We all know that a demanding set of countryside switchbacks can get an enthusiast’s adrenaline flowing, while the acceleration aficionado might live life a quarter mile at a time™. Grabbing the keys to your car can be the prelude to a new set of memories, unlocking sights and sounds that you’ll never want to forget. Alternatively, though, the opposite is true.
While American teenagers can get behind the wheel from 16, us in the UK have another year to wait. I remember using my car as a way of escaping reality way before I was what I’d call ‘grown up’. Girl trouble, overbearing parents, you name it, my car was an escape pod. Jump in, no destination, just a road network and whatever fuel is in the tank. ‘Several’ years later, I find myself reliving those awkward late teenage years, but this time I’m not on my own, and the journey isn’t about escape.
It’s about comfort.
The funeral itself had been beautiful. Our good friend, having been taken way before her time, was celebrated with the respect and good humour she would have wanted. We were to celebrate, not to mourn – although the latter came naturally. The three of us had traveled down to the resort town of Bournemouth the day before, in my old Audi. It’s a 190-mile trip, and one we spent catching up with each other – deliberately avoiding mention of the circumstances of our journey. Today, we were going home, and I for one quickly remembered the mind-clearing potential of a good road trip.
Night had already fallen when we hit the road at 16:30, and Bornemouth’s confusing urban environs quickly gave way to the familiar M3 motorway. Once established on this three-lane artery that pumps traffic from Southampton to central London, we were making good headway at an indicated (and thus quasi-legal) 80mph. That means a realistic 77mph, one of my favorite speeds at which to travel.
Darkness does funny things to the senses. It cloaks the scenery you’re traveling through, increases the sense of speed and reduces apparent journey times. With so much less to see, there’s less visual information for the mind to process, so it’s easier to collect your thoughts – or enjoy an absence of them. And thus we traveled, accompanied by the strains of some of our favourite music, music that we had previously enjoyed live in the company of our departed friend. It was something close to magical.
This, ordinarily, is the most mundane of journeys. We followed a path trodden daily by delivery drivers, commuters and holidaymakers alike. But tonight was different. 77mph is a speed at which even harsh-riding cars feel at their smoothest, and the Audi veritably skipped over potholes. I was at my most alert, concentrating on maintaining a speed that would keep me clear of lorries and dawdlers, as well as those for whom speed limits are just a number. I had rarely driven with such accuracy, such competence, all because my mind was clear. We were hovering down the road, absorbing every note of Bombay Bicycle Club, Warpaint and Hozier, drawing ever closer to the warm security of home.
At journey’s end, turning the key and allowing the car to tick and ping to silence, marked the closing of a chapter. The next day, all three of us would go back to work as normal and life would go on. Four hours in a car, at night, enjoying nothing but music and movement, had been just the tonic.
(Images courtesy of Nicola, using my phone)