Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Thanks to LT and Firefox for the wonderful beta work. Be warned there are a few bad words. More notes and a glossary at the end. This story is in answer to -
THE ROAD TRIP 2004 CHALLENGE: offered by NotTasha.
The guys are on a long journey -- whether it is by car, horse, wagon, train, plane, boat -- you get the picture. At least two of our guys must appear. The story must be about their journey: something that happens along the way, the process of continuing the trek, the problems with close contact for so long -- whatever works for you. AND, it must contain at least one of the following: a dam, a painfully posed photograph, a badly performed show, a 'magnificent' waterfall, illegal swimming or a search for breakfast food. It must contain the following words: canyon, cowboy, optimist, gabby and akimbo ... One more thing. The story should be under 5,000 words.
Feedback: Oh yes please.
"Why do I have to go?" Vin all but whinged, for the umpteenth time.
"Because we have to send crew to the Boat Show. Remember the RNLI, the people who pay your wages?" Chris reminded.
"Why arent you going?"
"Because I have a farm to run. You're not going alone Buck and Ezra are going too, you even get to go in Ezra's Range Rover. What more do you want?"
Vin was about to respond that he didn't want to go to London and stand around and be nice to total strangers and hand out leaflets on boat safety that most of the rich idiots would never read. But he didn't, what was the point? Buck had already taken pity on him and promised that hed see to it that he and Ezra did most of the 'meet and greet' work, he could spend most of his time looking at the new gadgets.
The next day he carried his bag up to the Lifeboat Inn and waited for Ezra. The drive to London should take most of the day, they weren't in any hurry, they weren't even due to start work until the next day. There was a short 'discussion' about who got to drive first, who was going to sit in the front and what music to listen to. The music question was solved fairly fast, since once they were on the road, with Ezra driving, the other two went to sleep, Buck stretched out across the back seat. The best part of an hour and three-quarters later, Ezra, who had been happily listening to Classic FM, suddenly swore.
"W't?" Vin asked without opening his eyes.
"Bridge is closed."
The bridge across the Tamar at Saltash saved travellers more than thirty miles. In winter it was sometimes closed for high winds. The Tamar valley wasn't exactly the Grand Canyon but the bridge was high and exposed to southerly gales blowing up the Channel. But it was August, the sun was shining, there wasn't a breath of wind.
"Why?" Vin asked as he opened his eyes and sat up.
"How the hell should I know?" Ezra snapped. Vin ignored him and started to fiddle with the radio. "What are you doing?"
"Looking for the traffic news," Vin explained.
Once he had the local radio station Vin looked into the back of the big four by four, Buck hadn't moved. After several pop tunes that Ezra hated and in truth weren't really Vin's taste, the DJ announced that the bridge was closed because of a jack-knifed lorry, which had caught fire. They predicted that it would remain closed all day. Seeing no alternative Ezra followed the diversion signs and headed up toward Tavistock. The trouble was, so was everyone else and the journey took more than twice as long as it would normally have taken. Two hours after they set out they weren't even at Plymouth. Something Buck commented on as he woke up ready to take his turn at the wheel.
"How do you do it?" Vin asked.
"Do what?" Buck straightened up and stretched.
"Sleep through anything, and then wake up exactly on cue?"
"It's a gift." Buck peered ahead of them, at the endless stream of crawling traffic. "Ezra why don't you take a left, first chance you get, we can head out across the moor."
"Is that really gonna be faster?" Vin asked.
"Maybe, maybe not, but if it isn't it'll be a lot more scenic than this."
Vin looked back at the tall publican then over at Ezra. "He's got a point"
They weren't the only ones to have the idea, but it was much more scenic and with fewer traffic fumes, they could open the windows all the way down. It was already hot and promising to get hotter. It was tempting to linger and enjoy the view when they changed drivers at Two Bridges, but they were so far behind schedule they just pressed on to Exeter and joined the motorway. The traffic was still heavy, not unusual for a Friday in August. Buck decided that instead of going all the way to Bristol on the motorway, he'd cut across country on the A303. They stopped at a petrol station to pick up some sandwiches, crisps and drinks, then pulled off the road at Stonehenge to eat them and admire the wonders of ancient man's ingenuity.
