) and camped in gorgeous sub-tropical forests. While the females all sit in their air-con RVs and watch TV, the men wander out for a smoke and a chat, so we have seen more of them! Although Martin was heard to say that if WE had air-con, cable TV, a microwave and THAT sort of comfort, WE might not be sitting out under the stars being bitten by mosquitoes! St Augustine, the oldest town in North America, is on the north Florida coast, Atlantic side, which we swam in and boy was the surf BIG or what? Scary, man. We met an English couple and they are the 'fount of all knowledge', from sorting our calling card out to ring home, to "don't leave your awning up, the wind's sure to come up fast", to "don't expose your beer cans, alcohol is banned in all State Parks, use plastic cups". Actually, they are on their second year's roving out here, so do have lots of experience. AND still enjoying it.

NOVEMBER: Cape Canaveral & Epcot, Florida

We stayed and stayed at Cape Canaveral. The weather, fishing and swimming were great, with lots to see - ocean liners coming and going, pelicans and dolphins - and the Space Centre was amazing. We toured Merritt Island Wildlife Sanctuary on their annual open day, so experienced volunteers were showing us bald eagles' nests, netting birds to tag and check their migratory patterns, then a free hour's kayaking on a lake with fish jumping all around us and, to top it all, a family of manatees basking by the viewing platform. What a superb day. Then back to a few more days fishing (catch total = 1 small dogfish and 1 small flatfish, both returned humanely) before moving on to Epcot. We parked in Tropical Palms camp site - recommended for anyone out there requiring a site in Orlando (Kissimee) or even a cabin - best facilities we have ever seen, including toilet facilities and huge swimming pool for $24 a night! Epcot: well what can one say, Disney pioneered crowd control and spectacle and excels at both. We spent 12 hours unexpectedly and finished with the breathtaking firework display over the lake, which was all everyone had told us it would be.

We spent THAT night at a WalMart car park and everything they say about WalMart is true! We have a WalMart Americas Atlas with all WalMarts marked, they offer free overnight camping, have 24-hour stores which sell everything you may need, from Tube and Lube for the car to hair care, fresh produce, cheap named brand clothes … After our initial scepticism we are converts. One chap on the car park had been there a week!

NOVEMBER: Florida Keys

Travelling to the Keys, we had a bad day, missed signs and ended up with locked doors driving towards Miami Downtown, which we avoided by detouring to the airport. First stop was the only coral reef in America. The seas were too rough for snorkelling but we took a glass-bottomed boat ride and saw some wonderful fish. We breakfasted with 2 ibis, 2 grey squirrels, a racoon and a woodpecker. They had NO fear of humans and were desperate for scraps. Quite spooky, especially when an ibis beak gets near you, as they are about 12 inches long! A racoon took a fancy to Martin's fishing gear at 3 am and he was heard shouting from the top of the van steps "Go away you little sods" - they ignored him!

Last night we feasted on barbecued king prawns and fresh salad. We overheard the next camper shout from her 30 ft 5th-wheel (an enormous van about 10 feet high which is towed from a 'wheel' on the pickup truck rear platform). She shouted "Do ya wan spaghetti or hotdog and microwaved fries?" We had the best meal!

The food industry is clearly in league with the dental industry. Otherwise why would they add such vast quantities of sugar to their food? Our best find so far has been maple- flavoured bacon with added sugar and the bread roll that would take a chemist with a masters degree to interpret the list of 59 ingredients. Mind you, it did have a sell by date of 2017 even if it tasted like a wet sea sponge!

Then we travelled down the Keys, to within 30 miles of the Tropic of Cancer and 90 miles from Cuba. We drove to Key West, stopping at another State Park, Bahia Honda, which was like a tropical paradise, with miles and miles of white sand, blue/green seas and heat. Unfortunately the 'no-see-ums' were sure making certain we could feel-um. I probably picked up 300 bites but Martin had no allergic reaction, although they were a nuisance to him. But the beach made up for it all. We had a trip into Key West, though one day was enough: very touristy, although we fell in love with the architecture and atmosphere. We cycled around and visited a Historeum, giving the background to the wreckers of the last century who made a handsome living from ships falling foul of the reefs offshore. Shades of 'Whisky Galore' abounded. Nowadays it is packed with charter boats for the fishing and snorkelling. In fact the whole 100-mile drive down the Keys was beautiful, sea both sides, even a 7-mile bridge between middle and lower Keys, and lots of billboards advertising "Beer, Bait, Ice" - every man's dream of heaven!

NOVEMBER: The Everglades, Florida

Incommunicado in the Everglades, we couldn't even pick up a cell phone signal at Flamingo, which was the deepest part of the Everglades National Park. Crock and gator hunting, we learnt that crocodiles are seawater and alligators fresh water, one green the other dark brown. We saw lots of both, and turtles. The ride down through the National Park to the Bay was 38 miles of swamp and mangroves. We camped in the Wilderness Camp which contained water, cold showers and millions of mosquitoes in an idyllic setting overlooking the Bay. In fact, the mosquito rating was advertised as Carefree, Tolerable, Aggressive, Blood Sponge or Total Bedlam. We had "Tolerable" and now know we could NOT cope with anything higher up the scale! A T-shirt said it all: with a picture of a large mosquito were the words "So many campers, so little time".

We also saw an educational board which explained the eco-system and the part mosquitoes play (which is why they no longer spray them). It said "so even your blood plays its part in our eco-system". All I can say is that I played an enormous part! 82 degrees and 97% humidity proved a little too much for us. Even had a gator waddling across the campsite from a lake on one side to the Bay on the other!

We spent Thanksgiving on an empty site, except for a couple of other foreign tourists, but then they arrived in droves for THEIR public holiday weekend. So we moved on, travelling the 100 miles from East to West Coast, again with gators galore in the stream alongside the roadway!

Then a few days spent in another State Park, which was supposed to be good for fishing and boating, but we found it was still 6 miles from the coast, separated by, you've guessed it, 6 miles of mangrove swamps. These were called 'Walking Trees' by the native Americans (of whom there are 500 left. They put down roots in the water and are odd to see, in fact they are red, black and white. We did have an interesting afternoon in an Ancient Cyprus Tree Swamp which was gorgeous and unspoiled. We walked 2 miles across boardwalks seeing wildlife as it should be - gators, turtles, hawks, even a snake -not to mention 500 year old Cyprus trees.

DECEMBER: Sannibel Island, Florida

We stayed on Sannibel Island for 10 days. It is nicknamed 'Paradise Island' and we know why - we could have stayed on and on and on. Long sandy beaches, cycle tracks, shells in abundance and quiet unspoiled life style. It is kept that way deliberately by a 'no build' policy and expensive (very expensive) property rates, including the one camp site - which is why we did not stay for months and months, plus the fact that it was fully booked after New Year. Our arrival coincided with the end of Thanksgiving and start of Christmas preparations.

