It’s actually rather fitting that my biggest road trip to date in Australia began snarled in rush hour traffic for two hours. One of the main reasons for the trip was simply to escape the city for a while, and as a parting shot the city was reminding me of exactly why. I crept behind a sea of red tail lights, desperately switching through all the happiest music I could find on my iPod to keep from going insane. Once I broke free of the grasp of Sydney, the rest was as easy as breathing. Back in the early 2000s, I discovered that I not only enjoyed road trips, but I was something of a driving machine once free of the unpredictable and agressively competitive jolt of urban driving. Four hours of driving ticks by like I’m relaxing in a lounger. Even my lower back, which normally grows angrily uncomfortable after a couple hours of sitting, seems perfectly at ease logging hours in the driver’s seat.
Given the awkwardly extended start and the fact that I was picking up Kat to travel with me from Canberra, I can’t even register the Sydney to Canberra leg as part of the trip, the daylight long gone and darkness hiding already well-familiar freeway. The next morning, after packing up some larger items from Kat’s parents’ place to shuttle down to her apartment, we took off south along the Hume Highway, hitting my first stretch of previously unseen road of the journey. This one thing alone makes road trips worthwhile for me, since I have this unsupressable urge to see what’s over the next rise. Kat plugged in her newly-made music mixes and we cruised south, stopping only to visit the most Australian roadside attraction I’d ever seen, the “Dog on the Tucker Box” monument, which is in fact a bronze statue of a dog sitting on a wooden box labeled “Tucker” (or “food” for the unfamiliar). From there we stopped for the night in Beechworth, a small town in the foothills of the Victorian mountains that has built its reputation around weekend getaways, a fantastic bakery, and the fact that the infamous Australian anti-hero Ned Kelly was a resident to the jail there more than a few times.
The following morning we polished off the remaining stretch into Melbourne, where I successfully avoided running into any of the streetcars until I could find a place to safely park the Roo Disco for the peace of mind of pretty much everyone. My disinterest in driving around the city is not helped by the fact that in my giant reinforced Land Rover, I feel like a tank driver in Tiananmen Square with protestors crowding around me threatening to defiantly jump in my way, only with much less idealistic conviction and much more legal liability.
Since I was celebrating my birthday on this trip, Kat had surprised me with tickets to the Cirque Du Soleil show in Melbourne. Coupling the facts that I had never been to a circus as a kid but had been involved in gymnastics, the show stacked up to be fantastically entertaining, from the clown stealing my popcorn as they warmed up the crowd to the seemingly impossible acrobatics. I actually found myself more enthralled than the kids around us. It was the perfect pause before hitting the road again the next day.
Not to say that the driving over the next few days was much to tackle; our destination in Apollo Bay, midway along the Great Ocean Road, was only a few hours from Melbourne, allowing us to keep the leisurely pace of late breakfasts and even later starts. From our base at the Sandpiper in Apollo Bay, we spent the next few days winding along the coastal highway, visiting the Twelve Apostles (one of the iconic Australian natural wonders I had sworn to one day see for myself), eating enormous dinners, polishing off a giant bottle of wine, and generally enjoying a nice relaxed weekend getaway on the remote coast with some dazzlingly clear weather. On one particular detour we even spotted an enormous group of wild koalas blearily lying about the crooks of tree branches, moving as little and as reluctantly as a shared household trying desperately to come to grips with their collective hangover after a massive party. With much the same reluctance we eventually had to pack up and head back along the coast to Melbourne, knowing the working world was not far away.