BLOG_005: ADOPT A HIGHWAY

The Badlands of South Dakota to Alaska

By Sam Rowe

This stretch of roads covered around 3000 miles and over 50 hours of driving. I should start with a disclaimer that my writing is not for everyone. So if you are the type to be annually retentive about spelling and grammar then I suggest redirecting your moose to close the page and save yourself the pain of reading on ;) I have tried to capture life on the road in a poem and have also included some short stories from our adventures. 

Dan was behind the wheel, no doubt demanding justification for some minor decision. On the spare of the moment he decided that it was time to put Richie’s precious Land Rover through some off-roading. He slowed up and swerved us off the road onto an unmarked gravel track. We followed the track for a few hundred yards alongside a wide expanse of water, the road then petered out. There was a sense of elation in our wary group, as we bounced back and forth through the long grass and found our way around thick clumps of shrubbery. We soon abandoned our normal seats with Dan running ahead to find a suitable route for Richie. I took up what would become my favourite perch on-top of the roof. From here I bounced around clinging onto bags and jerry cans as we found our way up a random hill. After we stopped to admire the view and enjoy a quintessential American snack of coke and jerky, I took my first go at off-roading. As a country boy I quickly took to interpreting the lie of the land and navigated us back towards the road through more thickets of trees and a small stream. Just before reaching the road I stopped the car as we came face to face with a steep bank, I scrambled up it on foot and wandered if it was driveable. The first attempt came to a sudden end as the wheels span on the long grass and the vehicle slid back down the slope. On round two I took a run-up and used low range with diff lock. With sweaty palms Richie and Dan watched nervously as the wheels sent tufts of grass flying and the vehicle leapt and lurched its way up and over the bank. Then a nervous but elated Richie jumped into the passenger seat slamming the door behind him. He stated for the 18th time “I can’t believe this is really happening”. 

That night we arrived late in a small town near to the Yellowstone National park. Too tired to cook we found a pleasant empty bar for beer and pizza. I slumped on the bar exhausted and dosed, my ears picked up as the boys were informed by a friendly barman that snow had arrived early this year. All but 2 of the mountain roads into the park were likely to be closed by the morning (due to heavy snow). We absorbed numerous tips about driving in snow (including using cat litter if stuck on ice) and took directions to the nearest garage to buy winter gloves. The next morning we woke at dawn in a stunning riverside campsite, I was delighted to see a deep pool in a bend in the river. It was hidden from the road by thickets of birch and maple covered in golden autumn leaves. I decided to try the water. After plunging into the ice cold water rapidly swimming back to the bank for a very quick wash.  Dan and Richie’s competitive streaks soon drove their pale shrieking bodies into the clear water. I took note that competitive edge should be taken advantage of as we headed further north (A week later they cursed me loudly as I struggled to break the ice for another wild swim).

That night we edged our way around a dark forest campsite with roads covered in 3 inches of soft fresh snow. Above us the pine and spruce trees lay heavy with fresh snow. As I scouted around for a sheltered fire pit I nudged a branch displacing a cascade of soft powder onto my hat and down my back. We delegated roles quickly with Dan and Richie setting up the roof tent whilst I started working on a fire and a meal consisting of cowboy beans and rice (a camp favourite). Fortunately we had a small supply of dry firewood and I cut small dead pine branches from the trees for kindling. With a dash of petrol the fire-pit was alight and hissing with melting snow, we all huddled around the fire to warm up. After a short while it became obvious we would need more wood, the surrounding woodland had already been cleared by previous campers. I set off into the dark armed with a machete, head torch and bear spray. It took some time before I found a dry standing tree in the dark at a lakes edge. I enjoyed the extra warmth provided by working to fell this before hauling it half a mile through thick woodland to the camp.

Huddled around the fire eating the spicy beans and sipping beer we discussed how this felt like a scene from Bastogne in “band of brothers”. Except we were warm and well prepared. Richie then suggested a sea shanty to keep up our spirits. I felt my throat go a little dry and remembered an embarrassing school incident. I was slightly rattled by the childhood memory of singing out of tune with a breaking voice on the first day at a new school, I silently reached for the whisky bottle. Dan quickly reassured me that I would be fine before handing me the words to “a drop of Nelsons blood”. I took an extra swig of whisky from the bottle for good measure before reluctantly singing along (completely out of tune). After all another dram of whisky never did us any harm.