Our camp site was mainly permanent mobile homes, two of which were in competition to see who could build the best display of lights outside their home. One had added 3,000 lights this year and reckoned to spend 4 hours a day for 2 weeks building it up. The other included a singing Santa on his gatepost, a lit train with carriages on his roof, lit elves climbing a tree to Santa - you name it, he had it. Most of our evenings included visits to monitor progress! AND take photos, utterly amazing. Our evenings also included a visit to the local bar for a jug of beer and either Conch (pronounced Konk) salad or Mahi Mahi dip, both delicious sea food starters, before returning to our supper at home: also usually fresh caught fish barbecued.

Well it was tempting to stay in this sub-tropical climate but financial implications moved us to the cheaper northern reaches of Western Florida - that and the search for manatees.

(NOTE: A few years later most of Sannibel Island (including our mobile home campground) was flattened by a hurricane.)

DECEMBER: Manatee State Park, Florida

We moved up to Citrus County where we found again autumn colours. After the recent weeks of palm trees, here were the reds and browns we had last seen in Maryland, and a pleasant 75 degree temperature. First, Homassassa Springs State Park, then Manatee Springs State Park, where we had deer grazing around our van. Once again, we were out of contact: no email, no phone.

Many many natural springs feed the rivers here (you remember "Way Down upon the Swannee River? It was Suwannee, where we were staying). The springs are all at 72 degrees F year-round and in winter manatees gather around for the warmer waters. Also, Martin enjoyed swimming in the clear spring water. I opted out - like the locals, I am not swimming until the water returns to 78 degrees! Once again we were met with Christmas preparations, this time a Festival of Lights in the Park - 200,000 lights! Choirs and music, cookies and non-alcoholic cider - a lovely weekend enjoyed by many locals. Funnily enough, once again it struck us that this decorating lark is a male domain. This time 6 men worked for 4 weeks in preparation. Then down came the rain on a Rainy Monday like we have rarely seen. It started at 9 am, got harder and harder and harder, until we went to bed at 9 pm as it got even harder! Dampest time for 2 months. The area was in Citrus County, often called Manatee Country, but we called it 'Noah's Land' that day.

Woke up Tuesday to clear skies and a weak sunshine. We have now notched up 4,000 miles and have hit the road round to Texas to stay for Christmas and New Year.

JANUARY: South Padre Island, Texas

We started our Texan sojourn mid-way down the Gulf Coast at North Padre Island, wilderness and desolate - fine until the storms broke then we "ran for cover" - we travelled further south to the Mexican border at South Padre Island - staying at a lovely County Park overlooking the Bay ... fishing good, shelling good, weather improving. Texan hospitality needs to be experienced to be believed, we made so many "new" friends ... our phone went on the blink and so many people have assisted us with land phones and internet - not that it did much good, the phone still had to be returned and we still had to use public phones for our Christmas calls. Oh well.

We prepared for Christmas under cloudy skies, went to see Toy Story 2 on Christmas Eve, listened to the radio in the evening while we prepared our crepe paper hats and blew up our balloons - not quite Carols from Kings ... more of 18 hrs non-stop cheer, including a message from Elvis in Heaven - his voice - "give a helping hand, rather than another helping, eat eat eat"; and a message from the Godfather (Marlon Brando's voice) to God specifying areas to work culminating in "I'm sure you wouldn't want to wake up with the heads of 8 tiny reindeers on your pillow, I'm sure it won't be necessary, you stick to your area and I'll work mine". Etc etc etc, funny at first but 18 hrs of it?

A trip on a Casino Boat was organised for Boxing Day, 40 of us from the Park - great fun, Martin had a go on the slots - I read my book and exchanged language lessons with my new Texan friends, ... do YOU know what a "Dooley" is? Well, think of a pick up truck with "dool" wheels at the back and "dool" seats up front, get it? Yesterday's new word was "fixing", you work it out … NO? "aiming", "meaning to", "one day I will".

"Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits" … just about sums up our start to Y2K … Texans are such a social people and our life of leisure is interspersed with people who just "come visiting" – the image of americans from the Deep South sitting on the deck and watching the world go by isn't far wrong, and we were ready to move on and regain some personal space …

We were taken "sand cruising" in a truck – we went along white sandy beaches for 30 miles without seeing a building … what an experience, desolate, wild, exhilerating. We also took a trip to Mexico via Brownsville – just one day. We ate blackened snapper and learned over a few beers a little more about Texans … there are no strangers in Texas, just friends you've yet to meet …

FEBRUARY: Big Bend National Park, Texas

After nearly 6 weeks by the golden sands of the Gulf of Mexico we left our many friends and drove to Big Bend national park ... looking at the map it is easy to see how it was so named as the Rio Grande bends round this enormous stretch of Texas and the national park sits at the bottom. However, first we drove 300 miles north to San Antonio, home of the Alamo - watching the temperature drop from 75 to 40 degrees in a few hours. San Antonio is famous for its river walk through Downtown but wrapped in mufflers and gloves we found no appeal in the riverside cafes although the walk was interesting. The Alamo was worth the visit, childhood memories of Davie Crockett and Jim Bowie abounded as we walked round the reconstructed site slap bang in the middle of Downtown.

From here we drove into the Hill Country north, loved by Texans, home of the cowboy. We saw dude ranches galore, had lunch with real cowboys dressed in stetsons and cuban heels, but no horses reined outside, just pick up trucks. Oh well. The weather continued around freezing so we headed for the Interstate and "hit the gas". Texas sure is big, we drove for 2 days, 500 miles of dry river beds, scrub desert and horizon to horizon of nothing. In fact the final 120 miles south to the Park saw only 3 vehicles beside ourselves, but many oil pumps sticking out of the scrub taking black gold from the earth and many entrances to far flung ranches. We also travelled through Marathon, the home of the film Giant.

Big Bend NP was amazing, no cell phone, no radio stations, just mountains, desert and the Rio Grande valley. 3 different environments and all unspoiled and full of wildlife, panther, bear, pig, 400 species of bird (one of which adopted us and came into the van!). We camped in the mountains, 5600 ft, although the camp site was 1200 feet and strangely it was warmer than the previous desert stops. Oh, the stars. Spectacular, no light pollution, so many bright lights. We hiked for a couple of days, then moved to Rio Grande City -one general store and a petrol pump and they call it a city! Then the weather closed in and we had a dust storm, then it rained all night, the site we had just left in the mountains had 4" of snow so we were lucky to miss that. Martin thinks few people visit the desert and are greeted with rain!

