The Niva has landed. Well, its made landfall is what I mean. I found it sitting at Newark Port looking slightly salt encrusted but non the worse for its two weeks at sea. It was certainly looking a hell of a lot better than the Land Rover nearby that had had a container dropped on it. As expected, it’d taken me a good few hours to find the Niva, not least because the taxi driver didn’t know where the port was, even though he’d picked me up from the airport rental car drop-off point which is only four-and-a-half miles away. He said he was from out of town which struck me as being a distinct disadvantage for a taxi driver. Still, he was ok once I’d entered the address into his sat-nav for him.
A burley port worker waited with me while I turned the key in the ignition, just to make sure it started ok. It turned over first time, which surprised the both of us. We then had a look around the Niva to check that everything was as it should be and nothing minor such as body panels were missing. The car was in tact and even the vast majority of the items we’d shipped with the car were still there. In the shipping world it’s a cardinal sin to ship a vehicle with anything in it other than the original tools, so of course we loaded it to the gunwales. We had camp beds in there, folding shovels, winch strops, Jerry cans and a host of crap that was too big or too heavy to send out with our luggage. Just to make sure it arrived in the US I’d been at pains to padlock everything to the chassis so that only the most determined thief or spiteful Customs official could run away with any of it. I was please I’d done so too, the only things missing were two yoga mats. They don’t lend themselves to being padlocked particularly well and the fool that I am, I thought ‘who’s gonna nick two yoga mats!’ Well, it seems that a seaman with a particular desire to be more flexible was away with them. (We had sent them to put under our camp beds so that the ground sheet of the tent didn’t get knackered by the way, nothing to do with yoga all.)
I turned out of the port onto Highway 95 South with the iPod playing in my ears and a smile as broad as the Atlantic itself. There is no feeling in the world quite like hopping into your own vehicle on the other side of the world and driving in the midday sun with the Empire State Building in the near distance. An hour later I turned into the driveway of my second cousin, twice removed (I think) to see Liz and the dog standing there with smiles as big as mine. It was a monumental moment. Liz came running over and literally hugged the car, patting it, caressing it with love and affection. This was the car that was going to take us across the States, through Mexico, into the 2012 Maya Rally and beyond if any of us made it. It wasn’t a car; it was a symbol of our shared future, the vehicle of tomorrow’s adventures.
Since arriving in the USA we had been enjoying the company and hospitality of Hannah and Paul in Princeton Junction, fourty-five minutes south of New York. Hannah is a relation on my mother’s side and has researched our family tree extensively. I was bringing the family tree to life for her and was under strict instructions from my mother not to let the side down. Having not met Hannah or Paul before it was left to chance how we’d all get along. Family relations are no guarantee of harmony. As it happened we got along as though we’d all known each other for years, they were lovely in every respect and made us feel so at home it was hard to leave when the time came. Hannah lectures Latin and Mythology three days a week while Paul is a scholar and a gentleman in every respect. The scholarly bit is even proven with a certificate. He is the Professor of Music and Composition at Princeton University. You’ll just have to take my word for it on the gentlemanly bit though. He has the humour of a comedian and the conversation of a chat show host. (A good chat show that is.) When questioned about being a professor he says “Professors are shmucks just like everyone else”. Well, I can tell you that if that is the case Paul is a far better class of shmuck by any standard; a shmuck to aspire to even. Hannah is also possessed of equal conversation and humour. She has to be to keep Paul in check. (Some of Paul’s compositions can be heard via www.paullansky.com or for Radio Head aficionado’s you’ll know his music already. It was a great pleasure to get to know them and they were happy to let us get on with the job of sorting ourselves out and taking little trips off into the Pine Barrons of New Jersey and beyond to allow our dog, John total freedom to run around in a new country and to see how the Niva was performing after the sea crossing. The close proximity to water for a couple of weeks had obviously paid off. Our first night wild camping in the Barrons on a US Air Force artillery range ended in torrential rain, the second night involved a number of river crossings , all of which were handled without issue. It was the first real test of the Niva since we had got it and it was surpassing expectations so far.
All told it took us nine days of trips to Newark and waiting for excess baggage for us to finally get on the road and start heading West. With fond wishes from Hannah and Paul we turned the wrong way out of their drive to head West, we waited until they weren’t looking and turned around to go the right way out of Princeton. Within hours we’d left New Jersey and found ourselves in the unending forests of Pennsylvania looking for a place to camp under the stars. The trip had truly begun. We’d made it kicking and screaming all the way but we had made it, the three of us, me Liz and the recovering drug addict, John.