By Hook or by Crook I will!

Trip Start May 30, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Minnesota
Monday, October 27, 2008

It was a trip that I hadn't really looked forward to.  In fairness to the trip it was on paper at least a wonderful adventure.  Pinnacles National Monument, The Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon were all included in this package, which were affectively known as the Western Road Runner.  The reason behind my lack of interest were mainly fiscal as well as having enough of travelling student class.  Roughing it was saved for the youth of the day not a mature wise bearded fellow like the Great Barnetto.  Barnetto, had become my alter ego in recent weeks and wanted to be wined and dined with Caviar, ladies, silk stockings and ladies underwear and not the accustomed travel method of vegetarian food and sleeping on buses and camping.  How could I camp and if I did would I meet Camp David?  It was bad enough having a Camp duffel bag - but going camping.  How would I live this one down.  If I went down this route would I follow Mr Burstein in wearing corduroy trousers.  So you see why I had to weigh up the pros and cons of taking this Green Tortoise bus tour.

In all seriousness I was running low on funds whilst I awaited some money to clear from my account.  Concerned about my situation I spoke to the travel agent based at the hostel and showed him a mini-statement which proved funds were indeed in my account.  He wasn't exactly sympathetic to my plight but put a note next to my name.  I told him that for the hostel if they didn't allow me on the trip they would get my 200 dollars deposit, so it was all win win.  It did disappoint me initially, however I refused to get down and continued with my plan of action for the day.  I was going on this adventure by hook or by crook.

And so the morning arrived when the Western Road Runner turned up to pick up its motley crew of urchins, herberts, waifs and strays and other assorted reprobates for this adventure.  I had sometimes found upon my travels that when you're on your own you're allowed to be aloof.  There's plenty of time on a seven day adventure to chat.  As for the immediate, all I wanted was to put my luggage on the bus, pay the driver what money I had ($290) and take my seat.  Then the fun could commence.  Thankfully for me the main driver (Sully) was sympathetic to my predicament and accepted the money I had, In fact he gave me back 20 dollars to use for the day.

After taking care of the administrative and waiver release form, Sully invited us all on the bus.  Yo Western Roadrunner.  By this time I had made the acquaintance of Brooklyn Ed Miller, Mancunian Dani and Australian Sian, so the aloofness hadn't lasted too long.  There were a mixture of cultures and and ages on this trip as people from 19 to 70 mingled intermittently.  Sian took up the mantle of being the early leader, not that it was a sporting contest, although she did pull out a pack of cards and get a group of us together for a game called Arsehole.  An interesting title, which became self explanatory to the United Nations crew that sat around the comfy hippy style bus.  It was a good way to introduce everyone and find out a little bit about them.  As for the game, well lets just say that I was the arsehole.  Something that I wouldn't normally call myself but in the context of this game, I was well and truly that figure.

Unlike other adventures I have had on my travels this was a trip that had a daily structure and one that required a lot of stamina, for that a lot of food would be needed, especially someone like myself who hates to go hungry.  I had feared the worst as the hippy bus and the Green Tortoise philosophy was to give you vegetarian style dishes.  Now I believe that everyone should have the same rights, however not all of us are fucking vegetarians.  Ray Winstone was right when he uttered these immortal words in Scum 'Vegetarians - I've shit em'.  With this thought in mind during the game I was relieved to stop at a Safeways and grab some Pasta, after all who knew when I would be able to grab meat and pasta again.  Stocking up on food early was vital, especially with a visit to Pinnacles National Monument where hiking in the midday sun would be tough - but tougher without my intake of a wheat based substance.  Mr Coward had once again been proved right again with his song 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun'.  Well, this Mad Dog and Englishman was prepared, so up yours Noel!

By the time we had arrived at our first stop, I had chatted freely with a fair amount of the 19 sods on the bus.  I felt early on that there was a great bunch of people here and that my early concerns about how I would fair evaporated.  What though became apparent was how I would recollect my blog and the trials and tribulations that would follow.  I had been on the road for almost five months and had felt an ease about this and as I knew my character I thought that would get me through if all else fails - like lack of sleep, but as I mentioned trying to pen my thoughts early on was one that I was weary of.  Another example of Frankenstein's monster in keeping a blog for all those fans of mine in the UK and the US of A.

