Realising that at short notice I had to go down to Albany (450km away) to deal with some family issues, I very gratefully borrowed my trusting sister-in-law's 4WD. Don't ask me the make or model, but, it's blue. I only know it was a 4WD because it had a stubby gear lever next to the regular one. Having double-checked that it was unleaded petrol that went in the hole thingy on the side, I pretended to be interested when being instructed on how to use the CB radio (it's apparently the black box whatnot under the dash with the walkie-talkie, it's also the reason the aerial looks a little precocious). I then sheepishly begged for the car to be driven out onto the roadside for me as, when you haven't been behind a wheel in years, reversing into traffic doesn't seem the best first step. I must admit that, as I pulled away from the kerb, I caught a fleeting glance of several worried faces in the rear vision mirror.
The only reason I needed the car, rather than going by coach, was because I had to take Briar with me. TransWA is brilliant about bike transit, but, a little less cooperative about beagle transit. My intuition told me that the visit was going to be thankless and frustrating, so I was determined to make the most of the drive down. I confidently wedged my DSLR in between the gear levers (that second one actually comes in pretty handy). After all, it was a sunny, spring day, the dog was being a paragon of canine virtue, and I was going to be travelling through hillside orchards, bush, wheatbelt towns and farms, and even brush up near the western end of the Stirling Range. Plenty of photographic opportunities for an untalented enthusiast. Below is the sum total of 5 hours driving caught on camera:
Impressive, eh? One shot, taken prior to leaving the carport. The trip high-lighted the difference between car travel and cycling. It also reinforced my own preferences. There is no way I could get down to Albany in one day by cycling. I would be pretty hard-pressed to get the dog down there in the trailer. The convenience of travelling by car is at first glance very apparent. However, there are other things that come into play for me when I'm choosing a mode of transport.
The first thing that struck me was that there are disadvantages to speed, especially if you're wanting to take photos. The second you see something snapworthy, it's suddenly 50m behind you and, by the time you've managed to stop, it's way back and you suddenly question whether it's worth the effort. In the car, the trip was measured in hours and, by the time I'd been bugged with a number of "Where are you now?" calls, minutes. So, stopping because 200m back there may have been a pleasant photo opportunity suddenly seemed frivolous. I was driving to a schedule. My usual, "I'll be there sometime early next week . . . probably." had shrunken to a stressful, "No, really, I should be there by 5pm."
I also had to speed past meandering country roads that normally I would pootle down. It sounds silly that I would travel further afield on a bike than in a 4WD, but, once again it was all to do with the mindset. Popping along to have a look at Cranbrook and maybe the Stirling Range on the bike might mean an extra night's camping on the Surly. In the 4WD I was aware I had to watch my petrol and that I'd have to make a phone call if I wanted to detour because I was expected before dinner. I felt much more tied to the grey strip of highway.
Another factor that impacted on the trip was my altered relationship with the environment. On a bike I feel part of the surroundings. I not only get to look around more than when concentrating on driving, I can feel the wind, smell the air, judge the temperature, feel the sun, hear the birds and sense the road surface under my tyres. There's an immediacy to the experience. Even if it's raining and my teeth are chattering as I brush the water off my glasses, I am present. (Sorry, if that sounds a little too 'Zen'). In the car, by the time the temperature is regulated and a CD is playing, there is no sense of belonging. The driver is observing, watching the scene pass by, rather than being a part of it. The driver's body does not have to move in a direct relationship with propulsion so there is not even a sense of 'doing' something. The surroundings may as well be seen on TV as viewed from a motorised, metal coffin.
The trip confirmed for me that I like to live life at a snail's pace, relaxed and chilled. I'm prefer spending a couple of hours getting to work and always having time for a leisurely puff before the commencement of my shift. I don't want to arrive with thirty seconds to spare, having left home nineteen minutes ago (stress!). I'm lucky that my friends are used to hearing "Sometime before lunch", "Monday or Tuesday afternoon", or "I'll give you a tinkle when I'm nearly there". If we're meeting up at a cafe or bar I'm happy leaving with time up my sleeve and grabbing a coffee beforehand or checking out a nearby bookshop. I don't want my schedule stuffed to the gills and life so hectic that I haven't any wriggle room. Sigh, it appears that I am car-phobic and incurably lazy!