It’s hard to think just how it may have happened, but the end of our year away seems now to be looming large. We’re into the last quarter, almost the final stretch. With around 12 weeks to go, I feel like those days where a return to life at home was unimaginable are starting to be numbered.
In fact, thoughts of home seem to find their way into conversations increasingly often as we motor along in our motorhome. Amy and Oliver discuss what they would like to do to their rooms with relish and ponder what extra-curricula activities they would like to pursue. Oliver asked the other day if I thought there was anywhere in America that would be likely to sell a plastic cricket bat?
Talk of home however is a little too pre-emptive still. A more immediate question was what are we going to do after we drop off the motorhome in three weeks’ time? Where to next? Our trip beyond the USA was always so far off it had been dismissed with a simple ‘then we’ll go south to central or south America until time and money and run out…’ Time it seems is running out, fortunately in equal measure with money.
These thoughts occupied our mind as we made our way up and up and up into the Sierra Nevada mountains towards Lake Tahoe. We were off to visit our friends Ryan and Kami, who we met way back in Vietnam, on Halong Bay. We really like Ryan and Kami. A bit like Andrea and Peter from Canada and Britt and Morten from Denmark we found their company thoroughly enjoyable from the moment we met. We hope they feel the same and we jumped at the invitation to stop by.
Lake Tahoe is a huge lake of gorgeously clear water. It was formed many moons ago when a volcano formed a natural depression which ponded the waters of the Truckee River. Coming from the West, it is approached via the Donner Pass which overlooks Donner Lake. Donner Lake was the sight of a rather gruesome tale back in 1846.
At the time, various family groups were trying to cross the Sierra Nevada into California. One fateful trip saw a whole bunch of them caught short here at Donner Lake by a vicious early winter storm. Most starved to death. A few ate a few of the others, or so the written records would suggest (no archaeological evidence has been found to confirm) in order to survive and overall only a few women and children made it out alive. The real saga was much more drawn out and detailed than that, but you get the gist. I bet they wish they had an V10 powered RV and a highway to drive on.
Ryan and Kami’s place was at Truckee, just a few miles from Tahoe. It is a lovely mountain town, made all the lovelier by the colours of the aspen trees in fall, I mean autumn. Ryan and Kami cooked us dinner (including chocolate fondue for dessert), took us for walks high in the mountains and skimmed rocks with us on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Truckee is a really pretty mountain town like the other villages and ski resorts which call Lake Tahoe home. They have charm and character and ooze well-to-do. Ryan and his son Sage played spot the Bentley or Lamborghini as they drove Oliver and I around. It is, altogether a world apart from many other towns and small cities we have driven through which seem to forsake charm and character in favour of carpark acreage and store footprint size.
On the third day of our visit it was Oliver’s birthday. A special outing was organised down to nearby Reno to ‘Fly High’, a trampoline park. Kami brought Sage and Indy, their kids along, to help Oliver celebrate. Oliver says it was, ‘a whole lot of bouncy fun’. Which it was. Emma and I bounced too, and swung off the high trapeze to fall onto the mats below, and played dodge ball and through ourselves up the American Ninja Warrior style warped walls and climbed all over the monkey bars and roman ring courses. I felt like a ten-year-old again.
Staying in a house for a few days meant access to a television which allowed me to turn on and watch Donald Trump debate Hilary Clinton one evening. It was fascinating stuff. No one we have met in America is happy with the choice of candidates they are being asked to choose between although the choice still seems obvious to me. Amy and Oliver joined me in watching the debate of their own volition and actually stayed tuned for pretty much the full hour and a half.
It stimulated a fair bit of discussion afterwards, though we all agreed it was probably best to keep our opinion on American politics to ourselves. We seem to have travelled through predominantly Republican territory since leaving Seattle. ‘Trump. Pence’ banners have been a common sight whereas I don’t recall seeing a Clinton sign anywhere. In one town Trump banners were accompanied by enthused individuals who waved their views vigorously at the passing traffic. Others signs included in the mix read, ‘Free people have guns. Slaves don’t’.
This sort of thing makes you feel like you really are in the USA. It is a fascinating place. Everything is big. The landscape, the mountains, the cars, the motorhomes, the shops, I mean stores. A big car in Australia would be a Landcruiser, a Hilux or other similar beastie. Parked next to the average American ‘pick-up truck’ these cars just don’t look big at all. It’s like seeing a 747 parked beside an A380. Most pick-ups can tow something like twelve tons and it seems like they comprise every second vehicle on the road.
We left Ryan and Kami’s after three very enjoyable days, headed for highway 395 which runs up and down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We were headed for Yosemite National Park and hoping to come at it from the east across the 9945 feet (3031 metres) Tioga Pass. It was a Tuesday and there was a storm forecast for Thursday which threatened to close the pass for the season.
Highway 395 is a very pretty drive, especially in the fall. Stops to take photos were numerous. I have totally given in to my urge to take photos lately. Scenery here in the US is a large part of the reason for my capitulation. The world continues to astound me and the taking of nice photos is little more than an expression of the powerful hold it has on me and the desire to take a little bit home.
It doesn’t help that Mum has become something of an amateur photographer or that Amy is showing strong signs of being photo obsessed as well. The three of us love little more than sharing our favourite photos from the day before over a coffee each morning – no coffee for Amy though.
In amongst all this, plans for our final 12 weeks have emerged. After we return the motorhome in Las Vegas on 1 November we propose to continue our US adventure for another week, trading the motorhome for something faster and nimbler in order to streak east across the desert in search of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and perhaps a detour via Monument Valley.
After that we’ll hop a flight to LA for a few days at Disney… a payoff for our children who have so patiently, for the most part, accompanied Emma and I as we have sought to walk every path and trail we can find. Disney is to be followed by surfing lessons at Sayulita in Mexico and a couple of week’s snorkelling the coral reefs in Belize before we head north for Christmas with the Canadian relatives and spend our last week in Ottawa with the Douglas-Grants. We will fly home on 5 January, landing in Sydney on 7 January – exactly 365 days after we left.