“Hey y’all!” as we say here in Texas. I’m writing this in Austin before giving a talk at SXSW. I got off the plane and headed straight for the hills for a night in a hammock. Now I am so tired I can bearly tipe or spel.
An Article you’ll Enjoy: I have often recommended the book Paddling North, so I won’t do that today. But if you don’t know of Audrey Sutherland I hope you will enjoy her adventurous gumption, and her list of things that all decent teenagers should be able to accomplish.
A Film to make you Smile: My friend Tem has just been to the South Pole. Looks like he enjoyed himself. (All Tem’s films are superb. I have made films with him around Scotland for the John Muir Trust when we ate 48 packets of crisps in a week, building a raft in Sweden, and a microadventure in Croatia. He’s as talented as he is tall.)
Tickets Still Available: for the Night of Adventure in London next Thursday. All proceeds to charity, as always. I could really use some help in getting a full house!
The Greatest Drug of my Life:finally, here’s something I wrote last time I was in Texas.
I opened out the free map in the hire car. The Colorado River! That sounded a wonderful place to sleep for the night. I ate breakfast in London this morning. Now I needed to find somewhere in America to eat my tea and sleep.
I drove east from the airport for about 20 minutes until I reached the river, pausing just to buy some food and a couple of local beers. Unfortunately, beside the bridge across the famous river there was a large and ugly campground. I would have to find somewhere else to camp.
There were only about 90 minutes until sunset so I needed to make a quick decision. I drove on, turning randomly, but always onto ever smaller, quieter roads.
Soon I crossed another bridge, and stopped the car to investigate. Bridges and rivers are always good places for seeking out wild camp spots, especially in places like Texas where it seemed that virtually everywhere is fenced-off private land.
This looked perfect. A small creek ran through a gully, thick with trees on both sides. At one point the creek spread into a broad, still pool and beside the pool was a small patch of sand. I’d found my bed.
I loved the fact that I had woken that morning in England, eaten breakfast in London, then boarded a plane to somewhere I had never been before. A fairly haphazard sequence of spontaneous decisions on the road had brought me now to this pretty, anonymous little creek.
I relaxed on the sand, watching the light change over the pool as the sun sank behind the trees. Gradually I became aware of music. Country music. Getting louder. Real loud. And now voices. And then, round the corner of the creek, came a canoe with three young guys, three fishing rods, and three bottles of beer. I guess this campsite was not as secluded as I had imagined!
I greeted them in my best English accent – other than the Mexican immigration officer and a Mexican shop keeper, these were the first people I had spoken to in America.
They greeted me cheerfully and we shook hands as they clambered up onto the beach – ‘my beach’ as I had taken to describing it. The beach had been their launch spot for an afternoon’s unsuccessful fishing. They opened more beers, handed me one, lit cigarettes and we began to chat.
They were extremely amused to find an Englishman on ‘their creek’ (as they described it). They found my tale of driving at random from the airport to be amusing and a bit mad. And I loved their Texas accents and the enormous Texas belt buckle one of them sported. They had never met an Englishman before.
They lit a fire and opened more beers. We sat down to chat as the first stars appeared and loud bugs began croaking their evening chorus. If you learn to listen and to ask questions, then people quickly open up to you about their lives.
They were young men, 19 and 20, and about to join the Marines in the autumn. They wanted to travel, to see the world, and “do their patriotic duty”. They told me about politics, religion, race and guns. I had entirely the opposite views to them on all these issues, but that didn’t trouble them. They were very friendly, very polite, very welcoming young men (so long as I was white, straight and kept quiet about liking Obama). We sipped whisky from the bottle and listened to bugs chirruping in the darkness beyond the dancing pool of firelight.
They left me to go home as the full moon rose bright and round above the riverside trees. I piled another log on the fire and settled down to sleep. It was a cold night but I slept well and woke at dawn with mist drifting across the creek and a totally different dawn chorus of birds to the one at home. It was a magical place to wake on my first full day in Texas.
I brewed coffee on the embers then returned to my hire car to search for breakfast.
When I am in foreign countries I love listening to local radio stations. I flicked through the dials through Mexican tunes, cheesy DJ’s – “This hour brought to you by Ultimate Mattress” – and on to some country music.
ran the chorus on an instant favourite song. I wound the windows down as I drove through farmland, past wooden shacks and lone star flags and mailboxes in the front yard. This is the greatest drug of my life, the sweetest addiction I have ever known; the lure of the open road in a place I have never been before.
I pulled over for breakfast at a small wooden taco shack. As I ate my “breakfast taco” (Bacon and Egg with Chilli Sauce in a Taco; revolting), I chatted to the Mexican lady who ran the stall. She had lived in Texas for 40 years but was adamant she was a Mexican, not an American or a Texan. Maria had become a grandmother on Monday and was in a very good mood.
“Three years ago, when I opened this business with my son,” she told me, “we could afford only a dozen eggs and some hot sauce. But just look at us now!”
She spread her arms wide and gestured at her small wooden shack in a gravel carpark next to the road.
“Just look at our business now!” She repeated, with the wonderful optimism of the Great American Dream coursing through her veins.
I wished her well and returned to my car. So far I had met some Obama-hating, gay-hating, racist Texans and a Mexican Texan. I was on my way now to Austin (city slogan: “Keep Austin Weird”), the live music capital of America, to meet what I suspected would be a bunch of outdoorsy, adventurous, liberal hippies. It has been an interesting first 16 hours in Texas.