We set alarms early the next morning and rose from our cosy lair to a snowy scene. After porridge we set out for a “short” walk. Before leaving I debated putting together a small survival kit and snacks. This suggestion was refuted by a risk averse Dan before we headed off into the snow. Before leaving I snatched a compass and a bag full of seeds from my bag. We would be grateful for both of these before the end of what turned into a long 10 mile trek through the snow. The highlight of this being two bald eagles perched on trees overlooking a stunning river. As we returned to the car hours later we all vowed never again would we go hiking without adequate provisions. 

Two hours later in Teton National park we took another spontaneous self-directed safari. We were followed by an American couple in a truck who assumed we knew a route. Once again I clambered onto the Land Rovers roof. This time doing it by scrambling up through a window from the moving vehicle. Unfortunately the couple have refused to send us the video of this due to its commentary (presumably not wanting my head to swell from comments of how nimbly I performed the manoeuvre). I enjoyed taking in the crisp mountain scenery. Clinging to the roof rack, I was thrown back and forth and an icy craft ale was passed up to me. Eventually my hands went blue and a retreat to the relative ‘warmth’ of the Land Rover was needed to warm up.

 

Driving back through the park we had our first bear encounter. For those of you not familiar with bears they are considered a big deal. Especially in these parks where they have been fed by humans before so will approach and invade campsites. This is so problematic that bear proof containers are provided at each campsite and most people carry bear spray (essentially bear MACE). Our bear encounter was on a park road so the first sign as with much of the wildlife attractions was in the form of large numbers of cars pulled off the road.

 

We parked at the roadside and joined the small crowd of camera wielding tourists for a better view. Soon there was a flurry of excitement as the small black bear found his way around a small lake and onto the road. We retreating into the land rover giving us a closer view as it passed.  The tourists were pushed back up the road by a nervous looking park volunteer. As the bear ambled along a row of cars a Chinese tourist leapt out from their cover throwing their camera in the air and ran wailing for the thick group of tourists. Fortunately black bears aren’t as attracted to running tourists as Grizzly bears so it carried on its way paying no attention. Presumably a grizzly bear would have put on a more interesting show and followed predatory instincts and given chase to him.

 

With low cloud and more fresh cold snow we didn’t see as much of Yellowstone National Park as we would have liked. But at least as we headed on North through Montana to the border crossing into Alberta we left the snow behind. At our first overnight stop the campsite manager was one of a handful of British immigrants who we met along the way. He told us of how Canada has grabbed him at the end of his military career and he had never looked back on life in the UK. Impressed by the Landy’s Cornish sticker and the nature of the trip he wavered the campground fee, offered us a morning shooting his guns and rejected our offer of cowboy coffee.

 

After a couple of days in Calgary we headed West to Jasper and Banff national parks. The land rover was recognised by many or given waves of appreciation from passers by. From here on in as the trip “quarter master” I observed a trend of increasing whisky consumption in proportion to dropping temperatures. With this my voice grew louder joining in with the nightly Shantyin’. 

This poem is named after the North American system of individuals and organisations adopting or sponsoring stretches of highways. 

 

Adopt a highway

By Sam Rowe

 

It was early in the morning at six,

Overnight the snow had fallen thick,

 

Military sleeping bags had kept us warm,

Giving us some protection from the storm,

 

Dan and Richie’s hands quickly went blue,

Struggling to fold the roof tent in two,

 

Meanwhile hunched over the stove sat I,

Stirring porridge and taking a warming sip of rye,

 

Soon we sat huddled in the land rover,

Wondering if the temperature would go any lower,

 

Onward through the states we passed,

Covering the ground ever so fast,

 

Autumn had quickly passed to winter,

Chopping wood at night I never failed to gain a splinter,

 

Bison, bears, eagles, elk, moose and deer,

Passed us by without a sliver of fear,

 

Meanwhile the highways smoothly passed under the wheels,

Long and graceful like a tall woman in heels,

 

Elegant curves between the golden trees,

Corners and dusty tracks that the Landy caressed with ease,

 

Montana, Alberta, BC and Yukon passed by,

A whirlwind of whisky, wildlife and a never-ending starlit sky.

Campgrounds were predominately very good along the way. One particular day stands out though. We had taken a long break for fast-food, suboptimal wifi and repairs to a broken door lock. Standing in the carpark I overhear two middle aged local couples gossiping.  My ears picked up to “he came back, shot two of the dogs and told her to get out of there, kept the kids!”.

