with a better tent (1971 cross-country trip)

Yeah, I’d Do It Again

(but with a better tent)

By Ed Collins/September, 2010

 

The first time someone asked if

our trip to Ireland was relaxing I

almost said yes, but then I hesitated.

It was and it wasn’t, I said.

The countryside was naturally

beautiful beyond (my) description,

and the bed-and-breakfasts were

comforting, but navigating the narrow

roads was nerve-wracking.

I continued: I think I would’ve been less anxious if the passenger on this road-trip wasn’t always exhaling heavily. Or tapping her glasses on the map. Or yelling. Or hitting the dashboard with her open hand while yelling.

It wasn’t the narrowness of the roads but the ever-present ditch next to it that kept me from enjoying the magnificent views. Despite what the white-knuckled passenger thought, or said, or did, I didn’t take any chances––I crawled around corners, I adhered to my own conservative speed limit, and when confronting another car, I always assumed it was driven by a teenager who’d just been illegally served at his uncle’s pub.

Still, the passenger maintained one eye on the road, one on the map, and, well, one on the passing beauty.

#

When I told Duncan about the trip, I started by describing the left-handed shifting from the right hand seat, and driving on the left side of the one-lane roads built for two, then I told him about the at-first-confounding, but never-to-be-routine approach to Ireland’s roundabouts, and the not-easy-to-decipher signs and arrows (I swear some were placed after the fact) and how the passenger made a cautious or hysterical response to each turn, roundabout, or passing car. I could sense his empathy, but when I told him about the incessant map-tapping, he laughed out loud.

“I’m picturing you in your MG, driving across the country, long hair flowing in the wind, not a care in the world.”

I stared at him before responding. I didn’t recall that I had told him about our 10,200-mile cross-country trip. It was in the fall of 1971. We did it in my MG. I was 24 years-old, my passenger was 21.

“Man, did you get that right,” I finally said.

#

I think about that trip from time to time. It helps that in our den there’s a 16-by-20-inch framed photo of Judy (the heretofor mentioned map-tapping passenger) and me that was taken on a bridge in Cumberland National Park, in Tennessee. Plus, the MG, the same MG, sits like a museum piece in our garage.

#

We try to avoid fellow tourists on our travels, but on the Ireland trip we did encounter a few tour buses (of Germans and French, mostly) at the Cliffs of Moher. With digital cameras in hand, they paraded through en mass, snapping photos at every turn. Many gave the impression that their attention was divided between the sights and their camera––as if the plan was to give it all a good viewing when they got home. Most of these people were pushing or pulling 60. Possibly they were once backpackers, then car-renters, now they opt for the cruise, the tour guide, the little stickers on their chest.

I booked the trip online. That Travelzoo.com listed the agency’s services was all the security I got in giving them my credit card number. But eventually I did speak with someone. A lady explained the details of the flight, the car rental and the (5) lodging vouchers, at B&Bs. Later, the company sent me a directory of places I could choose from, either before or after we got there (after). Accommodations were a far cry from sleeping on the ground 39 years ago (no air mattress, no pad, no pillow). Each of the homes we stayed in was comfortable, clean and  quiet––they were homey. We slept on handsome beds, we ate Irish breakfasts on white tablecloths surrounded by family heirlooms, nicnacks and photos of newlyweds and grandkids.

#

Basically the ’71 trip went like this: desert, cactus; deep river canyons; barren landscape; high-in-the-sky mountain peaks; lush valleys; alpine meadows; open range; tall green grasses, prairie dogs, cattle ranches, river valley; fertile cornfields, Gateway arch; State Street (that great street); maples, elms, hickories and oaks; red barns (behind tidy white farmhouses); leaves of orange and gold and red and purple; a grand waterfall; glassy lakes, American history, 17th century cemeteries; rugged rocky coastline; Madison Avenue and Wall Street; Civil War battlefields; The White House and The Smithsonian; cotton fields, white columned mansions; swamps, marshes and The French Quarter; sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico; sprawling ranches and historic military forts; deep river gorges; home.

#

Compared with the map-tapper’s, my memory pales. Some things just don’t stay in my head. Like some movies and most movie plots. But there are scenes from the 1971 trip that I remember to this day. One was driving in Manhattan. All those people. All those taxis. All those huge buildings. For a few blocks we were flanked by 2 buses, passengers staring down at our topless car. I laughed. We laughed. Neither of us had been to New York City before. Although I had spent a summer in Mexico City (attending summer school), this was something else. We had planned on spending a couple of days there, but we couldn’t find an affordable hotel[1].