Pinnacles National Monument was cracking and this six-mile round trip hike was  energetic and enjoyable.  However, it was not the beautiful scenery that I will remember Pinnacles for, or the Caves that followed after the hike, oh no it was a conversation I had with Bjorn.  Whilst back in San Francisco, Bjorn had introduced himself to a couple of girls from Sweden.  Are you Swedish they asked, from which Bjorn, said no, I'm from Switzerland.  This confused the teenage girls, who then replied so why do you have a Swedish name.  Bjorn, not being short of words said 'Because my father likes Sweden'.  This 22 year old with the laid back approach and designer beard had with that answer been earmarked in my book as a character.  I was not wrong and as I took a leak in the toilet Bjorn let out a trumpet trouser classic that bounced off the walls.  I replied 'better out than in mate'.  Bjorn found these words very wise and told me that I should have a different wisdom for every day.  Talk about being put under pressure early on in my trip.  Why, oh why did it happen to me.  Wherever I go I seem to be the wisdom maker with thought of the day or some shit like that.  And now for one week only, the Great Barnetto would have to weave his magic once again.  Cheers Bjorn.

After completing our adventure there, the bus moved on and set up camp for our evening meal - which was pasta.  Oh well, that's life, not that I was complaining as I tucked in to this veggie style dish, which was very tasty.  Top marks to the veggie posse.  By this time I felt that I had shown my character and as I sat around the table I found myself telling stories and other assorted nonsense that seemed to please my audience of three.  Vegas could wait for another day - Tuesday.  Hey, maybe being a hippy minus the hair would be good, as long as there wasn't a camp fire in sight that was.

The first evening had come to a close and the three Australians, three Brits, one Swiss, five Germans, two Swedes, one Italian, two Czechs, one American, one French-Canadian an Israeli and a partridge in a pair tree had bonded well and all that was needed now was for Sully and Aaron to perform the miracle and transform the bus into the sleeping quarters.  This was the bit that I had feared because apart from the Green Tortoise hostel I hadn't enjoyed much sleep in these establishments.  My fears were realised, partly which were my fault as my sleeping sack, which was designed for hot conditions wasn't quite warm enough, although that wasn't the real reason why I didn't get the required amount of sleep.  19 bodies on a moving bus can be cramped, and on this night I had someone roll into us whilst Ed became the first Tourettes sleeper I have ever encountered and was often heard in his sleep saying in that wonderful Brooklyn accent 'Fuck you motherfucker'.  Initially, I thought maybe it was one of my farts that had crept out after all the pasta I'd eaten but when I wasn't making tunes from my backside, Ed was still swearing and rolling into me.  This 55 year old was certainly a character.  No sleep till Brooklyn, well not for me anyway.

Driving through the night on the bumpy roads with my eyelids closed  but without sleep was tough, especially some of those bumps, let alone trying to get to the back of the bus and the toilet without stepping on heads and bodies.  This was successful and just as I appeared to drift off the driver turned up the volume on the stereo because we had arrived at Joshua Tree - for sunrise.  Great place to be for sunrise - but not without sleep.  Still, there was nothing I could do about except scratch my nuts open my eyes and get off the bus.  My first impression as I stepped off the vehicle was that this large deserted Mojave area was pretty impressive.  Thankfully no one started singing U2 songs as we ate breakfast, otherwise that would have sullied my time here especially with Bono being an arsehole of the finest degree.  I was here to pay homage to the late great Gram Parsons whose body was stolen and incinerated at this site.  Maybe I would find the exact spot but there would be no bullet the blue sky sung in this area.

The landscape of this site was one of beauty and the rocks and trees that made up this region were breathtaking.  Having given my daily wisdom to Bjorn I was now much in demand and pictures of me posing on the rocks in a preaching manner were taken.  In all truthfulness the wise words were those of Archer from the film Scum.  'It takes 60 muscles to frown and only 13 to smile - so why waste energy'.  How could you not smile in a place like this where space and sunshine descended on the natural beauty that is life.  Humans are so obsessed with filling up space with eyesore buildings, so anytime freedom comes along we try and spoil it, well this site thankfully was free from human destruction and the morning hike was all the better for it.  During this hike, which I think was called Hidden Valley I hung out with the Israeli Amos. Amos was a really fun guy to be around and seemed to like my wit and my use of words, which by the end of the week would have me teach him how to speak with Liverpudlian accent.  Don't give up your day job Amos!

Maybe I had become blinded by the vast array of wide opened spaces but whatever it was I seemed to switch off when Sully read the information of the hikes that we were going on.  All I was interested in was walking several miles and building up a sweat and hunger brought on by the hike.  Strenuous exercise is always good in my book, especially when the prize is getting in touch with nature.  As a result of this I couldn't remember some of the names of the hikes that I went on, but names become irrelevant when beautiful scenery stretches for miles and makes you leave reality far behind.

