Love me, hold me, cos I’m free

Flathead Lake State Park, MT

Colorado. Wyoming. Montana.

That’s a lot of open space. A lot of national parks. But the wheels keep turning – we’re already alarmingly close to Canada.

It seems America is the Land of Campers – you can’t help noticing that everywhere you want to stop there’s always a campsite. Its like the whole place was designed for it. Remarkably convenient for us. Our poor little tent is taking quite a hammering, but it gets us to some really gorgeous places, and saves a lot of money. After a couple of recent day hikes – one of which ended off on the peak of the highest mountain in the Rockies (not quite sure how that happened) we’re getting homesick for our trekking days. Tomorrow we reach Glacier National Park, and we might go backcountry there for a day or two – you can get permits to wander off into the bush.

The National Parks here are amazing – we’ve been to 12, which may seem a little excessive, but they’re all worth it, from the canyons in the south to the stunning mountains up here. Yellowstone totally lived up to its reputation – the geysers and hot springs there were quite something else.

And each park seems to suit everyone. Those who don’t want to stray too far from the car have a couple of highlights with nice paved trails, past nice informative signs, to nice viewpoints. Those of us who want a strenuous dayhike can get 20miles away and feel like we’re exploring, and those who want to really hike can go backcountry and have the whole place to themselves.

We took a break from the parks the last few days. First we went to the Land of Cowboys, ‘Frontier Days’ in Wyoming – the worlds biggest rodeo – where you could really believe that every good ole boy is there and that we’re all Wild West – from Kentucky to California. The crowd was a sea of big white hats. The women really wear the cleavage up high and the blond highlights go for that Dolly Parton look. It was quite a wet day and the rink was a mud bath. Those cowboys sure had a hard time catching steers, riding steers etc.

Yesterday, while in Butte (pronounced Beaut), Montana (What? You haven’t heard of it?) we stumbled across ‘Evil Knievel Days’, a kind of stunt man cross Harley Davidson rally. Thousands of bikers parading through town, and though we didn’t stay around to check it out, the promise of death defying stunts and women wrestling in hot cream later on.

The biker thing intrigues me – every time I come to this great country – from Florida to the West, I encounter a bike convention, with Harley branded merchandise simply falling off the shelves. If you wanted to, you could tour round America forever, simply attending biker events. It’s the Land of Bikes.

Today we stumbled across ‘Flint Creek Valley Days’ – a rather weak effort by small mining communities to revive economies that haven’t been so good since the depression. Trying to reinvent themselves or, seeing how many antique stalls were there, maybe to just recycle themselves. Everywhere you go something’s happening, however quietly. If you were a Golden Oldie on tour bus, this could be the Land of Days.

Which got me wondering – there are a lot of Americas out there, you just get to pick the one that suits you. How amazing is that.

You can even have your own hybrid world – such as Livingston, Montana (don’t tell me – you haven’t heard of it?) which crosses, rather beautifully, the worlds of cowboy and boho. It’s totally out of place in Montana, but no more so than it would be if the Northern Line ran Clapham Common – Livingston Montana – Balham.

Here you can really be free. You can pick your lifestyle, and live it your way. Don’t like the way it is round where you’re from? Move someplace else! Want to find a group of likeminded people who wanna do what you wanna do. No problem, they’re all here. Just join the club and away you go. I’m beginning to understand The American Dream.

Choose your own pastime – and to it to extreme. Choose your look, your media, your world.

I met a guy from Illinois who explained the election to me. As far as he’s concerned ‘anyone who doesn’t talk, especially now, about defending Western Civilisation doesn’t deserve anyone’s vote’. I guess his chosen media is probably something like CNN, which chunters on permanently as though the whole Free World is in imminent danger of destruction. In his world, that’s reality. And he doesn’t have to visit anyone else’s world if he doesn’t want to.

While I’ve grown to love the perennial flag flying – which I see now is more a statement of freedom than mindless nationalism – I still find the ability not to (and not to have to) see the other guys point of view, quite scary really.

Is that the ultimate price of freedom – to be free from responsibility? But after a month here I’m proud to say I Love America. The dream is good. It’s good to be free.

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone

Since we’ve been here we’ve seen a whole heap of wildlife. Moose, Elk, Bison, Deer, Roadrunners, Coyotes, Marmots (two species), numerous types of squirrel and chipmunk, even a rattlesnake. You hardly have to look twice before something runs across your path (and if it’s a chipmunk, steals your lunch as it passes). Makes you realise what we haven’t got in England. When was the last time you saw a badger?

A few of my favourite things

Travelling good for breaking your link with possessions. It dematerialises you. Not only do you not have much, but what you’ve got has a tendency to disappear or break. Here are just a sample of what I no longer have.

My Kuros Aftershave (broke in transit from London to Rio).
My travel cutlery (left in a beach hut in Belize).
My longsuffering headtorch (couldn’t take the pace hiking in Argentina).
My Bolivian felt hat (on a bus in Mexico).
My Mexican cowboy hat (blew out of the car at the Golden Gate Bridge).
My parrot design Indian t-shirt, bought from an Indian woman in Peru. (On a fan in a hotel room in Brazil)
My very useful padlock and chain (chained to hotel furniture in Ecuador – probably more annoying for them than me as I still have the key).
Even our camping equipment is showing signs of advanced age.
But they’re only things. And I find it enormously liberating to know that!

You say Potato

I understand America better, but some things still bemuse me

Why do you have to get the oil changed on your car here every 3000m miles? They even have drive in oil shops for you to do this.

Why do you have to pay for petrol before you put it in your car?

Why can you turn right on a red light, even though you must stop at a Stop sign even when its in the middle of nowhere?

Why don’t Wal-Mart sell vegetables?

Why don’t campsites have showers? (We’ve had to resort to washing in rivers!)

There’s a cunning type of motor home caravan here. It’s huge and it fits onto the back of your pickup like it’s an articulated lorry. It can have up to three axles, and your pickup may have to be supersized to 6 wheels to pull it. So why is it called a ‘5th wheel’

Answers on a postcard please…

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