Pouring with sweat on the outskirts of Dallas, the late Friday afternoon heat utterly oppressive, I was astonished when the lovely lady at Customs & Importation got halfway through reading the lengthy Vehicle Identification Number from under the bonnet, and simply said “oh, that’ll do!”, ticked all the boxes and handed me the necessary forms. It was that easy. As too was registering the vehicle as a Classic Car in Texas, with barely an eyebrow raised. If this seems other worldly, it’s because it is. Not a single person I’d met achieved what I had: buy an Australian vehicle; ship it halfway across the world; drive across two continents; not be killed in the process; import and register in the USA. And yet there I was, passing the last milestone with the most minimal of fuss. It was stupefying.
After resting for a few days with my friend in Tyler, Texas, I had planned to head Yellowstone, one of the most famous national parks in the world, 1000 miles north at the other side of the country. However, the ten additional days I lost when shipping Izzy in Guatemala meant something would have to give. Izzy and I would have to part company. My friend volunteered to sell her on my behalf: she would fetch a much better price down south than anywhere else in the country. Although it was always the aim to import and then sell her, it was no less heartbreaking to leave her behind.
I hired a small car and with considerable melancholy drove through the rich centre of this staggering country. Yes, the little Hyundai had working air-con, cruise control and didn’t simply poop diesel, but as you can imagine, it just wasn’t the same. I was though excited to be travelling through states I’d heard about all my life – Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. I travelled the famous Route 66 and revelled in listening to that classic American drawl only found in diners. I whizzed by the horse-and-carts of the Amish and gaped as the weather turned nasty in what’s affectionally known as America’s Tornado Alley. I whizzed by the next horse-and-carts a wee bit faster! I marvelled at rusted-out Oldsmobiles left at the side of the road and chatted to Missionaries on their way to a convention over a lunch of burnt-ends in the jazz-mecca of Kansas City. Agog, my eyes were like marbles the entire time.
The reason I’d come this way at all was to reunite with family in Eau Claire and Green Bay, Wisconsin, meeting cousins for the first time in twenty-seven years. Despite never meeting them as an adult, I loved every minute of it – Yellowstone would, and could, simply have to wait. Over the next seven days I would relish reconnecting with family and friends in America, Wales and London, and then finally making my way back home to my patiently waiting girlfriend. It was all over so quickly. 22,083kms, 13 countries, 4 months and 4 days had zoomed by. It seemed like I only just left!
There’s a saying amongst bikers that motorcycling isn’t dangerous, it’s when you stop motorcycling that’s the problem, usually when, as the paradox goes, an unstoppable force collides with an immovable object. As too with adventuring across the globe. For four months I drove almost every day in my beloved Land Cruiser. I spent more time preparing her for the journey than actually travelling, but it was all time well spent and I loved it. Izzy was unstoppable. As for me, I had come to learn my limits, and that I was wholly stoppable. My future adventures would have to be a lot less taxing, like something involving a couch, some tea and a sunrise would do just fine. For now.
I have met countless people on my journey and explained the reasons for my adventure in Spanish and in English many times. I don’t think a single person has baulked, more often than not people have opened up about mental health issues or domestic violence in their lives, the challenges they’ve faced in coming through it and sometimes still have. I’m continually honoured that they’ve confided in me. As you may have guessed already, this journey wasn’t simply about completing a long-held dream, but about finding myself again: finding what made me tick; what made me happy; what I need to do to maintain that happiness. It’s a long-held joke amongst adventurers that you have to travel the world to find yourself.
Thank you everyone for your incredible support over the past few months: to friends and family that heard me bitch and complain when things weren’t going well; to work colleagues that read my adventures and posted enthusiastically willing me on; to those that I met in my journey that I know will become lifelong friends. For those that over the months of my trip have sat enviously behind a keyboard, iPad or phone wishing they could do something like that, I have some good news – you can! One thing that travelling affords is perspective: you never realise how lucky you are until your world changes. A dear friend’s mum wanted her whole life to travel to Machu Picchu, and a few months beforehand had a stoke and was never able to go. Don’t let this be you. As with the charities, if you ever need help, all you need to do is ask. There is a myriad of resources out there on domestic violence, mental health, adventuring, travelling, meditation and mindfulness, all at your fingertips. It may take a while to find what you’re looking for, but consider it an adventure.
