The journey and horizons never quite reached ...

A journey always has a beginning; a starting place, or even a starting point in time. Journeys have us excited with anticipation as much as leaving us dreading the thought of being away from home. There were times in our lives where we have stepped away from daily routines to go somewhere, anywhere and whether it’s visiting family and friends, attending a business event or simply exploring a line drawn on a map, there is always that moment when you start your adventure.

In business all too often we read of a company describing its business plan as a journey. At some point an idea flourished that developed into a product or service over time. Customers were won over by something unique, timely or simply an opportunistic way to beat the competition. Business journeys however are littered with detours and plenty of accidents. How often have we read of a business becoming a train wreck?

And yet, business journeys are spelled out in excruciating detail with an expectation that target markets will be impressed by our mere presence. Then again, there is always the pride a company exhibits whenever it talks - more than likely as desserts are being served - of its business plans initially being mapped out on the back of a napkin.

It is our lot these days to be practicing self-isolation. Quarantined behind the very same door we so often look back at when starting a journey.  The global pandemic has us looking for new ways to keep our minds active even as our refrigerators offer a depressing summary of the detours we are routinely making. Nothing but ice cream, cheesecakes, chocolate frosting and soda; ignoring the refrigerator has become an art form.

It is at these very difficult times in our place of abode when thoughts of freedom take hold. The freedom of the open road, seas and skies; it doesn’t matter your preference, but just the thought of taking those first steps away from the front door that we are longing to do.

From childhood, it’s been all about the open road. Family vacations up and down the coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Sedans, station wagons, caravans and holiday rentals! As a family, we did it all and I remember all so well when somewhere outside of Newcastle, dad’s Holden hit 90 mph on a straight stretch of road.

Perhaps he should never have done that as it made a long-lasting impression on me and just like Toad of Toad Hall in Wind in the Willows:

“Wonderful! Spellbinding! Outrageously magnificent! Was there ever such a master of motorcars as Toad of Toad Hall?”

It was definitely serendipitous that a column in Road and Track featured remarks by a motoring journalist about the nearby challenging roads and of how many roads he had driven that had made a lasting impression. Having just moved to Tennessee from California, he was finding the time to drive fabled roads for all those who enjoy the journey. Of course, one road connecting Tennessee to North Carolina stands out from all others. Deal’s Gap or as it is better known, the Tale of the Dragon.  Deals Gap is a mountain summit less than 2,000 feet high mind you, but US Highway 129 climbs and descends this summit in a series of never ending corners.

Margo and I have driven over the summit from both directions. First it was me handling the mass of a Cadillac Escalade and then it was Margo’s turn. Beginning our journey late in the afternoon and approaching it from the Tennessee side, Margo had the benefit of tackling these turns in our Nissan GT-R and I am still not sure how that all came about.

Nissan or Cadillac? Supercar or a truck? Didn’t really matter in the end as the journey entertained us both regardless of who was driving what and there are always photographers set up alongside the road willing to take photos of whatever passes by.

Growing up in the state of NSW, wasn’t all that unlike growing up in California. The only big difference is that very few highschoolers in NSW could afford a car or even lived in a family that allowed them to drive the family car. If you wondered what the significance of the Honda motorcycle (below) - it is almost identical to my first motorized vehicle. At a cost of AUS$250, way back in 1969, it marked the beginning of a journey that shows no signs of ending to this day.

I never did get a motorcycle license all those years ago as having a license meant that you could lose it for any offense. But a learner’s permit in those times you couldn’t lose, no matter what traffic offense you may have committed. As a mock café racer, this Honda CB72 was equipped with clip on handlebars, rear-set foot pegs and controls, drum brakes that barely did anything at all and a pair of Dunstall 1 into 2 un-baffled exhausts, one for each cylinder; wicked!

For a small displacement motorcycle, it was very loud but it handled beautifully and easily accelerated to 90 mph. I know as on one occasion, with a passenger aboard (and with no passenger set of foot-pegs), I uncorked the bike on a trip down the Pacific Highway. Recklessness was the half of it but youth knows no fear.

The trip started in the suburb of Waitara, and the destination was just past Chatswood. It was a Sunday night and church had finished and it was the only means of transportation to take one young lass back to her home in Willoughby. However, as I passed the railway station at Turramurra I smiled as unexpectedly, the crowd that had just alighted from the train, all began cheering. Had to be the bike, right? Had to be my skilled execution of the difficult turn across the railway line? Well, not exactly.

As traffic lights at the next suburb, Pymble, turned red I dutifully braked to a stop. It was then that a Highway Patrol Mini Cooper S, with sirens and lights roaring and flashing, pulled across the front of me. “Didn’t you hear my siren? Didn’t you notice my lights?” Well, actually without a working rear view mirror (both removed, what’s behind me is not important, as someone once said) and an un-muffled exhaust, well no, I hadn’t noticed a thing … seriousl! Follow me to the Pymble Police Station as I am going to have to lock you up - but then the journey took an unexpected turn.

