An Innocent Abroad: Award-Winner's Edition
It is with much pleasure I announce the bigger and better, the 2015 Bookbzz award-winning edition of An Innocent Abroad. “Bigger” only because of the format; there are no additional words. “Better” because this edition includes photographs which let you see just how young and innocent your narrator was then.
When I applied for the exchange I expected it to be different, indeed I wanted it to be different as I was stuck in a rut in Scotland but I never dreamt just what I was letting myself in for. As one crisis after another, both at home and at school arose, I feared I had made the biggest mistake of my life. But there was no going back. Like it or lump it, we were here for the year and had to make the most of it.
One thing was to take the opportunity to explore our surroundings once we had bought the station wagon, aka The Big Blue Mean Machine. You will find out the reason for this term of endearment in the book – but in this extract you can read how our innocence leads us to take a track into the forest. It turned out to be a nightmare journey in which we feared for our lives.
The road, after the Falls, is only a little more rutted, only a little rougher as we head up towards the pass but then we come to a dividing of the ways. One way, the sign says, will take us to Phillipsburg, the other, a shorter route, back to Missoula. The problem is that what passes for a road stops at this point and what I would describe as a track begins. With each track looking as bad as the other, and not at all as “good” a surface as the one we are on at present, it seems unwise to choose the longer way back.
But before very long, the track becomes even rougher than before and dust swirls into the car, despite all the windows being closed. I can feel it in my throat and in the mirror, see the motes floating in the air so that Iona and the kids appear indistinct through the haze, rather like the figures in one of those snowstorm scenes which you shake to create a blizzard, only here of course the “snow” is brown, nor does it settle and allow the scene to become clear. Indeed, it is becoming thicker and thicker by the minute and, I dare say, if it goes on like this much longer, I soon won’t be able to see my passengers at all.
Eventually the track comes to an end, but to my dismay, in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. We have come to a clearing in the forest, a pasture, enclosed entirely by trees. The grass has been flattened by vehicles passing across it and, at the far end, I can see where the track picks up again through the trees. May as well go and have a look.
I don’t like the look of it at all. If the way we have come might be defined as a road in the 18th century British sense of the term, the way ahead is the sort of track where you would abandon your carriage and get out and walk. Narrower, the earth on the track less compacted, the trees seem to crowd in and the forest ahead seems to have a darker, more sinister air. It looks like the perfect habitat for wolves and it would not surprise me in the slightest, should we go this way, if we came across Little Red Riding Hood hitching a lift to Grandma’s. On the other hand, we have come so many miles and it has taken so long with nothing to see on either side but trees and yet more trees, that the heart is despondent at the thought of reprising all those slow and tedious miles, the ruts, the potholes, the stones like bullets. Like Macbeth, it seems as tedious to return as to proceed.
“What do you think?” I ask Iona, nodding at the way ahead.
“It’s up to you.”
I prefer not to make these decisions alone. I am indecisive at the best of times and would prefer she made the important ones. Yet I know why she leaves them up to me: if it turns out to be the wrong decision, there is no-one I can blame but myself. Feeling the weight and burden of the world on my shoulders, I put the gearshift into Drive and we continue, deeper into the forest.