I never realized just how special voyaging under sail was until Larry and I decided to take a serious tour of the US Western states. For the past two and a half months, we’ve spent most of our time living in the camper mounted on a pickup truck while we traveled through Nevada, Southern Utah, Montana, into British Columbia and finally to Port Townsend Washington. Yes, the sights we’ve seen have often been stunning, mesmerizing, strange, fun, the driving easy, people friendly and helpful, even the police accommodating and forgiving when we accidentally broke a few rules. (Showing an overseas identity card helped there.)
Las Vegas is definitely a town everyone should visit once – there is no place like it, the ultimate carnival designed to amaze, amuse, entertain and draw every possible last penny out of visitor’s pockets. We had to stay for five days as we worked at the American Librarians Convention, a big part of the reason we decided to make this tour. But it was when we left Las Vegas that we saw some of the most historic andbeautiful sights the US west has to offer. The magnificent red rock bluffs and plains of Canyon de Chelly with its haunting ancient cliff dwellings, the very slow but stunning (and slightly frightening) drive along one lane switch-back roads up sheer cliff faces, the towering spires of Monument Valley and on through alternating white and red cliffs to Glen Canyon. This is Navajo Reservation country that we have all seen as back drops to hundreds of cowboy movies. But in real life, especially when your guide is a proud locally raised Navajo youngster, these national parks rival any famous tourist destination we have seen elsewhere in the world. Then there is the glorious contrast of Grand Teton’s stunning rock peaks, Yellowstone’s bison herds and Montana’s vast rolling plains and mountain lakes.
But, within a few weeks, I began comparing this open ended camper wandering with life afloat . It wasn’t the space restraints of our camper that made me homesick for that watery existence – though small, the camper probably has as much living space as Taleisin does. (It definitely doesn’t have the storage space but then we don’t need to carry food to last for several months at a time.) The differences that caused me the most nostalgia included-though I did enjoy driving a well built powerful vehicle I missed the sheer pleasure of sailing, of feeling we’d used our skills to reach each new destination, the fact that each night we had to find a legal place to stop, we couldn’t just drop anchor in a secluded bay and be there for a week, a month; the feeling that on the boat, where ever we were, we were always at home not just camping; the lack of dust and dirt that comes with being surrounded by water; the interest local people had in us when we arrived by boat; the friendships that we struck up with other cruisers when we all lay in the same anchorage for a week or two at a time; the pleasure that maintaining the boat and its simple systems gave us .
Interestingly, the most memorable days of our western American sojourn have been closely related to our sailing life. For five days we camped on an isolated dry lake bed in northern Nevada among almost 500 people from 14 different countries as part of the International Landyachting Championships. Larry was a special guest because he was the captain of the American team that was the first to cross the Sahara desert way back in 1967. We were surprised to encounter a large contingent of serious ocean sailors in this very dusty place. Between sudden dust storms, we shared a sense of warm camaraderie talking about deep water sailing as we watched an eclectic array of three wheeled sailing craft skimming along at speeds up to five times that of the wind. A few weeks later we joined Bill and Mary Eisenlohr at their home alongside Flathead Lake in Montana. Bill used to have a boat building business at his home in Corona just 20 miles from where we built Taleisin in Southern California. There he built the interior and decks for several Hess designed 28 foot Bristol Channel Cutters.
We spent many pleasurable afternoons in his hot tub discussing boatbuilding back then. Now he is one of the coordinators of the local Big Sky Antique and Classic Boat festival. For anyone interested in fine woodwork, the fleet that filled the docks of the Lakeside Marina was a visual feast. I was amazed at how bright the varnish work and fittings on these boats looked, but then I realized they never felt the sting of saltwater. I was really encouraged to meet some of the young people who are involved in building and using these boats. My favorite was Rebecca Brown. She’s from a very small town in eastern Montana and first came to this festival with her dad when she was 14. Decided she wanted to build a wooden boat. At 15 she bought the plans for a canoe. When they arrived she wasn’t pleased with the shape of the stem. So she borrowed the high school CAD program and redesigned the canoe then set to work. The day before she graduated from High School with honors, she launched the canoe which she displayed at the festival. We met her very proud parents and were assured by her father, a woodworking teacher, that she had done every bit by herself. “I only helped hold the end of planks when she couldn’t be in two places at one time,” he told us. Take a look at some better photos of Rebeccas project at – http://www.facebook.com/cedarodyssey She is now off to university to study civil engineering, and is restoring a 1957 thunderbird car in her spare time.
One thing that made our meanderings through the west memorable was the small by-roads we took. During over 5000 miles of driving, less than 800 were on freeways or divided highways. I loved meandering through mountain canyons, along cascading streams and through small villages and towns where we found charming and welcoming small cafes and the local people eagerly shared their stories; the deer that caused us to slow to a walking pace, even the occasional glimpse of bison to remind us of a time when this land was far less tame . Then we reached the turning point in our journey – British Columbia and as we came through the last of the Canadian coastal mountain chain and out to the waters of the gulf, I realized one last thing I’d missed after spending the vast majority of my life afloat – the smell of salt water, the moist soft feeling of seaside air.
Lin and Larry Pardey