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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 13

The break over the Christmas holidays a month later was three weeks long. I had no choice but to spend them at home and they were three long weeks for me. Not that they were bad, or anything, but I had gotten used to the atmosphere at Venable College and I missed it. I missed my friends, and not just Cat; I missed my job and the climbing club, and I missed the discipline of the class work, the discussions and the intellectual stimulation.

It was very different for Joey. The period after Thanksgiving at WCC had been even more disillusioning for him, mostly because his grades reflected his interest in going to college at all. He seemed even more determined to stuff it and join the Army, and while I tried to argue against it even I knew it was half-hearted. The predetermination of the timelines was carrying him down the same roads I had taken, and I knew it.

One of the tough things about being at home was that I still had to cover up that I was trying to act like I was the old Joanie. In a way, this was easier than it had been back in the summer, for as I had anticipated I had new interests and new things to talk about. That could only be carried so far, so I guess I was lucky that Mom was working except for the holidays themselves, and Dad was busier than normal for this time of the year. As a result, I spent a lot of time reading and watching TV, often alone because Joey was gone somewhere.

We did spend some time together as a family. One evening around the dinner table Mom asked, “Joanie, do you have any plans for next summer? Are you planning on working, or just sitting around home?”

“Mom, I haven’t made my mind up yet,” I told her. “Cat and I have talked about several things, but nothing is solid yet.”

“What kind of things?”

“That’s still up in the air. We’ve talked about getting a job at Cedar Point down in Ohio. I guess they hire a lot of college students, but there are other ideas.” In fact, we had a lot of other ideas but nothing had gelled just yet, partly because we wanted to see what kind of reaction we were going to get from our parents.

“That might be fun,” Dad agreed. “Except that I think that all the roller coasters would drive me nuts. Do you have any other ideas?”

“Oh, there’s lots of things,” I replied casually, deciding to shoot the moon and act like it was a pipe dream. “We’ve even talked about going to Europe.”

“That would be some trip,” he replied. “I saw about all of Europe I wanted to from the back of a deuce-and-a-half, but it would be nice to see what the place is like when it hasn’t been shot to pieces.”

“Wouldn’t that be pretty expensive?” Mom asked.

“It wouldn’t be cheap,” I shrugged. “But there’s this airline out of Iceland that we’ve heard has some pretty cheap rates, so it might be possible.”

“Sounds good,” Dad put in, “But wouldn’t it be expensive when you’re there?”

“Maybe not too bad,” I frowned; I knew more about this than I was letting on, of course. “Cat came across this book, Europe On $5 Per Day. We’ve looked it over and that seems a little cheap, but it turns out there are a lot of kids who do it, staying in youth hostels and getting cheap bus and train fares. With what I’m making from my job, we think we could probably spend a few weeks there.” Actually, we had plans to spend as much as three months there, if we could come up with the money – and if we could work it out so we could come back early if our funds ran low.

“That sounds like quite an adventure, and better than seeing Europe with an M-1 at my side like I had to do,” Dad replied. “But don’t you think you’re a little young for it?”

“We might be, but there are other kids who do it, from what we’ve been able to find out. We talked with a couple of upperclassmen on campus who loaded their stuff into backpacks and spent a while in England and France. They said they had a good time.”

“It would be nice to take a vacation,” Mom mused. “We’ve never had the opportunity.”

“Yeah, that’s what comes of working all the time in the summer,” Dad shook his head. “I hope it works out that you get to go.”

That was about as positive a response as I could have hoped to get, at least that far in advance. I could tell from the expression on her face that Mom wasn’t totally in favor of it, but Dad had more or less overridden her.

I understood exactly what she was talking about when Mom mentioned not being able to take a vacation, since we’d never taken a real one as a family. A couple of times we had visited distant relatives over Christmas or Thanksgiving if Dad’s work was slow, but that was visiting family and not sightseeing. What’s more, even though I had been across the country as Joe more times than I could count, I hadn’t seen much besides Interstates, or Autobahns in Germany. There had never been the opportunity for Cindy and me to take off and go somewhere, and after a while we had just quit wishing for it.

We talked about the idea for a bit, mostly about the things that Cat and I thought we would like to see. I have to admit that the two of us didn’t have that quite as well worked out, although London, Paris, and Switzerland often kept coming up in conversation.

