I’m trying very hard to break out of the stereotypical picture of what ageing and retirement should look like. I travel and I try to keep pushing the boundaries of that comfort zone that keep me wanting to stay home. It isn’t always easy.
My latest struggle involved a road trip. Not a particularly long one – about eight hours driving – but it was in unfamiliar territory. The little insecurities had made their presence felt in the weeks before when I was trying to talk myself out of going, but I just kept moving forward until the day of the planned departure. I lacked the sense of adventure and excitement that I used to have when setting off on a long trip, but as usual, once I got on the road I was fine, except for the nagging voice of the Sat Nav. With all the advancements in technology, why can’t we get a Sat Nav that directs us the right way, every time?
I had programmed in my sister’s new address and as usual, the Sat Nav gave me three options but no explanation, except for a tiny coloured bar beside each one. I’ve since figured out the green one means the most economical trip, and the red one should be a warning: ‘Stop – don’t choose this one!’, but I have no idea what the orange one is for. I chose the green one. As usual, Bertha directed me to turn right shortly after leaving home. I ignored her, as I usually do because it’s just a different route through town and I’m more comfortable with my own way. But Bertha kept insisting, so I turned right at the next street, made a U-Turn, then turned left, then left again to put me back on Berth’s course. The next turn was a right turn. I’m geographically challenged at the best of times, but I seemed to be heading north when my sister’s place is south. In that same instance, I remembered something fairly important as I meandered along the back roads through the sugarcane farms. I needed fuel! Lots of fuel. I knew there were no service stations in this neck of the woods, so another U-Turn and back through town to the service station. With a full tank of fuel, I decided to take another look at the Sat Nav and discovered a course that was more in keeping with my comfort zone, on a road I knew and heading south, so off I went again.
But in true Sat Nav style, it wasn’t long before Bertha was telling me to make a right turn, in a place where there wasn’t an option to make a right turn. There was a street, but it just wasn’t feasible to cut across traffic to go that way. So when a left turn presented itself, I took it. I was still very much in country territory and this was more a lane than a road, so another U-Turn, and back I went. A right turn put me back on the road I’d been on when I couldn’t make the right turn. But now I was coming at it from the left side which meant it was easy to turn. All this reconfirms my decision not to get one of those little cameras that sits on the dashboard and faithfully records every move you make. It’s bad enough that I know how silly it must look to see me turning and doubling-back so often, without it being preserved digitally for the rest of the world to see.
Luckily, the rest of the journey was uneventful, well, almost. I made it to my sister’s house, which was only meant to be a quick visit anyway because my ultimate destination was to my friend’s place. Somehow I thought the last leg of the trip, from my sister’s to my friend’s house, was a thirty-minute drive.
It was another two hours away, and by now the evening was closing in on me and daylight was fading fast. I wasn’t too worried, thinking, as only I could, that there would be a well-lit, major road right up to my friend’s front door.
I’m usually an optimistic person, but I sometimes need to temper my optimism with an ounce of reality. My friend lives on a farm and farms aren’t usually right there on major roads, or if they are, the front door is usually a long way from the road. The last farm they had, the front door was a two-hour, bull-dust drive from the main road. So what made me think this would be any different?
Faithfully following Bertha’s guidance I ended up on a dirt road for about twenty kilometres, with the only sign of life being the driver of a huge tractor heading towards me. I must admit he looked both surprised, and a little amused, when I stopped him to ask if I was on the only road into the tiny little town I was heading for. “Yep”, he said, “this is it”.
Safely, stressed (a little), and very glad to be at my journey’s end. Sleep came easily that night.
And that’s where the predictable, slight stretch of the comfort zone ends. The journey home a few days later was a very different story.
The journey home made the forward journey look like a walk in the park! My comfort zone was about to lose all boundaries.
How Bertha got the directions so totally wrong in terms of economy and safety is beyond belief!
Mistake No 1 – setting off at 3.30pm instead of waiting until early next day
Mistake No 2 – using the Sat Nav for direction – and choosing the ‘red’ option
Mistake No 3 – believing that a local would know the way out of town
I was on an inland road and needed to get across to the coast, so, common sense should have told me that I’d have to cross some kind of mountain range. And there I was as darkness fell, winding my way up, across and down a mountain. I’m not sure if Bertha deliberately led me along the road less travelled, or if everyone with any sense just wasn’t on the road at that time of day, but I saw very few cars, in fact, hardly any, and none going the same way as me. Unless you are driving in a major city in Australia, most people know that sunrise and sunset are the most dangerous times to be on the road because that’s when the native wildlife are most likely to be out and about. And since moving back to the coast and swapping the country car for the city car, I no longer have a Nudge Bar or Shoo Roo for protection. So as well as watching out for traffic on that winding road I also had to watch out for rabbits, kangaroos, koalas (according to one sign), and even a very low-flying owl that I almost collected on the windscreen. My concentration on everything that moved in the bush beside the road (mostly rabbits), as well as oncoming headlights (a total of three), took its toll. After five hours of the white knuckle grip I had on the steering wheel, I needed to get out of the car, stretch my legs, and eat! Even the big Golden Arches looked good.
