‘Some day I‘d like to see some ofthis country we‘re travelling through.‘ said one half ofthe fugitive couple in They Live By Night. Two decades later in 1969, Peter Fonda. Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper had discovered dope, rock, the road and a preference for male friendship in [Easy Rider. It wasn‘t until 1991 that Thelma Am! Louise finally gave women an equivalent to the male road movie. inspiring them to go out and find their own wild west.

There have always been women globe-trotters and adventurers but they are largely seen as a somewhat eccentric minority. Thelma Am! Louise was responsible for igniting the collective imagination of women who had previously opted for a two~week package in the Mediterranean. Perfecting their tans. flirting with waiters and lying by the pool was the deal. Now they‘re ditching the beaches and discos for desert hot springs and Wild Turkey in one-horse towns.

Adventure without the danger is what these real life runaways crave. Hiring a car, they head for Arizona sunsets and vast desert horizons. With no fixed itinerary or guaranteed arrival times they are free to explore the country with spontaneity.

A trustworthy guide book, a stack of credit cards and enough insurance to bale them out of emergencies were all Sarah, a nurse and Kim, a scientist. needed to indulge in hassle-free fugitive fantasies. ‘We wanted a holiday that would keep mind and body busy. It had to be action-packed with the challenge of doing something a bit risky and on the edge.‘

With only three weeks in which to travel, some pre-planning was necessary. Before leaving the UK. Sarah and Kim booked their first motel room in Los Angeles and organised a hire car. ‘We had the Rough Guide To California and a good road map. btrt neither of us had driven an automatic car on the ‘wrong‘ side of the road.‘ says Kim. ‘Taking Route 101 along the coast from LA to San Francisco is a great way to get a taste for the open road,‘ adds Sarah. ‘I enjoyed the driving immensely. It gave me an incredible feeling of independence and achievement to be breezing along in a fancy car with buttons for everything.‘

Independence and spontaneity were the over-riding sensations described by Dami, a 29-year-old unemployed artist. Her only experience of travelling had involved the packaged variety until she took ajob in a US summer camp in Maine. ‘I literally got rid ofeverything

Born to be wild

All you need is a big, fat, shiny convertible, a month’s supply of your favourite cruising sounds, a map and

a credit card. Queen of the Road Gill Roth explains why a trip across the States is the perfect adventure for girls who wanna have fun. If the Kerouac trail ain’t your trip, there‘s a rundown on the latest backpacker’s bibles opposite; and over the page Kathleen Morgan books up for some vacation

l before I left,‘ she says. ‘I wasn‘t going on holiday l was doing a runner.‘ Summer camp turned out to be a nightmare, but accepting a lift to Mississippi from Christal was the beginning of Dami‘s four month adventure. ‘I picked the right woman,‘ says Dami. ‘Christal was very upfront and a total lifeline. My guide book went in the bin after the first week it was completely irrelevant. The golden rule is say “yes” to everything. I went with the flow. It‘s like networking: you get an introduction and it just snowballs. People I‘d only met for half an hour were offering me places to stay.‘ The drive from LA to San Francisco is relatively short. Taking the scenic route at a leisurely pace. Kim and Sarah had plenty of time to stop whenever the fancy took them. In contrast, Dami and Christal‘s drive from the top to the bottom of the country was anything but leisurely. Surviving on gas station ; coffee and chocolate chip cookies, they left Maine, came down through New England. cut across Delaware and clipped the edge of Maryland and Virginia as they headed south, reaching Mississippi in less than 30 hours. Dami was bowled over by the scenery and changing landscape: ‘The size and scale of America went beyond my expectations. We drove the length of Pennsylvania, which has great natural beauty. but also a massive industrial sprawl. I‘ll never forget coming up over a mountain to see smoke billowing out of huge chimneys and forming vast shapes against a red sunset.‘

‘I was drunk and telt indestructible. Later I was told how foolish I’d been.’

Being impulsive always involves an element of risk, so women travelling alone or in couples need to keep their wits about them and be aware of their surroundings. Drinking alone in an unfamiliar southern town may be potentially dodgy, but according to Dami. it‘s a great way to make things happen. ‘The best party I went to was with people i met in a bar,‘ she says. ‘It was Halloween and there was a bonfire and a little vine-covered shack in the middle of nowhere. We told each other ghost stories and danced to distorted Elvis records on an ancient Dansette. It was so different from anything I‘d do in Britain and with people I‘d normally shy away from.‘

Crater Lake, Washington; chilling out in Arizona; Bell Rock, Sedona, Arizona

As a traveller, Darni had the perfect excuse to behave differently. ‘I felt bold enough to ask a barman where the good night spots were. He pointed to a guy and said he was real nice and he‘d look after me. He took me to a club, gave me a guided tour and drove me around in his truck. Looking back. 1 can‘t believe I did that. It‘s so extreme to walk into a place and lay yourself at the mercy of strangers.‘

Without the constraints of ‘real‘ life it is easy to feel a sense of euphoria, but there‘s a line litre between being impromptu and being plain dumb. Walking is an unusual mode of transport in the US and it is rare to see someone leaving a shopping mall or supermarket on foot, but Dami doesn‘t drive and she had little choice. ‘I was stupid enough to walk along a highway in the middle ofthe night. with no paths, just thick woods on either side. I was drunk and felt indestructible. Later I was told how foolish I‘d been.‘

Sarah and Kim found the excitement of stepping outwith their own environment was partly due to a feeling of anonymity. ‘I went very Scouse,‘ says Sarah. ‘People thought I was oriental so I played on that. My mum always said I have Mongolian blood. so 1 reinvented myself as a Mongolian scouser and they went for it.‘

Not knowing where you will be sleeping each night is one way to maintain a sense ofadventure. Booking ahead is definitely not cool as it is unnecessary there are plenty of motels and hostels where fellow travellers will advise you on the best bars, restaurants and clubs. If you are alone. hostels offer opportunities to

hook up with people who want a companion to share the cost of long

distance driving.

Thelma Ami Louise made roughing it look a whole lot of fun, but after a night of sleeping in the car. Kim and Sarah thought they had done well to find a cheap motel with a swimming pool in Monterey. ‘We were deliriously happy and after a swim we put on clean jeans, lipstick and hit the town. But it was the

, red light district and because we were

walking, everyone thought we were on the game.‘

The image oftwo women travelling in America is now so inextricably linked to The/mu and Louise. it is almost impossible to avoid the label. When Darni and Christal spotted at Memphis bar selling frozen margaritas for a dollar, that was all the enticement they needed. ‘We were slamming these huge drinks down ‘cause we had to be somewhere in a hurry and this guy walks in just as we‘re whacking our glasses on the bar and heading for the door. He takes one look and says: “Shit, when did Thelma and Louise arrive‘?"'

Sarah and Kim realised they were living the myth when they swapped their funky London clothes for jeans and T—shirts. ‘lt was more important to be comfortable than glamorous,‘ says Kim. ‘I wouldn‘t be seen dead wearing a baseball cap at home, but in the heat and glare of the desert it‘s a necessity.‘

You don‘t have to be a fugitive to feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins. Kim and Sarah turned their holiday into an adventure simply because they lived each day to the full. ‘We were constantly changing our environment.‘ says Sarah. ‘One day I‘d be riding bareback through a river pretending l was an Indian in a film. the next I‘d be camping underneath the

so The List 13—26 January 1995