On the occasion of my birthday a couple weeks ago, my excessively generous friend Dr. Virago gave me a bunch of books for my Kindle (that would be the Kindle she gave me for Christmas… I am running out of words to describe her fantasticness. Case in point.). I confess that I haven’t read any of them yet, but only because I am trying to get through all the print books I brought with me first, as it is far easier to lug a featherweight Kindle around the world than several pounds of paper.
Among her gifts was the entire collection of tomes in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of my favorite series ever and one I haven’t read in many years. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to tell you about my towel.
(Fans of the books will understand the importance of “always knowing where your towel is.” For anyone who hasn’t read the books, I highly recommend picking them up. They’re fun and clever in all senses of the word and very fast reads. I wish I could say the same of the series I’m reading now, thousands of pages of tedious, dense writing with only three characters I remotely care about, one of whom was killed off in the first book and the other two who appear only occasionally amid pages and pages of other characters that I find eye-stabbingly dull. Why am I suffering through this series, you may ask? Because it has sold gazillions of copies and I’m trying to determine what has endeared it to so many in hopes of making my fiction more sellable. I’ll get back to you on that.)
This is my towel.
It might not look like much, but it has come to mean a great deal to me. I bought it two and a half years ago on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. I ended up on Tenerife one February needing a towel because I had been hiking and camping in the north of England for a couple months. I had been hiking and camping in the north of England for a couple months because I had just gone through an exceptionally unhappy period in my life, for a number of reasons, and realized I had frequent flyer miles that were about to expire, just enough for a ticket to Europe.
When life doesn’t turn out to be all you’d hoped it would be, some people drink, some people overeat, some people seek solace in their families, friends or gods. I get on a plane.
My weeks in England were both wonderful and wearisome. Hiking the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall in ice and frost and snow was magical, as was finally visiting Lindisfarne. I fell in love with Northumbria and Manchester, trekked through the Lake District and received the oddest compliment I can remember getting when a nice elderly cashier at a supermarket in Berwick-upon-Tweed told me “you have such a lovely accent. So elegant. Just like Dustin Hoffman.”
At the same time, it was cold. And snowy. Every time I was near a tv it seemed there was a slightly twitchy weather forecaster on, informing me that “last night was the coldest night on record for Lancashire” or “the expected snowfall tonight will shatter all previous records!”
Granted, cold and snow in England, even the record-shattering kind, are downright cute when compared with the weather in my current home, or even other places I’ve lived, such as Wisconsin or Russia. But it was that damp, bone-biting cold, and I was, for budgetary reasons, in a three-season tent (though, due to weather, I spent more nights in hostels than I’d planned).
By mid-February, after waking up to find my tent buried ever so scenically in a snow drift in the Lake District–again–I decided I needed to go somewhere warmer. A quick Internet search at the hostel on Potato Wharf in Manchester turned up a holiday deal for a few days on Tenerife.
(By the way, if you ever find yourself in Manchester in need of accommodation, make haste to the YHA Hostel on Potato Wharf. Great location, super nice staff, clean and well-arranged rooms. Plus it is, as the name suggests, right on the nifty old canals.)
I flew a super-budget European airline that charged for bags, so I left everything but a small carry-on in a locker at the hostel. I left behind my towel, which would not fit in the small bag I took, thinking that surely wherever I stayed on Tenerife would have a towel for me.
Tenerife towels turned out to be somewhat wanting both in size and quality, so I went to one of those cheap knick-knack emporiums, looking for something that would pass for a beach towel. While a rather hostile shopkeeper followed me up and down the aisles (I was the only customer and she seemed to think that anyone who wandered into her cluttered store of mostly plastic crap was surely a thief), I tried to find a towel of decent size and price. Easier said than done.
And then there it was. For two Euros (a couple bucks), I found a lightweight towel big enough to spread over one of the rather dilapidated lounge chairs beside the rooftop pool of the place where I was staying. (It sounds far more glamorous than it was, as the pool was about the size of a king-size bed, seriously, and seemed to exist only so that the elderly topless Germans sunbathing all around me could occasionally dip themselves and rinse off the sweat. Suddenly a snow-covered tent in the empty Lake District was starting to look good to me.)
My intention was to use the towel for my time on Tenerife, then leave it behind where it might find a new owner or, if nothing else, be recycled by a chambermaid to serve as cleaning rags. I realized almost immediately, however, that hey, this is a good towel. It was big enough to serve as a wrap for me, lightweight and squashable and fast-drying.
So I took it with me back to England. Then back to the US, where I took it on a road trip that included visiting friends in several states and doing a triathlon in Florida, where it served as my transition towel (the towel you put beside your bike and arrange all your gear on to organize yourself for switching from swimming to cycling to running).
Then I took it to New Zealand, where it dried me off after swimming with dolphins in the Catlins and served as a pillow as I trekked through Fiordland. My towel went back to the States with me, on another cross-country drive, then on another triathlon.
When it came time to pack for Antarctica, my choice of towel was obvious.
So my towel traveled back to New Zealand with me, and then to Antarctica where it was the first thing I reached for after emerging from the frigid waters of McMurdo Sound during the Polar Plunge.
It’s getting a little frayed at the edges, and has a couple small holes, but it’s held up nicely for a two-Euro investment that has seen five continents (the Canary Islands are technically part of Africa).
I don’t know where I’m going next yet, but you can be sure it will be with my towel.