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0n the road

Want to ‘do’ the States in just fourteen days? Ann Donald shows you how.

The call of the wild beckoned - having seen Thelma and Louise just once too often I had succumbed to the advertising blurb of US adventure travel experts. Green Tortoise. A two week coast-to-coast trek roughing it across the new land of Bill and Hilary in a bright green bus with the motto. ‘An‘ive Inspired. Not Dog-Tired' emblazoned along it. Not having been a Girl Guide the concept of the Great Outdoors still held a mysterious attraction, added to which the brochure waxed lyrical about lifelong memories of hiking down the Grand Canyon. riding rapids down the Rio Grande and nights of unrivalled madness in New Orleans and Las Vegas.

0811 7pm. Harlem, New York. two months later. Myself and the ragtag cosmopolitan bunch who are to be my travelling companions are waiting to be picked up by the GT bus which left Boston this morning. As the nightly miracle of transforming the bus into sardine sleeping quarters is performed. the reality of claustrophobic, communal living hits home, as does the odour of smelly feet —- all 84 ofthem! Nod off to sleep in my opium-type bed with

a stranger’s foot in my face wondering where the toilet is (there isn't one) and how much a two week package to Tenerife would have cost.

Day 2 Wake up in the good ’ole Southern state of Virginia. A hearty breakfast in Claytor State Park then blow through the autumnal Blue Ridge Mountains humming The Waltons theme tune. A gas-stop before we head off to Tennessee. Realise we’ve hit the Bible belt when the I Love Jesus badges outnumber copies of The National Enquirer at truck stops. whose headline incidentally was, ‘Eight Of Our Senators Are Aliens’. Give a respectful nod in the direction of Dolly in Nashville and Elvis in Memphis as

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_GREEN Tfiiii'rorse.


we speed into the Great Smoky Mountains. Find a deserted spot to dine in the largest wilderness in the east USA among the bears and hogs. Darkness falls and Georgia and Alabama become a sleepy blur punctuated by late night truck stops inhabited by redneck-baccy-spittin’- hulkin’-truckdrivers.

Day 3 7am, Blackwater State Park, sunny Florida and our first bodily contact with water so far is in one of the world’s ten cleanest creeks. Later we become acquainted with soulless malls called Piggly Wiggly and K-Mart while stocking up on bargain twelve packs of Budweiser. A lightning storm heralds our first taste of adventure a ten mile canoe run down Big Juniper Creek. Novices like my friend and myself crash, capsize and scream in our aluminium mean-machine before reaching camp hours later. jelly-legged. Hallucinate Woodstock revisited under the stars as a girl bedecked in bandana and tiedye stn'kes up Stairway To Heaven round the campfire. Curled up in my sleeping-bag outdoors this vision soon disperses and is replaced by the nagging thought of roaming coyotes and the regular splat of bem'es dropping from the trees above.

Day 4 Flexibility is a GT trait so without warning the scheduled wrestle with alligators is dropped in favour of an easy-osey day in the white dunes and crystal waters of Pensacola beach. Begin to forget about that Tenerife holiday and slip into the happy hippy lifestyle.

Day 5 An all-night dn've ends in the Paris of America, New Orleans. We have twenty hours to stuff ourselves on waffles, gumbo and jambalaya, wander through the Creole architecture of the French Quarter, cruise down the dirty. yellow Mississippi. scare ourselves silly with voodoo and psychics. witness an unoriginal tranvestite show. gulp down infamous Hurricane cocktails. totter in and out of the jumpin’ jazz joints of Bourbon Street before winding our happy and unsteady way back to the bus and out of N‘Awlins.

Day 6 The Lone Star state of Texas is crossed in a whirl of Cheetos, frozen yoghurt. cookies and Bud as we gaze at the fleeting billboards breaking up the highway: everything from ‘Vasectomy Reversal Phone Now’ to ‘Voter Registration’. A day of chatting. snoozing and marathon card games. The vastness of this continent is

The Green Tortoise but

becoming apparent as we drive continuosly for fifteen hours and are still in the same state. Make a brief but welcome swim and eat stop somewhere between Houston and San Antonio, then it's back on the bus Gus and no sleep till we reach Big Bend National Park tomorrow morning.

Day 7 Despite being impressed by the size and age (l00 million years). of this park on the border of Mexico. I was less impressed by its inhabitants: tarantulas. snakes and panthers. However. a few hours skinny-dipping in the fast-flowing Rio Grande. slobbing in the natural hot springs and the ultimate all over body mudpack convinced me I could cope with the wildlife. The afternoon schedule was a chance to relive all those John Wayne movies: horse-riding through real Marlboro country on my trusty steed Shorty. Accompanied by our stetsoned cowboys. Budd and Chad. ‘y'all have a good time y’hear‘, we rode proud and high in the saddle. buzzards overhead, the 90 degree sun beating down. My cowboy fantasy come true. Got the essential twelve pack Lone Star (‘The Beer of Texas’) to party with the eastbound GT bus and fell asleep outdoors gazing at the Milky Way.

Day 8 Another beach day on the fly- infested banks of the rocky Rio Grande. with the option of wading across to an unpatrolled Mexican shantytown. Eat a very spicy meal in San Elena in a restaurant which doubled as a householder‘s livingroom. Noted chickens pecking on flowing sewage in the backyard and thanked my stars I‘d opted for the vegetarian dish. Furnbled. tripped and sang our way back to the bus in darkness. Not one of the more inspiring days.

Day 9 6am and we’ve whizzed out of the Lone Star state (at last) and into The Land of Enchantment. New Mexico. Spend a geological morning

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entranced by the underground palace of the Carlsbad Caverns. Walk for hours in a twilight zone of weird and wonderful popcorn shaped stalactites and mites as if imported straight from a Hollywood sci-fr set. (Fun fact the orange groves in California owe their fertility to the millions of tons of bat guano produced by the 250.000 bats who inhabit the cavern). Zoom past miles of flat scrubland broken only by telegraph poles and Wild West supply stores. that is until the brakes seize up and we have an improvised stir-fry and disco by the roadside. Note an absence of inhibitions regarding toilet habits as ten Tortoisers squat in a layby in the full glare ofoncoming traffic.

‘The reality of claustrophoblc, communal living hits home, as does the odour of smelly

feet - all 84 of them!’

Day 10 Perched high on a monolithic rock and dating back to l150 is the ‘Oldest Continuously lnhabited City In The United States’. Welcome to Acoma Sky City, New Mexico. A slightly disappointing and crass tour ensues with robotic commentary from a similarly robotic guide who extols the bargain prices of pottery, corn and cherry pies pressed upon us at every village comer. More memorable were the cards advertising the I990 Miss America Swimsuit Competition‘ with contestants sporting fur coats over bikinis. Still in historical mode we head for Chaco Canyon, homeland to the 9th century ruins of the advanced Anasazi Indians. Due to its remote setting the Canyon is one of the world’s hot spots for stargazing. however we couldn't stay as the Grand Canyon is waiting. Day 11 A prime example of the earth’s

72 The List l6-29 July I993