Then we visited Hot Springs, bubbling out by the Rio Grande, we hiked there early and were alone, bathing in 102 degrees, boy was it hot. In older times it claimed to cure all ills from toothache to genital diseases = one chap was cured of malaria in 21 days. I wish we could had stayed there and tried it out on Martins poor muscles but we enjoyed our short visit.

FEBRUARY: National Parks

First, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, the largest in the western hemisphere ... 800 ft drop took 3/4 hr, then an hour walking round over a mile of caves. Wow. After that onto White Sands where missiles are tested and the current shuttle may land, hundreds of miles of white gypsum sand, Martin did his Lawrence of Arabia bit then we moved to yet another change of scenery - this time snow although the mild weather made us unwilling to unpack our ski-ing gear for such a small number of slopes open. Next stop the Valley of Fire, a valley of black lava rock, that was SPOOKY especially at night. So in 3 days we had sand desert, snowy mountains and lava. What a country.

Moving onto Arizona via the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, a wildlife refuge with 72 bald eagles (yes, we saw 7) - there is a danger of becoming blasι about such a lot of wonderful sights. One funny one was two roadside signs on one highway - the first read "STATE PRISON", the second read 'DO NOT STOP FOR HITCHHIKERS'.

It could only happen in America... We moved onto Flagstaff but the weather closed in and we retreated from the snow to a valley 50 miles south but 3000 ft lower and spent a warm week at Cottonwood in Dead Horse Ranch State Park (leave you to guess the origin of the name). At last the weather cleared and we toured the Grand Canyon, WOW. Again, WOW. 10 miles wide, a clear unpolluted vista of 40 miles, well worth the visit. We then moved to Utah for Zion National Park and some serious walking

We enjoyed the slots in Las Vegas - parked in a RV park attached to a large casino so spent the 2 nights there, convenient. Bussed into the Strip where we spent too much time in Caesars and left too little time for Treasure Island where full size galleons fight on real water, or the white tigers, or the opulence of the other casinos. but we saw 3-D splendour and moving statues and were duly impressed. Actually Martin won on the slots on the last night so we left a few dollars up on the deal. All in quarters. Didn't need for change for the laundromat for a while ... Then off to Death Valley which was really remote and desolate.

MARCH: California

We entered California in the rainy season, they get 12" a year and we had 6" in those 2 weeks, it was cold, wet and miserable and boy oh boy did we miss Texas ... we hit the coast, the spray hit us ... Sadly, Martin's mother died after a lingering illness. We cycled and sat, and came to terms with Martin's sad loss. Then moved towards Los Angeles and Martin was flew home a week or so and parked me and the van in a VERY nice site in Long Beach which had good security and hot hot hot whirlpool and warm swimming pool. The Long Beach Indicar Grand Prix is being set up for 14/16 April, concrete barriers and millions of stands going up all over the place, presumably they just close the town and let the cars race around the road circuit rather like Monte Carlo?...

Having travelled on many of the congested Los Angeles freeways I can safely say I have not seen such bad roads since my first trip to Romania - the driving isn't too hot either ... it is about the most congested part of America and after the wide open spaces of Texas and Arizona we got quite a shock but the milk shakes are even better - we have as many as possible, in fact we make it a rule never to pass an Ice Cream Parlour, but still haven't sampled all the flavours ... keep having action replays, especially mocca and almond which contains whole almonds; and coconut and almond which also contains fresh coconut ... need I continue?

We also saw sea lions sun bathing … it seems the difference between sea lions and seals is (a) one has ears, one has holes and (b) sea lions use their back flippers and arch their backs to move and seals just use the front flippers and are less agile on land – There, you learn something new every day! We went whale watching, they are here off the coast of California on a migratory pattern which flows from Alaska each year to have their calves in the (slightly) warmer water, something like 125,000 whales! We only saw half a dozen but it is the end of the season and they are all on their way back now – another strange fact we were told is that they don't eat while on this migration so are keen to get home for a meal!

While Martin was in the UK I took a bus tour of Hollywood – Martin had turned his nose up at it! But I enjoyed it – it was a small minibus and only a Swiss Air hostess and myself so we "chummed up" for the walk around bits – it lasted 4 hours and I saw the homes of the stars and the Hollywood sign and the Chinese Theatre where the stars have left their hand prints over the years (AND Trigger's hoof prints), and walked Sunset Strip. A good if tacky afternoon. During this time, on the site I was even more interesting than we were before – not only a "cute little rig" but a lone woman in it which the people who have arrived since Martin's return to UK think!

A few facts I have gleaned on my travels … the roads are bad – I mean bone shaking and suspension breaking bad – because of the constant if small earthquakes; annual rainfall is 12" – we had half of that in the first two weeks in California; there are 23 million cars in Los Angeles for 15 million population (only 40 million in California, anticipated Los Angeles population in 20 years is 40 million!).

Daughter and grand-daughter visited in San Diego, Seaworld, Zoo, Wild Life Park, saw whales leaping, dolphins jumping, a baby panda sleeping ... walked to the beach and saw seals basking in the sunshine which was superb. Then we moved inland to try to get some warmer weather.

Did you know that California has an Alaskan current and the Pacific Ocean is NEVER warm enough to swim in?

Did you know that the Californian coast usually has damp fog in the morning and damp mist in the evening?

Did you know that the average temperature on the Southern California coast is mid 60s

Well, we found much warmer weather in the desert, Desert Hot Springs and Joshua Tree National Park - the trouble was the wind - when we saw a wind farm of many thousands of giant wind generators we should have realised that that was probably the windiest part of the United States ... well we returned via Long Beach which still charms me to death and which Debbie and Arrianne also fell in love with. We had shakes, we had a meal in Chinatown of LA, we had a day on the beach (yes it still had the Alaskan current but the sand was fun) and returned to San Diego to mooch around the Harbour until, sadly, they returned to England. Then we missed them so.

But we had to hightail it to San Fransisco to pick up next daughter ... the weather was even damper and mistier - the wind had followed us and at 1 am on the first night a damp, cold Kate crawled into the Van to sleep over the cab. The next day we had to take the tent down the wind was so severe, so once again we headed inland to try for some warmer weather. Yosemite National Park. Now there is a place. Recommended to ANYONE who comes to California. Just beautiful, unspoilt and scenic. But cold. Down to 40 degrees at night although sunny during the day. Then onto Napa Valley to sample some vineyards.

