The road trip – what’s not to love?
There’s a particular anticipation about talking, thinking, planning and being on, a road trip. The conversations you have on a road trip are very different to any other conversations. They are conversations that peak and wane over the hours. On a road trip you can go a long time without talking yet feel deeply connected, seeing the same things though from differing perspectives. You can pause and pick up again on many conversations. Outstanding issues can be resolved and new ones created.
Right now Dave and I are driving through Brittany and Normandy, after about 10 months on the road through New Zealand, UK and France. My mind has a tendency to wander on this long slow journey of ours and while I wanted to write something about our recent driving experiences, I’m flooded with memories of many road trips over past years. There have been road trips for leisurely and joyful exploration, for embracing family reunions and for the coming together in times of tragedy and loss.
Recollections of early childhood road trips hark back to when my family would make the pilgrimage to our relatives’ dairy farm in Missabotti, around 8 hours drive north of Sydney. My Dad would carefully carry each of us 3 sleeping kids (plus Honey the Lab) out through the cold to the Holden at around 4am so we could get an early start “to beat the traffic”. We kids would flop across the back seat, no seatbelts of course, and invariably at some point on the trip my sister Robyn would make her way onto the floor so that Honey could be more comfortable up on the seat. Honey took up the middle of the seat between Steve and I, otherwise he’d pick on me and I’d whinge.
We were not allowed to stop for toilet breaks, Dad was a man with a mission when it came to road trips. There was a beginning and an end. Nothing in between. He’d say, “do you know how long it took me to overtake that semi-trailer? I’ll not stop because I’ll just have to overtake him again”. So we learnt great life skills of holding on and shutting up.
Dad also loved to throw us all in the car on a Sunday morning and head off to bushy or beachy places of natural beauty or to inner city museums. Even if I didn’t think much of it I would act as though it was the most wondrous place, just to please my Dad, as I never wanted his feelings to be hurt (that all changed of course when I turned into a teenager). We’d take long day trips to visit family up in the Blue Mountains and out to Cronulla’s fabulous beaches. Invariably our trip home would be at night with us kids (pretending to be) asleep in the back seat. The poignancy of Paul Kelly’s ballad comes to my mind.
I can remember the very first time I ever stayed in a motel. I was in year 5 at Cabramatta Public School when our class made the obligatory coach trip to Canberra, our country’s capital, to visit war memorials, museums and the parliament. I must have driven my poor mother mad during the build up to the trip, with all the wondering and excitement of traveling on a Greyhound and staying in a motel. What to pack, and did I have the appropriate type of luggage? Those things were important to me as a child, I care so much less nowadays.
I do recall the name of the motel in Canberra – Telopea Motor Inn. I bought a postcard with a picture of the motel and sent it home, imagining they’d be pleased to see where I was staying. Dave just had a look online and he tells me the motel is still there!
The breakfast selection sheet was something completely unexpected and I could just imagine how it must have felt to be a princess. Ticking those boxes for absolutely anything that took my fancy was beyond my wildest imaginings. Having fried eggs & bacon with toast, strawberry jam (we only ever had plum jam), all served up on a brown plastic tray through a little trap door in the wall of the motel room the following morning, confirmed my concept of true glamour and sophistication. Not to mention that reassuring paper strip on the toilet lid “sanitised for your protection”.
The specific events of that trip to Canberra aren’t that clear to me but I can so easily recall my strong feelings of independence and adventure about going to a place I’d never been before. Without the family.
Around about that age my great Aunty Amy & Uncle Jim took me with them on a road trip to Wagga Wagga, to visit their daughter Berry and her husband Bruce. I was “junior bridesmaid” at their wedding the previous year. Berry always made me feel a bit special, which was unusual because it seemed like adults were mostly just barely tolerant of kids back then. On that trip I had my very first experience of dejavu. We were traveling out in the middle of nowhere and on the side of the road we passed a hitchhiker, a beautiful tall woman with long blonde hair, walking along our direction. She and I connected, making eye contact for just the briefest time and I immediately felt the strangest sensation, like I was her or at least I knew her. I never told anyone because it must have seemed so ridiculous, yet an uneasy feeling stayed with me for a very long time and even today I can recall her face as if it were yesterday.
Surely though, the most momentous road trip of my life was in June 1973. Just a month earlier my parents pulled us kids in from playing cricket with our mates in the front yard to break the devastating news that we were to leave this place of carefree bliss to start a new life in Brisbane. My father’s firm offered him the opportunity to open a Queensland branch of the business and it was too good to refuse (for him at least it seemed at the time).
We had 2 cars, so my mother and my brother Steve were in one car, my sister Robyn and me with Dad in his shiny new company car. Honey had to stay behind with friends and would be flown up to Brisbane once we settled in to our new home. As we drove away from the friends and home that I didn’t want to leave I silently wept and just couldn’t look at my father or have any conversation with him for some time. That move to Brisbane had deep and lasting impacts on each of us.
There were some magical moments during that fateful road trip and the silent treatment I gave my dear Dad didn’t last that long as I couldn’t stand not to talk. The silver lining to the whole ordeal was that we stayed in a motel on the Gold Coast along the way, and I was allowed to order anything I wanted for breakfast, which was most likely bacon & eggs, toast and strawberry jam. I can’t remember the name of that motel but I can see the structure of it clearly in my mind, on the old Pacific Highway just behind Coolangatta I think.
I have to admit that on this road trip around our little part of France, Dave is doing all the driving. I had a go at driving on the wrong side of the road when we first arrived but I think I gave Dave a terrible fright when attempting to overtake a tractor. So he’s been at the wheel the whole time and I’m doing my best at navigating with our friend/nemesis the maps.me app and our trusty Michelin road maps. I’ve offered to share the driving a few times but Dave assures me he’s doing just fine, thank you very much. I am not offended.
Once you start to think about road trips, so many stories spring up. Those road trip stories are unique to each person, even when you shared the same journey because each of us sees things differently. In fact I’m really keen to talk with my brother and sister about their recollections about those same childhood road trips. If only I could ask my parents, their stories would give such insights.
Dave and I have lots more road trips ahead of us, some already thought through and planned but mostly we’ll just be making it up as we go. I hope to continue writing about our future journeys and journeys past.
Thank you for sharing this with me today.