Am a little shy of my 5k target for the two charities , but still incredibly proud to have raised so much. A heartfelt thank you to everyone that contributed, you've made a huge difference. For those that still want to contribute, you still have time :-)
USA, USA, USA! Sigh . . . I embarrassed myself a bit at the border. Whether through pure zeal at leaving Latin America or just stupidity (no vote necessary), I couldn’t find my way out of Mexico. It fell to the ninth person I asked in the space of thirty minutes, all of them actual border-control staff, to prize-out this sacred information. Unfortunately for me there are several bridges from Mexico to America, only one accepting my foreign vehicle. Naturally, I wasn’t at that one and was in fact halfway across another bridge altogether with my passport already stamped to leave. U-turning across lanes of traffic and circumnavigating confused officialdom that thought I’d left, I eventually got all my documentation checked and was lining up at some kind of demented drive-thru: there were twenty drive-thru border-control checkpoints and about one hundred cars all darting for the smallest line. It sounds like hell but it was quite fun! Finally pulling up to one, I got out to talk and was subsequently yelled at to “stay in your car, sir!” I apologised in that very British way I’m accustomed and put on my super-polite-please-don’t-shoot-me-in-the-face face.
The young border guard asked the usual questions, then summoned me over to customs for a vehicle inspection. Everyone was incredibly formal and shouty, as expected when having to deal with morons all day. I was tasked with dragging everything out of the vehicle for inspection and then dragging it all back again soon afterwards. To my surprise the whole thing went smoothly, with a few questions concerning the authenticity of my Incan relics. At $1.50 for two in Bolivia, they were quite satisfied! Since another inspection was being carried out behind me, boxing me in effectively, I was left to pass the time having a yarn with the customs team. They were genuinely lovely. Curious about the trip, we were chatted away amiably and I gave them some toy koalas for their kids.
It was a surreal moment though. I mean, that was it. That was the entire thing. No more questions, forms, permits for the vehicle, no signing anything, nothing. I was free to just saunter into America driving my twenty-five-year-old Land Cruiser from Australia with the steering wheel on the wrong side. No one spoke of restrictions, of registrations, of regulations . . . just go ahead, son. I positively roared! I apologise to anyone passing me on that day, as you’d have most certainly seen a madman bouncing for joy in the seat of his jalopy. It was the one of the happiest moments in my entire trip. I’d made it, I’d actually bloody made it to North America!
Having travelled the west and east coast before, Texas was entirely new to me, and completely not what Id’ imagined. For a start, it was green. And not just in patches, but along the highway verdance stretched for miles in every direction. This was summer, and I was in gawd-damn Texas, it was supposed to be like the films: beige and red desert landscape; tumbleweed and a scorching hot sun. In fairness, the latter still prevailed, but I was driving on silken smooth motorways roaring straight through a lavish state, every few miles passing screaming billboards of McDonalds, Wendy’s, Dennys, KFC and Burger King, tall poppies trying to outdo one another to garner attention. Pick me, pick me! As much as I despise fast food, after months of travelling in Latin America, anything that didn’t involve beans and corn-wraps sounded heavenly. In San Antonio, I entered a 24-hour Walmart, bought some fresh bread and cheese, and at almost midnight in the middle of a sweltering car lot where I would spend the night, I eat blissfully. And they say I don’t know how to celebrate!
The American Heartland
I had a few hundred miles to cover over the coming days to reach my friend in Tyler, two hours east of Dallas, and would have to import and register Izzy. My friend, who also had a Troopy, had a tonne of trouble importing his from Honduras, so I wasn’t looking forward to that at all. However, if I could complete that, I would then have some pure pleasure time in the US and across the pond in the UK where I could finally have, after months of driving, years of planning and plotting, time to relax. Maybe even celebrate. Probably with a sandwich.
Mexico had put the fear of God in me. A few months previous I met Nigel Brennan, a journalist kidnapped in Somalia for over a year, warning me “just stay clear of Mexico, it’s the kidnap capital of the world”. Great. Add to that the incredibly sad story of two experienced globetrotting-cyclists, a German and Pole, being found dead a few weeks ago at the bottom of a ravine on my intended route. With one of the poor fellows decapitated and minus a foot, you can start to see where my angst was coming from. Oh, and the police had initially claimed it looked like an accident, if you can fathom it.
And so with a lot less euphoria than usual in tumbling into a new country, I set across the Guatemalan-Mexico border, rubber pants tied up to my nipples. I was then ejected and told to piss-off back to Guatemala. Border control didn’t cite the rubber pants as a factor, but clearly Mexico was going to be tough.