After a while, Mom asked, “What would you do if your idea to go to Europe doesn’t work out? It still seems like it would be very expensive.”

“We talked about just getting some camping gear and heading out west in the Karmann Ghia,” I replied. It was our back-up plan in case Cat’s or my parents bucked about the European trip too much, and we hadn’t developed those plans as far. I definitely did not want to bring up to the folks the idea of climbing some mountains, although Cat and I had talked about it.

“That could be fun too,” Dad replied. “There are some places out west I’ve always wanted to see.”

“I wouldn’t mind it either,” Mom agreed. “Places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the opportunity to go there. It would be nice if you got to do it.”

We talked about that for a while, too. The upshot of the discussion was that my folks would buy off on either idea, so long as we kept it within reasonable limits. I had tried to make it sound like we were talking perhaps two weeks or a month, when actually Cat and I had been thinking in terms of all summer, whether that might happen or not.

Now, I thought, the big question is going to be how well Cat did in talking her parents into the idea. If she couldn’t do it, then I might find myself working at Cedar Point after all, which seemed a heck of a step down from, oh, the Champs-élysées, for example.

I didn’t really do a whole lot else over the rest of my Christmas vacation. I did spend a little time hanging out with Patty, Diana, and Barb, at least to keep up the façade of actually being Joanie. I got caught up with them a little but it seemed like we were all starting to head out in our own directions, and I realized I might not be seeing much of them in the future. Maybe that was just as well, since I was making my own friends, not just keeping Joanie’s.

New Year’s Day came and went, and finally it was time to head back to Venable with a degree of relief. The Karmann Ghia was a little more heavily loaded on the trip back, mostly from Christmas presents and heavier clothes than I had taken in the fall – there had been some days back in December when what I had just hadn’t been enough.

It was very good to get back to the dorm, and good to see Cat again. I had missed her a lot in the past three weeks. We spent a few minutes getting caught up, although mostly there wasn’t much, since her stay at home had been nearly as pointless as mine. Finally, as we settled down, I managed to ask, “So what did your folks think about the idea of going to Europe?”

“They aren’t totally sold on it, but I think they’d go along with it,” she reported. “What’s more, I think I could get the money out of Dad if Mom doesn’t find out about it. But honestly, Jo, I’m starting to have some reservations about spending the whole summer there. That’s a long time.”

That wasn’t actually a problem for me – after all, while as Joe I’d spent much of my life around Simsville, I had been away from home for extended periods when I’d been about that age, of course – Army training, a year in Vietnam, and a year and a half in Germany. Yes, I got bored, homesick, and occasionally depressed, but I didn’t have any choice, either. The time passed, and eventually I got to leave. In retrospect, after half a century it didn’t seem as bad as I thought it had been at the time.

But of course I couldn’t tell Cat about that, either. “We have a few months before we have to make up our minds,” I told her. “And if we decide to not go to Europe, we can still go out west. That might be a little easier if we decide to cut it short.”

“You might have something there. Let’s not make up our minds about it right now, but spend some time thinking about what we want to do.”

I didn’t tell Cat right then, but either one would be fine with me, although the pull of Europe seemed more exotic. “All right,” I told her. “We need to do some more research and thinking about it, but I don’t think we want to tie our plans down too tightly. How about if we agree for now that whichever one we do this summer, we’ll do the other one next year?”

“That would work just fine for me.”

That settled that for the moment. The next day we started in on classes again. They were mostly follow-ons to the courses we had in the fall, except that the rather boring English research and composition class (which I had passed with an A-, a little to my surprise) had been replaced with one on writing. That interested me a lot more, if for no more reason than Professor Norton would be teaching it.

However, I didn’t have the climbing class, which I had enjoyed so much in the fall – it wasn’t being offered, and it looked like I was going to have to take that recreational athletics course I’d managed to avoid in the fall. But toward the end of the first semester, when I had mentioned this to Professor Norton, he’d said, “Let me work on it.”

