Road Trip. The two words either conjure up individual memories of places visited and the camaraderie of the road or they remind you of a film that I must admit made me laugh a lot. It’s the first that’s the focus of today. The miles of road, the distant destination and the unknown that can and will happen along the way. There’s really something about embarking on a mammoth car journey that I love. Preparation is key, the right machine is imperative and a bit of good luck here and there doesn’t do any harm either.
The road trip I want to share with you today took me through 3 countries and all in all ended up in the region of 3000 miles. Yes, I am sure you have done further but nonetheless it was an experience I will never forget.
So, to set the scene. I am around 25 years old at this point and my girlfriend at the time has gone to do a semester at a Polish University studying Ceramics. I enjoyed a few visits out to Poland visiting her in Wroclaw where she was situated for her term. Such a beautiful place it must be said. Crushing Winters but Spring comes like flicking a switch in Poland which I never believed until I saw it for myself. One evening snow, the next morning flowers and green grass. Amazing. Anyway, her parents lived near Bordeaux and when it came time for her work to be transported back to the UK for grading guess who got the job? Yes, I was the designated driver for this marathon with her father beside me as navigator. Now I must add at this point despite his approximate age at the point of the journey being 75 her dad was a super hero! Not one wrong turn and he stayed awake most of the way with me. Stellar effort in my opinion. We were playing to our strengths, I drove and didn’t have to think about navigating as I am spectacularly bad at it and he didn’t take us down one single wrong turn. So, what’s left in this car focused blog? The weapon of choice…… A 1990 Volvo 240 Estate. Yes, my shoulders fell too when I learned this fact. The one up side was reliability. This Swedish leviathan was never going to put a foot wrong. However, it did lack equipment of any kind, comfort, power, efficiency and style but let’s try to not be over cruel here. The remit was reliable and with enough space to get her creations safely back across Europe. Tick.
So off we go! He likes Jazz and I like metal so the stereo is off. Just us two relative strangers and the open road. I loved the first ten hours or so, France was beautiful even if the Gendarme’s are total fascists. I think they take the literal translation of “men at arms” too seriously but I won’t rant. I drove roads and saw sights I am sure I never will again. We avoided toll roads wherever possible which given we had plenty of time was fine and took us the more scenic route. The Volvo too grew on me. Its unapologetic simplicity and rugged “get the job done” feel made me feel confident we would succeed. So, to paint the picture we are ten hours in, the beauty of France is gone as day faded and I am on a rain soaked Auto Bahn. Small grumble now, German cat’s eyes are crap! Or were then. I admit the Volvo’s headlights were far from Xenon’s but still I found it very hard to see where my lane was going. Yes, the heavy rain and lack of familiarity didn’t help but I didn’t really dare go over 80 MPH. Her father didn’t want me going too fast and the MPG plummeted at higher speeds anyway. He’s now asleep and with eyes locked on the road I made steady progress into the night. It is so dark and the rain is hammering off the Volvo like some sort of Thai downpour. The concentration levels need to be high as visibility is so poor and if I am honest I had no idea where I was going. I am sat there wishing for a V8 to magically appear under the bonnet of the Volvo but it didn’t happen. What did happen though started with a faint noise. With us having no music I heard it as its faintest over the rain to start with. At first it sounded like a whirring and I thought “oh here we go, time for a breakdown in the middle of the night, great!” The Volvo wasn’t to blame though. As the noise grew louder my pulse quickened as for the life of me I couldn’t see a cause. It did dawn on me however very soon after that what I could hear was mechanical. A glance at the mirror sparked a boyish giddiness in me because not only could I now hear what was coming but the glassy shine of a high-end headlight was definitely in the distance behind me. The noise reminded me of a 90’s F1 V10 and it was getting louder very quickly!
How the driver found the testicular fortitude to come past me at nothing less than flat out in his/her Porsche 996 Turbo is beyond me. There is no way they were doing less than 170 MPH. The Porsche screamed its way past me so quickly that it buffeted the Volvo into the lane to our left! The noise from what I am assuming was an after-market exhaust system was hair raising. I had goose bumps from head to toe and as her father woke form the racket we both sat there is awe as it plunged into the darkness followed by jet like swirls of water pouring out of the back of the car. The feeling it left me with was admiration weirdly because to drive like that in those conditions was what some was call foolish. I just sat there in the Volvo full of harmless envy.
As morning came followed by our entry into Poland our speed halved at least. Don’t forget we are doing this trip 12 years ago, the lovely roads that I am sure are now open were still being built. We had bumpy B roads to make our way to Wroclaw which took hours! As we finally arrived in Wroclaw having done 1500 miles only stopping for fuel with no music and no wrong turns I felt very proud of our mismatched little duo and the Volvo!
Both her delightfully eccentric father and the car had endeared themselves to me somewhere on the road and that will always stay with me.
THE AUTO VIP.