THREE REASONS WHY TODAY IS JUST “ONE OF THOSE DAYS”
A bowl of cornflakes and a fog of diesel exhaust never make for a great combination. The exhaust causes us to gag and choke and very soon, if we stay in here much longer, we’ll be completely dead. We leap from the back of the truck in a whirl of slopping milk and soggy flakes, settling on the wooden bench to mutter into our spoons. We are camped cheek by jowl in a campground in the town of Arco, Idaho, whilst our neighbour admires his voluminous RV. The black cloud emanating from the RV’s exhaust pipe is already masking the morning sun. He’s entirely oblivious to the discomfort he’s causing around him. He beams at us and calls, ‘Hey, I love your rig.’ He wanders over to gawk inside, though it’s way too early in the morning for this guy’s bonhomie and noxious gases. ‘Do you have to leave your engine running like that?’ Christine questions, already sore from cracking her head on the exit. ‘It’s a diesel,’ the man replies, as if addressing a couple of morons. ‘It’s not very pleasant to sit in your exhaust fumes,’ she persists. ‘Well, you don’t need to worry about that because we’re leaving today.’ The man’s cheesy grin begins to slip, clearly tiring of the verbal prodding. ‘We have a diesel engine in our car and when we start it we drive off,’ Christine tells him. The man curls a lip as he snarls, ‘If you don’t like it you should move.’ Ooh, we never thought of that. THANKS A LOT, DUMB-ASS!
Leaving the campground we traverse the town of Arco. The world’s first peacetime use of nuclear power occurred in Arco. When the US government switched on the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1, on the 20th December 1951, Arco became the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power. The reactor later suffered a partial meltdown … another world “First”. Since 1949 more nuclear reactors have been built out on these bleak plains than anywhere else in the world. It’s not much of a selling point for the tourist, but … what the hell … you have to work with what you’ve got, right? In town we pass a restaurant offering Atomic Burgers. Would eating Atomic Burgers cause you to glow in the dark? That could be pretty beneficial if you’re walking down the road at night. And a great reason to eat more burgers. The road west is being freshly laid by a road-gang. A layer of gravel covers the surface. As we increase speed the stones crack on the underside of the truck. A stone kicked up by the vehicle in front whacks the windscreen – SMACK! The thin crack trickles across the screen we replaced in Costa Rica at considerable cost. Big groan. And bad things always come in threes. So, what’s next, we wonder? It doesn’t take long to find out.
Arriving at the dozy town of Carey we stop at the Shell garage for a refill. Since leaving Arco a number of stones have cracked down on the roof, so I decide to check the solar panel is still okay up there. I kick off the flip-flops and clamber on the bonnet to take a look. Great – the panel is still in one piece. What a relief. I climb back in the car and we drive on. When wearing flip-flops I prefer to drive bare-footed – I love the feel of ribbed rubber and steel on the soles of my feet. Kind of weird, huh? All is good as we cruise west. The sun is shining and I’m driving extra carefully because it’s definitely “one of those days”. The journey is proceeding well. Sixty miles down the road I stop for a roadside pee. I feel around for the flip-flops in the foot-well, ready to slip them on. Where are my flip-flops? I dig around more frantically. ‘Where are my god-damn flip-flops?’ I think I know the answer to this one. ‘You left them at the last filling station,’ Christine says. She’s right. ‘What a jerk!’ I shout, tottering barefooted on the roadside. If anybody out there reading this blog sees a pair of flip-flops standing side by side opposite the no. 6 pump at the Shell gas station in Carey … ‘THEY’RE MINE!’
KETCHUM, SUN VALLEY, IDAHO
In many ways Ketchum, Sun Valley, Idaho, is synonymous with the writer Ernest Hemingway. He started visiting Sun Valley in 1939, to hunt and fish and to work on his novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls. Hem made frequent visits here until 1948, when he didn’t return for a decade, pursuing his life in Cuba. When he returned to Ketchum in 1958 he was a much-changed man, racked by a life hard-lived: the war wounds, the plane crashes in Africa, the myriad accidents that befell him, the legendary drinking. By the end of the 50s there was a marked mental and physical deterioration in the writer: he was steadily losing his mind and the ability to write. According to his doctor, George Saviers, the Nobel Prize winner broke down in tears when unable to pen a simple message for President Kennedy’s inauguration in February 1961. It was a far cry from the macho myth-maker of earlier days. Back in January of this year we visited the ghost of Hemingway at Finca Vigie, his home outside Havana, Cuba and so it’s fitting to pass a couple of days in the town where he spent his last days. In 1959 Hemingway, having left Cuba following the Castro revolution, bought a house with his wife Mary on the Big Wood River, Ketchum. Battling a worsening state of ill-health, it seems Hem was unwilling to await death’s arrival. He would do things his own way, as he always had. On the 2nd July 1961 he loaded one of his shotguns and blasted himself in the head. Hemingway may have ended his life on that day in July but the legend endures.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA
What’s big and cuddly, eats berries and roots and can bite the head off a moose? Yep, you got it … it’s a bear. I’ve encountered a few things in my life whilst walking in wild. In Zambia it was a roaring lion, though at least we had a scout with a loaded gun. In the Alpes-Maritime of southern France it was a wolf and thankfully he turned and fled. But up here in North America they keep talking about bears. I really don’t want to meet a bear out in the woods whilst armed with nothing more than a Victorinox knife and a peanut butter sandwich. To aid your survival in the event of an encounter the shops sell a bear spray, which supposedly fires a cloud of pepper, except I’m a little dubious about this stuff actually halting a charging bear intent on mangling your head, which is a good enough excuse for a parsimonious Yorkshireman to leave his wallet in his pocket. We recently heard of a mountain biker emptying the entire contents of his bear spray into the face of a prowling mountain lion. Apparently the lion didn’t even blink, just gave the cyclist a look which suggested, ‘Okay, buddy, you’ve had your fun. Now it’s my turn.’ But maybe that’s why they call it a bear spray and not a lion spray. No matter, I believe being armed with only a Victorinox knife keeps you just that bit more alert and hopefully out of trouble. That’s the theory anyway, for if it comes to hand to hand combat with a bear, the human element invariably comes off the worst … unless you’re “Wild Bill” Hickok, of course. Legend has it “Wild Bill” fought a silvertip grizzly armed with a pistol and a Bowie knife, and though he killed the bear he still required a few days off work to recuperate. So far on our travels we’ve encountered four black bears already – happily each time we were in the car – and the other evening one wandered into the campground, attracted to the sausages cooking in a camper’s pan. There are signs and literature warning about bear activity everywhere we’ve been in the Rockies. Whilst walking the trails you’re advised to sing, whistle or talk loudly, though try keeping that up on a five hour hike. And if a bear does charge you must stand your ground, even as he slobbers and burps in your face. If your chips are really down the safety pamphlet advises you to lay on the ground and play dead …… lay on the ground and play dead beneath a 300 kilo bear? Who writes this stuff? More likely I’ll be up the nearest tree. Anyway, if it comes to a bear charge … I reckon I can run a bit faster than Christine!!