Monday 8th - Friday 12th December. Miami Beach, Florida -> New York City, New York, USA.
Curse this emotional rollercoaster called 'travel'. This last week has been the worst week of my trip so far. Some people say it's best to start at the beginning, so let's do that....
Monday 8th- the day I was to leave Miami. I had the whole trip planned, with relatively equal driving times each day- nothing too stressful- and places to stay each night. I was hoping to spend another night in a treehouse in Brunswick, Georgia, then catch up with David again in Charleston, South Carolina on Tuesday night. Remember, when I stayed in Charleston on the way south, I arrived in town late at night and left early the next morning, not really getting to spend much time with my host at all. Wednesday night was to be a bit of a party in Ocracoke, North Carolina, with Kevin, Rodney and Jeff, then Thursday night I wanted to catch up with my old kibbutz workmate David, in Washington D.C. That would have me and the driveaway car in New York by Friday, with two days to spare before my flight to London. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes seem turn to crap real quickly, don't they?
Someone had shifted the Greyhound terminal. No, I'm serious, they'd really shifted it, and none of the people who worked in the street where it used to be, knew where it had gone to. The only driveaway car I'd found was in Fort Myers, where I'd just come from three days earlier, so I'd have to catch a Greyhound back across Florida to pick up the car- not a Camaro or a BMW Z3 as was available last week, but a poxy little Ford Focus. No offence to any Ford Focus drivers out there, but it just is a poxy car. End of story. By the time I found the Miami Greyhound station, several blocks from where it was supposed to be, I'd missed the bus by five minutes. Nothing for it but to hail a cab and race the bus to the next stop, North Miami terminal. Twenty-six dollars cab fare later, we'd beaten the bus with enough time to spare, for me to make a quick phone call. Before I threw another twenty-five dollars worth of bus fare into the equation, I wanted to confirm that the car was definitely available and ready. Oh, it was available all right, but the driveaway dude was knocking off early that day to coach little league, so I wouldn't be able to pick up the car till the next day. I retreated back into Miami Beach with a rather sour twenty-six dollar taste in my mouth.
That was when a realization hit me. It reminded me of a quote from one of my favourite travel authors, but now that I actually re-read the quote, it isn't exactly what I thought it was...
'A trip has a length, starting before you leave- in planning and longing, and runs out before you come home...... I knew then that my trip had ended right there.... I tried to blow more wind into its sails, but it was limp and lifeless. My trip was over, and ironically, I was only halfway around the world.' Howie Cobb, 'Two Minute Noodle'
Well, my trip was nowhere near over, but this stage of it was all but behind me. Until that day, it felt like my US adventure could last forever. All of a sudden, it had been swept away and it hurt. As excited as I'd been last week about the prospect of moving forward to England and the great beyond, I hadn't prepared myself to say goodbye to the wonderful time I've had here in North America. It hurt bad. I didn't want to spend seven more days waiting for it to be over. Put me out of my misery and get me out of here now. I'd loved the last five months, but in that instant I was over it. I wanted out!
In the midst of this angst, I received an email from Mum, saying how she worries about me and how much alcohol I drink. She'd been reading in my journal about me having a few beers with this host, and a few beers with that one. It makes her sad. Well, anyone who knows me knows I'm not out to make my Mum sad. That really tugged at my heartstrings, and at a time when I was feeling very emotional anyway... well, let's just say that Monday was a bit of a waste of a day. I'm now faced with a decision- either cut down on drinking, or cut down on writing about it!
Tuesday 9th- Six-thirty alarm, bus into Miami, walk to Greyhound which thankfully hadn't been shifted overnight, bus to Fort Myers, three different local buses to get to the driveaway office, two hours sitting at the desk of the driveaway office while the jerk behind the counter wasted time. Then and only then at four o'clock in the afternoon, did I take delivery of my steed, a champagne coloured, embarrassingly underpowered Ford Focus. The drive to Brunswick, according to the driveaway guy, was at least eight and a half hours. I didn't have that much time to spare. I wanted to get to the Hostel In The Forest while everyone was still awake and socializing. What followed was one of the most stressful road trips I've done, hammering that little four cylinder buzzbox as hard as I could get away with, scouring the road ahead for cops. Six hours later, I wheeled into the hostel's long bumpy driveway.
There was a deathly silence over the whole hostel compound. For a moment, I was afraid I'd arrived too late, after bedtime. But no, the residents and guests were having a gathering around a campfire deep in the forest. There was drumming and singing, story telling and poety recitals. When the group saw the chocolates and marshmallows I'd brought, I received an even warmer welcome than usual! My home for that night was the Elmo Hut, a smaller but warmer option than the Honeymoon Hut that I had last time. Where the Honeymoon Hut only had screened windows, this little hut had a large glass window, and what a view to wake up to!
Wednesday 10th- To get the day off to a great start, I overslept by a couple of hours, then proceeded to lock myself out of the car- with the motor running. That really tested my patience, as I jiggled a piece of wire down the edge of the window pane, while being eaten alive by Georgia mosquitos. Today was definitely to be a relaxed drive, not like yesterday's effort. I took off up the coastal route, with the cruise control set on sixty. I resisted the temptation to drive any faster, and stopped to take photos wherever anything looked interesting. A Norweigian/Spanish/American hitchhiker provided an hour or so converstaion until he got out in Charleston.