Later than night the iOverlander phone app took us to a well reviewed campground a few hours drive up the road. Driving down a small track with fading light, surrounded by autumnal trees we passed a graffiti covered shed, followed by an overturned car. Around the next corner we were faced by a picture that belonged in a war film. At least 5 cars stood overturned, and smashed in. As we looked closer at the scene we noticed dead young puppy still wearing a bright red collar caught our eyes. Filled with a strong sense of unease Dan quickly turned us around and we headed back up the road. I guess we will never know if there was a connection between the gossiping and the dead dog. Richie wrote an appropriate review for the site as we sat surrounded by chip monks at a formal campsite up the road.

 

As the roads continued to wind beneath us, the days passed and we became more accustomed to camping in sub-zero temperatures. Soon we would be in Alaska.

BLOG_004: Where the Buffalo Roam

Combining adventure with research is something that I have been trying to visualise for quite a while now. My experience in research has been one of travel and meeting fantastic people whilst contributing to a research field that I find extremely interesting. This is a fortunate position to be in and it is not something that everyone gets to experience. Why is this not an experience that more people have at the minute? I am not sure I know the answer to that, but I am convinced that it can be. It is all a work in progress, the idea is there and I feel that if it is to work then I had better get on and attempt to do it.

 

My research is mainly in viral hepatitis, particularly hepatitis E virus (HEV). HEV was first discovered by a Russian scientist, Dr Balayan, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s. There was an outbreak of unexplained hepatitis amongst soldiers at a Soviet military camp. As an experiment the good doctor ingested the virus by making a cocktail we shall call a “Brown Russian” or perhaps a “Poo’na Colada”. (I am sure I can do better). As you can imagine this made him very unwell, but the new virus was discovered and called HEV. 

During most of medical school my limited experience of research consisted of sitting in a lecture theatre talking about statistics and looking at databases. This was uninspiring as you can imagine. However, during my third year I was assigned an ambitious project as part of a special study unit with the gastroenterology department at my hospital.

 

As a medical student it is rare that you are given any responsibility and trusted to get on with something. There I was, an inexperienced student on the bottom rung of the ladder, exploring new areas of medicine. I was inspired to push boundaries and explore medicine in a new way. It showed me that you do not have to be a wizened old professor to do this. I had the the right support and guidance from someone willing to give me a chance and who made it fun. Now that I have a little experience I want to see what I can do to offer that support and guidance to other people. I want to try to keep exploring the obscure frontiers of my medical field, to make it easier for people to explore with me, and to explore a few really wild frontiers along the way.

 

Cosmo-poo-litan?

 

The idea of this trip was to combine research with adventure and that anyone can get involved at any stage in their career, just like my experience as a medical student. The plan is to drive a Land Rover Defender from New York to Alaska and then down to Argentina. Along the way we will give a few talks and complete a few research projects. I want to set up new collaborations for research in new places with new people. Above all we plan to have a bit of fun as we go.

 

Iowa was our first research stop. The invitation was to meet the heads of the Hepatology and Gastroenterology research department at Iowa University Teaching Hospital for a “chat”. After that, I was to give a lecture to the department. I had been building this “chat” up in my head for a while. During the two-day drive to Iowa I had burrowed into the back of the landy in the world’s most uncomfortable office. This would not be my first ill prepared talk but I was much more concerned about my upcoming “chat” with a few of the biggest wigs in my field. In the hospital cafeteria Dan waxed on about something while Sam quietly ignored him in favour of a particularly engaging ham and cheese croissant. I was lost in my own world of anxiety. Suddenly I felt cold. Not emotionally cold, not the cool, steely eyed feeling of Rocky before a fight.  Literally cold, on the front of my shirt and in the lap of my beige chinos. For a moment I was puzzled and looked down at the cafeteria table. I had missed said table with my glass and dispensed its contents over my front 8 minutes before one of the more important meetings of my life.

 

The boys were bent over double laughing. Using my laptop, I covered what looked like a childhood nightmare on the first day of school and walked calmly to the entrance of the hospital.  The other members of my nightmarish kindergarten giggled in my wake. Next to the accessible parking I could see my salvation, a solitary shaft of sunlight beaming through the clouds onto the flowerbeds.

