I awake to the sound of the radio, metal cutting and man talk. It seems the solar installation is well underway, bright and early.
I have the bus to myself for the day. I am beginning to realise just how precious and necessary these moments are to my well-being. I flick on the TV, boil the kettle and settle in for a relaxing day sewing.
Yes, I’ve become a granny.
It’s weird, because I started traveling with an intense push against being (what I consider) lazy. That being – spending time indoors, not working, not learning, feeling like I was taking advantage of the rest of the world by not being in a normal 9-5, rat race life.
However, as I consider my future options, my longer term life, I realise that actually this time is more of a gift. To use it however I wish, because more than likely, this time will never come again. Where, for the most part, I have the ability to sculpt my day.
I’ve begun to notice small things about not being tied down to an average life – apart from a small 2 day bout after coming back from England, I haven’t had a cold or any type of sickness in almost a year and a half; I wake up in the morning not with the sigh and the body tiredness of having to complete another work day, but look forward to ticking things off of my to-do list that I have set; I actively try to fill my time, not feeling that any time away from work just means collapsing on the sofa to watch TV and resting; I have the ability to try new a new work skill without the fear of financial ruin; I have focussed time to try new crafting hobbies that I would never even considered having the energy for and finding that I really derive a sense of pleasure from physically making things; I can cook more than a pizza in an oven or a Weight Watchers meal in the microwave because I don’t feel so knackered from work that I just want to eat as quickly as possible.
While I have been concentrating a lot on the things I have struggled with, I do need to remember to pay homage to the many positives that I can pick out from these travels I’ve had.
And so I sit and enjoy being granny like, piecing together my fabric squares, pinning the material in place, measuring and marking my sewing line, threading my needle and putting in as many straight and small stiches as I can. Within an hour I can hold up my work and see progress, a visible and tangible sign that I have used my time well. It makes me feel that I have achieved.
I pop out every now and then to check on the progress of the project in the bus barn next door. Loops is helping to build brackets for the solar panels to sit on and up on the roof Ken and Putz (that’s his last name, but he’d probably tell you it’s a description of himself too on occasion) are attaching the brackets to the roof and placing the panels on top of them.
This project is the complete opposite of Van’s bus. Van’s installation is as stealthy and smooth as James Bond one-liners, whereas Ken’s bus faces the same clutter on the roof as ours, so his panels are more solid, butch and obvious, more of a Rambo character.
The lads work the whole day through, sun-up to sun down, stopping only for a pizza lunch courtesy of Loops. During lunch I make a social appearance (I really haven’t progressed in my ability of trying to make friends with the ‘wives club’, I feel especially awkward when there are people who already know each other and I’m like ‘Hey, I’m just this random person hanging out at your house because my other half is here, and we have nothing in common and I’m totally Britishly uncomfortable with new people and want to make friends but have no earthly clue how and oh, by the way, I have to offer you a cup of tea although I 100% know you’ll decline and then I’m stuck with what to say next because proper British custom says you must drink my tea and then we’ll talk about the weather’). In addition to all my social angst, I feel even more down because Ken and Tammy have two dogs who I desperately want to make friends with, but they are really nervous and just don’t like me. In particular they have an English Bull Terrier who I really want to cuddle, but it won’t come anywhere near me.
It’s during lunch that Putz announces that Loops and I are invited to a unique event this evening he is seemingly gate crashing. Now, here I need to talk about Putz. Because Putz is a Character. With a capital C.
He is the person who is the life and soul of every party and gathering, will never be found without a story on hand to apply to the conversation and it inevitably involves him doing something risky/crazy/downright stupid and yet surviving where others would surely have perished. He’s loud, can’t complete a sentence without a joke and there’s an 85% chance his words will contain swearing. Overall, he’s a jovial 40-something big kid in a man’s body and a consummate storyteller to boot.
There is, he tells us, a plane rally going on this evening over at the Payson Airport, a 15 minute drive from where we are now. It is a small group of private pilots he knows from his skydiving days (it comes as no surprise that this man routinely threw himself out of a plane), and he has invited himself and us to go and hang out with the group for the evening. A bit random, but OK then.
And so we find ourselves in the approaching dusk, driving out to a tiny airstrip, throwing some firewood over a closed barbed wire gate, making our way to another, coded, pedestrian-only gate and walking across the airfield to join a select group of six or eight people who are having a birthday BBQ for two of the guys, one of whom it turns out is British.
