USA Road Trip - packing up in Oklahoma to return home
Some reflections as we pack up to fly back to South Africa
Week 26: GOODBYE TO USA-HELLO RSA!-What about the sandals?
The last few days have been cold, I mean really COLD! Maximum temperature today in Woodward, Oklahoma was 22 degrees Fahrenheit (well below freezing). When I poured water out of our water bottles from Matilda the water froze on the grass and if I did not pour fast enough it actually froze in the bottle! Had a golf game scheduled for 11.00 but at 10.00 came to my senses and cancelled (Just a “fair-weather golfer, that’s what Audrey says!). It is predicted that tomorrow will be even colder with the possibility of rain, ice and snow.
Audrey, Charlie and I finally completed unpacking Matilda and our packing for the return flight on Saturday is well underway and again testing all our resourcefulness. What to leave and what to take? As usual we have collected a heap of ‘things’ (again using the royal “we”). Matilda will be put on sale next week and everything we borrowed from Charlie has been returned. The camping gear has found a good home with Charlie and Joy’s granddaughter, Chandra and her husband, and the rest has become Charlie’s problem, what to keep and what to drop off at the local Charity Shop? It is good to have friends like that.
Need to visit the bank and sort out our finances after Audrey has worked out the details. The debit cards we used worked well. Thanks to the generosity of Charlie and Joy with Matilda and the many people who put us up for various periods of time, we are under budget and we feel really blessed in this.
As we think back about the trip there are so many things that flash through our minds and sometimes it feels like it has all been a dream. At the same time we are astonished by how well everything has gone. The timing has been almost perfect and this is partly due to our planning and partly luck or providence, take your pick, but we believe in the latter.
We have been sorting out the 26 000 odd photos we have taken and I am working on mastering the Photo Shop programme, but it will take a while. Many of the best photos (top 10 in the various categories:Sunsets, Flowers, Scenry, Birds, etc. that became best 20 and then best 30) were taken by Audrey who seems to have a really steady hand and an excellent eye. The week here in Woodward in the cold has given me some time to start the process. Have to delete thousands of photos but it takes time working through all the folders and creating new ones for the ‘keepers’.
The football season is coming to a climax with every game being important as the playoff positions are being vied for. The two games we watched over the weekend were won by one point and in the last minutes. It would have been impossible to have scripted better finishes and more drama. It has been good to watch sport without the pressure of it being South Africa playing. In fact, in some ways, when I read about our national teams recent results we are glad that we have been away!
The film “Invictus” and the World Cup is creating a lot of interest in the U.S.A.and is a great opportunity for our country – really hope we don’t mess it up with the soccer world cup. As I type this an advert for Invictus is on TV and we have read reviews and interviews with the producer and actors in the local press. Not often that South Africa is even mentioned in this country and the movie about the 1994 rugby world cup is a really positive story – I hope the Soccer World Cup will also be a positive influence in uniting the people and getting the country going in a positive direction.
Had hoped to do some final birding this week at the nearby Boiling Springs State Park but the prospects look pretty grim with the weather setting in to remain very cold for the next few days. When we woke up this morning the ground was covered in white. Light rain had been falling and froze into ice as it hit the ground, creating this fairyland like setting, but making driving on the ice covered roads a real problem. It is so bad that I have put my clubs away in the garage and reconciled myself with the fact that my next game will be in South Africa.
It got even colder with temperatures dropping to 4 degrees Fahrenheit (way in the minuses in Centigrade) on Wednesday and some snow falling! These temperatures are low even by NW Oklahoma standards, and especially so early in the winter. For those who lived in London and Iceland this is obviously nothing special, but for us from East London, it is ‘snerpend koud’!(bitterly cold!)
Some facts about the trip while we wait for it to warm up: 1. National Parks and National Preserves visited- 10. State Parks visited and usually camped in- 35. 2. Miles covered- 16 520. 3. States travelled through- 35. 4. Biggest expense – Gasoline ($2198.97). 5. Other major expenses were accommodation and food. 6. Main food supplier was Wall-mart. Fast food (very little) and toilet stops –McDonalds. 7. Birds seen- countless! We managed to identify about 170. (We have been amazed at the huge flocks of birds we have seen, but identifying the many LBJ’s was really difficult and we basically gave up on that as there was so much else to see and do.
