22. My Weird Friend
Halloween was over, and with the exception of American elections, everything was back to normal. Now to put the title of this chapter in context, you have to remember that I am a Kiwi. Think New Zealand, think The Lord of the Rings. Think mountains, lakes, rolling hills and wild coastlines. I try often and unsuccessfully to explain to Europeans that many times when we go for a walk in Aotearoa, we are gone for four or five days. We call this tramping. I grew up on a sealed rural road watching, at about the same time most evenings, road cyclists cycle past in packs of about twenty. I also grew up marking autumn by the sudden influx of beer-bellied men jogging in ripped rugby jerseys and stubbie shorts(73) in an effort to be fit enough to make any kind of rugby team. Even if it is gardening, to be Kiwi is to be fit or to at least have a brother or mother who once was.
You know where this is going! I don’t know if it was the additives in the food or the excessive dependence on vehicles, but most of our time in America we just felt gluggy and in desperate need of exercise. Comparatively speaking in my combined experiences of America, Americans just don’t exercise. Why should they, when they all own cars and have so many roads to drive on? I do not know if my friend was feeling guilty over his wife’s ribs that I was still delightfully eating or over the huge early Thanksgiving meal that we were to eat that afternoon, but he was bent on taking us out walking. Walking was just what we needed and our friend’s healthy desire to walk is just what made him weird, weird in the nicest possible sense of the word. One night we walked around some rural roads spotting deer and Republican candidate signs with a flash-light, but my favourite walk, no perhaps my second favourite walk, was up Enchanted Rock.
Enchanted Rock is a huge pink granite rock out in the middle on nowhereville, Texas. Wikipeda tells me it is 130 metres high and covers two point six square kilometres. So it is quite a large pink rock.
This was my second visit and before I tell you about it, I need to tell you about my first visit. Twelve years or so earlier whilst at the summer camp, I made friends with the lifeguard. I think the primary common ground of our friendship was that we both liked exercise. I remember during our day off, we would pass each other running, she would run around the field and I would run up the road, back across the field and then up the hillside forest tracks. Exercise and a need for adrenalin and adventure cemented our one summer friendship. I think the only time we left the camp together or had more than a five-minute conversation was on our trip to Enchanted Rock. She even let me drive her Chevy Sidewinder truck to the rock. Way cool!
She was a climber and had all of her climbing equipment in the back of her truck. I had taken my climbing harness and Petzel headlamp with me from Australia, so I was ready for whatever might be. When we arrived in the car park near the rock we discussed for a bit if we needed to take any equipment with us. We were looking at the front side of the rock, it was pink and resembled an ambling hill to me. In fear of insulting my Kiwiness I opted for leaving ropes and equipment behind. We walked around to the back side of the rock and there she was…. a beautiful, gentle, pink, climbable cliff. And for some reason it seemed to have written across it ‘Screw the ropes just climb me’. So that is exactly what we did. My life-guard friend gave up about half way and turned around, but no, not me, to coin a phrase ‘I had more balls than brains’ in those days; I was going to the top. Well I got ninety nine-percent of the way up, but I just couldn’t climb the last part. I was about a metre from the top, didn’t have a harness, didn’t have a rope or at that any form of protection. The top gently curved to level so there was no sharp edge to grab. I looked down and realised that short of falling, going the downward direction was not an option. So I said to my life-guard friend ‘Umm, better go get the ropes and tie off, I need some help up’. It was probably going to take her around an hour to get back to the truck and walk up the front side of the rock to rescue me. I found a little tree growing out of the cliff, it supported a handful of leaves and was just large enough to support most of my weight. So I perched myself upon it, still holding tight to my one remaining cliff-face hand-hold. And there I resolved to sit, wait until she came and to thank God for everything that I could remember. If this was going to be the end of me, I may as well have gone down thankful.
