I’ve got a confession to make: I’m a bit of an adventure prude. I like to think of myself as an adventurous person, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, the truth is I’m not. There are the extreme adventurers, otherwise known as “adrenaline junkies”, who will climb unsurpassable mountains, swim never-ending rivers and do practically anything just to prove that they can. I, on the other hand, prefer to keep my two feet planted firmly on the ground. But not wanting to pass aimlessly through life without having experienced at least one real adventure, at the age of 22 I opted to do something decidedly adventurous – join an organised tour!
Mountain climbers endure intensive training and hours of preparation before embarking on a climb. Albeit on the scale of adventure, traipsing around the US for 16 days on a rickety old bus with 37 other globetrotters might not rate as high as climbing Mt. Everest, but it still involves a certain amount of uncertainty and risk. And anything that involves risk requires some form of preparation, whether it be physical or mental. Here I was – about to embark on an adventure for which I was totally unprepared. I had succumbed to the hand of fate.
Armed with nothing but my backpack and an irresistible young Irishman named Tim, we traversed the streets of San Francisco, her pavements littered with homeless souls scrounging around for morsels to eat. Our destination – the meeting point of the Green Tortoise National Parks Tour. After a few minutes of travel banter, my eyes came to rest on two shady figures lurking in the distance. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have paid them much attention, but the dazzling glare of the sun shamelessly revealed the identities of the shiny objects grasped firmly in their hands. Adventurous or not, in a fraction of a second my brain registered what my eyes had failed to believe – the shiny objects were long, sharp knives.
Fear paralysed my body as I realised the two men were approaching us like lions stealthily stalking their prey. Not only did we have a prime chance of being mugged, but the young Irishman beside me did not profess to be a knight in shining armour. “If I’d known this were to be my fate, I would gladly have plunged from the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday,” I thought, as my numbed limbs hastily took on a life of their own and my chances of miraculously transforming into an adrenaline junkie increased tenfold. Thankfully, we made it to the bus station unscathed and a tremendous sense of relief washed over me like a rollercoaster racing to the end of the track.
Relief soon turned to trepidation as the whiff of 37 pairs of well-travelled socks seeped through my discerning nostrils. A sea of unfamiliar faces greeted my eyes and I was consumed by only one thought: This was a place I didn’t want to be. As I glanced around furtively at the crowd of travellers mingling before me like a stream of coloured confetti, the sight of a young man with peroxided hair and piercing green eyes caught my attention. He was quite obviously floating on a pink cloud over strawberry fields and I was bemused by the words “Strangers have the best candy” emblazoned across his tatty, black T-shirt. He grinned knowingly at me with a psychotic smile and my imagination started to run rampant, grotesque images from Silence of the Lambs flashing through my frenzied mind like banshees screaming in the night. “If he’s a serial killer, I’m as good as dead,” I cringed. Next to the candy man stood what appeared to be a large, burly fellow with a bushy beard. It was hard to tell, as almost every inch of his body was smothered in tattoos. “It’s not too late to change your mind,” came a pleading cry from somewhere within, as a wave of panic rushed through my body in a torrential flood. But reluctant to surrender so early on in the game, my fingers nervously clutched the pen I’d been handed and a wavering signature appeared on the registration form. There was no mistaking it; I was now at the mercy of Josh, our driver-come-tour-guide, and his faithful travelling companion – a sluggish, green school bus named ‘Guon’. I was officially booked on the ‘Green Tortoise Adventure Tour – The Only Trip of its Kind’ – and there was no escape.