 

As I lay awkwardly among to the chrysanthemums watching patients file through the revolving doors, I thought to myself “this is NOT how I imagined this would go”.

 

Thankfully Iowa was unseasonably hot that day in October and, buoyed by my trouser drying success, I strode upstairs to meet my new colleagues a little more like Rocky on the steps of Philadelphia art museum.

The adventure side of things for me started when I realised that due to the delayed shipping of the Landy we might get frozen out of Alaska.  We would have to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time and it would be hard going. After hundreds of long miles through the great plains and a series of impromptu camps in various off road locations we made it to a stunning part of the world in South Dakota, the Badlands.

The Badlands has over 11,000 years of human history filled with Indian wars, legends, gold and ghost towns. The paleo Indians were the first to settle here, they were the mammoth hunters at the end of the ice age. The area was first called “Mako Sica” or “land bad” by the Lakota Indians. It has been home the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Pawnee, Crow and Sioux. They relied heavily on the buffalo herds to see them though the harsh dry conditions of life in the Badlands. In the 1700s the French Canadian fur trappers came to explore calling it "les mauvaises terres a traverser" also meaning “bad lands to travel through”. Over the years many explorers have cut their path through the Badlands. We were just a few more on a long list of people curious to explore this uninviting moonscape.

 

Driving into the Badlands was surreal after a long period of the flat grassland prairies. Being welcomed with an amazing backdrop of sharp mountains shooting their way into a vibrant pink and orange sky was breath taking. As the sun was setting we took a rough track through the valleys to see if we could spot any wildlife. We had no expectations, but there is no better feeling than being on safari in an iconic vehicle that is designed to do it. Seeing buffalo roaming the open plains and hearing the howling of wolves in the distance as the night drew closer was a feeling I will not forget in a hurry. The last time I had been on safari was in South Africa. It was a special experience as we roamed about with an Afrikaans guide in a pristine Series III Land Rover drinking gin and tonic. This time was different because it was my own safari in my very own Land Rover observing wild animals in their habitat.

 

We set up our first proper wild camp in the lowlands, it felt new and we were still getting into the swing of it. As Sam cooked up an epic stew, I set about some maintenance of the Landy, greasing the universal joints and prop shafts (something I had forgotten to do back in Cornwall). As the cooking pot bubbled away, cold beer in hand (a car fridge is a wonder) the time had come to rationalise some of the myriad items hurriedly packed, often in triplicate. Space is at a premium with three in the landy and every item of gear must warrant its position. “The Cull” is a diplomatic process that involves eloquent and vigorous defence of various essentials in order to spare said item from Dan’s insatiable lust for sacrifice. In spite of my efforts, many a useful item found its head on the chopping block… Including two spare chopping blocks.

 

As we three argued our various positions on whisks and barbecue tongs my eyes caught the flash of another pair of eyes in the dark. Out of the shadows briskly strolled a gang of buffalo stepping right through our camp! Dan dropped his beer, Sam leaped up to protect the stew he had invested so much time into and I stood paralysed with fear that the landy would be smashed to bits by a few tons of fur and horns. Thankfully the only casualty of the trampling was the third back up whisk.

 

Waking up at dawn is not something that is usually part of my life at home without good reason. When camping however it is a fantastic experience. Waking up in the Badlands did not disappoint. The sun climbed slowly casting a vivid golden light through the morning mist and drying the dew on the ground. Steep hills rose around us on three sides and an open plain of burnt ochre grasses speckled with trees was revealed before us.

 

This was quite the welcome to sit and have my first coffee of the day, a luxury that I am quite useless without. I cannot usually complete full sentences or contemplate the simplest of tasks.  It had become a regular occurrence at work in Cornwall for a very kind member of the ward staff to present me with my morning fix of caffeine in order to expedite my transition into a functioning member of society. Dan and Sam were yet to learn this.

 

As Sam lazed in the sun catching a few flies I sat sipping around the grounds floating in my “cowboy coffee”. Dan was up to his usual habit of disappearing without a word to hunt for photographs. He usually returns some time later with a photo he is pleased with and a grin, not unlike that found on the face of a spaniel returning with a small animal he has found amongst the hedgerows.