After about fifteen minutes, I heard voices from on top of the rock. They sounded something like this, ‘Well dang Garth, I ain’t sure now, but I thought there was a belay-point somewheres around here’. I know that I am not Garth, but I took the liberty of replying, ’cause that belay point was just out of my hand reach. So I said, ‘Mate, it is just over here’. And his reply was something like ‘Shoot you gave me a fright, what the hang are you doing there? Are y’all from New Zealand?’ I looked around and could not see another soul in sight, but oddly enough now did not seem like an appropriate time to discuss the intricacies and subtleties of the English language. So I replied, ‘Yeah I am’. He replied ‘Why dang if we didn’t just watch a climbing video about you guys last night, you’re all idiots down there. What are you doing on the side of this cliff anyhow?’ I took the last statement as the huge compliment that it was and replied ‘Well actually I am stuck, can you throw me a rope?’ And alas in two minutes flat, I was on top of Enchanted Rock for the first time ever.
I chatted to these guys for a wee bit and then started walking back towards the truck to find my friend. Eventually I found her and helped her carry our gear back up to the top. We did have one beautiful cultural language moment on our walk up. There is a cave on Enchanted Rock and we were discussing the details of carrying our flash-lights. I had my Petzel with me, but like a good spelunker(74), I also had a pocket-sized Maglite(75). I mentioned that I did not actually have a place to put it. She absolutely threw me for a sixer(76) when she replied ‘Oh don’t worry, you can put it in my fanny pack’. We had a friendship, but it was never likely to be at the level that she was bringing it to. And I would not want her to put my Maglite in such a place. As they say in Texas, ‘Cooties!'(77) She must have seen the blood drain from my face and suddenly come blushing back. I was embarrassed and way outside of my subtle Kiwi culture zone. She looked at me and said ‘What, what did I say?’ I replied ‘What is a fanny pack?’ To which she presented to me her ‘bum bag’. I let out a sheepish school boy giggle and then over the next ten or so minutes tried to explain to her that the closest thing to a fanny-pack in my understanding was a sanitary napkin and that I did not want my Maglite anywhere near one of those. Embarrassment aside we spent the rest of the afternoon climbing, caving and hiking.
And now here I am again at the same place. Texas really is beautiful in that arid kind of way and walking up the rock confirmed that for me, this really is one of the most beautiful parts of America. Lithuania is so flat that if you spill your cup of water, it actually has to form a committee to decide which way to flow. So standing in the car park, feeling fat and gluggy, I was quite nervous facing the prospect of actually climbing this hill. Oh but it was so good to exercise, so good to stretch those legs, so good to catch some sun and so good to be with friends. The only sucky thing about the trip was that it must have been close to six hundred degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius you choose, it still makes the same point. And the point is that wisely I chose, rather than wearing my unstable jandals, to climb the hill in my fur-lined winter boots. My feet were stinkin’ hot, but safe and sound from any nasty scorpions or rattlers(78).
We had a lovely time on the rock, we took photos for each other and for other people. We chatted, admired the view and just generally wasted time. We wandered down to the cave and like a ten-year-old, I had to crawl in and take a look, but what I didn’t bargain for was having a ten-year-old follow me. I had not been in a small enclosed, dark and dirty area such as a cave for years. It was a little scary finding my spelunking legs, but also having a ten year old, who had no idea just how dangerous those dark corners are, terrified me. But he was a good kid and with the encouragement of his father, I sat in this black hole and explained to him the joys and dangers of spelunking. The boy was like a duck to water, it appeared to me that the outdoors and especially rocks were his native language.
Anyhow it was time to come down, ruin all that exercise and eat some more, because indeed, it was time for an early Thanksgiving. Personally I would have been happy to keep munching away on my ribs, but how could I resist the very traditional and cultural celebration of Thanksgiving.
Tune in for my next edition to hear about Thanksgiving, lightsabers and sleeping kids.
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You may have noticed some bracketed numbers in this chapter. These numbers correspond with explanations and definitions that are in an accompanying glossary. To read the glossary you will need to by the yet to be released book. Sorry!
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Ta (Kiwi for thank you)