Fed and stretched, the worst of the trip behind me and armed with verbal directions from a local (sorry Bertha, but I just couldn’t trust you after the last effort), I headed to the next exit which would take me to the highway. This was going to be easy – straight up the highway and onto familiar territory.
Wrong – again!
According to the local, the highway was just beyond the next little town – just up the road a bit, he said. I’m beginning to wonder how often that local actually ventures out of town? Having followed the road towards the town he’d indicated, I ended up on another very winding, very narrow road, climbing yet another mountain, and with no sign of the highway. In fact, it was thirty-seven kilometres of winding, narrow, dark and very eerie road. I eventually had to swallow my pride and consult Bertha in the hope of getting off the mountain. In true form, the map showed that the road I was on was pretty much the only way out. And just when I thought I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, the magic moment when I would connect with the highway, there was a roadblock. There in front of me was a ‘Road Closed’ sign. There was no alternative but to turn around and head back the way I’d come. The thought of having to drive the thirty-seven kilometres back was daunting, to say the least. But luckily, a few kilometres down the road, I discovered a ‘Detour’ sign. I turned right and followed it for about ten kilometres and finally came across a major road. Still not the Highway I’d been aiming for, but at least it was sealed, reasonably flat, and wide enough for two cars to pass each other comfortably; but still no street lights. I was still heading north but it was still just me and the moon in that desolate darkness. I wondered why I was the only one silly enough to be out on the road at this time of night?
Eventually, the sign to a familiar town loomed large in the distance ahead. There was no indication of how far away it was, but at least I knew if I kept going I’d be okay. Tired, desperate for a coffee, with the full moon watching over me and the time fast approaching midnight, I powered on.
I had no idea that the mountains that surround Murwillumbah extend that far because, in order to reach that familiar town, I had to climb yet another mountain range. Again, no traffic in either direction, just me and the moon. Time seemed to pass in slow motion, which it probably was because of how slow I had to drive. Not only was I negotiating very sharp bends in the road but I also had to watch out for wildlife. Luckily it seems that the kangaroos were content to stay behind the bushes – I often wonder if it has anything to do with the music I play while driving? Perhaps they don’t like ABBA? Anyway, I was very glad they didn’t make their presence felt on my watch that night. I finally reached the town I had been so longingly wanting to see. I was never so glad to see those big wide streets and the shops I’d wandered through only a few weeks earlier on a trip of local discovery. No Golden Arch here with a 24-hour drive-through; not even a service station that might have offered a window of opportunity for a cup of sludgy coffee. By then, anything that even remotely resembled caffeine would have been a bonus – but nothing. No sign of life. So I drove on. From here I willingly bid Bertha goodnight and turned her off. Fat lot of good she’d been anyway.
The thirty-minute drive to home was both exciting and exhausting. It was hard work to be that close to home but still have so far to go. When I finally parked the car in the garage at home at 12.30am, I sat there for a few minutes, motionless, wondering if I could muster the strength to get out and walk inside. The big comfy bed that I had been dreaming about an hour earlier somewhere on that last mountain, was waiting, and I needed to be in it. I made a quick calculation that I could get by without my luggage until morning and dragged myself, wearily, inside.
Was it past experience, or just plain luck that got me home?
I’d like to think the five years spent in the country, driving a lot of miles with my job, got me through the ordeal. The scariest moment was when I reflected on the trip and thought about what could have happened while lost on the mountain. Close to forty kilometres of nothingness; a few houses dotted along the way with lights burning, but no guarantee of a safe haven had I needed it. No service stations – and no phone coverage. All this and the memory of having had a flat tyre while at my friend’s place. Her husband had put some sort of additive in it and reinflated it and I left with a reminder to check the tyre along the way. I didn’t. Only stopping five hours after fuelling up for the trip home, the thought of the tyre got lost somewhere between thoughts of navigation and coffee. That trip over the mountain could have ended very differently. But it didn’t. The tyre held up – in fact, it’s still fully inflated a few weeks later. And yes, I know I have to get it checked; it’s on my list of things to do, next week.
The Bounds Of My Comfort Zone Have Been Stretched To Almost Breaking Point!
And now there’s no going back to how it used to be. Those nagging little insecurities that had started to whisper in my ear ‘Don’t Do It!’ have been pushed back where they belong – out of hearing.