 

From my viewpoint on the bonnet I could see Dan in the trees, stalking quite a large grisly looking male. As Dan approached, the buffalo took a few steps back looking at him as he did so. I could hear the faint click of the camera. Grisly took a few steps forward towards Dan, suddenly the tables had turned. The stand off had lasted for around 20 seconds. I wondered if Dan had noticed the change in dynamic of this dance. Within a split second this huge animal had set off in the direction of Dan closing the distance between them. Dan was still snapping way as he had not realised what was happening. As the buffalo came within what looked like a few inches Dan suddenly reacted and set off like Usain Bolt towards camp. As he got closer I could see he was as white as a sheet and I could hear the adrenalin shaking his voice.

(Sing-a-poo Sling?)

 

For 12 months I have been stealing 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there to research, organise and hammer this trip into reality. The car, shipping, visas, multi-fuel stoves, high power compressors, artic sleeping bags. There was always something to do and each job was more complicated to complete than one would first think. The romantic delusion of living on an adventure, full-time, seemed so distant.

 

As I sat on a toughened polymer utility box looking out on the adventure I was never confident would happen, I said to the boys, perhaps for the 13th time “I cannot believe we are here doing this now!”. The dream was real and the dream, it turns out, was hairy cows and hills.

 

“Moscow Stool”, that’s it! I knew I would get there.

Blog_003: Oh what a wonderful Town

The rain poured out of a misty, neon flecked night sky as we scuttled between doorways trying to flag our first New York cab driver. When we found our man he was polite and quiet instead of the garrulous stereotype I had been hoping for. Nevertheless he brought us to our destination in Williamsburg without difficulty. Stepping out in front of 239 Banker street we were greeted warmly by Brad, an old acquaintance of Richie’s. 

Brad had generously offered to accommodate the three of us for a few of days in New York. He had not mentioned however that he lived in the newly gentrified and bustling hipster enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Bags deposited, our fatigue still masked by coffee and jet lag we searched for pizza and beer. The atmosphere in Williamsburg is excellent, on a friday night the streets heave with a heady mix of latino gangs, bikers, and media hipsters. One assumes they have all been brought together by a mutual love of moustaches and tattoos.

239 Banker is perfectly located in this fashionable area. Inside the apartments are clean, white, industrial, if some are in a shoddy state of repair. The sprinkler system is plastered over. The rooms are windowless and hot. The air conditioning units are louder than diesel engines and equally effective at keeping the rooms cool. The tenants of 239 dont care about that though, it’s not why they are there. The former jumper factory towers above the surrounding manufacturing buildings affording the roof space a spectacular view over Brooklyn and across the water the Manhattan skyline sparkles. The tenants at 239 are sociable to say the least. Their enviable roof terrace is the perfect spot for music, sundowners and, for those who make it, sunuppers too. 

Much loved as 239 is now, it has not always been so. The building has a pretty unsavoury recent history. 239 Banker street was abandoned by a knitwear company in 2001. Being an industrial neighbourhood, city planning rules prohibited residential development of the building. In spite of this, some months after the jumper people left, locals began to notice curtains in windows and plants on balconies. It seemed the factory had been converted to lofts without the permission of the city council. The city immediately issued a “stop work” order and the tenants were turfed out, belongings and all. This did not discourage Max Stark, the building’s somewhat notorious landlord, for long. 

Within months the rooms were let out once more. Advertised on Craigslist under pseudonyms such as “the old sweater factory” and “the rustic house”. During the subsequent years a torrent of complaints flowed from tenants of 239 to the city. The heating didn't work, the kitchens were unsafe. The tenants were evacuated a second time when the ground floor was flooded with sewage. Rats strutted about, accommodated by the landlord’s habit of the storing garbage in uninhabited apartments to avoid paying to have it taken away. In response to these complaints the city issued a constant stream of fines to Max Stark. Most of these remain unpaid.

Over the subsequent decade Menachem “Max” Stark continued to build a large property empire in Brooklyn until on the 3rd of January 2014 he was found in a dumpster, suffocated and set on fire. The New York Post lead with this. 

Max Stark, a pious and respected figure in the hasidic orthodox jewish community, an infamous slumlord, owned most of Brooklyn, made millions and owed millions. Stark had high powered friends and many disreputable business associations but in the end he met his maker at the hands of a contractor over an unpaid invoice for only $20,000.