Over the winter break, he had indeed worked on it, and I had been told that I had been given the chance to transfer to a “Physical Education Independent Study.” That meant nothing at all to me until I realized my advisor for it was going to be, guess who, Professor Norton. In fact there were five of us in the class, all of us the members of the climbing class of the semester before! “I couldn’t talk them into letting me have a second semester of the class,” he explained when we first met a couple of days later. “But I think I sneaked this one by them. I’m not going to be able to supervise you as closely, but I want to get you going on building your physical strength. That means some weight work, pull-ups, leg lifts, and things that will help your climbing when the weather warms up.”

“Does that mean we’re going to get to do some climbing?”

“Not as a part of the class, and I’d just as soon that you didn’t use the indoor wall if you’re unsupervised, which you will have to be most of the time due to my schedule. It’s going to be too cold to do much climbing for a couple of months anyway. But that leads me to another question: do you have any plans to do anything over spring break in March?”

“Not really,” Mark spoke up. “There are some guys who are talking about heading down to Florida, but spending the week with a hangover doesn’t really appeal to me if I can come up with something else to do.” The other guys pretty much agreed with him, and it hadn’t even occurred to Cat and me – we’d figured on spending the time at home, wishing we were doing something else.

“I was wondering about that,” Ed replied – we could call him that in this class, but not in the English class, naturally. “And I was wondering if any of you would be interested in driving down to North Carolina or somewhere and seeing if we can find a few places to climb. The weather might be a little on the iffy side in March, but we probably ought to be able to find something.”

He had five affirmative votes, and just that quickly. It was at that moment that the Venable Climbing Club was born.

The classes we had that semester were a little easier than the previous semester, if for no more reason than Cat and I were used to the routine now. We did notice that there were a few faces missing from the classes, so apparently some people had come to the conclusion that college wasn’t their cup of tea.

The exception was the physical education study, which actually didn’t involve much climbing. Oh, we got out on a few Saturdays over the next couple of months, when the temperatures were warmer than normal and the sun was shining on the south-facing wall of the railroad bridge or the quarry. It could actually get a little warm out there, to the point where jeans and a long-sleeved shirt was all we needed and sometimes we even got a little sweaty in them.

As the next couple of months went on, I noticed that Cat was paying more and more attention to Mark – and the other way around. I wouldn’t say there was a hot romance going on between the two of them, but it was certainly a little warmer than it had been the previous semester, with occasionally some handholding and little private talks. There was never any kissing or anything going on, at least in public – what would later be called “public displays of affection” of course were frowned upon by the college. And, as before, there wasn’t much in the way of “private” to allow things to get more personal.

Around the end of January Cat came to me and asked if she and Mark could borrow the Karmann Ghia on occasion. Of course I agreed, but with the admonition to take it very easy with the clutch and transmission. I don’t know what happened when the two were gone with it, but I would be willing to bet that the answer was “not very much.” It was January, after all, and even the Corvair engine still didn’t give the car what in modern days we would call good heat, so riding around in it that time of year involved several layers of clothes. Also, it was small enough in both the front and back seat that there wasn’t much room for fooling around.

What I do know was that Cat had found a boyfriend, or what at least passed for one. This wasn’t a surprise – right from the beginning she had been a little more focused than I had been on using college to get herself set up with a guy. I was still pretty much Joe behind my eyeballs, and although I was becoming more comfortable with being a woman, I still wasn’t ready to go that far – and realized that I might not ever be. Cat, of course, was a normal woman and she had the usual hormone-driven mating urges to be expected of a woman that age.

By the middle of February we had put much more study into what we would want to do in Europe that summer. We had a long list of places to go and things to see, much too much to do even if we took all summer at it. We had also done some study of what we wanted to do out west, but not as much, although there were things we wanted to do there, too. But, if we wanted to go to Europe, we had to get serious about it since airline reservations tended to fill up fast.

Finally, one nasty, snowy February day, it came down to a decision: Europe or out west. I think both of us were leaning toward Europe but there were enough arguments the other way, including the fact that Cat’s mother was a little tentative about our going to Europe, that we decided to settle it by a coin flip. “Heads,” Cat said as she picked the coin up off of her wrist. “I guess that means we go to Europe, assuming my mother doesn’t blow a fuse.”

“Is there any danger of that?”

“If she knew we were planning on being gone all summer, there’s a very good chance of it. So I guess that means we tell her that we’re planning on being gone two weeks or a month or something, and then just keep putting off coming back a week or two at a time.”