It was in Charleston that I happened to notice a Kinko's store, and remembered I was well behind with my journal updates. I'd been writing them faithfully, but hadn't had a chance to upload anything since Tallahassee. Kinko's didn't seem to mind me sitting there for a couple of hours and I got caught up with everything, before hitting the road again.
There was no plan anymore. The delay in leaving Florida had screwed up my whole schedule. The only thing left to do was to drive as far as I could. Sometime around midnight, I'd reached Cedar Island, North Carolina, the jump-off point for the Ocracoke ferry. The rain had been intermittent all day, the bursts becoming gradually heavier during the night. Now it was torrential, coming down in sheets. I couldn't have had less visibility if I'd closed my eyes. I rolled the little Ford slowly off the side of the quiet country road and climbed into the back seat to sleep.
Thursday 11th- As I discovered, it's not easy to sleep in the back of a Ford Focus during a tornado! That's right, a bloody tornado whipped through just across the water in Ocracoke last night, destroying boats and upturning trailers, while my little car was buffeted by the wild winds and driving rain. In the morning, a different picture presented itself. Skies were blue and the air was fresh. I caught the ferry across to Ocracoke, excited to have the chance to drop in on Kevin, Jeff and Rodney, even though I wouldn't be able to stay the night. There was still a lot of driving to get done today. Well, I didn't get to catch up with the boys, although while I was at the cafe, I met a few people who knew them. I did talk to Rodney on the phone, and left a big 'G'day' for Kevin and Jeff.
There was still the small matter of that challenge to be taken care of. A lady reader wanted me to visit her childhood sweetheart in Chesapeake and pass on her best wishes to him. He'd responded to my phone call earlier, and we'd arranged to meet at a sports bar in Chesapeake this evening. Reaching Chesapeake before dark was a foregone conclusion, until I got to the northern end of Ocracoke, to discover that last night's tornado had flooded the road. The water was several feet deep, and according to the Sherriff, wasn't likely to recede until tomorrow, if then. I was stuck! The only option was to backtrack, take another ferry- another fifteen bucks- to Swanquarter. This really made things difficult. The ferry didn't leave until after lunch. It'd be a three hour ride to the mainland, and would deposit me a lot further south than I should've been, had I been able to drive through Ocracoke and hop the free ferry to Hatteras. But there was no option. I was now at the mercy of the elements, as people here on the Outer Banks are 365 days a year.
Once the ferry docked in Swanquarter, it was pedal to the metal all the way. The fuel economy of the little four cylinder was woeful as I drove with the throttle wide open, holding the transmission in gear to achieve better control around the tighter corners. I slowed down a little after the State Troopers pulled me over and issued me with a written warning for doing seventy in a fifty zone. *I pointed to the roadside sign that clearly stated 95, but the trooper said that was the highway number, not the speed limit* Oops! By the time I arrived at A.J Gator's sports bar in Chesapeake, my nerves were completely shot. I was over an hour late, and just hoped that the bar staff had relayed my message to Philip. They had. He said that when he'd first turned up, they'd informed him that I was running late, so he left to take care of some errands and had just returned. Cool.
Philip and I talked for an hour or two, over a huge platter of nachos. He was, in his youth, a keen traveller and had done his share of hitchhiking. I'm sure we wouldn't have run short of conversation until morning, but I had to keep moving. The car would have to be delivered to New York fairly early in the morning, to allow time for me to bus back into Manhattan and collect my deposit cheque before the banks closed at three-thirty. There was potentially ten hours' driving remaining. I'd have to drive well into the night, and I was already tired. Richmond, Virginia came and passed, as did Baltimore, Maryland and Washington D.C.
Philadelphia was in my sights. Ten-foot-high feral cats were crossing the motorway up ahead, turning to stare at me with their huge yellow eyes. I hit the brakes suddenly, and figured it was time I got some sleep. Three-thirty in the morning. I'd been on the road for over twenty hours, and my mind was obviously playing tricks on me. The Motel 6 at the next exit promised a room for $38 and although I wouldn't ever consider spending that much normally, I knew when enough was enough. If I wasn't able to stretch out and get at least a few hours of quality sleep, not to mention a hot shower, I'd never make it to New York. So after a total of more than twelve months in the United States over the last eleven years, I finally spent a night in a Motel 6. Hopefully, it won't happen again. Five hours later, I checked out and pointed the car towards New York. This was the home stretch.
Dirty snowdrifts were still visible in shady spots around New York City, in spite of the mild sunny day. I delivered the car to its owner, caught a bus back into Manhattan and sought out the driveaway office on 34th street. The staff there promptly printed me a cheque, as a refund of the three hundred dollar deposit I'd paid in Florida, and I made it to the bank with no more than four minutes to spare before closing time.
This was the end of a horrible nightmare. My head was spinning. I felt ill from four days on the road- the stress of getting here on time, the total lack of sleep, and the diet of chips, peanuts, marshmallows and way too much coffee. The pain in my shoulder was cramping my whole back and neck, and sending bolts of pain down my arm, now as far as my fingertips. There was nothing I wanted more than to escape. The thought of spending the next two nights in New York, while I waited for my flight, was unbearable. Oh, to be in London right now, to throw my arms around Catherine, and curl up in a warm bed and sleep for three days. I caught the subway to JFK airport- an experience that did nothing but reaffirm my desire to get the hell out of the Big Apple- and put my name down on the standby list for tonight's flight. A couple of hours later, I had a confirmed seat, and was on my way to London!