In the snow two men stamped their feet as they waited for Max outside his office. It had been decided to kidnap the unpopular slumlord and force him to pay the money he owed. As Stark stepped out into the whirling sleet “Erskine”, the larger of his two kidnappers leapt on him. Without assistance from his terrified accomplice “Felix” and recorded on CCTV the first attacker wrestled with Stark in the snow for fully five minutes before he stuffed him into the back of the getaway van. Felix started driving while Erskine struggled to bind and duct tape his prisoner. The pair drove to the home of Erskine’s brother “Kendall” to enlist his help. On their arrival Kendall panicked as he looked into the back of the van, “Is that guy alive?”

The three men drove frantically across the city, Stark had been suffocated during the struggle in the back of the van and now they needed to deal with the situation. They drove 40 minutes across the city and threw the body into a dumpster. The men then tried to burn the corpse by pouring drinks bottles filled with petrol over it and setting it alight. 

The story is paraphrased from a complete confession offered by Felix after police suggested during interrogation that his father, a preacher, did not teach him to tell lies.

On Sunday we decided to explore Brooklyn, we went for a run through Williamsburg to the Brooklyn bridge. We picked our way through the Smorgasbord foodfair crowds. A hipster passed us on his fixed gear bike, cycling with no hands and spinning a basketball on his finger as he went. At one point we entered a street cordoned off by police. Inside was a roaring, writhing mass of leather and chrome, a get together of motorcycle and hotrod enthusiasts was in full flow. Our pace quickened noticeably as we trotted through the street. We were certainly not manly enough to be there in our shorts.

Brooklyn bridge spans the Hudson over a mile to link up to Manhattan. Raised above the traffic pedestrians and tourists swarm through a narrow walkway which they share with impetuous New York cyclists. The tourists stifle the flow by stopping to take pictures and wandering distractedly into the cycle lane. Frustrated cyclists hurtle across the undulating walkway narrowly avoiding shanking an oblivious tourist and careering off into the traffic below.

Each cyclist has his own technique for clearing the path ahead. Some cycle slowly and tinkle their bell politely, some say nothing but snort and huff every time someone obstructs their route. My favorite technique was employed by a large man, with a startlingly loud voice, who barked, in a distinctly passive aggressive tone, “HULLO!! HULLO!!” every 10 yards of the 1.2 mile bridge. He didn’t seem to be enjoying his bike ride very much, it is a wonder he doesn’t take the metro.

On Monday we arrived at the docks for the unboxing of the Landy. Perhaps predictably nothing was ready and the container was several miles away in a compound. We stayed in an unpleasant airport hotel near the docks, we watched Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton beat their heads against their respective lecterns in the first presidential debate then returned to the port nextday to try our luck again.

On Tuesday the gods of international freight smiled on us and with a lot of help from Kevin Price (GCT Bayonne),  our mascot was returned to us. Up the road came the container, it was lowered to the ground and cracked open to reveal the landy, a little dusty and full of spiders but majestic nonetheless. With a rasping breath the engine jumped to life and we set off. Shipping, insurance, passports, customs had all been so difficult that we had not allowed ourselves to believe that this moment would come. We were drunk with excitement, the rusted industrial panorama of New Jersey was a golden horizon and the continent beyond it was ours to be explored. For those interested in this sort of thing, the song that poured from our open windows as we exited steel wire gates and rolled onto the road was “All along the watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix.

BLOG_002: you shall not pass

Richie, Sam and I wandered to our gate at Gatwick in plenty of time for our flight to New York. We had stumbled acrossed Alki, an old friend who would unexpectedly be our travel buddy until Brooklyn. The ground staff checked our passports and boarding cards as usual. Today however the gate attendant said something different,

“...and have you booked onward flights?”
— Norwegian Airlines

“No” Richie answered shiftily. We obviously had none as we intended driving out of the country. We had anticipated this problem and were aware that the US visa waiver required presentation of proof of onward travel but had hoped to make some explanations about our intentions and muddle through. The alternative, applying for a traditional tourist visa involved a 6 week wait, was not an option.

An officer of US homeland security was sent for and we stood waiting. we frantically imagined solutions to the problem, online bus ticket purchase to San Diego to Tijuana in the next 5 minutes? None of us mentioning what we all knew. If we were turned away from the plane our trip would be delayed more than 6 weeks. 6 weeks with the landy sitting in a box in New Jersey. 6 weeks closer to winter and Alaska becoming frozen shut. Essentially, the whole trip was in the balance.

