He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s A Marmot

Original posted in London to New York blog, June 12, 2010

Jackson, Wyoming

THE Abridged Unofficial Overland Dictionary a few entries ago has sparked a few unexpected consequences.

The reaction from my fellow travellers with some of the definitions put forward for end-of-tour T-shirts, while there has been a clamour for other phrases to make it into a second edition

And over the last few days, several other phrases have popped up which need some explanation.

Among the phrases hopefully explained in this entry are:

  • The ones shouted at us by our white-water rafting guide when we were called to the rescue of a capsized boat;
  • A warning that bears were on their way, while camped in the middle of a forest with nowhere to hide if one of them did decide to wander through camp;
  • The litany of drivel spouted by the American behind me at the bar during the England v USA World Cup match;
  • What I meant when calling for Peter Crouch to come on (actually no, scratch that. There really is no explanation readily available).
Sunset over Nevada
Sunset over Nevada

Let’s start in fairly sedate fashion as we roll out of California and into Nevada. Don’t ask me where exactly, it had a load of trees and mountains surrounding it when we woke up, but then so has pretty much everywhere on this leg of the journey.

Wherever we were, we couldn’t use our intended route due to a landslide, so we headed off instead for a walk around Angel Lake and then onto the town of Wells, Nevada – described by new driver/guide/cook/guru/ ballroom dancing expert Lukas as having nothing but “a gas station and two brothels”.

We stopped, briefly (at the gas station), and headed straight out to what the locals know as Twelve Mile Pool.

While our previous hot spring stops came complete with entrance fees, nicely-maintained pools and showers, this one came with a 45-minute yomp up a dirt track, open-air changing, nothing but stones and rocks on the floor and plenty of algae and slime on the wall, the one piece of interference from man in its whole construction.

You had to be very careful how you held your beer, but its rustic charm ensured a group of us spent a very rewarding couple of hours there before heading back down the track and if a vote was had, it would go pretty comfortably in at number one in the hot springs chart.

Snake!A swift return trip to Wells – still no sign of the brothels – and we headed into the night, slipping through Utah before arriving in the ski town of Jackson, Wyoming, and our first real sight of rain since Whittier.

Top of the agenda for the day was white water rafting on the Snake River, although the original dozen victims, sorry volunteers, was narrowed down to an intrepid six – Nick, Phil, Barry, Phoebe, Marilyn and myself – by the time we were hauling ourselves into wetsuits.

We had been warned the river, swollen by melted snow, was running fast beforehand, but it was nothing untoward as we paddled off and safely negotiated the first few lumpy bits.

It all started to go a bit haywire when, moments after our guide had helpfully pointed out where somebody drowned last year, the heavens opened, pouring rain and hail down on us and making us far wetter than the river could manage – or so we thought.

Having given up paddling and coasted down a fairly flat bit of river as we took what shelter we could – none, basically – and with thunder and lightning adding to the drama under leaden black skies, we bore down on The Lunch Counter, the biggest of the rapids on our paddle downstream.

The antler arches in the town square, Jackson

With the river running exceptionally fast, it was more of a place for your lunch to return than a counter to order it, but we ploughed on into a series of waves more akin to walls of water.

The last one pitched us almost vertically before we crashed back down to the water and drew breath, only to look down river and see the occupants of our companion raft strewn all over the place as their craft drifted upside down.

For what seemed like an age, but was probably no more than five minutes, we were the emergency services – the real search and rescue squad having just sped the other way in the aftermath of an incident which made the front of the Jackson Daily News the next day.

Don’t think our guide said anything too complicated, mainly “forward”, “back” and combinations of the two in an increasingly frantic shout as we began to pluck people, including a couple of young children, from the water and got close enough for one of our guides to dive onto the upturned raft and pull those clinging to it out of the torrent.

We then headed past the stricken raft, including one stretch where we seemed to go nowhere despite our best efforts, to collect the flotsam and jetsam as it came our way and eventually both boats and all hands were safely secured on the bank.

As the other raft’s occupants headed up the bank to the road, we negotiated the last few bends as Nick and myself discovered our journalistic instincts were still in full working order as we began to mentally write our pieces on the drama.

Jenny Lake
Jenny Lake

Thankfully, with nobody hurt and the only real injuries to one or two guides’ pride (you’ve never seen anyone quite so relieved as the lead guide), our pieces are likely to go unwritten.

It was with some relief we pulled into Colter Bay Village in the Grand Tetons National Park – our base for the next three nights – and discovered a bar to sit and share our dramatic tales.

The next day was far more sedate, a walk around Jenny Lake with its charming yellow-bellied marmots (one of whom Phoebe christened Norman for some reason) about half an hour south of our campsite, followed by probably the final laundry before New York (hopefully not the final shower) and the invention of a new frisbee game which involves aiming at each other’s strategically-placed beer cans around the campsite.

Norman the Marmot
Norman the Marmot – The original Travel Marmot pops up to say hello at Jenny Lake

And so we passed a genteel evening eating and drinking by the campfire, interrupted only by camp security informing us “the bears are coming”.

We may be close to Yellowstone, but don’t think they meant Yogi and one or two faces were less than enthralled by the news. There was a distinct drop-off in traffic to the toilet, which was normally overloaded with charging iPods, cameras and laptops, once dark had fallen.

Yogi, Boo-boo and pals stayed out of sight, although the day’s early risers were treated to a dawn chorus from the neighbouring coyotes, prompting one or two to remain in their sleeping bags a while longer.

When morning did break, it was decision time – head off for the first of two days in Yellowstone National Park or get dropped off at the swish Jackson Lodge just down the road to watch England’s World Cup opener against the USA.

You only get few opportunities in life to witness the Old Faithful geyser, but a select band of us opted to a phenomenon just as reliable – England infuriating their fans in a major competition.

The decision to opt out of a day in Yellowstone was partly down to National Park Overkill Syndrome (which thankfully has been cured by some spectacular scenery in the last couple of days, of which more next time), partly down to the fact my legs were killing me after a lot of walking and largely down to my desire to watch the game amid the Americans.

If you want to get to know a country and its people, there are very few ways better than to sit in a bar watching sports with them and this was no exception.

Admittedly, many of the Americans there didn’t really care or know too much about the game or even who was playing and they only just outnumbered the initially noisier band of English fans.

But with the commentary in Spanish (a bit like watching football as dubbed by the Fast Show – ‘Wayne Mark Rooney, Scorchio!’), we had to fill in a few gaps in their knowledge.

It was us, however, who were left scratching our heads after the contribution of the American guy behind us.

He seemed nice enough, but quite what he meant by shouts of “Quarter It”, “Split It” and, every time the US won a tackle, “Good Midfield” remains a mystery.

His best came towards the end with the combination of “Possess, Possess, Possess…Triangle… Great Overlap”, followed by a round of applause as the Americans kicked the ball out of play.

Oh well, at least he wasn’t calling for Peter Crouch to come on…


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