The prospect of getting ‘off the blacktop’ and heading into the vast beyond has almost mythical qualities for many of us. For some, the idea conjures iconic images of rugged rigs straddling gaping gulches on treacherous tracks. For others, it’s an endless sequence of ochre-coloured desert dunes with sand flags fluttering and shovels and traction boards ready to deal with the inevitable.
But, does it have to be this way? Are the only stories worth telling the ones that happen when your heart is in your mouth and you’re putting your rig through its paces?
I don’t reckon. I know there’s a gentler side to adventuring there to be enjoyed by anyone. It doesn’t take a rig with a three-inch lift, diff lockers and a willingness to endure panel damage. Truth be known, not many travellers measure the quality of their time away by the Grade of the tracks they travel.
Consider a trip to the Tip. For most Aussies, it’s a 7000km round trip, and much of the time is spent getting there on the black stuff. It’s the same with an east-west crossing of the continent. Most people aren’t out there exploring the backtracks and burning up the bulldust. They’re travelling the Nullarbor on the Eyre Highway, renowned as the longest straight road in the country, with 146km of dead straight bitumen.
But who’d be the first one to say that these travellers aren’t on an adventure?
According to the polls, the average Australian spends six days on holiday four times a year. So, inevitably most holidays are spent close to home traversing single dual carriageways chock-a-block with semi-trailers that are among the most demanding places to be on the road. With long-haul trucks vying for space alongside local traffic, as well as interstate travellers in a hurry, it takes a steady hand and a keen eye to stay safe.
While B-grade byways can have their challenges too, at least here you can actually observe your natural surroundings instead of simply fixating on the procession of vehicles bearing down on you. Indeed, once you hit the backroads, everything looks different.
Here you might spot a lyre bird racing out of your path, hear cicadas in the trees or smell the musky scent of a wet forest as you drive by. Stop at a roadside produce stall and you’ll smile from ear-to-ear as your kids enjoy food straight from the farmgate. And when you see a sign to a National Park that you’ve never heard of before, perhaps you’ll heed its invitation to stop a while to enjoy what’s special in that part of the world.
Somewhere along the way you may have the opportunity to explore some challenging tracks, and maybe you’ll decide to give them a crack. But your travel experience won’t be poorer if you don’t. There’s no shame in taking the easier option if it gives you the space you need to open your mind to the world unfolding around you.
I reckon the answer to ‘where the adventure starts’ lies not in the technical difficulty of the driving experience. It’s more a question of what’s motivated us to be on the road in the first place. After all, it’s not the quality of the road we travel that’s important — it’s the quality of the time we spend when we’re on the road.