As we pulled away from the curb, my passenger wasn’t quite quick enough in lifting her feet off the road depositing her brand new shoes planted and upright in the middle of the highway. Without giving it a second thought, I executed a perfect 360 turn back to where the shoes stood, by which time the Policeman took another call and waved goodbye.

As for the court appearance and the subsequent fine, I had to commit to not ride that bike for three years, which by the time of the actual court appearance, I had already sold. Troublemaker? No doubt! At that point, I had discovered cars and bought my first one – a Holden Torana GTR. A precursor to Holden’s SuperV8s that soon followed!

It took a couple of posts on Facebook to remind me of this story and I just couldn’t leave out the most challenging ride of all. Cresting Macquarie Pass along the Illawarra Highway running between Wollongong and the Robertson pub proved to be an awesome challenge. Even today:

“The road is narrow, and for the most part has no center-line; although center-lines have been recently added in a couple of sections. The pass is quite notorious for accidents due to its nature, and drivers and riders are required to be cautious.”  

Every Friday night, motorcyclists would gather along Wollongong’s Crown Street and then head off south before turning west up the mountain. I had run a little late as I was still fitting new accessories to the bike but as I made it into Wollongong, watching the tail lights of other bikes disappear into the night, my headlamp stopped working. No worries, I would tackle this climb to Robertson – my first time ever on this strip of pavement – riding blind. I made it, but no beers that night and shaking like a leaf, I made it safely back down the mountain … who knew?

My time spent in Australia seems so long ago. Memories are fading; merely shadows in a distant past with little chance of recalling the specifics in any detail. It was the start of the journey and for that there is still a fondness for the Lucky Country that’s inescapable. My daughter Lisa has taken up residence in that off place so there will surely be more journeys still to be taken that will bring me back to Oz.

Journeys took on a whole new meaning when I arrived in California. As for challenging roads there were none more accessible than those along the coastline. Of course, Highway 1 – the Pacific Coast Highway – is an all-time favorite and there is no better way to enjoy it than from the seat of a convertible. I have driven it in a Mustang convertible, a Viper roadster, Vette Z06 and yes, even our  much-loved Pontiac Solstice. Each and every time it has been a different experience.

Then again, for those who are familiar with the canyons around Malibu, there is always Decker and then Mulholland Drive. Rarely an opportunity to travers Mulholland was missed and even as it crossed some major canyon roads, it was the drive you just had to do whenever you had a new car. There were photographers set up on the descent down to Mulholland’s famous Rock Store and after each drive, you always checked out the photographers’ web site to see if you made the cut. Which we did more than once: As for that Viper roadster, it was always able to catch the eye of the photographer if not the ear.

A lesser known story is that our plan to trade the Solstice for the Viper in 2008 didn’t come about as we liked the Solstice too much and kept it for quite a while. When it comes to our journey with cars, this proved to be a major detour as it marked the beginning of Margo and my retention of a total of six cars for an extended period of time. Who knew; it’s America and cars continue to play an important role in the lives of many Americans. Given the relative inexpensiveness compared to other markets, why not have options when it comes to beginning a new journey?

The Cache la Poudre River Canyon that starts in Ft Collins and takes you all the way up to Walden is perhaps our favorite summer-through-fall Coloradan journey. It’s about 100 miles long and closely follows the Poudre River. As for its name, Cache la Poudre River Canyon literally translates to "the powder's hiding place" or so we have been told. As for the Peak-to-Peak highway that climbs past 10,000 feet and traverses the mountains between Golden and Estes Park, it’s an absolute must in the fall.

Mulholland Drive, Tale of the Dragon, Poudre River and not forgetting California State Route 35 (or, as the locals call it, Skyline Boulevard) or even the drive to the top of Pikes Peak. Further north, there is the drive down the Simon Fraser River connecting the mountains of Alberta to the harbors in British Columbia; all of the journeys that come to mind along these beautiful yet challenging roads. The good news here is that it’s a big country and America has still many roads left to explore. And that’s just west of the Mississippi.

Thinking back on the many road trips Margo and I have taken has led to a desire to do even more road trips and in this time of sadness when so much around us is changing, we cannot help but think it’s getting close to when we can once again, venture out onto the highway.

Journeys do have a starting place and more often than not reference a point in time. But journeys do not necessarily have an ending. How often have we read of trips being about the journey and not the destination? It may surprise you that in business, even as we so casually reference the journey our company may be on, there is rarely any reference to an end point – business wants to keep on, keeping on (as the bunny reminds us each time he comes on screen).

American has always been on a journey. There has always been a sense of needing to explore. To seek adventure and to push the boundaries wherever possible! But did we ever experience quite the epidemic that has now so captivated us all? Historically, there have been much worse epidemics, but none of us ever lived through them.

It’s a new experience for us all. And yet, the thirst to go outside has rarely been slated and so, as talk of lifting restrictions and of changing rules to guidelines, then perhaps it’s a positive thing to once again consider hitting the highways and continuing the journey we all enjoy taking. Perhaps, it really does come back to whether indeed, "Was there ever such a master of motorcars as Toad of Toad Hall?”


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