April 18, 2018

Horse 2401 - Thirteen Rules For Roadtrips.

I'm pretty sure that if many of us were given lots of free and untied dollarpounds at our disposal to do with whatever we like, we would spend them on travel and I'm no exception. Of course being the kind of person who likes to be in control of machinery, I would prefer to be driving as my main form of travel as much as I could, rather than being on a plane for hours. Sure, being on a bus, train, ferry, or aeroplane, are fun, they're all passive activities and when it comes to plane travel especially, because there's nothing to look at for extended periods of time, the wonder of literally flying through the air in a metal tube at hundreds of miles an hour, wears off pretty quickly.
Granted that you do get to arrive in exotic places but it's all too much like being confined inside during a wet weekend.
So when I was asked to write the rules for how to do a road trip by a client of mine, whose son had just turned 18 and acquired his P-Plates, I felt like this was well within the realm of my expertise because everyone respects the privileged views of a straight white middle aged man, who they don't know. There's nothing weird or creepy about that except for everything about it.

There are those who would say that going on a roadtrip is almost something of a rite of passage and that once you do manage to acquire the means of mobility, you turn the key and open the door to a new journey of life. To some degree that's true but for me, who has always been obsessed with motor cars even as a small child, it wasn't so much a rite of passage but rather the fulfillment of a need. In the broadest sense, I look at the future of self driving cars with despair and should it come to it, I promise to defy the future and build my own not self driving car. Why should the robots steal my joy?

Speaking from personal experience, the very first thing that I always want to do whenever I get a new car is to immediately put 5000km on the odometer. I really love being behind the wheel watching as the miles are eaten up, as the landscape rises and falls, as that ribbon of black top wends and weaves its way through the hills and mountains, and I love that you get to share the experience with someone else or if you are by yourself, you get many hours to run around inside your own mind.
A roadtrip is the mechanical embodiment of my personal want to run and run and run, even if the seasons of life and its circumstances condemn me from doing so. A friend of mine who has now passed away, absolutely rued and hated the day that he lost his driver's licence because of medical reasons and I understand that entirely. It would be like hacking ones legs off with a chainsaw.

These aren't so much as the rules for roadtrips but general suggestions. It of course should be the domain of youth to tell the old exactly where to go and how to get there, while they still know everything; so I fully expect to be told to get lost.

1. Maps
Unless you are one of those people who likes the solitude of just being at one with the machine, there will be at least one other person in the car. It is the duty of the person in the navigator's seat to know where you are in the world. This might involve Google maps or some other electronic map thing, or if you are old fashioned it might mean a dead tree paper one. Either way, if the navigator is lost, then the driver has to juggle something else in their head, along with the decreasing closing distance to the truck up ahead as well as the moving chess game with everything else on the road.
It definitely helps if you do a fair amount of research first though and at very least try to memorise a basic outline of the highways and main road that you intend to drive on. In Australia we don't have a whole heap of choices because between the major cities there usually are no more than two roads to choose from.

2. Drinks
Coffee and Energy Drinks that taste like nothing remotely natural at all are acceptable if you are one of those people who needs to be constantly caffeinated. However, nobody and I repeat nobody, needs to bring a 2L bottle of anything and neither do they need a slurpee or other drink from a petrol station which is so massive that you can fit your head inside. Motorways especially are long stretches of 110km/h road where they are very few opportunities to stop. If you drink a lot then you can expect to pee a lot and nothing is as annoying as having to stop for a pee break if you otherwise didn't have to. If you are on one of those meandering roads with lots of little towns then please disregard this.
Visit every road house, cafe and rest stop that you come across, and take pee breaks everywhere.
Also, it's worth remembering that if you have a very big cup of sugary pee inducing drink, if you have to stop suddenly, the laws of physics will conspire against you and send both the cup and the liquid flying. Mountain Dew is lovely but not when you have 650mL of the stuff all over you and inside your clothes because it gets uncomfortably sticky.