A stout american arrived with a proud moustache and the belly that rested neatly on the shiny buckle of his belt.

“So what are you guys wantin’ to do in the US?”
— US customs officer

Richie calmly explained the nature of the trip and our planned mode of departure from the US. I sweated. Mr Moustache frowned, “so you guys are all doctors, do you have any proof of that”

We didn’t.

So, you, whats your speciality? he said, jabbing a finger at Sam, who answered quickly.

“And you!”, the barrel of his finger now pointing in my direction.

His tone made it clear that this was an interrogation and we ought to answer quickly and clearly. We answered the questions whilst doing our best impressions of not being terrorists.

“Well i am gonna let you get on the plane but you may have trouble with immigration at the other side” said Mr Moustache gruffly.

We hadn’t expected a grilling before we even boarded the plane but that hurdle passed we were comfortably back at square one with the immigration officials at JFK airport still to come. We celebrated with a beer.

Eight hours later our nerves were jangling again. We disembarked the aeroplane and walked along conveyor belt corridors to enter a huge room labelled “Immigration” . The room was packed, it looked like the ticket queue at Wimbledon. Some people queueing for visas had tents, cooking gear and food rations, they had clearly been waiting a long time. Those closest to the front stood next the dusty skeleton of a deceased parent from whom they had clearly inherited their admirable position in the queue. Our hearts sank.

We queued and queued and queued, for fully three hours we shuffled like cattle, certainly as nervous. Unpleasant as those three hours were they may have saved our whole trip. When we finally arrived at the desk of an emotionally drained and exhausted imigration official she mumbled a few questions while staring into a point somewhere in the middle distance. Then waved is all through without a hitch. Success! Got away with it. Over the second hurdle we had leapt and giddily we skipped off into the USA.

 

80DW HQ x

Blog_001: Prelude

Thank you for reading our first blog entry.

We have been asked by lots of people to give an idea of our preparation for this expedition and an insight into what we have left to do in the three weeks before departure.

Lets just say there is plenty on our plates including shipping, flights, money, equipment, route planning and all the stuff you do everyday like work. That is part of planning any trip and it is always in the back of your mind that you have more things to do. We are trying to be as relaxed as possible, enjoy the preparation and are getting pretty excited about it all. Amongst the Charlotte of webpages we have a vehicle to prepare.

If you do not bring this car back, I will punch you in the face
— David Jeffery, High Lanes Garage

As Dave laughed I could not help but feel that he was being slightly serious. There is good reason for him to say such a thing. It all started a year ago today when I bought Yolande the Landy:

A 2.5L 200 tdi with 163,000 miles on the clock. My hearing suffered hugely with Yolande and overall I can say she was pretty high maintenance (new radiator, silicon hoses, head gasket, clutch, fuel injection system, fan & much much more) .

Sadly in June we found that the chassis was rotten and full of filler at one very important point...under the back suspension. This was the most disappointed I had been in a very long time, as instantly I knew that the car I had spent so long preparing was not going to be able to do the journey I had dreamed about. The time it would take and the cost of replacing it was going to be too much for my time frame and budget.

Dave and I have only known one another since September, but through spending lots of time at High Lanes and speaking to each other most days on the telephone you would think it had been years. After seeing the colour drain from my face and the realisation that it would take a good while to get another vehicle expedition ready, Dave reluctantly sold me his pride and joy:

Another hurdle was overcome and the trip was back on. Although mechanically I knew we were going to be okay, there was still plenty of work to be done...the roof being the main issue. I sourced one very quickly on Facebook via the Cornwall and Devon Land Rover group. I turned up post nights to a farm in deepest Cornwall and before we had even introduced ourselves the man in front of me said

I’ve seen it all now, driving a Defender in flop flops!
— Nick Searle

 

After a drive in my newly purchased Landy, he was impressed with Dave's handywork. Nick was a great person to meet. He sorted us out with what we needed, was extremely friendly and an interesting person to talk to.

We are now 9 days away from shipping the Landy to New York and as of last night this is where we are up to:

  Probably fine?! Having a roof over your head is overrated anyway

Probably fine?! Having a roof over your head is overrated anyway

After I got a metal splinter in my eye and used all of the eye wash in the workshop, Dave asked me to step away from the power tools. My punishment was to look on at something I was not trusted to do through a tear filled eye. It was like being back at medical school.

80DW HQ x