You can read more about that particular event here but eventually I made it. In fairness to those that claim Mexico is an outstandingly beautiful country worth visiting, I would absolutely concur – I visited years ago and loved it. However, there are areas that are unsafe no matter what people tell you, and particularly so at night. That last bit was a problem: on my first day I was stuck in a massive traffic jam in thirty-five-degree heat at almost midnight just outside of buttfu*k nowhere. I had been stuck for three hours. Beleaguered and pouring with sweat, I pulled over to the side of the road and passed out in a fog of truck fumes and cacophony of spluttering engines. Dying embers of brain activity left me with the thought ‘I hope that guy over there with the big gun is friendly”.
Parking between trucks that had also pulled over for the night, it was paramount I kept a low-profile. Unfortunately Izzy mistook low-profile for the “hello everyone I’m parked over here!” profile, blurting her over-sensitive car-alarm every time a truck tumbled on passed. I would gauge that I amassed perhaps two hours sleep before five am. Creaking open my Troopy doors to the outside world, the man with the gun wandered over and I almost shut the doors again. A security guard for god knows what, he was about to end his shift and so chatted amiably about this and that, with my addled brain doing what it could to keep up in Spanish, my eyes marvelling at the pump-action shotgun slung around his neck that people seem to casually carry in this part of the world.
Breakfast of Champions
Feeling that I deserved a little respite, I headed straight to the beautiful Puebla for breakfast, a colonial city jewelled with narrow cobblestone streets of rainbow coloured houses and modern cafes. I can rarely remember a cup of tea in a Melbourne-type café ever tasting so wonderful. Whilst a good portion of my brain collectively sighed in relaxation, a nagging internal voice interrupted “you volunteered to do this shit!”. Quiet at the back!
Sticking to the highways with the countless trucks, I trundled along passed cities and wind farms and cathedrals, passing winding mountains and rivers, stopping for photos and the occasional break in the never ending oppressive heat. I would have to traverse 1600 miles in Mexico, and I felt every inch. Whether it was the knowledge of my trip coming to a natural end or the fact I was simply dog-tired, I was ready for a rest. I’d aged considerably in the last few weeks.
It’s a truism of travelling this way that when you’re truly feeling it, when you can sense your soul being ground down a bit, there’s always something around the corner that can make you feel it some more. With that, the heavens opened and it rained ferociously for the next six hours. Then I hit a car. In my defence, am not sure what kind of lunatic drives in the pouring rain without lights and speeds up on the inside lane when someone is indicating to pull over, however I did hit him. Whilst Izzy had a minor barely noticeable scratch, their entire fender was completely ruined. I didn’t want the police, they really didn’t want the police as they’re scared of them (quite right, thinks I), and a little over $100 saw them skedaddle quickly the hell out of there, and I followed suit in the opposite direction. America was now only a few hundred miles away, and I almost screwed it completely.
However, the US of A brought its own complications. In fact, a lot of the trip hinged on it. I had a 25-year-old unfamiliar Australian vehicle with the steering wheel on the wrong side that I wanted to import permanently and make exempt from all the usual environmental standards and checks. All that despite being a foreign national with no fixed abode or American driving license, and a voice which to them sounds like I should be a RAF pilot from 1940’s Britain. “Talley-ho, Tarquin! We’re off to bomb the Jerries!”. What could possibly go wrong?
Ohhhh . . . am a bit tired! The last three weeks have been immense. A cousin described me as a tornado, and I’d probably say that’s apt! I’ll try to summarise events:
And that my friends, is the last three weeks! Well, Reed, what happened to Izzy? The old girl performed admirably, traversed countries and continents with ease and helped me achieve my dreams. Although it breaks my heart, Izzy is now up for sale in the US and ready to help others achieve their ambitions. I miss her immeasurably.
When I’ve caught up more on sleep (jet-lag slaying me at present!) I will follow up with more photographs and stories of travelling through Mexico and the US. For now, I probably need to rest for a while. About a year will do it!
If you've enjoyed the posts and photos so far, please feel free to donate to the great causes of White Ribbon and beyond blue here. All monies go directly to the charities and we've reached an amazing $4090, only $910 to hit the 5k target! :-)
The blog will be a record of everything - from idea conception to old age in making this adventure happen
You can find the excellent 2006 Antipodean Adventure blog by Dwyer Rooney here