It felt weird to be on our own again. We both missed the guys. Before long a small pickup stopped and the driver waved us forward. We both heaved our packs over our shoulders and ran to the vehicle.
“Hello, girls. Where are you heading?” asked a mid-40s construction worker. The cab was full of his work tools. Terry and I looked at each other dubiously.
“Oxford,” I responded, just slightly out of breath.
“Well, let’s move all this gear into the back, along with your packs. I’m going home for the weekend to a village just on the other side of Oxford. You’re in luck,” he offered. We helped him move his tools and other paraphernalia into the truck bed and then deposited our packs. Terry climbed in first and generously took the hump for a less-than-comfortable ride all the way to Oxford.
“Where are you girls from?” The opening question from almost every driver. Our response had become a bit canned.
“Northern California, a town called Santa Rosa, about 50 miles north of San Francisco.”
Nine times out of ten the conversation continued, “Oh, do you know (insert name here)? He lives somewhere near San Francisco.” Ten times out of ten we replied, “No, ‘fraid not.”
“What do you girls do in California?” was the usual next question.
Again, canned: “We’re students at the University of California.”
“Berkeley?” they’d ask, usually with a dubious note to their voices.
“No, Davis. It’s a more rural and less radical setting. Law school, medical school, veterinary school, engineering, lots more.” Terry would add, “I study drama and my sister studies music.” Fears assuaged.
Daniel, our driver, knew Oxford well, having grown up in the vicinity. As students, he and his cronies would go drinking every Friday night in the local pubs, looking for female companionship. “I remember one night,” he regaled us, “Me ‘n my mate John made it all the way to the top of the bell tower just before midnight. Big mistake. Even our being royally pissed didn’t keep the ringing of those bells from deafening us for the next hour.” Daniel entertained us with stories of his youth all the way to Oxford. He drove us directly to the youth hostel where we climbed out, hoisted our packs, and made our way inside to the registration desk.
“Good evening,” greeted the young woman behind the desk. “Do you have reservations?”
“Nooooo,” I replied with worry. “Do we need them?”
“No, not tonight. But we’re full up tomorrow night,” she told us.
“Is there another youth hostel in Oxford?” I asked. “We’d like to be able to spend the day exploring tomorrow before we move on.”
“No, sorry. This is the only hostel in town.”
“How about the dorms?” I asked. “We were told that many universities rent dorm rooms during the summer.”
“Do you have student IDs?” she wanted to know.
“We do,” Terry answered. “Do you need to see them?”
“No. Not at all. Youth Hostel card is sufficient. But you can go just down the road to the campus dormitory and stay there for 5 bob a night. And they always have beds available. Just turn left out the door and go to number 22,” she said.
“Thank you! Lor, let’s go,” Terry said and turned toward the door before I could even respond. We walked the short two blocks to the dorm, went in, and were given our own room. Two comfortable beds, a sink, and a decent bathroom down the hall. And we didn’t even have to perform a chore in the mornings before they “released” us.
We showered, dressed, and left the dorm to find dinner and something interesting to do. The area was deserted. More than likely all the local students were off on treks like ours, leaving only the tourists. We did find a pub where we had our staple fish and chips and lager and lime for dinner. Finding nothing of interest we decided to make an early night of it and headed back to the dorm.
Our wanderings the next morning were fruitless. Our expectations that we would connect with other like-minded students went unrealized. Extreme adventures were not to be had in Oxford. It was a pretty town and we both enjoyed the architecture of the various colleges we meandered through, but we were both disappointed by the lack of solidarity we felt among the few students we did encounter. We left the next morning, anxious to pursue adventures, hoping that we’d make quicker more satisfying connections in our next destination, York.
We walked the ¾ mile out to the M1 roadway, knowing we had an ambitious almost 200 miles to cover in one day. We’d reserved beds at the York Youth Hostel and wanted to arrive before all the lower bunks were taken, so our thumbs were out to our sides as we walked, hoping to find the driver who’d deliver us to our destination.