Original posted on London to New York blog, May 16, 2010
“This is what I call riding around in a double-decker bus… Right on. I’m aboard the Freedom Bus, heading for Good Time City. And I haven’t even paid my fare… Who needs qualifications? Who cares about Thatcher and unemployment?! We can do just exactly whatever we want to do! And you know why? Because we’re Young Ones. Bachelor boys! Crazy, mad, wild-eyed, big-bottomed anarchists!!” – The Young Ones
SOME of us can barely claim to be Young Ones anymore, but there’s plenty of big bottoms around as we head out on our bus from one side of the United States to another (and they’ll be getting bigger if these portions continue).
Rik’s impassioned final monologue from the series finale came to mind as we clambered onto the Green Tortoise – our base for the next five weeks.
There are a few hostels and a fair bit of camping, but the single decker will provide transport, accommodation and storage for all 19 of us (plus Matty, our driver on the opening leg to San Francisco) as we roll our way from the west coast on Alaska to the eastern seaboard in New York.
It all came as a bit of a shock when we clambered on board at Whittier, having prised ourselves out of bed early for one final breakfast with Vera, our angel of the morning.
We knew a sleeper bus was awaiting us to clock up the huge miles ahead of us, but we all had visions of a hefty beast which converted from normal seats into some form of sleeping arrangement.
What greeted us was something totally different.
Freddie and I were first on board, slightly confused by Matty’s insistence we take our shoes off before clambering on the cushions.
All became clear as we made our way down the bus and were greeted not with seats, but cushion-covered benches in the front half and one huge platform, again covered by mattresses, and rows of suspended bunks where the luggage racks normally are.
Within moments, the normal inhabitants of the bus – augmented by fellow cruisers and pirate party veterans Mat, Lynsey and Ramsey – had taken up residence sprawled across our new quarters.
There’s not going to be much privacy, there’s not going to be much room and – judging by some of the snoring which has gone on in the previous weeks – there’s not going to be much silence when we are all sleeping on board.
While most of us were delighted with our new surroundings, one or two of our number were a bit more sceptical.
The plan for much of our American leg is to spend our time camping, starting tomorrow in Alaska’s Denali National Park, when my sleeping bag will finally be unclipped from my bag and used, with only a few people sleeping on the bus.
We will only get up really close and personal on the occasions we drive through the night to get maximum time at our destinations.
Interesting times ahead and all a far cry from two weeks on the Diamond Princess where, when you last left us, another late night was being slept off.
Don’t ask me what day it was, they all merged together in the final week as we became victims of a creeping jet lag as the clocks moved forward on a daily basis.
There was a vague attempt to return our body clocks to normal on the penultimate night, but all that really resulted from us heading up to the bar early for a couple of drinks at a Rat Pack evening was that we were further lubricated by the time our normal arrival time arrived.
So instead of heading to bed early, the grey dawn broke over me sprawled across a sun lounger above the pool with Phoebe leading Nick and I through a crash course in meditation.
It seemed to work, judging by how relaxing that stay in bed was until well into our final day.
Some washing, packing, a final group meal – albeit it spread over four tables and served in a random order – and a select group of us were back in Skywalkers to bid farewell to Romel and his group of bar staff.
He certainly saw us off in style with a final drink which owed plenty to a big bottle behind the bar and very little to anything in the mixer department.
And so we waved goodbye and, after a pitifully short amount of sleep, we were disembarking and launching into life on the Green Tortoise, starting with the run to Anchorage (and the excuse for the most obvious title for a blog entry to date).
We made it to Alaska’s biggest city via a brief stop in the one-moose town of Girdwood and a trip to huge supermarket Fred Meyers, where we all stocked up on those essentials which may well be in short supply in the North American wilderness. Food, drink, anything remotely luxurious or comfortable…
The rest of the weekend has been largely subdued, although a few energetic souls have made it out to explore Anchorage and its surrounds.
A select group of the normal suspects did venture out to a supposedly local bar to sample what Saturday night in Anchorage has to offer, only to discover the walk was considerably more than the 20 minutes we had been told (Travel tip: Take Barry’s directions and timings with a pinch of salt).
So, having made the effort, we decided to make it worth our while and stopped to watch the band, dressed up like a cross between early Manic Street Preachers and 1980s hair metal groups and playing a wide selection of standard rock covers (albeit very well).
As the band played on (for four sets stretched over nearly five hours), the bar filled, the drinks rolled down and Mike got his head round how to tip in America.
By the end of the night, Nick was pretending to be a car to get served at a McDonalds drive through window and Phoebe needed to be navigated into the right bedroom. Twice.
Things will have to change over the next few days…