MAY: Oregon

Well, just a list …the Avenue of Giants - giant redwoods whose girth dwarfed our van; the nights spent by the ocean watching the seals fishing; the Dungeness crabs Martin caught. The sea lion pups; the elk and deer; the driftwood – more like lumber … the enormous driftwood fire 12' high we saw destroyed like matchwood by waves; the wonderful people of Oregon and the delightful neighbours we have shared camp sites with. Oregon is a delight and we have spent far longer than we had planned … it seems to compete with Texas for bigger and better … did you know for example that this stretch of coastline has:

The most westerly point in mainland USA

The largest wooden structure in the world

The largest sea cave in the world

The world's smallest harbour

The world's shortest river

The 3rd largest monolith in the world ………. THEY say.

JUNE: Washington State & Vancouver, British Columbia

Leaving Oregon, we visited Mt St Helens in Washington State, which I saw last from the east side in August so a view from the west side capped with snow was an interesting contrast. The whole top of the mountain has disappeared – great trees like matchsticks on their side 20 years later … the Visitors Centre at the top was excellent – a presentation of top class standard showing the before, actual and after ended with the screen lifting and a panaromic view of the mountain as it is today appears through plate glass windows of monumental size. Wow.

That about sums up our sightseeing in Washington State … we have been awaiting a BA shipment of 4 tyres either to Seattle or to Vancouver so sited ourselves between the two thinking we could visit both cities; visit the San Juan Islands, visit the Cascade Mountains … all only an hour from our campsite. Instead we played scrabble and watched DVDs and read and played scrabble and …THEN … Alaska here we come. We are so excited about it … the highlight of our trip. Denali National Park is booked for mid-July – they only allow a certain number of visitors per day, bused around, plus the camp sites get booked up very quickly so we were lucky to get 4 consecutive nights with 2 bus trips. That gives us 5-6 weeks to get up there – we had hoped to get a cancellation on the Alaskan Ferry going up through the Inside Passage which is a sea route of glaciers and fjords – a 3 day trip which, if the weather holds, should expose ice, bears and whales … no luck. Oh well

JUNE: Alcan (Alaskan/Canadian Highway)

The Alaskan Highway – what to say? Start the day driving in a mud bath (literally on one stretch of this amazing road) and end sitting in a natural hot spring bubbling up at 49oC and cooling along its length to 40 oC with, yes, rain tipping down; and in between passing through wall-to-wall forests, river valleys, small mountain passes and spectacular views including moose and bear and mountain sheep on the highway.

It rained solidly for days and the further north we drove on the Alaska Highway the more mud we encountered on the few camp sites ... in fairness if you look on a map you will see the monumental feat achieved by the US Army in 1942 and understand why camp sites haven't got asphalted roads!!!!

Did you know the main part (Dawson Creek to Fairbanks) was built in 8 months? (1500 miles of virgin forest and rivers). Did you know what "permafrost ripples" are? Because lots of it is built on 50 ft plus sheer ice with tundra on top, they just added loose gravel and earth to the tundra to build the road because if they had removed the tundra the ice would have formed one BIG mud bath. Anyway, the ice shifts through the winter mainly and causes ripples in the road surface... enough trivia ...

We have a book called "The Milepost" which logs the road mile by mile with lay-bys, campsites, points of interest and, mainly, road surface along the way. Until recent years one had to travel with 4 spare tyres, spare windshield and goodness knows what else but we are assured that it is now MAINLY paved (tarmac) with parts of sealed gravel (glued?) where it used to be all loose gravel. We did put on new tyres.

We are delving deeper into the history as we drive - it is a unique experience - days and days of forests and rivers from horizon to horizon and ONE, JUST ONE road across. We should reach Yukon today, 1250 miles driven since Vancouver, nearly half-way to Anchorage. We have seen a bear and 3 moose beside the road and know there's plenty more of that to come! The campsites are approx 100 miles apart (originally the Highway had refuelling stops every 100 miles where there are now small communities serving this road (and the fuel and gas pipelines which run alongside). We have met a charming Alaskan at the last 2 stops who is driving her little VW Westfalia van back after a holiday in mainland US - there are 3 interesting things about Pamela (apart from being a thoroughly nice person) (1) she lives at North Pole (yes that really is the name of the township) (2) she has an airstrip in her back yard and (3) she plants extra cabbage for the moose and caribou to eat when the come down to graze!!! It's another world. It is also understandable that their Licence Plates bear the logo "The Last Frontier". These licence plate logos are fascinating to a Brit - here's a quiz ... answers below

Which States use the following ...

a) The Lone Star State

b) The Potato State

c) The Great Lakes State

d) The Sunshine State

This continent is SO BIG … yet parts in this north-west corner remind us of the south-east corner – mosquitoes for one … hot springs for another.

So we entered the most exciting part of our holiday and what a holiday it has been, sunshine in winter with Florida and Texas; "California Dreaming" with our family; crabbing in Oregon while singing Monty Python Lumberjack song ... and so many nice people along the way many of whom we know we will keep in touch with long after returning to home shores.

ANSWERS TO QUIZ (a) Texas (b) Idaho (c) Michigan (d) Florida

JUNE: Dawson City, Yukon

The Yukon is a gem … in all senses of the word. Our short sojourn encompassed 90% of the road system – that is one road north/south and two roads east/west – the north/south one from Whitehorse to Dawson City was only built in 1953 as recompense for moving the Provincial Capital to Whitehorse. In a land of 1/4m sq. miles there are 31,000 people, 23,000 of whom live in Whitehorse; 41 settlements many of only 50 or fewer inhabitants. Dawson City, the second largest, consists of a dozen dirt roads in the usual grid pattern. Dawson City is the center of the Klondyke Gold Rush, it took us 3 days driving from the coast, imagine the hardships of the gold seekers 100 years ago.

The dirt roads were an absolute quagmire and we were lucky to get the camp ground in the center of "town" … so could squelch around on foot and explore this restored historic site. It is authentic, even wooden side walks to avoid the mud! All the buildings are perched unsteadily on planks of wood shoved under the corners and along the sides … it seems the permafrost (mentioned in the last newsletter) causes such rock movement each winter that they cannot afford to continually repair asphalted roads and the houses would fall down if on solid foundations. So each Spring they plough the mud roads and shove a few more planks as required under the houses and enjoy another summer of rain and mosquitoes. It seems most of the few inhabitants go into the hills prospecting in the summer, there are lots of college students working who live in "tent city" over the river (there is a free ferry service to town) … until last year accommodation in tent city was free until a girl got mauled by a bear; with new security precautions to pay for they now charge for accommodation!