One of the things that I also achieved at this national park was grabbing some time to myself to soak it all in.  We were going to be here for two days, so whilst it would be good to get to know more people over the evening camp fire there would be occasions where I could sit down write some words and look out towards the sun before the sunset had ended the day's pursuits.  The camp fire that was had was absolutely hilarious, and at one stage Sully upon hearing all the useless factual information that was coming out of the group called us the Geek Squad.  Yo Western Runner Geek Squad.  The only sad thing about this evening of beer drinking and chewing the fat was that everyone fucked off early onto the bus.  Sleeping outside had not been an option as the temperature dipped and a cold chill ensued, however that said the night was early and the only sods still chatting and drinking at about 10 were Dani, Ed, Aussie Stu and myself.  Eventually we followed the crowd onto the bus and were greeted with bodies that left us no space to sleep.  Moving bodies to create space was achieved but the snoring that was going on by the Canadian Patrick was deafening and spelled disaster in terms of sleeping.  Dani, Amos, myself and Ed were giggling at this trait that our French-Canadian was displaying.  Farting and blowing my nose at a high decibel was tried but Patrick continued to display his talents in withstanding my onslaught and slept right through, which was more than I did as I had to contend with Patrick, Dani's fidgeting and general clumsiness, this coupled with Ed's rhinoceros snoring meant that in future I would be sleeping at the back of the bus far from the twilight zone of sleepers corner.

During the time spent at the Joshua Tree I had the pleasure of hiking but of also seeing a Tarantula for the first time.  I felt sorry for this slow moving creature as everyone photographed him as he walked around the sunshrined place.  This tarantula had a leg missing so didn't have long to go, but it was nice to see a big spider up close and personal.  It was the only non-human creature I saw at Joshua Tree National Park, which was a shame as several species of birds, roadrunners, lizards are found in this region.  Maybe next time on my return would I get to see these other creatures in the flesh.

The first few days of hiking and taking in the wonderful deserted land had flown by, now it was a chance to grab a break from hiking and head to Las Vegas for an evening of entertainment in this glitzy city.  Marriage was an option in the short amount of time we were going to have there, then again I don't think Claire would be very impressed if I turned up at hers the week after with a bride in tow.  I had hoped to go to Vegas one day to take in a fight and spend a few hundred dollars on the gambling tables, alas this was not going to be the trip to achieve that.  From Joshua Tree the journey was about five hours, so there was plenty of time to chat on the bus.  And chat on the bus I did to the wonderfully interesting German woman,
Hedda.  Hedda had lived in American since 1960 and had an interesting
life both in America and Germany, all of which she recollected with
me.  Hedda's story of her time in England in 1952 was one that she told
with a fondness about how friendly the English were to her and her
hiking group that were on a trip to Bolton.  Hedda also praised my
happiness and zest for life and said that I would make a good father
and should have at least six children.  I won't hold my breath on that
one though.  The funny thing about going to Vegas was we were going to be the unhealthiest group of people there, as we hadn't showered since Sunday.  Oh well, there would always be another day to shower and look pristine but this was a hiking trip - so who cared.

As for Vegas itself it was nothing to write home about and did exactly what it said on the tin.  I wanted to have some food, drink some beer and have a gamble in a tacky place that brought tacky to the level you'd expect from Las Vegas.  If you liked Cher, Elton John or Bette Middler then Vegas was your place, however if you didn't and have only six hours and you're hungry then your options become rather limited.  I had thought that a big crowd of us would hang out together, however upon taking a piss only Ed, Stu, Robert the German (there was also an Australian called Robert) and myself were left so we wandered the streets looking at the lights and seeing where we would have food and do that spot of drinking and light gambling.  All of this was achieved and I managed to come up a few bucks up, although my gambling was reserved for the machines and then that was boring, but hey I could say I'd been to Vegas; but I wouldn't exactly recommend it unless you were looking for a quick and easy wedding.  It was absolutely packed though and it was only a Tuesday, so I'd hate to be there on a busy day!

By the time we had returned to the coach our group had expanded by two as a Kiwi couple (Andrew and Brie) had joined us for the remainder of the trip and the star attraction - the Grand Canyon.  Here would be an opportunity to hike and grab that much needed shower and have that chance to change my spot-welded underpants for the first time in three days.  Whoopee!

So once again we were on the road again, however unlike the previous two nights this time I slept pretty sound as I found a spot in between the notorious snorer Patrick.  Thankfully for me he didn't snore too much and before I knew it we had arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park.  It was great just to be in the car park of this marvellous site.  Mr Roosevelt certainly did a wonderful thing when he made all these great sites into national parks. 

