Taking a road trip to get away from – and come back to – reality can be a sobering journey, as Tim Robson finds out.
I didn’t storm out. Not really. Perhaps the discussions with my wife and partner of more than two decades were more pointed than usual, but no. I definitely didn’t storm out. Life is pretty relentless at times, though, right? Kids. Work. Kids again. Schools. More work. Your work. Her work. Housework. Money. Life really just doesn’t let up these days. So why am I here, 550km away from all that, without my wife and three gorgeous sprogs?
I didn’t storm out.
Taking a drive seems like such a quaint anachronism now, doesn’t it? Did you used to get dragged along by your folks on Sunday afternoon drives to nowhere and back? Can you even imagine having the time to do that?
Oh, sure. We all need to MAKE time to do that stuff, right? Somewhere between eating better, exercising more and drinking less while doubling up in a work role that you know won’t ease up. Not ever.
But isn’t that why people buy nice cars? To drive the damn things? Explore the far reaches of town and country, with your happy family all along for the ride?
I needed a drive – even though I didn’t really like those drives as a kid, I feel drawn to the idea of just… driving. Somewhere. Not here.
Tathra, on the NSW south coast, is equidistant between Melbourne and Sydney, and it’s a truly beautiful part of the world that’s about twenty years behind everywhere else. I reckon I could hide out there for a couple of days with a laptop and a mountain bike.
And I made a conscious decision not to overthink it. Found some cheap accommodation on a Monday, left on a Tuesday. Basic clothes. A bike and basic kit. My laptop. That’s it.
And the car. A Passat 206TSI R-Line wagon. Roomy, good looking. A workhorse… but it’s more than that. A practical load lugger… but with a storming little engine. A sensible choice… with a wicked little twist. The Passat seems as keen as me to get away from the drudgery of an urbane urban existence, too, if only for a little while.
Two hours, then three pass by as I point the Passat south and press on. My nagging guilt at leaving my wife with kids and dogs and air conditioning repairs and laundry and annoying work colleagues abates a little – but she understands that a little getaway will help us. Me, mostly. Doesn’t really help the guilt much.
The weather is ferocious – had I been planning, I never would have left. I plough on regardless, driving further away from… what? I love my family. My job is good, too. I’m always going to go back – so why go at all?
The answer is in the silence of the soaking bush when I step out of the car, with five hours of cleansing tarmac therapy in the books. Utter, complete, deep, mystical silence… wrapped in a fog of biting chill that forces me inside my humble accommodation.
It’s perfect here. Old, but so comfortable.
There’s a fireplace that takes me an hour to get going, but gives me such a sense of achievement (primal therapy, anyone?) A bed so comfortable I want to marry it.
And my mountain bike – another victim of the rush to a lifestyle that we all think we want and we work so hard at creating. I’ve ridden bikes since I was five, and as I approach my maiden half-century, I need to come to terms with a new, lower level of riding ability that doesn’t necessarily sit well with me.
My age in numbers I could care less about. My age in ability? A different tale altogether.
I promised I’d be back home for the weekend – kid’s sport, you see – so I spend my mornings mopping up work projects, and my lunchtimes fettling my bike. Afternoons? I’m riding. And thinking. And not thinking.
I’m still riding through the bush quite okay, and I’m starting to comprehend – maybe not accept, perhaps, but certainly grasp - that my 23-year-old self has ridden too far down the trail to be reeled back in.
It’s a lumpy, unsettling thing to admit as much even to myself.
I guess it’ll be a matter of retraining myself mentally to accept the new normal, then to enjoy and - hopefully - again relish something that’s been a part of my life since I was a kid. Dunno.
I stop for a breather, look up the ribbon of dirt that snakes out sight through the sparsely wooded hills and smile wistfully, before chasing the softening sun to the bottom of the trail.
My bush shack – okay, it’s in a comfortably ageing resort full of bush shacks, but it’s a bush shack nonetheless – is a welcome sight of an evening. I fail miserably to get a fire going on the first night but I stick at it, while a simple meal and a – single – glass of red is the stuff of pure, indulgent bliss.
The thing is… we’re allowed to feel this way sometimes, right? Does everything need to be so rushed, so important? Can’t we step off the rollercoaster for a couple of turns?
Turns out we can. I particularly like how my evenings stretch longer when I don’t fall into the trap of watching something on the TV, just because it’s on. There’s only internet if I want to burn through phone data, so I don’t really bother with that, either.
I actually find my own company quite okay. And that’s nice to know.
Friday morning dawns clear and cool. I’m so, so tempted to stay another day… but soon I’m wending my way north towards home, and family, and bills, and work… and that’s okay, actually.
The roads rush beneath the Passat’s wheels, and my road trip mix throws up some real moments at me in the form of lyrics I’ve heard but not really listened to before.
We all go through a journey, right? That journey takes so many forms, but it’s pretty much the same story – and it boils down to the same elements.
I’m glad I looked up, though, even just for a moment. I’m heading home again, and I know I’ll be a better person for taking a moment of my life back.
After a 20-year career in consumer magazines, Tim has moved into the online space, where he's found his happy place combining his two passions - cars and bicycles - to create 032media. Happily married with three kids, he's based in Wollongong on the NSW south coast.