3. Snacks
I love a good bar. Chocolate, cereal, muesli, heck even a sausage roll or a frankfurt could be called a bar under the loosest of definitions. Things like potato crisps are messy so avoid those, nuts are all right but fiddly, and things that are harder to eat such as a pie or a burger should really only be eaten when the car is stopped. Sandwiches are in the borderlands in this argument.
Also, don't be so precious about the state of mess in the car. This is an unavoidable fact of life. I can guarantee that you will find a wrapper for a Mintie several months and maybe even years after a road trip. If you intend to eat a sausage roll or a pie in the car (because why wouldn't you?) then you should expect to find pastry crumbs forever.

4. Stereo
There is almost always a dispute about the music on the car's stereo so please develop good compromise and negotiation skills. You might really like The Ugly Banshees¹ but nobody else in the car might not be into 16 minute stretches of unorganised prog rock. Comedy programs which you can download from the internet generally go down well; as do geeky brainy things if you are that kind of person. Quite often, the music that you play in the car ends up being the soundtrack for that moment in time.
If music is not your thing, then the long slow breath of cricket becomes the soundtrack of a thousand summers, the siren of the third quarter of an Australian Rules match is yet another chapter of a grand story, and the weird patter of faintly glimmering local radio stations fades in and out as you travel across the land.

5. Danger
Sometimes you will get into a situation which is not fun. The weather can turn nasty in a hurry in some places and this can lead to hostility and angst. Turn the music down. The driver's brain has more important things to do than worry about what Celia K² thinks about the boyfriend that she's either dumped or just picked up (which given the quality of a lot of modern music, she will repeat maybe 60 times in three minutes) Sometimes if you're in particularly heavy rain, then all that you have to work with is the lane markers and the lights of the car in front. In particularly bad rain or fog, sometimes the only thing preventing you from being a smacked in the rear end at 70mph, is you following the thing in front at 70mph. Driving in bad weather conditions is a game of mutual trust between people who can't actually see each other; in fast moving metal boxes with the potential to kill everyone.

6. Itinerary
Don't make one that's so set in stone that it's a whip for your own back. I like the idea of just kind of wandering around the place; stopping at cool things because they're cool. If you're on a road trip, then from the outset you're already on holiday; so you may as well look at the snowman made of tyres, or the sign that vaguely looks rude, or that antique shop, or that lookout over that scenic view which will almost invariably always be disappointing.
The best advice for planning an itinerary is to say that you'll be somewhere on a particular day because any smaller chunk of time like an hour is simply impossible to stick to. If you're travelling for a multiple of hours in a day that extends into double digits, then that's all you are doing that day; that's just the way it is.

7. Restaurant
Never ever stop at a chain restaurant unless it's absolutely necessary. Always eat at the weirdest looking places, the crappiest looking Chinese restaurant (because they're always the tastiest), the darkest and most homeliest looking pub. Even if you happen to eat the most inedible thing in the world, that in itself becomes the story.
If it is any later than about 5 in the afternoon, you should start to think about dinner. If you press on and on too long, then that window of opportunity will close and all that will be left will be chain restaurants and kebab shops but only in the major cities. There are no late night kebab shops out in West Woop Woop.

8. Photographs
I am not necessarily inclined to want to take a bunch of photographs because experience has taught me that if you're wrapped up in worrying about taking photographs, then you miss out on the holiday itself. I'm also not one for taking a bunch of selfies either because everyone who knows me also knows what I look like.
If you are the sort of person who wants to take photographs everywhere, then photos with a person in front of the thing as though they are standing at attention and saying "I am here" tend to be dull. The best photographs on holidays and especially road trips are the ones that people don't expect to be taken or where the intent is to look goofy.
Also, always take photographs of road signs that happen to be significant. Crossing a border into another state or country is always neat.
Photographs of signs that move into the realm of punnery are also acceptable.

