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January 2nd

January 2, 1991

I’m one of ninety-odd (some very odd) committed individuals who’ve just departed on coaches from the Greenpeace office in Vancouver in the chilly morning hours. We’re were on our way to Las Vegas to attend the Uniting Nations conference on nuclear disarmament. We’re also going to take part in a massive demonstration at the test site in Nevada where sabre-rattling Yanks and Brits continue to explode their nuclear bombs. The date for the protest has been set to immediately precede a UN meeting during which a vote will be held on converting the existing partial test ban treaty into a comprehensive test ban, eliminating all further nuclear tests.

On board the coaches are a large contingent of Greenpeacers, half a dozen members of the marvellously feisty Raging Grannies and individuals from all over British Columbia who heard about the trip and want to be part of it. With so many first and second generation hippies travelling together we’re expecting trouble at the border and even discuss various forms of protest we could make if we’re denied entry into the United States. To the amazement of all, the US border guards simply tell us to enjoy our conference and wave us through.

Spirits are high as we travel along the back roads of Washington and Oregon. A singalong breaks out: old Beatles, old Dylan, old campfire songs. The mood is gleeful until tragedy strikes shortly after our departure from Eugene, Oregon.

On a dark, slippery, two lane road, a driver accelerates to overtake a semi on a bend. The result is a head-on collision with the first Greenpeace coach. There’s nothing our driver could do to avoid the accident. The young woman passenger in the car dies instantly. The young man driving is knocked unconscious. He dies ten minutes later. I don’t know who to pity most: the people in the car, the driver of the coach or my fellow passengers, who, with no experience of such a situation, do their best to help.

The police arrive. A superfluous ambulance arrives. The passengers from the shattered front coach pile into the rear coach and we set off looking for somewhere we can wait for another coach to be dispatched from Portland.

In a small town called Oak Ridge we find Angie’s Place, run by Angie, her husband Bill and various family friends. At 8:30 in the evening they are about to close for the day, but they willingly stay open until our eventual departure at two in the morning. The warmth and kindness of Angie, Bill, Rae, Betty and Linda helps thaw many a numbed psyche. (Angie and the other women are so taken with the Raging Grannies, they vow to start the first Oregon chapter.)

After we leave Oak Ridge we all try, with varying degrees of success, to block out what’s happened with sleep. I think I manage an hour and a half, off and on.

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