Thanks to the hospitality of so many we have come in under budget. Those who put us up were our Christian friends in Ohio (Doward and Lena), and in Oklahoma (Charlie and Joy), Jessie and Errol in Florida. Then the friends of Jessie and Errol in Truckee (Fred and Pam ) and Williams Lake(Lauren and Patti ) and Ivan and Annie in Fort Worth. A young lady in Spokane gave us her campground, paid for as she was leaving early, and Wall-mart provided us with quite a few nights of free accommodation in their car parks. We had 6 or 7 nights free in National Forest camps, one night in a small town’s campground (where they also gave free electric hookup), and one night in a MacDonald “truck-stop”.
Would we have done the trip if we had to make the decision now based on our experiences? YES! Would we have done some things differently? Yes, but not much. Did the time ever drag? No. Did we ever fight or have any serious disagreements? Yes, but nothing ugly, after all when you lock two people into a 5 month road trip with much of the time spent in the confines of a van or tent and both are pretty stubborn (again speaking for himself!!! – Editors comment), you have to enjoy a few crises and disagreements, but a Christian spirit usually prevailed and Audrey must be commended for her patience and even I learned to be more patient. Did we miss our family in S.A.? Yes.
Did we laugh a lot? Yes. Did we see marvelous sights? Yes. Did we have fun? Yes. Were we ever scared? Yes, on the highways and in the big cities as we negotiated the 5 lane high ways or narrow bridges but never while walking around or camping, nor were we scared to leave our car with all our stuff in it. Did we enjoy time spent with friends both new and old? Yes!!! Did we learn a lot about America? Yes. Did we grow spiritually as a result of our daily Bible studies and worship? YES!
Regrets? Yes! Firstly the many places we hoped to visit but had to miss and secondly the many people who we had also hoped to see but could not, due to time and distance restraints. For example our neighbors in East London have been sent to Alabama by the local Mercedes Factory, we would have loved to pop in and see them and also a whole host of others!
The United States of America is a great place to visit and the many tourists that we saw from Europe and the East seemed to all concur. This is mainly due to its diversity and beauty (there is something for everyone) and the excellent infrastructure and friendliness of its people. We fool ourselves in a country like South Africa when we believe that we have so much to offer international tourists when it is only really the opportunity to see the big 5 and the other wild life in our national parks that would be unique. Otherwise we lag far behind in infrastructure, amazing sights and great service. Are there any problems? Undoubtedly, but the people are hard working and proud of their town, state and country and what they have to offer and really try hard to provide the visitor with a good experience.
Is it expensive? Yes, if you have to buy dollars with your rand. However, travelling as we did in a second hand vehicle and staying mainly in State Parks and ‘tent camping’ (as it is referred to with a look of amazement when people actually meet someone who does that) is actually pretty affordable. So if you have the time and some cash, book your flight, buy a second hand van/camper and hit the road, preferably with an open agenda and a spirit of adventure. If you have some friends along the way, so much the better.
Buy a tent and other essential camping gear( if you did not buy a small camper), a copy of Let’s Go U.S.A. (budget edition), a Rand McNally Road map(Wall-mart edition) and don’t forget your camera as you will want to record the sights that will amaze you on a daily basis. Don’t try to do too much on your first trip as distances are great, but that will leave you with many areas to return to, for return you will, after you have had your first taste of this amazing country.
Packing is complete and the bags weighed on Charlie’s bathroom scale, hoping it is reasonably accurate. My biggest decision is should I take my old sandals that I have worn for at least 70% of the time in spite of warnings at various places to not wear ‘open’ shoes because of creepy crawlies. How do you leave behind friends who have faithfully taken you into the rivers of California and Idaho to fish for steel-head trout, up mountain trails in the temperate rain forests of Olympic NP, on the beaches of Oregon, Maine, Florida and Mississippi, into the Swamps of the Everglades, canoeing down the Suwannee River and wading ‘into’ various mud banks to photograph Roseate Spoonbill and Long-billed Curlew. I will slip them into a side pocket of my case and if we are really overweight I will dump them in a bin at the airport with a tear in my eye. The memories however I will take with me.