thesticks

Tuesday 14th June 1983

We are late getting up. I had been lying in bed awake for what seemed like ages but I had thought it was still early. Now it is nearly 10am. It doesn't take us long to get up and ready to leave.

 

We drive from Tucson to the tourist attraction known as The Colossal Cave. Our route takes us south-eastwards on highway 10 for about 30 miles and then north for a few miles. It is bright and sunny but when we arrive we are not out in the sun for long.

We join a guided tour around the cave. The guide tells us amusing anecdotes and interesting facts about the cave's history, the two main facts being that it maintains a steady temperature of 72oF (for us non-Americans that's about 22oC) and it is dry. It was inhabited by the  Hohokam Indians for many years and there are impressive stalactites and stalagmites, but to me it is just a cave. I am a bit disappointed. I was expecting something exciting to match my memory of visiting Cheddar Gorge caves, but then I suppose the comparison is unfair. When I went to Cheddar I was only a kid and maybe my imagination was better then. I don't pay much attention and lose interest. 

From the cave we return to Tucson and eat lunch in a small Mexican cafe. After lunch we drive north to Mt. Lemmon. The route is scenic, we climb gradually towards the summit which is over 9000ft (2,792m). The scenery changes slowly from the hot dusty plains, crowded with cacti, up through dramatic rock outcrops to the cooler pine forests nearer its summit. It is the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

At the summit we wander around, Stewart taking photographs, me just looking at the view. It seems cool so I decide it is a good place to go for a run. I run along a dirt track which quickly turns into a steep uphill slog before plunging down again even more steeply. I don't know where I am going and realise I will have to make this an out and back route. That means I will need to run back up the very steep slope I am currently descending.

I haven't been running long but begin to feel very tired. It is hotter than I had realised and my mouth and throat are very dry. After less than 15 minutes I decide I need to turn back. I struggle on the uphill. I can't remember the last time I felt so tired when out running. It is hard to keep going and I barely make it back to the top before slowing to little more than walking pace. I recover on the flatter and down hill sections but by the time I get back to the car my mouth and throat feel as though I have swallowed blotting paper and my lungs are burning.

Stewart is still taking pictures. He laugh when he sees me and reminds me he had pointed out the altitude. What had I expected? I wasn't used to either the heat or the altitude, but he seems to think that the run has put me in a better mood. We had been quiet on the drive up the mountain and the atmosphere had seemed a little strained. 

On the drive back we pass a sign that says "City Center". I wondered what they mean: the geographic centre of the city area or the central business district or something else entirely. I thought in the US they called the city centre "down town". I assume down town is where the shops and entertainment can be found. All the towns and cities we have been through so far appear to follow the grid pattern. The buildings have mostly been one storey and widely spaced. They are not short of space here. We have not seen any sky scrappers or, once out of LA, any tall buildings.

The roads are very wide too and the buildings are set well back which makes them seem even wider, but the road surfaces are terrible. I wonder if it is the hot dry weather causing the road to crack. We pass through a very long stretch of road works but they seem to be rebuilding not repairing the road. 

The dry heat affects everything. From a distance the houses, even the large mansion types look insubstantial, with faded wooden paintwork. It must be the intense sun and heat.

Stewart is driving. He looks tired and a couple of times I warn him he is drifting into the middle of the road. Fortunately there is little traffic, but he seems to be losing concentration. Long, straight roads with little to engage the brain, are definitely tiring and he admits to looking at the scenery and not the road. We approach a junction in the middle lane and then realise we need to turn right. I would have gone straight on and tried to turn round later but Stewart decides he can make it. The brakes screech and he pulls hard to the right. We only just make it although not without a scare that we were heading for the wrong side of the central reservation. It is fortunate that the traffic is light. 

I play with the radio trying to retune it. We seem to lose the stations very quickly. We haven't heard the news for a couple of days and we want to find a good news broadcast. We get a strong signal. Someone is talking about Flag Day. Today is a public holiday for Flag Day. Apparently some Americans have taken the day off to honour their flag. It explains the light traffic but what a strange idea. The radio plays patriotic music, patriotic songs, there is talk about venerating the flag. It sounds like brainwashing and it is alien to us and we can't cope with it for long and I resume my search for a news channel.

There are a lot of flags in the US. We had already noticed that almost every public building, the national monuments, parks and quite a lot of homes have flag poles with the national flag. Stars and Stripes fluttering in the breeze everywhere. I can understand natural pride in the achievements of the nation and the national values but this seemed to be about the physical flag, a piece of coloured cloth, and the sentiment seemed to be nationalist rather than patriotic. To us it seemed false, an attempt to artificially create nationalist attitudes among people otherwise insecure in their identity. I don't think even Maggie would try that.

We stop for late afternoon tea. The friendly cheerfulness of the waiting staff is impressive. They act as though they are really delighted to be of service, as though if they could chose to be doing anything, this is what they would do. I don't believe they would, but clearly the act is an essential part of the job. I imagine the waiter taking our order, grinning and chatting cheerfully and then disappearing through the door to the kitchen and transforming into a tired wreck, back and feet aching and looking at the clock to calculate how long before he can knock off and go home. We leave a tip and for the first time think we have it about right.

Back in the motel we review our budget and expenses. So far we are averaging a daily spend of $32 each, not including the car hire, but we expect this to reduce when we go North where we are planning to do more camping. We assume the camp sites will be cheaper than the motels, at least we hope so.