The town is preserved by the Klondike Visitors Assoc (KLA) who have restored many properties and put informative photos and plaques around – gold is the main trade – real nuggets of all shapes and sizes (unbelievably small and as they are dug out, shiny and lumpy) both natural and made into jewellery. I am making up a shopping list. KLA plough 2 million Canadian dollars back into the town annually with enterprises like Diamond Tooth Gerties' saloon which emulates the original gold rush saloon including 3 shows nightly with can-can dancers and, yes, you've guessed it, Diamond Tooth Gertie herself. Well, an Australian actress anyway. A surprisingly entertaining evening. Then we walked back at 11.30 pm in broad daylight and sat outside with our cocoa until 12.30 am still in broad daylight. There is a viewpoint a couple of miles away where you can watch the sun skirting the mountain top at midnight and not quite disappearing this week! If the sun was out that is!

We detoured this way via Dawson City in order to travel the "Top of the World Highway" which on the plus side has 70 miles of spectacular views and on the minus side then has 80 miles of dirt and gravel road down the mountain including sharp, very sharp, bends. One point is signed in our book as "Beware, small aircraft use the road as a landing strip". However, part of the dirt road had been washed away and we had to retrace our steps and travel the 350 miles back to Whitehorse before resuming our journey.

We also met up with a Classic Car Rally – Round the World in 80 days, they drove London to Peking, flew to Anchorage, drive to New York, fly to Africa and back to London – the cars were superb, of course heavily reinforced, but classic oldies driven by enthusiasts … over 100 left London, now 32 are left to finish the Rally with 2 support vehicles but carrying their own spares … they say the longest detour was 240 km (in China) and the largest pothole 1 metre x 1 metre and ½ a metre deep! Wow. And we were worried about a few washouts in a road?


Alaska or bust … and it very nearly did, the suspension that is … the road towards Anchorage had more and more "frost heaves" and road works entailing dirt and gravel. But we just plodded on and let anyone who wanted to pass us at great speed and made it without any great problems (except dust, thick and furious dust, everywhere and in everything). We have since met people with chipped paintwork, chipped headlights and chipped windscreens so count ourselves lucky … of course we still have the return leg to do!

However, 3,300 miles since leaving Vancouver we arrived in Anchorage, moving down to the Kenai Peninsular after a trip to Walmarts. Seward is the gateway to the Kenai Fjords which is a National Park and accessible only by boat (or sea plane of which there seem to be thousands in Alaska – instead of multi-storey car parks in Anchorage there are small plane airports!). We parked on the shore for 3 days, took a day long catamaran trip out to an enormous glacier where we sat among ice flows for ½ hr watching and hearing chunks of glacier breaking off – saw lots of whales, puffins, sealions, otters …even 2 bears eating berries in a field nearby … such an abundance of wildlife not too concerned about us circling around as long as we didn't get too close. It also made us want to know more about the Exon Valdez oil spill (1989) which caused such havoc with the local environment. Our shore spot also gave us the opportunity to sit in the evening and twice watch a mother and baby whale frolicking.

Then off to the other side of the peninsular where our "winter Texan" friends lived. They made us extremely welcome with a super supper of fresh halibut caught a few days earlier and parking space on their front drive. Next day off to Homer Split where their 25 ft boat is moored and off we went hunting our own halibut. Unfortunately the weather closed in so we returned to base for a bbq evening with their family and another shot at fishing the next day – couldn't pull them in fast enough the largest 60 lb, so big they were difficult to get off the boat when we returned to harbour having caught our quota (2 fish per person regardless of size)– in fact the bait was herring we would be proud to eat for supper in England!

So it was off to Salty Dawg's for a celebratory drink and (what else) fish and chip supper! What an experience. THEN from our shoreline campsite we sat and watched bald eagles (not an endangered species in Alaska) fighting for scraps on the beach not 20 yards from us. Wow, what a place. Well, apart from not getting any sleep – we found it incredibly difficult to adjust to 24 hr daylight – this part of our trip is certainly living up to expectations as the highlight. We think the only thing to beat it would be Alaska in winter. Next we parked for a few days high on a cliff overlooking Cook Inlet (hoping to continue our whale watch from shore

A few days in Anchorage where we explored both on foot and by bike (there are 120 miles of cycle paths) … we enjoyed the museums and shops – especially the State Trooper Museum and Art and History Museum which between them took a whole day.

So we eventually moved from the Kenai Pensinsular, with a farewell BBQ laid on by our friend's (Art & Judy of Hey Jude boat fame) daughter and family. What a splendid set of people. The group included Art & Judy, three of their children and respective families and assorted neighbour and cousins. The piece de resistance was Clam Feet lightly fried in breadcrumbs and melting in the mouth - literally. Yummy. Clams come in a variety of sizes and shapes from our mussel size to our human hand size. Dug up by the gross (60 per person allowed per day) they are cleaned and either bottled for chowder or BBQd … then they told Martin he should stay another week for the Sockeye (Red) Salmon Run – they run so fast and so big you put in nets and drag them out, any size 25 head of house and 10 per family member per day. Imagine that! But he resisted although NOW he may be regretting that.

As an aside, we stayed in a little village near Fairbanks whose river fishing has been devastated over the past 5 years, salmon are not getting up to the natural breeding grounds – hatcheries nearer the ocean artificially spawn fish to return in five years, there is more sport at the river mouths and ocean beds and (so these local fishermen say) the Alaskan Government is content with that because the tourism and main fishing goes on down there. Salmon have a 5 year cycle, from spawning they spend 5 years at sea before returning to their birth place to spawn and die. Hatchery fish are returning but fishermen down there are catching the natural wild river salmon at the same time. Last year these local rivers got small 4 year old smaller fish, this year very few of any age. They expect to have nothing within a couple of years. A pity.

On our way north from Anchorage we stopped at Talkeetna, a 14 mile spur road off the main highway which is the gateway to climbing Mt McKinlay – apparently in 1935 this route was discovered although they are flown halfway up. Anyway, Talkeetna was the model for the TV series Northern Exposure and we had a lovely stay there, a very small town and isolated … hard to imagine in winter, cut off and under 28 feet of snow! It only comes alive for the climbing season, about 3 months. We were also lucky to see Mt McKinlay from there – it is only a 30% chance viewing with cloud cover being the norm. This land of "world beaters" claims it is higher (vertically) than Mt Everest since it rises from sea level. One thing for sure, it sure is majestic. Then now off to Fairbanks to see another chum from traveling, Pamela and Gordon, and see Santa Claus at North Pole … we are also secretly hoping to get to the Arctic Circle which is only 100 miles further north but on a logging road. It would have been slightly easier from Dawson City in the Yukon but then the road was washed out.