“I think that would work, and it’s a concern with my folks, too,” I agreed. “But once we’re there, it would be hard for them to come and drag us back.”

“That’s what I’m thinking. Don’t you think that it’s easier just go ahead and do something? There won’t be much they can do if we’ve already done it. Isn’t that something in the Bible or something? Or, maybe Shakespeare?”

“I have no idea, but whoever it was, they were right.”

In the end, we decided on telling the parents we would be gone for a month – it was probably about as far as we could push it, anyway, and Cat’s mother even seemed a little balky about that, or so I was told. After some discussion, we agreed that we would work out an itinerary for the first couple of weeks. How we reacted and the ideas of other people we met would allow us to be a little footloose after that, keeping in mind the travel book and our list of things we wanted to see.

But I have to admit, it still was a rather heady experience to drive the Karmann Ghia to a travel agency downtown to make reservations for flying to Prestwick, outside Glasgow, Scotland a few days after school let out at the end of April. Writing a check to the woman behind the counter seemed to seal the deal for us: we were headed to Europe.

That was still a while off. There was still plenty for us to work out, and after some discussion we agreed to take as little luggage as humanly possible. By now it was no secret what we were up to, at least to the climbing club; it turned out that Ed had made a similar trip ten years before, and he had some good advice for us. “Backpacks would be a real good idea,” he told us. “You may find yourselves having to stand around or walk a good distance at times, and it’s a lot easier with a backpack than it is to carry suitcases.”

Backpacks were all but unknown around that part of the country at the time, and we couldn’t find anything in any of the local stores around Venable, so Ed loaned us a couple of mail-order catalogues, and we wound up ordering ours from a camping gear company. When they showed up, we were surprised at how small they were, but we knew that anything we took would have to go inside them. That helped us keep the load down, but from that moment until we left we were agonizing over what to take with us. In the end, it was a lot less than our original list, but by the end of the summer we were to both agree we could have gotten along on less. It proved to be a valuable lesson.

But that was still a ways up the road, since there was another trip coming up: our spring break climbing trip in North Carolina. It turned out that Ed had been down there climbing a bit in the past. He had some idea of where to go, but he ordered some more guidebooks and maps so we could have a little more variety and perhaps some alternatives if for some reason we didn’t like one spot.

There had been several climbing club meetings in Ed’s living room to make plans for the trip. As it had turned out, Kirk couldn’t make the trip due to some family commitments, so it would be just the six of us going: the Nortons, Mark, Andy, Cat, and me. Even with as few as the six of us, that was going to be a load for the station wagon considering all the luggage and climbing gear, so early in the planning it had been decided that I would take the Karmann Ghia. Cat would probably ride with me most of the time, but we might change off passengers a little just to make the miles go more quickly.

Everyone on campus had been looking forward to spring break, but I don’t think anyone was more eager than those of us in the climbing club. We knew that most students would just be going home for the week, but we had heard of a few who were going to make the trek to Florida – that was not as big a deal as it was to become in later years. As soon as classes were out we were headed south, with the idea of staying in a motel room partway to North Carolina.

With the way the sexes and the couples broke down, it was going to take three double motel rooms for us. This was back in the days when it was still possible to get a fairly decent motel room for under ten dollars a night, which split two ways wasn’t too bad. The next day, we continued on south headed toward the Smokies and our first encounter with real mountains.

It was colder than we had expected, but not impossibly so. We started out with an easy climb that first afternoon, just to get tuned up a little. I probably ought to mention that we usually weren’t interesting in climbing a mountain all the way to the top, but just getting to the top of pitches that gave our still-developing rock climbing skills a workout. There was usually an easier path to the top of whatever we were climbing, and we’d often get comments from passers-by that we seemed to be doing it the hard way.

Since we weren’t at Venable – and no one seemed to care anyway – Cat and Mark managed to spend a little more personal time together than they had before. On several occasions over the course of the week they’d stay on the ground talking while the rest of us climbed, or sit together at the top of the pitch while the rest of us hiked up to see what was on top of the hill.

Even so, I wasn’t taking it too seriously, so I was totally unprepared when, on the last afternoon of the trip, Cat came to me and asked if I would mind if she spent the night with Mark, and if so, could Andy perhaps stay in the room with me?

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To be continued . . .

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