The group is incredibly welcoming, don’t bat an eye at the fact that Loops and I are complete strangers and have even made us burgers to munch, despite the fact they all finished eating ages ago. We spend a very pleasant evening listening to piloting tales, skydiving stories and general chatter (mostly provided by Putz). As the weather turns a bit nippy, a fire is started and we all gather round while Putz regales us with a tale of a questionable gynaecologist in Texas who apparently will sign off eye-health certificates for potential pilots, who are colour blind.
While we sit around the fire, my curiosity gets the better of me. I’ve been hanging on to every word the older British gentleman says, just to hear his very formal, familiar accent, and I’m curious as to what he is doing here in the middle of Arizona so far from home.
He tells me he came here in his younger days for the weather, as being a private pilot in the UK he didn’t get much flying done with all of the rain. He’s been here 30 years now. He voice is a little melancholy as he talks, so I ask him if he ever goes back home, and his face creases in deep thought. He tells me he isn’t sure why he’s still here anymore. He was married, now divorced, and is approaching an age where flying isn’t a priority for him anymore or in terms of health maybe won’t be possible. He lives here on a visa, has never become a citizen because he doesn’t want to have to say an oath to forsake all other citizenships, in otherwards, he doesn’t ever want to renounce or say he isn’t British. But, he tells me, when he goes back to England now, people almost treat him as if he is foreign. His accent hasn’t changed, but his language has, he sticks out as different because of the words he uses. In a way, he’s the mirror image of the problems I face over here. After 30 years here, England, his home country, is more unknown to him than the US. His voice to me sounds devastatingly sad; he is a man who doesn’t know where his home is. He doesn’t seem to fit in either place fully. It really hits me in the heart to listen to him, because his words hit home on my biggest fears. What if I lose my feeling of home? How long does it take before you realise you don’t fit fully in a place? That a place you always thought of as your anchor, one day becomes a strange land to you and you a stranger to it.
Sitting in the middle of a forested airstrip in Arizona, surrounded by strangers, almost 5,000 miles from home; I’ve been given a lot to ponder over.
It’s about this time that marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers are produced – it’s smores time. While I decline one, I watch my British pilot, amazingly for the first time ever, try to make a smore; with plenty of helpful instruction from us all (the first and only time I’ve made one was in Hot Springs on the AT with the Ninja Ducks providing my tutorial). I loved his reaction – “I don’t really see what all the fuss is about.” It just made me want to hug him.
It’s time for us to be rolling on from Payson, and the next day we pull out bound for Flagstaff. We thank our hosts for their hospitality, and chug our way north-east; Loops’ has a full day planned of tourist things he wants to see, starting with Winslow, Arizona.
Now, I’ve made mention of Loop’s musical proclivities before, and for those of you out there with a keen ear, the name Winslow, Arizona may mean something to you and has already set you humming. If you are an Eagles fan, and have heard the song ‘Take it Easy’, you will be familiar with the lyrics….
“Well, I’m a standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me…”
And that’s exactly where we are headed today, to go stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.
The drive today is picture perfect forest, relaxing and pleasant. We leave Payson and drive along Route 87, through the remainder of the Tonto National Forest before blending into the Coconino National Forest. Coconino contains a diverse range of habitats, it covers just over 1.8 million acres and contains the not only the initial pine forest we drive through, but also open grass glades, deciduous forest and then later on nearer Flagstaff, the giant red rock cliffs of Sedona. If you want to come camping and hiking in Arizona, this forest is the place I would recommend.
We chug into Winslow mid-afternoon and Loops bags us a free parking space right next to the First Street Pathway Park. We make some sandwiches for lunch, powering up before we commence our ‘standing’.
For those thinking to come visit Winslow, be aware, all there is to do in this town is stand on a corner for photos, visit the two gift shops, maybe take in a milkshake (I wouldn’t advise it though, ours was far too milky) and then walk the Pathway Park. You’ll be done in an hour or so at most.
Having said that, I enjoyed our brief sojourn. The standing corner in question is well set up, with two bronze statues (of members of the Eagles, I think) and a Ford flatbed truck for you to pose with – just like in the song. In the centre of the crossroads where the corner is, is a large Route 66 symbol, and that’s because the corner is right on the classic Route 66. Wow, two iconic birds with one stone.