Fairbanks - where to start … Pamela (who we met on the Alaskan Highway) invited us over for drinks to meet her husband and neighbours all of whom were delightful … we wobbled the 2 miles back to our camp-site on our bikes at 12.30 am in, yes you've guessed it, broad daylight. Next night back again this time for a delightful meal and action replay of return to camp-site. Between times we visited a gold mine where we ended the tour by panning for gold (the 17 crumbs we collected we were allowed to keep) and stopped to view the oil pipeline which stretches from Prudo Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Valdez on the southern coast … what a feat … it is 4 feet in diameter and about 6 ft from the ground (where we viewed it) – another great engineering feat which has reaped great rewards … the service road alongside it is now open to the public and while we were tempted to "have a go" we thought of our poor springs and tyres and gave it a miss … the temptation was in being 60 miles from the Arctic Circle and easier to drive than to swim the 70 miles from the Tropic of Cancer we achieved in Key West, Florida. Once again so near yet so far. Our enthusiasm to fly or take an organized car trip was curbed by the prices asked. But how we enjoyed Fairbanks, the University Museum and "Alaskaland" gave us a taste of the "interior" as it was and as it is now.

Then it was off to our long-awaited and planned camping in Denali National Park which is advertised as the last place left with an intact eco-system … all the National Parks we have visited in the States have been superb recreational areas, but Denali boasts NO despoiling of nature while allowing access ANYWHERE. At least, you have to shuttle bus along the only road (90 miles of dirt) … there are no tracks or trails, limited backpack camping by permit and 3 developed camp sites (developed means it has a table and fire-ring at each spot and allows vehicles of limited size or tents) one at the Park Entrance, one 15 miles in and one 30 miles in … the interior one allows drive there and drive back – no other use of vehicle. As there are only 85 camping plots between the 2 interior ones and only open for 3 months a year we were lucky to get 4 nights at an interior site. The lack of trails is deliberate, vegetation trampled by one pair of feet is likely to spring back up – groups of more than 2 are advised to walk spread out. What views and tranquility, ptarmigan and squirrels galore. The downside is the sub-zero temperatures at night - oh well it was back to the thick duvet and winter nightie.

We shuttle bused further into the Park and just walked locally – not brave enough to venture into the undergrowth but stuck to river beds and the dirt road. We just are not too observant, seeing only caribou while walking, but from the shuttle buses (with 40 pairs of eyes on the lookout) we saw grizzlies and moose, foxes and marmots. The highlight was a grizzly with 2 cubs running across a meadow to a small glacier where they rolled and frolicked in our view with binoculars (only specks on our camera unfortunately. Although not high by mountain standards it has one of the most severe weather patterns because of its sub-arctic situations - only 50% of climbers make the summit in the 6 week a year climbing season.

Then, sadly, time for "we're outa here" … via Fairbanks and the ALCAN to say a sad farewell to Alaska which has more than exceeded all our hopes and expectations. We take memories of glorious wild flowers in abundance, sealife and views, new friends and, well, just, lots of space.

And finally … in this land of world beaters we have learned some more, Mt McKinlay is higher vertically than Mt Everest (apparently because it starts from sea level rather than from other lesser mountain ranges; 70% of the known glaciers are in Alaska; the 1964 earthquake which devasted the few settlements was the 2nd largest this century and the longest lasting in terms of time, with the coast line sinking 7-8 feet and the tidal wave moving freighters ½ mile inland.

(While emailing from our friends Pamela & Gordon's house in Fairbanks we were called outside to view an enormous moose loose aboot this hoose ... in the garden, with his nose in the mailbox!)

AUGUST: Juneau, Alaska

Memories of Alaska – glaciers and whales, puffins and eagles. Hey Jude and halibut and otters. Snow capped mountains and fjords. Salmon spawning. Grizzlies in meadows and m.oose in the garden. Temperate rain forest and float planes.

We just could not bear to leave – our friends and our memories … the Peninsula fishing; the Interior gold panning; Denali with our grizzlies … how we missed them all.

Having spent a fruitless day at Fairbanks airport on standby for a seat on the mail planes flying into the Arctic Circle we were even less willing to move on. So we gave ourselves a little carrot and booked the ferry across to the State Capitol, Juneau which is only accessible by air or sea. 4 ½ hrs down a fjord, icefield obscured by low cloud, and we arrived at 11 pm in pouring rain and pitch black !!! First experience of that combination since Baltimore!

This is such a strange land of mini eco systems … weather patterns are so local – here it is a temperate rain forest and the low cloud and drizzle are a permanent feature (when it isn't snowing). 6" of it in July! Three glaciers drop down from the ice field, the largest is just across a small lake from our National Forest camp ground, 1 ½ miles wide and ice bergs galore. Also, the salmon are spawning and we were able to watch them – quite a sight. Thousands and thousands of them, 2-3 feet long, fighting for space to spawn … I reached in and stroked them – could have picked them up by the tail if I had been brave enough. Now we understand the pics we have seen of the grizzlies picking them out of the streams.

Juneau itself is a small village (by our standards) – sorry state capitol city known as mini San Francisco because of the narrow steep streets, perched on the edge of a mountain with berths at the Main Street for 5 cruise liners at a time each disgorging 2000 passengers … another amazing sight … 600,000 passengers a year, well in the 3 months "season" - by comparison only 25,000 arrive by ferry. We had a real treat – a flight on a float plane to a salmon bake deep in the mountains … what a glorious experience, even in the drizzle. A slow majestic flight over the Juneau ice field; landing at a lake overlooked by a huge glacier; wow. A superb lunch and stroll (yes, still in drizzle) then the flight back to Juneau.

Next the long haul back to reality … first visiting Skagway where we left the ferry – yet another historic site from the Klondyke gold rush days … remember Dawson City where we started our journey in the far North? Well they all set out from Skagway to stake their claim there. Full circle for us.

AUGUST: Trans Canada Highway

Well we made it – and without a sticker for the van saying "We drove the Alaskan Highway and survived" – yes folks people really DO have them on their vehicles … AND they really DO travel in wagon trains of 25 plus vehicles for safety … as mentioned in the last newsletter, we were part of the minority group called "independent travellers". Having said "survived" – that statement encompasses 7,000+ miles on the clock; many paint chips; a broken headlamp; a cracked windscreen; a leaking shock absorber and a thousand memories … the last makes up by miles for the rest. Also, the wildlife came out in their droves to wave goodbye from the side of the road – bison, bear, coyotes, sheep, deer and moose … the return trip had it all. Oh what fun we had.