9. Market Day
It will happen on a road trip that occasionally you will drive into a town that has had its main street shut down because of the street markets, or perhaps you will find them because you have chosen to seek it out. Every market in existence will have someone selling jams, someone selling jewellery, a clothing seller, food vendors of questionable products, and people claiming to sell you some wonder product. After visiting about three markets you will realise that every single street market is broadly replaceable with every other street market and that all of them are essentially selling tat. I was once in a small country town that openly called it the Tat Fair. You will be disappointed, if you choose to spend your money, it will be disappointing because any and all merchandise will be overpriced. Get used to it.

10. Conversation
I'm assuming that you are going on a road trip with people that you like and have chosen to hang out with. Finding topics of conversation shouldn't be a problem but with any social interaction, the potential to hate each other because you're in close proximity is massive.
Forgive people as quickly as possible.

11. Lane Changing
If you are on the motorway, highway, autobahn, interstate, autostrada etc. Then changing lanes is sometimes a logistical nightmare. You should nominally have committed to changing lanes well before the maneuver is ever made and the 2km marker is generally a pretty good time to think about it.
Wait until you can see at least both headlights of the thing that you're going to move in front of. A big thing needs time and space to pull up in due to the First Law of Motion. It's also not nice to the truck driver, who by the way already thinks that you are a wee little tiddler even if you are driving a two tonne SUV, to steal their braking space.
This is said not so much as kindly advice but as self-preservation. It is even more critical if you are driving in a country where they drive on the other side of the road because your brain isn't wired up with the usual instincts to be that spatially aware. The motorway is a 70mph game of potentially moving death on many sides.

12. Breakdowns
This almost should go without saying but seeing as the capacity for human stupidity is infinite, then I need to spell this out.
Get Breakdown coverage.

If you're not already covered by the RAC, The AA, NRMA, Green Flag, or some other breakdown coverage organisation, then get this before you leave. Batteries will suddenly decide to fail, sensors and electrics will instantly terminate themselves, the engine management computer will commit a divide by zero error, and if you're Australia, the chances of encountering a kangaroo or an emu with a death wish only increases with the number of miles that pass; according to the law of large numbers. I was once camping overnight at a place and a wombat took exception to the fact that we had inadvertently parked the car in its usual desire trail; so it decided to go all Bruce Wombat Lee on one of the car's tyres.
We also joked about making a documentary series called Patto's World Of Breakdowns³ in which we'd go on a world tour of all the places that my mate Patto broke down in his '89 Laser.

13. Local Newspaper
Okay, I know that mostly the local newspaper is full of stories about angry people pointing at things and local action groups where people have been photographed wearing t-shirts that they've hastily thrown over the top of their regular clothes but here me out. The local newspaper is the curmudgeonly beating heart of a small town. It will report that the Coodabean Champions lost 7.11.53 to the Kickastikalong Tigers 12.9.81, that the Brinyagrogalong Park now has a new playset for the children, and that Kylie O'Bogan of class 6E has won a maths olympiad and is off to the big smoke to compete in a national competition which literally nobody in the town except for her mum, Kylie O'Bogan, but pay attention. The local newspaper has just enough information for the careful observer, not to look like a total frou-frou. If you are at the Imperial Hotel and sampling the local nectar, you will be looked on with suspicion.

Take heed of my ramblings oh young 'un, or don't. Wisdom is won by the wise through experience and can never be inherited. Always assume that you know better than the rest of the world while you are young, so that you will attempt the stupid and the daft because at  the end of it all, roadtrips are mostly about accumulating stories and the best stories come about almost by accident.
Plan nothing but plan to have a plan about planning nothing.

¹There isn't a band called The Ugly Banshees but it would be cool if there was.
²There also isn't an artist called Celia K. Her new synth pop album called "Celia K's Disease" also doesn't exist; if did, it would be quite irritating to my ears. Dance music in nightclubs has changed in the last five years or so and is less adventurous than it was.
³Patto isn't his real name. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. Also, to the people of Mildura who woke up that morning in 1997, that fire hydrant which had "fallen over" and was flooding the high street, was absolutely not the result of an '89 Laser rolling down the hill because the handbrake was faulty. 

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