We ponced around for photos, browsed the tourist gifts on offer and then headed back towards the bus to stroll the little pathway park that marks three things Winslow would like you to know about it. The first, that it sits on Route 66; the second, that the Sante Fe Railway depot used to be here; and third, that the Anasazi Native Americas were the first people of this area.
The pathway has rhyming signs to point out these accomplishments along with examples of the Sante Fe train carriages and a 50ft (roughly) tall carved wooden totem pole.
All in all, a good pace to break for lunch and have a short wander.
Tourist stop number two is the rather unimaginatively named Meteor Crater. It does what is says on the tin. Just off of the I-40 motorway, about 40 miles east of Flagstaff and about 50,000 years ago, a massive meteor crashed into the earth here and left a rather decent sized hole.
Loops, having previously passed this way some years ago, decides to take me to see the big hole. Now, before you get all ‘well, it’s just a big hole in the ground, so what?’ You have to really see the experience in a larger sense.
Yes, it’s a big hole. In fact, it is 400 feet deep, about a mile wide and three miles circumference were you to walk it. So it is an impressively sized hole. It is actually a very deceptive hole, because when I first glanced out over it, it was hard to take in what I was seeing, it was just a big open space, I needed perspective. Luckily, the people who oversee the crater have thought of this. Down at the bottom of the crater is a regular sized USA flag and a cardboard cut-out of a 6 foot tall astronaut. With your naked eye, you cannot see them unless you know exactly where they are placed, and even then, you can only get a vague sense of a couple of shapes. You have to look through a pair of binoculars in order to see them clearly. This helps put the hole in perspective, it is mind-blowingly huge.
So we have considered size. Next you need to think hard about the how this crater formed. It was created by iron-nickel meteorite, 150 feet across and weighing several hundred thousand tonnes, slamming into the earth at about 26,000 miles an hour. Think for a moment – what that would be like to see? To be within the vicinity where you would see it flashing and roaring through the sky. About the sound and physical vibration of it hitting the ground. Now think about the fact that we float around in space with a huge number of objects that can hit the earth at any time and really, there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it. It makes you feel pretty darn small and powerless.
Here at the crater there is a medium sized museum with exhibits about meteors in space, the crater and others like it around the world, and the excavation of the site (although it was known as a crater, many people assumed it was just an extinct volcano until meteor fragments were found, and in 1902 a geologist explored the site as he thought the meteor was buried underground, not realising it would have disintegrated on impact). There are still signs of the original excavation in the crater and there are pre-set binoculars on the viewing platform that point to five or six different areas of the crater showing this evidence.
So, visiting the crater was neat, but…for an adult ticket you are looking to spend $18 each. Now we were lucky enough to have a military discount which gave us 50% off that price, which we agreed was just about acceptable, but if I’d have spent $18 dollars on it I would have been rather cheesed off, because I don’t feel that it’s worth that cost. Just a warning for you all.
Light is beginning to fade as we head for our evening stop at Camp Navajo Army Depot just past Flagstaff, but with another 30 miles to go we come across the Twin Arrows Casino and decide to call it a night here instead, boondocking in the carpark.
The following morning we pull into Camp Navajo and I am surprised when, for the first time ever, I am asked for my Drivers Licence ID in order to enter the base. I find it interesting not only because in all of the military stops we made, I’ve not once been asked who I am, but also because Camp Navajo is a ghost town and doesn’t strike me as needing to be heavily checked for admittance – in fact, the busiest part of this site is the RV campground.
Pine View RV Park is aptly named. It consists of 14 RV sites in a grassy open area surrounded by pines. It is silent except for the sound of birds. Looking out from the windows gives you a sense of being in nature. I like it. The only thing it is really missing is the ability to go for a hike from here.
It is here that we have decided to make camp but which, after discussion, once again will become a slightly longer stay than we originally thought – Loops is going to try yet again to tinker in the engine compartment to try and work on our issues. While the bus is drivable, we can’t continue to be on the road needing to repeatedly stop, nor be breathing in whatever the smell is that is inside with us.
Flagstaff is going to be the last large town we will see in some time, our plans to head northwards to visit the Grand Canyon and southern Utah place us in more remote areas and with the need to be able to head through mountainous terrain – it’s already been a struggle to get us up here to 7,000 feet – and so we need a reliable bus to take us there.
So for now, we will enjoy the pines. I will see you next time for a trip to Sedona and a mini Bluebird rally, and I promise I’ll try to procrastinate less…