+ + + + + + +
The noonday sun was blisteringly hot as they sat and watched the tourists wander around the ancient monument, and for a while they just lay back and dozed, forgetting they were several hours behind schedule. Eventually they could put off their departure no longer. Ezra tossed the keys to Vin.
"I take it you can drive a car, and not just that death-trap you ride?" Ezra clarified, referring to Vin's motorbike.
"I can drive." Vin strode toward the car. "A tank," he whispered to Buck as he passed him.
"I heard that!" Ezra ran after Vin. "You better be kidding!"
"Ezra," Buck clapped the smaller man on the shoulders. "He was in the Marines, think about it, where the hell was he gonna get a tank?"
"Oh, right, of course." Ezra relaxed a little
"It was probably an APC."
"What? What is an APC - Buck?"
By now, Vin was sitting in the drivers seat, looking puzzled.
"Vin, what is an APC?" Ezra asked.
"Armoured personal carrier," he explained in a distinctly distracted manner. "Ezra, the car won't start."
"What? Of course it will."
"No it won't, look." With that he turned the key, the ignition lights came on but nothing else.
"What did you do to it?"
"Nothing, I just unlocked the door and put the key in, it turned over once and then died, now nothing."
Some half an hour later, the car still wouldn't start and they were forced to admit they needed help. One quick call to the AA and they were promised a patrol would be with them within an hour, as men, safely parked in a car park, they weren't high priority. Fifty minutes, an ice cream, some more lazing in the sun and the familiar yellow van rolled into the car park. An hour after that and the problem was traced to the central door locking fuse, that replaced - they set out again. They were a good three hours from their destination, where they should have been an hour ago. But there was nothing they could do about it, and they were only missing the training session.
"Meet and greet, how difficult can it be?" Buck pointed out.
+ + + + + + +
They had just turned off on to the Marlborough road heading for Hungerford and the M4 when they hit traffic again. This time the queue was barely moving, the average speed was just 4 mph. After half an hour Buck got out and jogged up the road to see what the hold up was. Some time later he returned.
"There's a traction engine up there, damn things going as fast as it can, but it's so wide and slow, with this much traffic coming the other way no one can get past it," he explained
"So we're buggered," Vin observed.
"Or we try to find a way around it," Buck suggested, he looked at Ezra. "You got an atlas?"
Buck rode up front beside Vin; the road atlas on his knees.
"Okay, take a the next right, should be sign posted to Cadley, then Gabby Hardcourt maybe even Pratts Bottom."
They safely found there way to Pratts Bottom. After that, Buck told Vin to head for Lower Slaughter and Little Piddle. The trouble was, was there were a lot more roads than were actually shown on the large scale map Buck was working from. Since the road atlas only showed the major roads when they found themselves on a road with grass growing in the middle of it - what Buck called 'adventure driving' - they knew they had gone wrong.
Buck, ever the optimist, pointed out that if they kept going north they'd hit the motorway, eventually. After an hour of fruitless - if scenic driving - they came to a main road, a main road choked with traffic, since there were no signs and they didn't know were they were, they couldn't decide to go left or right, so following Buck's 'go north' philosophy they crossed over and continued north. By now it was nearly six, and they were hungry. With no Ordnance Survey map to point the way to the nearest pub they pulled in at the nearest tourist attraction, the Crofton Beam Engines. As they turned in, the first thing they saw were traction engines, lots of them, including the distinctive red and green one they had been trying to over take in the first place.
"Well at least we know why there was so much traffic, let's see if they know if there is somewhere to obtain a meal," Ezra commented from the back seat.
Vin parked the car, turned off the engine and sat back with relief.
"Food man, I need food," he stated firmly.
