17 July 2006

Aaaand... We're Off!

My flight to Heathrow leaves in less than twenty-four hours, and I'll admit: there are still a hundred things I need to do. But what's more important, really? Blogging... or packing?

Blogging, of course.

I am ever a last-minute packer. This time, I haven't even made a list to check off as I hurriedly smash clothes and books into a suitcase. I figure that as long as I have my passport and my credit card, I should be fine. Oh, and three pairs of shoes. (Jess and I had this discussion last summer before a group of us went to New Orleans. We decided that three pairs of shoes were the ideal number; more than that is obsessive, less than that is unreasonable. And even with three pairs of shoes each, we still managed to pack for carry-on. How's that for the modern woman?)

So tomorrow I'm on my way to England for ten days. I do this every year-- just pack up and travel around the U. K. for a week or two, staying at off-the-beaten-path youth hostels and living out of my suitcase. Riding the bus, counting the sheep, hitting every tea shop within a ten-mile radius. Pretty soon I'm going to run out of places to visit, but for the moment, as long as I keep reading my British history (I'm super into Alfred the Great right now), there will always be ruins and battlefields of note for me.

This is my best memory out of all my trips over all these years:

It was 2002, and my first trek by myself (I'd been when I was 16 with my parents and again when I was 20 with a group from college-- we read Wordsworth in the hills and valleys where he wrote). I was making a circuitous route around the country; I started in London, then traveled south to Dover, then north to Bakewell (still one of my favorite places), then even further north to Aysgarth, a little out-of-the-way town I chose because it had the closest hostel to Middleham, which had a ruined castle I wanted very badly to see because of its connextions to Richard III.

The hostel was formerly a tuberculosis hospital (lovely, right?) and stood right above what really made Aysgarth famous: the Aysgarth Falls. It was also a mile downhill from the town itself... and the bus stop. So each day I was there, I would make the uphill trek past the winking barn, past the cowfields, and into the town to wait for the very reliable bus.

Well, the day before I left Aysgarth, it started to rain-- and rain-- and rain. It rained all day and all night. And in the morning, when I walked with my suitcase and my carry-all up to the town, it was still raining. But by this time, there were huge rivers running alongside the sidewalks and where there was once a cowfield was... also a river, of sorts. As I walked, cars drove by and splashed huge amounts of muddy water on me like something out of slapstick.

I finally made it to the bus stop and onto the bus. But the adventure was just beginning...

For, as we began our journey to Leyburn (where I'd change for North Allerton, where I'd train to York-- honestly, I had a lot to learn about traveling around the U. K. in those days), I watched as the water on the roads grew higher and higher. The bus driver-- a younger man than I was used to seeing driving the buses in the north-- navigated his way through them the best he could, but finally, we came to a stop in a bank of water three feet high. He leaned out his window and shouted to the cars on the other side of the bank, "You can't make it through here!"

And we turned around and drove back to Aysgarth. I wasn't exactly sure what was going to happen-- I thought perhaps he would drop us off at the bus stop and... make us wait until the water dried up a bit? Instead, the driver made a sharp right onto the road past the hostel and over the Aysgarth Falls. It went up higher, he explained to those of us along for the ride, and would likely be less flooded.

As we rode over the Falls, the water was gushing with a strength it had lacked only the day before. Another few feet and it would be over the bridge. But the driver got us over quickly and soon, we were on our less-watery way to Leyburn.

It was amazing, too-- we were only a few minutes off the bus' normal schedule. As the driver parked the bus in the square, we passengers burst into cheers for him before dispersing to our next destinations.

I've seen a lot of the world, but sitting on that bus in the middle of nowhere as the rain poured down and the waters rose around us, scared at times that the bus would tip over or float away with everyone still aboard-- that was my favorite adventure of all time.

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