If one visits Eastern USA in the fall, be prepared for hurricanes! However, Judith and I were lucky as our first lecture was well inland, at the famous Biltmore Estate, home of the Vanderbilt family near Asheville, North Carolina.
Here we gave a presentation on the crossing of the Darien Gap by the SES supported expedition in 1972. The audience consisted of enthusiastic campers who travel the world in 4WD vehicles of all types, many equipped as most comfortable and practical “camper-wagons”. The gathering, attended by several thousand veteran travellers had been organised by the Overland Journal Magazine that has already featured several expeditions by SES members.
We were accommodated at the splendid Biltmore Village Hotel and greeted by a number of old friends. The lecture went well although the hurricane was now sweeping into the coastal areas and at one moment, I thought we would be speaking totally outdoors without the marquee!
From Asheville we were treated to a four hour drive through a densely wooded area and at the city of Raleigh we stayed with our good friends, Ann and Wade Smith, who had organised the US Op Raleigh Committee and had done a magnificent job in selecting and steering many American venturers.
The hurricane’s devastation was very evident. Trees had smashed into the roofs of several near-by houses, but luckily, the one that fell at Ann’s house had only clipped the conservatory roof. Electric power had been restored as we arrived, but during lunch the local transmitter blew up and we then used Ann’s solar lamps.
Nevertheless, Ann held a reunion dinner with Mark Bensen and former venturers Grace Lawrence and Sally Faust Edwards who were both on Australian phases. Also present were John McMillan, Surry Roberts, Archie Futrell and Chris Robinson. The rations were delicious and the wine flowed as anecdotes were swapped across the table.
We also met Terry Linehan (ex Op Drake and celebrated his 60th birthday on 1st November!) who had married Ann’s daughter, Karen and now produces films. He, Karen and Wade welcomed us with some stirring songs and we both felt privileged to share such friendships. It was indeed a real treat to see all these dear people again.
Flying up to New York we were received by the Explorers’ Club President, Ted Janulis and much to our surprise, around forty members, some of whom had been on SES expeditions. Following a wine and cheese reception, there was a 45 minute question and answer session which was filmed for the Club’s future use. Feeling my bottom being pinched, I spun around to find Barbara Price (Martinelli) who had come into town to collect us for a 4 day stay in her lovely home tucked away in a forest overlooking the Hudson River. Here we were able to get some much needed exercise on walks in the woods already brightened by the autumn colours.
Barbara and her husband, David, both now retired, continue to explore and have crossed America five times on their Harley Davidson motorcycle! It was marvellous to recall many hilarious times we had with Barbara in Nepal and on Op Drake in PNG and Kenya and we all laughed endlessly throughout our visit.
The homeward flight was not so much fun as our American Airways flight was delayed 10 hours by a fuel problem. However, it was a small price to pay for the marvellous hospitality we enjoyed with old friends.