Then there was the 3,000 mile trek across Canada to look forward to … we have done that in stages, 3-4 days hard traveling, then a few nights in a camp site. BC and its natural hot springs; Alberta – stopped and cleaned dust out inside and out and had windshield repaired – at least we stopped the crack from growing; Saskatchewan where we found a 3 acre maize maze (designed by a Brit!); Manitoba; what lovely sounding names these provinces have; Ontario – now here we stayed for a while – (a) the size (b) 4 of the 5 great lakes and (c) we have friends to stop and visit with – our journey stopover was at a State Park with 3 km of beaches on Lake Superior – beautiful but without the heat of the Mediterranean to swim in.

In Toronto we looked up a few friends we met in Texas and were given such a warm welcome – then a few days with my old friends Marilyn and Mort in St Catharine's near Niagara Falls for Martin to see the sights I was shown 10 years ago. Niagara Falls, the Mennonite community, Port Dalusi … dear memories to recapture. Oh, and chasing shock absorbers to fit our van …

We booked our return from Halifax Nova Scotia – flying back on October 12th after delivering our home into the hands of the shipping line … meanwhile onto Quebec to visit more friends from Texas leaving a month to explore Newfoundland and Nova Scotia

Ps today's quiz is : the shores of which one of the 5 Great Lakes is NOT in Ontario

SEPTEMBER: The Maritimes

First the answer to the quiz – Lake Michigan which I think is Garrison Keeler territory (Lake Woebegon and all that). We did consider "doing all 5" which would have meant only a small detour into Michigan – Superior, Eyrie; Huron; Ontario – they sure are great in size and we missed Michigan – but time marched on.

Ontario was great fun – Niagara Falls by day and by night – wings, beer and pizza in USA – exploring Port Dalousi including a gourmet club Russian meal (!) – the Welland Canal and so much more … including a ride in Mort's darling restored Thunderbird …

Quebec exceeded all our expectations, thanks to more friends from Texas Jacques and Lorraine we found our way round Montreal – we then explored Quebec City which has been called the Gibraltar of Canada – a walled city well preserved with a citadel containing working soldiers although you do get a guided tour (which we enjoyed) and steeped in French influence … in fact we found Quebec was frencher than the French … for example their Stop signs say only "Arret" – they advertise "Salle a Manger" – so many things – but we especially enjoyed the pates and cheeses!!!

Then we drove along the banks of the great St Lawrence seaway, stopping overnight overlooking its 23 km width from a cliff top site … wow.

We crossed New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with their French and Scottish flavours and ferried across to Newfoundland (or, as we are constantly told – say "Newfunland" to rhyme with "understand") – The Newfies are a breed unto their own … the welcome is definitely Irish, the accent has flavours of Irish – if anyone saw the clip years ago on one of those out-take programmes of the Irish fisherman gabbling into the microphone and not one word being decipherable – well this is nearly like that – little trace of the "traditional" Canadian accent – for example on enquiring of a camp site we were asked if we had any "pits" in our van; later we were told there were lots of "crab" shops at the harbour – turned out to be CRAFT shops ("pits" turned out to be "pets") …everyone finishes a conversation with "All the best" and this morning on the Local Radio station the head of the local Teachers' Federation and then a spokesman for the Prison Service both sounded just as unintelligible. All this sounds rather cruel, in fact we love it all especially the warm, warm welcome everywhere.

Last leg … we were so glad we added this extra part to our journey – Newfoundland and Labrador have a unique way of life in this day and age … small communities cling to life along the coast with little evidence of economic success but with neat well maintained housing and no crime. Teenagers call out and say hello on their way home from school and cords of cut wood left by the wayside are collected at leisure … probably while gardening in the plots dug along the roadside containing cabbages and potatoes etc … no fears of theft here. Literally millions of lobster pots everywhere – apparently the season lasts only a few weeks a year but is BIG BUSINESS – it seems that a hundred years ago one could walk on water across the backs of the enormous cods too thick on the ground for ships to plough through, now they have all but disappeared.

We drove up the west coast and caught the ferry across to Labrador where there is 50 miles of road only – the rest of the coast is accessible only by boat. In fact this sea lane holds so many shipwrecks, if you look at a map it saves 200 miles (or 2 days) rather than take the southern passage around Newfoundland – too dangerous for sailing ships but steam ships attempted it at their peril – rolling fogs and strong currents took their toll. We visited a Basque whaling station (the largest in the world but 400 years since it thrived) and learned of their lives – what a different climate to their homeland in Spain. We climbed to the glass dome of a working lighthouse (wobbly knees for the rest of that day) and roamed the beaches. The Provincial Park we stayed in had to be snow ploughed to open in June and is expecting the first snows shortly after it closed on the 16th September!

Then we ferried back over to Newfoundland where we traveled to the Northern Peninsular to see L'Anse Aux Meadows where a Viking settlement of 1000 years ago was recently discovered. That was very interesting.

Back in Nova Scotia, we visited Lunenberg, a ship building village which is home to Blue Nose II – a replica of Blue Nose, a fishing schooner which decorates the 10 cent coin and which, in the 1930s, won all races against American fishing schooners with a uniquely designed hull. What luck we managed to get out on it – bargain tour of the holiday – equivalent of £10 for a 3 hr sail – wow, when it skimmed the waves we were really "cooking with gas" and Martin especially loved being under full sail – 8 of them, the mainsail being the largest single sail of its kind in the world – yes folks we continue to find the largest, biggest, smallest, longest of everything in the world. Certainly one of our most exciting afternoons. The Fishing Museum filled lots of gaps in our knowledge of the history of this area. We also enjoyed Halifax which is a charming town with an excellent Museum of the Maritimes (including Titanic exhibits as this is where the rescue attempts centered and the base for the submersibles which "discovered" the wreck) and a lovely harbour.

We then moved to the northen shores and the Bay of Fundy where the world's greatest tides occur. From Digby (of clam fame) we moved onto a spit which included 2 ferries and fell in love with Brier Island at the end of the spit. Old world values have been evident everywhere in the Maritimes – teenagers actually speak to you; doors are left unlocked, vegetables grown by the side of the road and firewood cut for winter left untouched until collected by their owners. But it seemed especially so in Brier Island. We were half tempted to buy the B&B for sale for £35,000 (detached and including ocean view!) We always fall in love with the ocean, especially islands. The exception being the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence which almost count as oceans anyway … But I digress.

While on Digby Spit we took the advice of the Lonely Planet Guide and booked a trip on a Zodiac (the type of inflatable boat used as Lifeboats) into the Bay of Fundy … another great experience "just when we thought it was all over" … skimming the waves among schools of dolphins diving below and around our boat, porpoise and whales – lots of whales. Fin, minke and hump back in profusion … we didn't know which way to look at times – all ignoring little us and going about their business. And at the end of the trip the owner made us all a cup of tea in his house! Probably on the grounds of safety since the 12 of us were still "riding high".

