We spend a great deal of time in our cars. If you travel to work an hour each way then commuting alone means you spend nearly three weeks of every year behind the wheel. Make that trip fifty per cent longer as many do and that becomes a full month; if work involves travel as part of the job, delivering goods or visiting client premises on a daily basis then half of your waking hours could easily be consumed on the roads wherever you live. And that’s without trips to the store, going on vacation, visiting friends and family…….

Doubtless you’re reading this because you’re a petrol head and therefore someone for whom a lifetime in the driver’s seat hardly seems like a chore. “Big deal,” I hear you cry, “I love driving so, what’s the problem?” Well sorry, sunshine, but I have grave news. You aren’t driving. No, really, you just aren’t.

commute

“Don’t be stupid, I’m in the car, at the wheel, what the hell am I doing if I’m not driving? Making pancakes?” Well to all intents and purposes you might as well be, or reading a newspaper, composing your first concerto or any manner of other things because you aren’t driving. You are simply travelling by car. Just that. Nothing else. Take a few moments to consider that if you will. Grab a coffee, a beer, go have a smoke or just close your eyes and try to remember exactly when you actually drove a car, properly, on a good road with little or no traffic and experienced that simple, visceral pleasure? How far was it and how long did it last?

……………………………………………………….

You’re back already? That was quick! But then I didn’t expect anything else. And before you accuse me of being smug up until a few¬†weeks ago the chances are that our answers would have been eerily similar, a few short miles and the briefest of moments before a town, a tractor, an elderly person in some cheap, plastic snot box put paid to the endorphin/adrenaline pump that the right road and a good car become when given they are given chance. Until a few weeks ago……

If you’ve read my recent two-part piece Balkanized then you’ll already be aware that, at the grand old age of 45, earlier this month I enjoyed what I can say, with hand on heart, truly was the drive of my life. Two hours of pretty much constant driving pleasure on some of the best roads through some stunning scenery in a very capable car. It’s going take some beating but that is a challenge from which I won’t be shrinking.

There have been others. My ex-wife and I once drove from the South Coast of England all the way to Inverness in Scotland to attend a wedding because we owned an Impreza Turbo Wagon and the roads round there are far too good for airport rentals. It may have cost a bundle in fuel but was it worth it? Hell, yeah!

mountain pass

The problem is that was over a decade ago and even if I rack my brains the number of truly great, long drives I’ve experienced can be counted on the fingers of both hands with plenty left to pick my nose and flip the bird at the same time. For nearly three decades with a licence that’s a pretty piss poor return.

There are mitigating circumstances. I live on a tiny island on the edge of the North Atlantic – Great Britain is great in the same way you might christen a St Bernard “Tiny” – and with the population as dense as a Kardashian on ketamine most roads here are more clogged than Elvis’s arteries. Sure there are good routes to be found but from where I live it’s a day’s drive just to get to them and even then the windows in Spring and Fall between peak vacation season and fun limiting winter weather are pretty small.

Many of you reading this will be good citizens of the Land of the Free, a vast nation virtually built on the automobile, blessed with huge tracts of unsullied epicness through which someone in their infinite and god-like wisdom has at some point seen fit to carve a road. Not some soulless, tedious highway connecting point A to point B but a tendril of near seamless perfection probing inexorably through forests, across rivers, over and around mountains and down into valleys, by its very nature delivering mile upon mile of ecstasy and exhilaration to those minded to sample it, for whom it provides sensations and satisfactions on levels which border on the carnal, primeval.

Sure, I know that doesn’t apply to the whole of the States by any means. I’ve been there many times and most car journeys are an object lesson in mind-numbing tedium, but I also know that in so many places, not far off the beaten track, there are great roads to drive, with little traffic or active law enforcement to taint the occasion.

west-virginia-highway

The problem I face as a pasty Brit is that while the forces of nature have created amazing topography in North America those same forces have seen fit to put a bloody great ocean between me and it, one which in spite of a global crash in fuel prices of late still requires more than pocket change to get across. It might be cheap enough to fly within the U.S. but flying to it is a whole different ball game. Or should that be cricket match?

Closer to home there is plenty of goodness to be sampled on continental Europe but again some idiot saw fit to put a chunk of water in the way. And Belgium. Especially Belgium. France has some great bits but in a fit of typical Gallic selfishness they’ve been rounded up and herded well south of Paris, out of sight of Les Rosbifs. Everywhere between Calais and the capital is designed simply to make us homesick for a pint of warm beer and a monarchy whose head is still attached to its shoulders. It’s just alien enough to discourage and not quite exotic enough to intrigue.

I’m tempted to wonder if driving is merely another example of a British passion destined to go the way of so many others before it. As a nation we invented football (soccer), rugby, cricket and yes, my American friends even baseball but we get our arses kicked frequently at all of them. The British contribution to the globe automotive is lengthy and vast yet this crowded little enclave of early-modern civilisation offers relatively little to those amongst its citizens who have petroleum coursing through their veins.

You might consider the above a gripe, a lament, an exercise in shameless self pity but I assure you it isn’t. Think of it instead as a revelation, an epiphany. We may not have access to cheap air fares to get us Stateside but in the last decade or so low cost airlines in Europe have thrived. The romance of air travel may have disappeared – it’s like boarding a bus – but they have opened up a whole plethora of destinations that were previously undiscovered and unconsidered.

Of its own that might not be enough but since I’ve now been a member of Final Gear, one of the finest gear head communities on the web, for seven years I’ve made a huge number of friends across Europe and the world so when I get off a plane I can be virtually guaranteed a warm welcome, excellent company and at the very least a couch on which to crash. Add to that the fact that many of them own really cool cars and live near some incredible roads and I don’t think it will be too long before I’m packing my bags and gearing up for another amazing trip to bore the grandkids about in years to come. When I do I assure you that you’ll be the first to hear about it.

You should do the same. It’ll be worth it. I promise.

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