When I set off on my adventure in late May one of the these things I had to see was the Grand Canyon, it was in all sole and purpose the main reason for my inclusion on this bus tour, as it was for Ed who had lived in Arizona for six months 30 years before and had never visited this monumental landmark.  With the excitement of being here I listened as Sully explained some of the hikes we could take.  Unfortunately we wouldn't be able to make it to the bottom of this seven mile hike because we would also have to return up the hill and 14 miles in the heat of the desert in a single day would probably near kill us - as it had done to several ill prepared people.  That said the options of walking round the North Rim and taking in all the views was an option, however the South Kaibab Trailhead was the one that the majority of us were interested in and my posse of Ed, Amos, Robert the German and Stu set off for this trail.  Although Ed stopped early on, the rest of us carried on and Amos and I even survived a mule farting in front of our faces.  I suppose that was revenge for all the damage I had inflicted on people over the years.  Take one beautiful landscape and a mule and allow it to fart in your general direction.  Priceless.

Walking down this fairly narrow trail was breathtaking as the views and the total karma felt was one that rendered it unique.  The Grand Canyon is a site that does live up to its billing.  My group walked down the furthest, however as we were strapped for time we didn't quite make it down to the Colorado River, which was what we wanted to achieve, that said though it was pretty special.  Amos was always telling me off for getting too close to the edge, however for me that was where the buzz was at as I often sat on the edge of this landmark and soaked in the atmosphere.  We had to take a couple of breaks, especially as we had walked down three and a half miles and needed our energy as we made the trek back up to the top.  Funny thing was that it didn't take us too long to get back up, which meant we possibly could have hiked a further hour. In the race for the top Amos was an early leader but as I commentated on the race he fell by the wayside and the elder statesman Barnetto romped home to a deserved victory over the Himalayan climber.

It was a slight shame that we had only a day here because to be able to say that you made it to the bottom and then climbed back up to the top after an overnight stay would be one to tell the grandkids, still I have been here and that's good enough for me.

This trip had certainly been one to remember thus far and would be one that I would repeat as the Green Tortoise run bus trips work for the traveller that doesn't mind staying on a bus helping prepare food and living in a style that renders creature comforts redundant.  This was a real turnaround from my initial reaction of travelling student class.

All that was left on the adventure was a visit to Death Valley and a drive along Big Sur.  Death Valley was unique because it was the lowest place on earth and once again lived up to all the hype surrounding it.  The hikes that we went on in our two day stay were excellent and as with keeping with this trip it gave me a chance to get to know the newcomers Brie and Andrew.  These Kiwi's who would be travelling to the UK in March were a cool couple and I enjoyed their company.  Brie's name was appropriate, well at least for me because as the weather had grown hotter I stopped wearing jeans and wore my three quarter length combats with trainers and no socks.  And as with some variations of Brie cheese - it stinks.  My feet as a result of the no sock policy left me with smelly feet that even I was ashamed of.  It reached such proportions that I was sent off the bus in the dark whilst I retrieved a pair of socks to put on and cover up the horrendous smell that had emanated from my plates of meat.

However, the real excitement for me was seeing the sand dunes.  I didn't know until that point how much I actually liked sand.  I had seen quite a few beaches in my time but seeing this magnificent site thrilled me to my boots, although if I was wearing boots then I wouldn't have had the smelly feet that my Adidas trainers had given me.  Well, that was my excuse and I was sticking to it.  These hills of sand were made all the better due to the impressive sun that shone on them.  I was like a little kid with a bundle of energy that quite where it came from who knew.  Unlike other people who walked along in a straight fashion, I ran like Billy Whizz up and down and around.  Maybe the banana that I had previously eaten had extra speed in it because I was literally running up these hills of sand as my adoring public looked on in earnest.  It was a great occasion for me and as people approached I moved on and found my own place in the sun where I could be free and enjoy the time and space to myself. 

The adventure had brought out the best in me and one where I felt I met characters who I would keep in contact with and see again in either their respective countries, or if they took the plunge and traveled to London.  From the excellent Ed who I talked music and drunk several beers with to the 19 year old English girl Danicka who came from Tunbridge Wells, which despite that was fun to hang around with.  Danicka took more pictures than my mother, so much so that I thought she must be Jewish!  Australian Rob who gave us a scientific fact on a daily basis and talked animation was also interesting as were the three romances that occurred during this momentous week.  24 people on a bus for a week could on paper be tricky, however there were so many good people that I find it hard to recollect all the moments that I shared with the bulk of the people.  The camaraderie continued right to the end, even when we  stopped for a tyre change after the bus hit a boulder and punctured the tyre.  Here as we waited I started a game of throwing a stone at a tree, which whilst I continually missed, others who came on board hit the target.  A final stop at an old haunt of mine, Monterey and the British Bulldog pub was had before we took the short trip back to San Francisco and the Green Tortoise hostel.  The journey was not quite over as we drunk the night away until the early hours and then in a puff of smoke I was gone and on a plane to Minneapolis.  The Green Tortoise bus may have ridden off into the sunset without me but in spirit it would always be there.  Go Green Tortoise!

Stay cool won't you.
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