And so, I arrived in Calais, bidding my German acquaintances a fond auf Wiedersehen and wondering what opportunities I might have passed up in doing so. The road taken though doesn’t allow for much looking back or regrets as I purchased my passage across the channel and prepared to wait for the next ferry. It was then that I met Paul Prusinowski and a friend of his, two Americans serving in the Air Force at Spangdahlem Air Force Base in Bitburg, Germany.
They were on holiday for a week or so and given my camping experience, were glad to meet a fellow American and get tips on setting up their tents and gear when they got to England. After some conversation they asked if I’d be interested in smoking some hashish, more common in Europe at that time than Marijuana and when I said yes, off we went to a spot near shipping containers that shielded us from view.
To my amazement, they used a small Hawaiian Punch can as a pipe and the ritual of smoking sealed the deal on what would be one of those short-term friendships one often finds when traveling. Being on holiday and generous with their funds, they kept me full of beer on the ferry crossing and I reciprocated by assisting in camp set up when we got to Dover. We’d spend two nights there and at the end Paul would give me his address in Bitburg and suggest that if I was in the area in the future, I should stop by. And indeed, I would.
It would take me two days to hitch to London, wild camping one night in a public park and the other with a married couple, Carol and Alan, in Croydon, he having given me a ride and then invited me to stay. We had a lovely spaghetti dinner, I got to do my laundry, and I accompanied them to their sports club to watch them play badminton. The next day I hitched most of the way into town and finished with a short train ride, landing me at the agent’s office for a rock band then touring as an opening act with Foghat.
I was to meet my friend Sue, who was due that day but had not yet arrived. She had a romantic relationship with the band’s bass player and so I became friendly with the receptionist, a lovely woman and after some time, she suggested that I spend the night in the band’s flat upstairs as they were out in the country rehearsing. And so, I went upstairs and later, throwing caution to the wind with my tight budget, splurged on two 16 oz. cans of Newcastle Brown Ale.
Part way through the second can, Sue and her traveling companion Marilyn showed up and we had a friendly reunion (Sue and I had dated for a while after my divorce). We all went to bed and were awoken the next morning by the arrival of the band, along with the bass player and his English girlfriend. Needless to say, this caused a slightly awkward moment all around and we were subsequently evicted, in a friendly sort of British sort of way.
I went downstairs and spoke with the receptionist about my options, one of which was to hitch around the south of England to kill time until Rendy’s arrival. Another would be to find some campground proximate to London and explore the city. She had heard of a place that might now be open locally, Tent City it was called, and I might check it out. The decision I made to go and stay there would reverberate through this trip and the one in 1979.
Tent City would lead to a memorable multi-day outing to Lands’ End with a German, Ranier, as a passenger on his motorcycle, wild camping in a sheep filled field as I described in my journal on August 3rd:
“Three miles south of St. Ives, perched up on a high rock outcropping, 15.5 fluid ounces of Heineken at my side, approximately twenty miles north of Lands’ End, my butt and legs are sore but the sunset the powers that be have decided to lay on us tonight wipes out all the bullshit. Sept with some sheep last night, but that’s another story”.
We’d return to London and Tent City on the 8th leaving me with a week until Rendy’s arrival on the 15th, a luxury to spend that amount of time in one place, not having to pack it up and move each day. I’d spend a memorable birthday on the 14th in the company of two American expats, Swami, and Isaac (and his wife Sue), who sympathetic of my budget constraints would treat me to the movie Mean Streets and an Indian food dinner.
Rendy arrived the next day and accompanying him was our other good friend Evan. We then spent a few days in London and secured a ride to Brussels with a German couple. The next day we tried our hand at hitchhiking at an autobahn on ramp outside town, only to discover that what works for one or two won’t work for three when it comes to hitchhiking. It was a drizzly miserable kind of day and after an hour or so with our thumbs out, we started hitting on a water bottle full of Johnny Walker Red we’d picked up duty free on the ferry which led us to a decision that would change the entire last part of the trip, that is, half in the bag we hustled back into town and took the next train to Amsterdam.
We set up camp at Camping Vliegenbos (the beauty of travel in Europe is that campgrounds are often located inside the big cities) and the next day made our way to the main American Express Office on the Damrak, where later in the afternoon we would purchase a 1967 (or so) VW camper van from an American couple heading home for roughly $350. We drove the van to Giessen, Germany and then on to Bitburg where we dropped in on Paul and would end living in the barracks he and his flat mates called home.
This would lead to a wild, wild time, reflective of the freewheeling 1970’s that would introduce us to a German diet suppressant, Antiadipositum X-112 which would facilitate much excessive behavior then and in times to come Days later, we dropped Evan off in Paris for his return to the States and made our way south to Barcelona, across Southern France into Italy and over the Alps back to Germany to finish up our journey at Oktoberfest in Munich. By this time, I was flat broke, buying my share of gas for the van having drained the last of my cash.
Exhausted and almost out of money, we drove the van back up to Amsterdam and in one crazy encounter, sold it for $150. We took an overnight train to London, Rendy stayed on for a few more days and I jumped on one of the inaugural flights of Laker Airways, standby only, for $99 one way to New York City. Upon landing I again climbed aboard a Greyhound Bus (which crashed outside of Chicago) and for $50 spent four very, very long days crossing the U.S. to Seattle, where I would spend a month decompressing with Tom and Kathy Carlisle, a warm and welcoming environment for which I have always been very grateful.
My first real time away from home, I returned ready to go back, thinking I’d learned a great deal about travel that I wanted to apply in further adventures. It would take two years, but Rendy and I would indeed return in 1979. There are periods in each life when one becomes defined by that time, whether it be going away to college, serving in the armed forces, or experiencing some high level of success in an athletic endeavor or other performance capacity. This first trip to Europe would be one such moment for me, one directly distinguished by the decisions I made numerous times at the diverging of two roads, and my friends, ‘that has made all the difference’.
Spangdahlem AFB: https://www.spangdahlem.af.mil/
Antiadipositum X-112: https://www.drks.de/drks_web/navigate.do?navigationId=trial.HTML&TRIAL_ID=DRKS00000543