+ + + + + + +
It turned out the steam rally started the next day, when the beam engines would be steaming. There was no food on sale, the various delegates had their own eating arrangements, and sleeping facilities. However a man called Phil, wearing a leather cowboy hat with a pheasant feather in it and a pronounced West Country accent, gave them directions to a nearby hotel, were they could get a meal. They piled back into the car, this time Ezra was driving, he turned the key, the engine turned over and died - again.
"I don't believe this!" he fumed.
"It's not the end of the world, we know what the problem is, we just need a new fuse," Vin pointed out.
"And you just happen to have such a fuse?" Ezra asked sarcastically.
"No but you do, we can use one we don't really need, the radio or the horn - right?" Vin turned to Buck for support.
"Theoretically, open the bonnet."
With the horn illegally deprived of its fuse they tried again, the engine turned over the fuse blew and the engine died - again. The radio fuse faired no better.
"Guess I call the AA again." Ezra pulled out his cell phone.
"Not yet," Buck cut in.
"Why ever not? I have full cover, they'll get us to London."
"It'll be an hour before they get here, then who knows how long to try and fix it, if they can't we get loaded up and taken to London - we need food! Look at Taffy, if we don't feed him soon he's gonna fade away - right?"
"Too bloody true, I say we eat first, then worry about the car later, we're so late now what does it matter?"
It wasn't as if they hadn't warned the RNLI representative at the boat show they were going to be late.
"Very well, but how do we get to this hotel - with no car?" Ezra asked.
"We walk, the guy said it's about 2 miles down the towpath. What do you say, nice evening stroll?"
"Which way?" Vin demanded.
+ + + + + + +
The evening stroll had been pleasant, but only helped to build their appetites. The hotel was happy to welcome them but they were booked out and it would be at least a half hour before there was a table free. They settled in the bar to wait. In the end, it was an hour before they got a table. Starters, main course, dessert, all accompanied by wine took nearly two hours, then there was Irish coffee. The bar was still open so they headed in for a night cap. Most of the people in there were connected to the steam rally. Some of them were out and out anoraks, but others proved to be very interesting. One was a retired steeplejack, who had acquired a steam powered pithead winding gear, so dug a mine shaft in his back garden so he could run it. He had some wonderful tales of demolishing factory chimneys, climbing steeples, and runaway steamrollers. There was a genuine Duke, who loved nothing better than to pull on his overalls, shovel coal into his massive show engine, and use it to power his mechanical show organ. When Buck let slip they were lifeboat men, it seemed everyone wanted to buy them a round. Before they knew it the barman was ringing the bell for last orders.
"Now what?" Ezra asked.
"Now what? What?" Buck asked.
"It's late, we're drunk "
"Am not!" Vin protested, but the loud belch he let go almost as soon as he opened his mouth, invalidated his declaration.
"And," Ezra continued, "we have no place to stay and a car that won't go even if we could drive."
"AA," Vin stated.
"I think they might tink snink think we rung the wrong AA."
Buck pulled himself up, swayed slightly and then headed for the hotel reception. "I'll get us rooms," he called a little too loudly.
By the time he weaved his way back, there was no one else in the bar, and the staff were giving the two men hard stares and cleaning up as loudly as they could. Vin was oblivious to this since he was asleep, head resting on Ezra's shoulder, a small trail of drool running from his mouth on to Ezra's designer polo shirt. That Ezra hadn't noticed was testament to his own level of inebriation.
"Oh good, bed. Come Mr Tanner our bed await us." Ezra began shaking Vin awake.
"Bed? Oh good," Vin muttered pulling himself up right.
"Err guys?" Buck began.
"That doesnt sound good," Ezra commented.
"What?" Vin asked.
"No rooms, they're full, I asked if we could sleep here, in the bar, but the owner says no - it's against the fire regulations, so he wants us out."
"Oh." Vin slumped back in his seat.
"So what do we do now?" Ezra demanded.
"I got the number of a taxi company, so we can get our bags and get them to take us to the someplace we can get a bed for the night."
"I wan' a go t' bed," Vin slurred.