Following that experience we meandered along the northern coast towards Yarmouth, another unspoilt town – the coast in between was beautiful and the weather held for us which was an added bonus. We slept to the sound of the ocean, with heron and cormorants our neighbours. We visited yet another Museum, this time a Dory workshop. More gaps in our knowledge of this area filled. What hard lives the fishermen led. Martin has become intrigued with the number of shipwrecks around these coasts … thousands recorded. So many families decimated.

There is a lot to be said for touring "off season" although fewer and fewer camp sites were open now, by mid-October all will be ended for another year – we actually booked the last direct flight out of Halifax to UK this year. So it was back near Halifax, enjoying a pleasant last few days overlooking a delightful bay and fitting in last minute things (like trips to Wal Mart! and Oak Island where Captain Kidd is reputed to have buried his lost treasure! If we found it we would be able to afford that B&B after all …


Our main aim on this journey was to give ourselves freedom to "plan the next part of our lives". Well, it just went too quickly! 18 months later we sold up and have been nomads ever since. Still trying to "plan the next part of our lives" …

Van repairs en route included new tyres which had to be shipped out from UK (the ply rating we required did not exist in the "land of the automobile"!); new shock absorbers; repair to windscreen; oil change every 5,000 miles (quality of engine oil not to UK standard); and a new fuel pump which again had to be sent from UK.

Our van staggered home after 30,000 gruelling miles and lasted a further 2 years before we waved it goodbye. In fact, the main reason for changing it was that after one year of 10 minutes daily making the bed up and 10 minutes daily taking the bed down I worked out that I lost 3 days of our trip and refused to start a nomadic existence without a "fixed bed".

Would we do it again? A resounding YES. Next time we think we shall investigate taking a new van ex-VAT to Australia, NZ, USA and shipping it back VAT-free.

The main problems we experienced centred around communication – broadband, tri-band, 3G were all unknown then. Although our journey was pre-9/ll we are in touch with people who have done a similar trip since and it seems Brits are still welcomed. Oh, and the exchange rate was $1.65 for a £ – now it is 2:1!


As a recently retired teacher I still have vivid memories of the constant battle against chewing/eating/drinking "on the hoof" - we (the teachers) told them (the students) that it was bad for the digestion. In fact what it was bad for was the school cleaning bills!

However, I personally have always loved rushing from one place to another with a snack in my hand to keep me going - it satisfies my desire to be needed in several places at once and to be "too busy to sit down".

After 4 months travelling in the USA I have realised how far we Brits need to go to perfect the art of eating and drinking "on the hoof". In all campsites people go about their daily lives with an extension to their arm - the cup holder. It either contains their fizzy drink can or their coffee mug. It goes into the bathroom (loo to you and me), the shower, the store, even the dump station (storage in vehicle tanks of grey (sink) water and black (sewage) water is normal to be literally dumped at irregular intervals, hence the term "dump station"). Yes, we did see one case of "Oh Shit" literally, this will be the subject of another article.

In supermarkets coffee refills are available for top-ups and at the checkout a packing service is provided which saves letting go of ones cup holder. Yes, they will even wheel your packed bags out to your car and stow it. The idea is then to drive off still holding your drink.

Refinements on this are at Dairy Queens where a large gooey ice-cream cone is substituted. Now we know why Americans all drive automatic transmissions with power steering and cruise control.

A few years ago we bought an up-market German car which contained 8 cupholders. Now why, we asked ourselves, would anyone with that sort of money to spare pack a picnic? Living in America gives the answer - in order to export the car to America where the number of cup holders in a car are a status symbol and they don't buy one without at least one per seat. Our imported UK motor home is a poor bet - 2 pathetic rings inside the glove compartment door which (a) have never sat flat and (b) aren't easily visible.

So we are looking for some on suction pads to attach to the window where they will be in full view. Oh, and until we get rid of our stick change (gear stick) we will continue to stop at every Dairy Queen but eat our 'shakes "on the hoof" BEFORE getting back into the van.


Until our arrival in Baltimore at the start of a year long trek around the perimeter of the United States, I had been brainwashed by such films as Kramer v Kramer and the media in general into imagining American Woman to be (a) confident, (b) brash, (c) in charge and American Man to be (a) reasonable, (b) losing the battle of the sexes, (c) losing self confidence.

Not so. At least not in the camping environment, we have been immersed in over the past 4 months. Backwoodsman is definitely not dead, or at least the image of Backwoodsman. On our first campsite, a raw October evening in Maryland, we lit the BBQ and sat outside cooking our first fat, juicy American steak. All around us fire rings were filled with logs, men wandered round stoking them dressed in lumber jacket shirts and mufflers. But as soon as they got a really good blaze going they disappeared! Where were they?

We moved down the East Coast, the weather improved, but we were still the only people sitting out after 6 pm. Campfires were still lit but then abandoned to blaze into the night sky in solitary splendour. During the "lighting time", a pattern emerged. Of course, our right hand drive van caused much comment. Among the men. As we sat out each evening we waited for them to come up and ask the same questions after the initial "Don't see many of them around here" …

"What's it cost to ship it over?"

"What miles per gallon da ya get?"

"What's a rig like that cost in Europe?"

"What's it like driving on the wrong side?"

At least, they always ask Martin. They always ignore me. I even fail to make eye contact. It really was like talking to thin air – the recipient of my words of wisdom had already formed the next question for Martin.

Gradually I gave up and joined the women. Where? Alone in the camper. By now I had found out what American Woman does while American Man plays Backwoodsman. She sits in her air-conditioned luxury van watching videos, knitting, crocheting or playing on the computer. Oh, and cooking – overheard on one campsite – "What da ya want, hot dogs or microwaved fries?"

And another strange thing – in Europe we often played the game "find the woman driver" – at any chosen moment pick the next 10 vehicles with a man and a woman in the front seats and count how many have a woman at the wheel. Usually it is 10-30%. In America, it is 0%.

The driver's seat is 'owned' by the male, the woman navigates. The only time we have seen a woman driving on a campsite (with one exception) is when the car is unhitched from the back of the motor home and she is allowed to back it away from the van.

So where is the emancipated American dream? Are there 2 societies – cities/business and the great American outdoors? Has Meryll Streep ever camped with her family? Did she navigate and watch movies in her air-conditioned chrysalis?

Is it all an illusion? Backwoodsman moves in to join Jane as soon as a chill hits the air. All the vehicles have air conditioning and hydraulic levellers, full hook-up facilities so they don't even need to use the public toilets, they are "living the dream" within the luxuries of this millennium.

And while I continue to manoeuvre our van around the camp sites and Martin takes his turn navigating, I can see that the American Dream is still alive. On the TVs they are all sitting inside watching.