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Stahl rediscovers the joys of an epic road trip

By Michael Stahl, 08 Dec 2019 Opinion

Stahl rediscovers the joys of an epic road trip

This trip was the first chance to get my 911 all hot and dry and dirty, stretching its legs somewhere out beyond so-called civilisation

I’ve just done something that I hadn’t done for way too long: I went for a drive. Not like a well-worn schlep to a workplace, a stolen Sunday morning up to an inexplicably 60-signed ‘tourist drive’, or even the favoured, five-hour trek inland to my in-laws’ farm. Nope, I allowed myself two weeks and, with little more than a loose list of places I hadn’t been in a while, I kissed the missus and hit the road.

I called it a ‘head-enema’. If you haven’t had a long solo trip in a while, I thoroughly recommend it.

I’ve done some epic road trips, many thanks to this fine publication. Some from the past decade include zig-zagging the Great Dividing Range in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG; driving the 5000km, four-day Cairns to Melbourne leg for Wheels’ lap of Australia in a Porsche 911; and Darwin to Broome via the Gibb River Road in a Land Rover Discovery.

A constant on these, and many other ‘work’ trips, was the presence of photographer Thomas Wielecki. We’ve become (too) accustomed to each other’s quirks on the road, like Wielecki’s immediate befriending of every small town’s resident victim-pickling psycho, my habit of talking too much and only ever about myself, and our mutual inability to pee in public urinals.

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This trip was the first chance I’ve had in at least three years to spend long, consecutive hours solo at the wheel, getting my car all hot and dry and dirty, stretching its legs somewhere out beyond so-called civilisation.

Driving solo, I also get to listen to my obscure 1980s music as loudly as it deserves, push as hard through corners as I dare, and sleep contented in the sorts of motels where my wife would cover the entire room with paper towels before sitting down. I decided to limit the driving to about four hours each day, allowing time for walks on beaches, casting pebbles into still ponds, et cetera.

911 Road Trip

Last year, my 1989 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 ticked over 200,000km, a quarter of those in my seven years of owning it. I figured on adding two to three thousand more on this trip.

My mental mud-map was to head from my home in Sydney, up the coast to Coffs Harbour and then either press on to Byron Bay, or head inland on a big, south-western arc.

Just over two hours after leaving Sydney, I had lunch at a pie shop in Raymond Terrace. Wielecki and I once stopped there, in a Wicked camper van. I texted to say I was missing him.

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I didn’t go to Byron Bay, instead lounging around with my cousin in Coffs. Thence inland over Waterfall Way, where it had snowed the previous night; a zig-zaggy detour down Thunderbolts Way, with a lunch stop by a quiet creek, sitting on the 911’s front bumper. In Tamworth, I burned a couple of hours in the motorcycle museum over a cuppa with Noel, the caretaker.

There were fantastic, fast roads, patches of pelting rain and leaden skies, strips of snow on the roadside. This gave way to reddish sand and dry, grey fauna, pit-stop towns with weatherboard general stores, schoolyards where kids would wave at the grey 911 chortling by.

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I could feel the 911 filling its lungs, stretching its legs and fingers as it galloped over narrow, ripply roads, the wheel jogging loosely in my hands. In the city, with the 3.2’s fairly breathless bottom end (peak torque’s way up at 4800rpm) and single-mass flywheel, it always feels like a greyhound kept in a courtyard.

Somewhere near Parkes, NSW, the westernmost point of my trip, I realised that I had given absolutely no thought to taking a 30-year-old European performance car out to the back of buggery. My only pre-trip car preparation had been to leave a roll of toilet paper in the boot while unloading the shopping.

I’m not sure if that was for me or the car. We look after each other.

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