"Well come on then." Buck grabbed hold of Vin's wrist and pulled him to his feet.
Ezra pushed himself up and the three of them staggered out into the warm August night. The first thing they realised was it was dark. Beyond the light cast by the hotels security lights it was very dark. There was a moon, not a full moon, but once their eyes were accustomed to it they could see well enough to see their way home - or it would have been had they been sober. A few yards down the path Vin decided he needed to take a leak. Once he announced this, the other two instantly felt the urge.
"Hey look!" Vin called. He was standing on the raised brick platform, which had once supported a swing bridge, peeing into the canal. "I made a waterfall!"
Buck staggered up to join him adding his stream to Vin's.
"Come on Ez, join the team."
"Ez-RA!" Ezra corrected Buck automatically; "Urinating is not a team sport."
But despite his words he joined them, coming to stand on the other side of Vin, and giving a heartfelt sigh as he emptied his very full bladder. Almost by accident his stream joined the other two.
"Cross the streams!" Buck cried out.
"Wha'?" Vin looked at him, even as he finished and stared to do up his flies.
"You know - Ghostbusters? Don't cross the streams?" The other two looked at him blankly. "God I'm getting old," Buck lamented, as he too finished and did his trousers up. "Come on Ez we dont have all night!"
"Ez-RA oh what's the point? Coming."
They knew that to get back to the car, they had to follow a path beside the water and cross over on a bridge at some point. The trouble was in the moonlight and deep shadow one path and one bridge beside water looked very much like the next path or bridge. It took them just under an hour to stroll down to the hotel, after nearly three hours their alcohol befuddled brains finally worked out they had gone wrong! The fact that they were in a woodland clearing, with no canal in sight, was something of a clue.
"This isn't right," Buck stated confidently.
"I'm tired." With that Vin sat down.
"What's not right?" Ezra asked. "Where's Vin?"
"I'm right here, it's nice here."
"Where's here and where's my car?"
"I told you, this isn't right," Buck stated yet again.
Ezra peered into the deep shadows. "This isn't were we left the car."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you, we're in the wrong place." Buck looked around. "Where's Vin?"
"I don't know, he sort of disappeared."
"Vin!" Buck yelled. "Hey Vin were are you?" With that he began to wander about looking for the missing Welshman. Seconds later and with a loud 'oomph', he tripped over Vin, who was now sound asleep, flat on his back, arms and legs akimbo, on the soft moss bank he had found.
"What the?" Buck grumbled, disentangling himself from Vin and coming to rest beside him.
"Where are you?" Ezra sounded very slightly panicked.
"Down here, its nice down here, soft, sort of cool." Buck lay back. "I can see the stars."
"We can't stay here," Ezra protested. "Buck? Vin?" There was no reply. "Please Buck?" Still no answer other than a soft snore. Moving toward the sound he encountered an obstacle in his path, this proved to be Buck's size twelve's. Bending down he shook the foot he had found.
"Buck!" he called loudly, but all he got in response was a snore nose as Buck's foot shot up in a reflex action to rid itself of whatever was attacking it.
Ezra sat down suddenly, and immediately felt tired, the soft moss beneath him called and he answered.
+ + + + + + +
Something woke Vin, what he wasn't sure, but as he became more awake he found three possible reasons. It could have been the heavy weight of Buck's leg resting on his, it could have been the need to answer nature's call or - and he thought this most likely - it could have been the fact that Buck's finger was stuck up his nose.
The sun was still low so it was early. Rolling way from Wilmington he squinted at his watch, it was almost six. Looking around he found they were in a small clearing, the woods around him looked fairly thick. Somewhat stiffly he pushed himself to his feet and took a better look around. Behind him the woods weren't so thick, water, sparkling in the sun, shone back at him. He could clearly see the path they must have followed. He didn't actually remember how they got there, but he did remember setting out to walk back to the car from the pub. He wandered down to the water.
