Hearing Flashes (On the Road with Flag)

What a road trip! Thunderous waterfalls, booming forests and a flare-up of tinnitus that brought the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean up off the beach and inside my head.  It was that kind of trip….jaw-dropping and heart-stopping. Especially when we almost lost the cat.

In my blog of August 18th, I introduced Flag, our 32-foot fifth wheel, which is our temporary home as we travel parts of North America with our cats Nicky and Charlie. Leaving Ontario on August 30th, we drove across the northern United States, up into Vancouver and then down the coast to San Jose, where Flag will rest under some California gum trees for the next few weeks.  On this road trip, we’ve clocked 4700 miles of eye-popping scenery, a trip that sounds even longer in Canadian kilometres: 7520! Of these, I drove a measly 35 miles—in Iowa with no hills and scarcely a bend in the road. The Hearing Husband cut short my rig-driving career when he couldn’t stand another minute of my hyperventilating and white knuckles; he drove the rest of the way.

The sound of my panicked breathing wasn’t the only hearing-related moment of the trip. The man’s ears were at the top of their game and I’m always happy to use them as surrogates when my own hearing falters, but it still amazes me what hearing people can actually hear!

lowerfallsI Heard: The roar of a 300-foot-high waterfall at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park. It was loud, 100-110 decibels, especially near its bottom where we stood on a viewing platform, having made a 328-step, 500-foot vertical descent. (And what goes down, must go back up…)

I Did NOT Hear: 400 pounds of grizzly bear shaking a bush for berries. The Hearing Husband not only heard the rustling bushes 150 feet away—I think he also heard Yogi Bear swallowing the berries and smacking his bear lips. Me, I had to wait until it came out of the bush and glanced at us briefly before lumbering off. (And yes, Yogi likely was a grizzly, read this.)  yogi

Doug Heard: Pulling away from a stop in California wine country, he delivered that scary line: “the car’s making a noise”. I can barely hear the motor running, and he leans out the window, cocks his ear and says, “There’s a stone in the tire.”  A stone. In the tire. It frustrates me just thinking about the level of hearing needed to catch this tiny sound—which can’t be as loud as the next thing we didn’t hear.

No One Heard: The sound of the (only) spare set of truck and camper keys falling out of the car onto gravel. That was somewhere in Wyoming and we didn’t discover the loss until Montana. I finally admitted that maybe I wasn’t very thorough in following up on a noise that might have been keys falling out of the car, and he admitted maybe he had seen the keys lying around and put them somewhere ‘safe’. We found them a week later (it doesn’t matter where), but since then, I’ve tried to engrave on my brain: Thou shalt follow up on thy unidentified sounds.

Heard-Thank-God: The keys are nothing compared to the Oregon incident. We had spent the night at a campground at the mouth of the majestic Columbia River, on the very tippy-tip of the Oregon coast. The next morning, we stuffed ourselves on the all-you-can-eat free pancake breakfast, fed the cats, locked up Flag, and were about to leave when Doug heard one of his noises. “I hear a cat.”

I said, “Can’t be ours. They’re sleeping in Flag.” We got in the truck and then, straight ahead in front of us, we saw a cat climbing through a fence.  It was our cat, Nicky.  Normally, it can take some time to catch a cat that doesn’t want to be caught, but I was so adrenaline-fuelled, I nabbed that feline in 10 seconds flat.

If Doug hadn’t heard the meow—and if she hadn’t been in our direct line of sight—we would have been halfway down the Oregon coast before discovering Nicky’s disappearance. If you lose your keys, you curse and then shell out money to replace them. If you lose the cat, you turn around and go back to look for it, arguing the whole time about who was responsible for not seeing the Great Escape. It took me half of Oregon to calm down and I gave Nicky a serious talking-to before bed that night. Note to self: Thou shalt not lose thy cat.

We Both Heard: In the most beautiful hearing moment of the  road trip, we heard the same thing, the same way. Standing in a grove of 300-foot-high California redwoods, we both experienced thunderous, utter silence. Doug was awestruck at the lack of sound and I said welcome to my world. But it was a good feeling to know that I wasn’t missing anything, that what I was hearing was complete.



About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. Thanks for a great read ! glad that there seemed to be no “mechanicals” and hope that continues. When Betts and I did our great camping adventures now over forty years ago the unexpected vehicle or camper malfunction was an all too frequent event. Often seen as total disasters at the time in hindsight they often resulted in the most memorable memories ..Carry on and have a safe and happy adventure…Gael three weeks ago I finally REALLY retired from the car business at age 76 so not a bad run there either.

  2. There is nothing like that sound of silence in the Redwoods.
    It’s good for the soul as well as the ears. I look forward to
    your next column.

  3. Wonderful blog Gael. Miss you both. Will have to eat turkey without you!!!’ So glad you are “enjoying” your adventure. Can’t imagine some of your conversations!!! Lol

  4. Great stories Gael and, by the time this trip is over (whenever that is) I expect you’ll probably acquire enough material for another one-woman show and a book. LOL!

    Your blogs are always entertaining and insightful, thanks! Also, I really envy you guys taking this trip and it something I hope to do someday.

    Enjoy the trip, be safe and say hello to Doug for me! Bye for now!

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