I ended up in Eel River youth hostel after a party ride up from San Francisco. The hostel was part of a holdiay resort run by an Aussie couple, Bruce and Jan McKinney. They'd bought the place after travelling the world and rather fancied a lifestyle set by a pretty fine looking river. The youth hostel was pretty new, the bar was nice and friendly and I settled in for a few beers. Bruce helped me check in, showed me the basics and then helped me with beer. Jan was preparing for the July 4th celebrations the next day. There were a few groups of campers and people who had rented out cabins but not many of them hung in the bar for long. Jan played some cool tunes on the steroe and I was well chilled by the time I hit the rack.
I slept in until about 10.00 then wandered off to the nearest shop, about a mile away to get some food. When I came back I cooked up a whole heap of bacon, eggs, nushrooms and tomatoes. Enough to help feed a couple of other of the hostel stayers. They in turn donated Millers Draught. Good people, well done.
I took a good walk around the site. It was Fourth of July and there were family groups all around, partaking in holiday type activities. There were people playing horsehoes, others throwing footballs, another marked out a rough diamond and started up= a game of slow pitch. While I watched, they asked if I'd like to join in.
So I took up a position in left field and waited for someone to hit the ball to me. After about half an hour their inning was ended and I'd fielded one mis hit drive on the half volley. I was then put in batting at number five. We needed eight runs to win. Luckily by the time I got up to bat we only needed two more runs and were only one out. I jagged an RBI, hitting a double beyond right field's grasp and was batted in by the next bloke up who hit a home run. Woo hoo! After that it was beers all around and a lot of questions. I was used to this and had developed standard responses to probes about why I was there and what I was doing.
After a couple of beers I left them to their family fun and went back to the hostel area where we fired up a barbecue. The standard American fare of hot dogs and burgers were on display and tasted might fine as the afternoon wore on. The river was very brisk, ran fast and I didn't risk a big swim, just sticking close to the bank, in the shallows. Even then it took me 50 metres downstream without a lot of effort. I tried swimming back upstream but gave up. It was stronger than the rip you get down at Tamarama, the one you can ride out for a while before cutting across and in to Bronte. If you can be bothered.
A bunch of canoeists paddled past, (more jetted past really) as the sun started sinking. The whole atmosphere was very laid back so I went to the bar where Bruce was just starting to open for business. I traded him a few of my warm Miller Draught for cold ones and sat back in a group of people who were happily celebrating their country's independence. There wasn't the overt patriotism which outsiders often expect, just a "yeah, ain't it grand" sort of vibe. I had been expecting a lot of over the top exuberance but it simply wasn't there. The picture of a Latino family playing a game of horseshoes whilst sipping on Buds or Coke and "whoo"-ing each time someone hit the spike sort of summed it up for me.
I walked around again and was invited to a couple of different tables where I asked the people about what July 4 meant. One guy summed it up by explaining how it represented throwing off an oppressor to give the American people the right to impose their own brand of government, be it good or bad. It might be bad at times but it was their right to make it bad and then fix it if need be. The rest of the night I alternated between the bar and the hostel crew. When I kipped out that night I was satisfied that I'd seen a glimpse of a real part of America, and it made me happy.
When I awoke the next morning it was to the smell of sizzling bacon. I'll swear to the end of days that this smell is stamped in the synapse of every human brain. Its way better than an alarm clock and will rouse even the drunkest sod. Its all to do with the promise of bacon goodness. Nothing can revive a person any faster than that. Funnily enough it was the remains of my bacon stash which were being cooked. Yeah, I remember now. Help yourselves was my offer. Idiot. I quickly got up and went into the kitchen where I was met by the sight of a hungover couple busily manipulating three pans, cooking up bacon, eggs and pancakes. I had a quick shower and came back to see a table laden with breakfasty goodness and a group of hungry hostelliers trwoelling it down. They'd set aside a place, a plate and cutlery so I joined them. It was fucking delicious. They had real butter and maple syrup for the pancakes and the bacon was cooked just right. They'd even done a damn fine job with the scrambled eggs, using cream instead of milk. Turns out they'd done a stint as cooks at a campus kitchen in San Diego. I congratulated them on their efforts, packed my gear and headed out. On the way out I stopped in to say goodbye to Bruce and Jan. They were top hosts and proved their worth even more through Jan handing me a couple of cold Miller for the trip. The road was calling, I needed to hit Calgary before the Stampede closed and there were a lot of miles to be covered before then.
The greyhound picked me up "a hunnert yards or so" from the hostel. My rough plan was to go to Newport and stand outside the yacht club demanding free beer on behalf of all Australia, following the triumph of Australia Two a couple of years previously in the America's Cup. even though it was the N.Y. yacht club who'd lsot the thing (I think) I reckoned that as Newport was the Cup's spiritual home, a few beers would be in order for a conquering hero such as myself. Well, scuttle that plan, I was diverted to Portland instead through a combination of fucking up with timetables and impatience. I was in a strange sort of fogged up consciousness as the bus pulled onto the main highway. I looked down at a "family truckster". It was a typical rental driven by families doing a holiday trip. As it slowly slid past I saw a kid in the back holding a model of a green frog, pointing up at me and explaining something to the frog. The frog looked angry. On the back of the car was a small sign announcing "Nautilus Family Vacation". I slipped out of the fog, blinked my eyes and the car was gone. Obviously this never really happened but nautilus and I figured that we were in the same part of the U.S. that year, so I reckon it was entirely possible that at some stage one of my Greyhounds had been passed by his family's rental car.
When I hit Portlland I was once again suffering "bus lag". I checked into the hostel and chekced out the city. Bought myself a pair of Levis and decided to get a travelling companion. I couldn't resist a Gumby. I didn't buy his little plastic pony pal, Pokey but I was happy to have Gumby along for the ride.
So it was that for the rest of my travels Gumby was along for the ride.
At night I hit a local pub and fell in amongst a crew from England and New Zealand. Needless to say it was messy. I'm sure the Kiwi blokes were called Tim. All of them are and they're either tow truck drivers, electrical technicians or all-rounders who are good at everything so they'll say. This lot weren't too bad. They even showed some nouse of breaking into hostels after curfew, which for once made me feel relieved. I wasn't the one having to somehow get us back inside. In the morning it was a quick shower, pack up and off. I decdied to go to Fort Columbia. Dunno why, it just seemed like a good thing at the time. I had to hitch across to it after the bus dropped me off near the seaside. When I got there I found it wasn't much at all. I should have hit the main town and splurged on a B&B or something. I walked around, the setting being scenic 'n all but it was pretty much spoiled an hour or so later as I was cooking up some pasta for Gumby and me. Cyclists. Fucking full on, born again cyclists. One of the worst hostel nights of my life. Next morning I got up early but not as early as these nutjobs. Fuck they were annoying. I hitched a ride across the bridge in a pick up truck and explained to owner about the cyclists. He just muttered something about how he has to scrape them off the underneath the drive train every couple of days.
So it was back to Portland where I got myself a Swiss army knife, a six pack of Miller, a bag of cashews and a flask of Beam. Then I hit the Greyhound terminal to grab a long haul to Vancouver. Remember, I needed to make Calgary before the end of the Stampede and I also wanted to spend a couple of days in Vancouver. There was an Expo on and I heard it had a couple of beer halls. Well, a bloke has to have some sort of goals don't he? Especially when he's far from home in a strange land and his only company is an unanimated green man called Gumby.