It turned out to be a lake, clearly artificial, since he found a small dam, old by the look of it. At the far end of the lake he could see a grand house. And a short way off a small wooden platform, about ten-foot long, stretched out over the water. Having taken care of 'business' he wandered back to the others.
"Hey guys," he called, tapping each of them on the foot.
Ezra didn't move, Buck mumbled something, but didn't wake.
"Guys!" he called a bit louder.
"Wha'?" Buck asked with out opening his eye.
"Time to get up, come on!"
"Oh God," Ezra muttered as he rolled over.
"Gordon Bennett, Tanner! What time is it?" Buck asked, finally opening his eyes and shielding them from the sun.
"It's the middle of the night!" Ezra protested.
"Oh for Pete's sake Ezra, the sun's up." Buck pulled himself upright. Stretching out some of the kinks he took a look around. "Nice place, where are we?"
"Beats me," Vin admitted.
"Do you two have to shout?" Ezra complained.
"Hangover?" Vin asked.
"Me? Nah. You got a hangover Buck?"
Buck was still stretching and taking in their location. "What?"
"Do you have a hangover?" Vin repeated.
"Course not. I'm gonna go see a man about a dog, be right back."
"How come you two are unafflicted?" Ezra demanded to know.
"Well I may not remember much of last night but I do remember you changing your order each round. Never mix yer drinks Ez, didn't yer Mam teach you that?"
+ + + + + + +
Vin was standing on the platform looking at the now sparkling waters of the lake, as the sun warmed up, a fine mist rose from the water. Buck joined him.
"Damn thats a pretty view," he announced.
"Sure is. Where's Ez?"
"Throwing up in the woods, that'll teach him to mix his drinks."
"Told him that."
They were still there when Ezra joined them. "We appear to have wondered into a private estate," he commented.
"No really, you think?" Buck asked sarcastically.
Vin wrinkled his nose and made a move away. "Damn Ez, you stink."
"Well thank you so much, you're not exactly a nosegay yourself - you know?"
Buck pulled his shirt off and began to undo his boots.
"Mr Wilmington, what do you think you're doing?"
"Taking a bath, it's gonna be a long day cooped up in a hot car." With that his started to undo his jeans.
"Good idea." Vin also began to strip.
"We can't swim here," Ezra protested.
"Why not?" the other two asked in unison.
"It's private property, we're trespassing."
"So?" Vin asked.
"The house is just there." He pointed at the mansion at the far end of the lake.
"It's a quarter of a mile away Ezra," Buck protested. "Besides, it's six in the morning, who the hell is gonna see?"
The argument was ended by a small splash. As the others looked around, Vin surfaced a few yards from the platform.
"Well?" Buck asked.
"Cold but clean," he reported.
That was good enough for Buck, who stripped off his remaining clothes and dived in. Ezra watched the two men swim a little further out and then turn back to look at him.
"You coming?" Buck called.
"Oh well, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, I guess." With that he too began to strip.
For half an hour, the three men swan and splashed about in the peaceful lake. Ezra only threatened to get out once, when he went to stand and sank up to his knee in silt, but he was having fun and didnt want to be seen as a wimp. Buck claimed a 'monster' pike swam between his legs but the other's refused to believe him without proof. As they lazed about in the cool water, Ezra told them how old he thought the house was and what style it had been built in. The other two friends were impressed with his knowledge.
"No doubt this lake and the grounds are the result of a visit by 'Capability' Brown," he finished.
The three of them had been treading water in the middle of the lake; suddenly a shout got their attention.
"Oy! You three!"
Coming out of the woods on the far side of the lake was a portly man, dressed in khaki shorts and check shirt. He was waving a walking stick and accompanied by two equally portly black Labrador dogs.
"Oh shit!" Buck exclaimed.
"I told you this was a bad idea."
"Ezra just shut up and swim!" Vin warned.
The man was doing his best to run along the water's edge, as were the dogs with him, but none of them had much of a turn of speed, and were soon puffing and out of breath.
