Friday 20 April 2012

Letters From America | Week Three: The Cabin In The Woods

I've had a hell of a time in America, this past month. There've been good bit and bad, but of course -- as ever, the great and the terrible come together. Given which, it might be a trifle disingenuous of me to say I wouldn't trade a second of my many and various experiences here - there are a few I'd be glad to get shot off, in all honesty - so I won't. But by and large, I've had the time of my life.

Hard to believe, then, that it's almost over. But it is. Come Monday I'll be back in my proper place, installed before the curious control panel of The Speculative Scotsman, reading and writing and teaching - and talking about reading and writing and teaching to anyone who'll listen - just as if I'd never been gone at all. But I was. Gone. And I was gone a long time.

You haven't even heard the half of it, either. In the last of my Letters From America, dated near enough a fortnight ago now, we talked about New Orleans, and touched on Panama City Beach. So what happened after that? Hell, only everything! But let me cast my mind back...

In brief, simply because there's so much I want to burble about: from Panama City Beach the other half and I saw the third member of our impromptu party off to the airport for a quick hop along the panhandle; to Fort Lauderdale, where we'd be catching up with her again shortly. But not before more than 1000 miles of driving on the wrong side of the road, the perfect storm, a legion of oversized insects, and at long last, rather a lot of reading.

The thinking was, smack bang in the middle of our hectic month in America, we might just need a holiday from our holiday... a little downtime, to catch our breath and consider what we could and should expel it on next. To wit, we booked a couple of nights in a cabin in the woods between Dogtown and Fort Payne in innermost Alabama.

Surprisingly, this worried everyone we made mention of it to - though it's worth noting that none of them had ever been to Alabama themselves - and I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the names of the towns on either side of our quaint little cabin didn't help matters. We were told to make doubly sure we had appropriate plates on our rental car, and our Texan friends also insisted we stick to main roads wherever possible. Furthermore, we were advised to keep ourselves to ourselves. Basically to keep our mouths shut unless we couldn't possibly avoid it. Oh, and no taking the lord's name in vain!

As it happened, however, the most perilous thing about Alabama was the weather. Our cabin in the woods was far enough removed from it all that we only met a few folks, and those that we did meet were perfectly friendly. That said, several of the locals we encountered in the midst of our holiday-within-a-holiday essentially echoed the advice we'd been given earlier. So yes, we were careful. We hardly left the house, except to see a few incredible natural landmarks, and forage for foodstuffs. But then, that's all we'd planned on doing anyway, so our time in the cabin went off without a hitch, excepting the huge bugs that ate perhaps half of my body mass.

We weren't so lucky getting to the cabin in the first place, I'm afraid: the mildly strenuous six hour drive from Panama City Beach turned into an stressful eight hour affair when we hit massive traffic, and alas, almost immediately after that, we drove right into what I'm going to call a tropical storm... though I sincerely doubt it was anything out of the ordinary for Americans.

For wee British people like my pocket-sized traveling companion and I, it felt a lot like I imagine the end of the world would: in a matter of minutes, it went from late in the day but still quite light to night as thick as pitch. The sweltering warmth we'd almost gotten used to erupted into thunder the likes of which I'd never ever heard, and with it spikes of lightning that seemed to split the sky. To add insult to injury, seconds later huge hailstones started attacking us.

It was truly terrifying - certainly the scariest thing that I encountered in the six states I saw - but at the time, I thought the thing to do was push on through it. Me and my pride! I only pulled over when all the other drivers I'd been keeping pace with took to the hard shoulder themselves... then I happily hit my hazards and called a momentary halt to our adventure.

Nor was the drive up to Fort Lauderdale any laughing matter at the time, though I have had call to look back on it since, and laugh. On this occasion, ambition was my deadly sin. We were going to do two six to eight hour over a pair of days, but so close to the end of our time in America - or so it seemed to me - I didn't want to drag the thing out. I wanted to do it all in a day so we could get on with the last leg of our trip, and I did.

More's the pity.

But between one gargantuan drive and the other: happy days. Relaxing days. Also excruciating, exhilarating days. And why such a spread of emotions? Well, because I spend most of them reading, at long last, A Game of Thrones... which was magnificent. I did this ostensibly in readiness for the second season of the TV series, which I now plan to watch when it's concluded, and I've had the time to take in A Clash of Kings too.

Because once you pop, you can't very well stop, can you? :)

On which note, I'd better get packing, but I'll back on Monday with one last installment of Letters From America -- though truth be told it won't be a letter from America at all, because by then I'll be home again, home again.

Jiggety jig?

Sadly no... not so much.

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