The three lifeboat men were all strong swimmers and were making good time across the mill pond calm water. As they hauled themselves out of the water, their pursuer was approaching the dam. With no time to dress they shoved their feet into their shoes grabbed their clothes and ran. No one spoke, or made any conscious decisions, they just took off, following the small steam below the dam. Sober and in daylight it was hard to believe they had mistaken it for a canal.
In the end they ran all the way back to the canal, a full mile, had they but know it. Suddenly coming out from the safely of the trees on to the towpath. There they were greeted by squeals of shock, laughter and finally applause. There was a canal boat full of teenage girls on a school field trip, moored right in front of them. The sudden arrival of three good looking, naked men, greatly enlivening their breakfast!
Turning around so fast they ran into each other, causing more laughter, they scrambled back for the cover of the trees. Sometime later, dressed and less flustered, they re-emerged on to the towpath to more applause and gallantly took a bow. Buck thought Vin was going to burst a blood vessel he was so red with embarrassment! There was no sign of their pursuer, so they set out again toward the car.
+ + + + + + +
While Ezra called the AA, Vin and Buck went in search of breakfast. Vin, who knew his strengths, targeted older women, while Buck sought out the few young women and at least one Navy veteran. Their efforts produced one bacon buttie, two buttered crumpets, three cold sausages and half a carton of orange juice. All of which they shared. The AA decided the evident problem with the central locking was beyond their ability.
"We need to get you to a dealer," the patrolman announced.
"Is there a Range Rover dealer anywhere near here? Ezra asked.
"Are you kidding?" the man spluttered. "This is Wiltshire, we're knee deep in Range Rovers!"
The dealer - in Hungerford - took the car in, and supplied a courtesy car. And it was in this; not Ezra's beloved Range Rover and a day late that they finally made it to London. After a stop at the hotel to clean up and change clothes they made their way to the exhibition centre. The hall was dominated by a huge water tank, in which floated millions of pounds worth of yachts.
"Looks good," Buck commented.
"Indeed, most impressive," Ezra agreed.
"Hey Vin, fancy a swim?" Buck gestured to the clean blue water of the tank.
"Don't you dare!" Ezra warned.
Note: Pratts Bottom, the Slaughters and the Piddle are real place names in England:0)
For the Brits - yes I know the London Boat Show is in January not August.
The AA - The Automobile Association, motoring organisation that provide a driver rescue service - very reliable! Not to be confused with Alcoholics Anonymous.
Anoraks - Geeks who are so obsessed by things like trains, LOTR, War Hammer, the weather, the can speak about nothing else, in a very monotonous voice.
'Be hung for a sheep as a lamb' - if you have already broken one rule, what's one more gonna hurt? When sheep stealing was hanging offence, there was no point taking as little lamb since the punishment was the same, no matter how big the animal was.
Bonnet - on a car it means the hood
Buggered - apart from the dictionary definition, in Britain it means 'screwed'
Buttie - Sandwich, chips (thick cut fries), bacon, sausages or jam are the most common fillings.
Capability Brown - Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, very famous 18th Century landscape gardener, he would look at landowners parkland and say "It has capabilities my Lord" - hence the name.
Crofton Engines - Home of the oldest (1812) working steam engine, that can still do its original job, in the world. Used to pump water into a canal, but only put under steam a few times a year since being replaced by modern pumps.
Crumpets - difficult to describe, size of an English muffin with the texture of a bath sponge, you eat it hot and buttered and the butter melts and runs down into all the holes and where was I?
'Gordon Bennett!' - an exclamation, no idea were it comes from.
Ordnance Survey - Produces maps, the 204, 1.25 inch to 1 mile Landranger sheet maps covering the whole country are the most popular.
'See a man about a dog' - answer nature's call.
Show Organ - large, steam powered, mechanical organs that were used to provide music at fun fairs.
Towpath - pathway running beside a canal or river, originally used when horses towed barges.
Traction Engine - 19th and early 20th Century, mobile steam engine, primarily used in travelling fun fairs, agriculture and road building, very big, very heavy, very slow, but wonderful to behold.