The Drive!

*Warning* This is not a car review or anything like it. This is what happens when I have had too much Red Bull and can’t sleep yet still have creative juices flowing after working on actual important stuff. You have been warned!

 

He lay there motionless, eyes closed, breathing controlled. To an outside observer he would appear to be asleep yet he had been awake for some time and was trying to shake the last of the sleepiness from his body. Although he had not yet opened his eyes he knew that the morning sun had not yet burnt away the overnight mist as normally it would be bursting through his south facing bedroom window. The mist did not overly concern him. It would not detract from it, merely add another element to it and maybe even enhance it. In the time that he lay there he ran the plan through his head and now as he reached its conclusion a wry smile crept across his face. That silent, imaginary, observer may well have concluded that this indicated a particularly enjoyable part of a dream but in reality it meant he was awake, aware and more importantly ready.

At that moment a shrill blast interrupted the silent serenity. His facial expression remained unfazed and bar his hand striking out to silence the source of the interruption he did not otherwise react. Normally his alarm clock would be silenced a half dozen times before he would drag his weary body out of bed. Yet on these mornings, he was always awake before it went off. He often questioned why he still bothered to set it but it was all part of a routine that he did not see fit to break . He took a moment to collect his interrupted thoughts before sliding out of the bed and silently traversing the room. He noiselessly dressed himself with the pile of clothes he had left on the chair before creasing his wife’s brow with a soft kiss. He poked his head into his sons room and as he lay there in his cot he wondered if, in thirty years time, he too would making similar early morning trips. Ducking back out the door he made his way down the stairs, making sure to avoid the creaky eighth step. A cursory glance from the dog as he opened the front door was the only acknowledgement that his early morning movements received.

 

Much to his wife’s surprise he had undertaken to drive to the Chinese takeaway the night before to collect dinner. Normally, to avoid it arriving late and stone cold, she would drive up after he got in from work and pick it up, but last night he had detoured on the way home and arrived into the kitchen with bags of steaming hot food and a bottle of her favourite wine. It was a not a trip he was likely to repeat with much frequency, as it added thirty minutes to an already long commute, but it had served its purpose – his car was at the back of the driveway, closest to the road. He had chosen his car carefully. It was the range-topping, sports model variant of the manufacturers line up yet devoid of all its insignia it looked just like the modest hatchback on which it was based. It was practical enough for him to use everyday yet its three door layout made it completely impractical for his wife to use. She had a big four door saloon filled with extras such as heated leather seats and a six CD changer so she rarely ever considered driving his car but on the rare occasion she did reach for his keys he always managed to persuade her to take her car instead. A quick trip to the shops did not require anything as ‘special’ as his car.

Firing up the engine he was greeted by an exhaust rumble that was as close as possible to a standard car as possible. The entire system had been built to his design to release the most power while still retaining a certain level of discreetness. Three times he had sent it back to the manufacturer for fine tuning yet even now it was not perfect. It was as close as it was going to get though as the company had said they could do no more and he was content enough with that. He passed slowly through his village allowing the car to warm up – to come alive. For ten minutes he drove, short shifting and keeping the revs low along the way. In those ten minutes he did not see a single sign of life bar a solitary rat darting across the road in front of him. He had purposely chosen this hour of the morning for that exact reason. Normal people are not awake that early on a Saturday morning, preferring to take advantage of not having to get up for work and sleeping a little later. He hazarded a guess that the milkman had not even started his round yet.
Rounding a bend in the road he coasted to a halt and hit the button the drop the electric windows. He peered through the slowly disappearing mist and listened intently for the unmistakable sound of an approaching car. Two minutes passed before he was confident enough to move his car forward a few feet. When finished he was sitting in the middle of the road, straddling the white line. One final check to confirm nothing was approaching before he buzzed the window back up and began to phase out all distractions. He took some calming deep breaths before dropping his chin to his chest and closing his eyes. He cleared his mind of everything except for the beat of his own heart and the throb of the engine in front of him. Taking a deep breath through his nose he lifted his head and opened his eyes. It was time!

While his left hand reached out for the metal rimmed gearknob his foot pressed the clutch pedal into the carpet. The dogleg gearbox he had installed infuriated him in rush hour traffic, to the point where he had considered changing it, but on previous runs it had proved its worth. He prodded the accelerator pedal and the response was akin to prodding a sleeping bull. Noise and vibrations increased until, as the revs reached a plateau, he sidestepped the clutch resulting in all four wheels spinning as they tried to control the power suddenly forced upon them. Second gear gave them a momentary respite but as the revs began to rise the turbo began to spool and as it unleashed its full boost they again began to struggle. This necessitated a quick flick to third where finally the expensive tyres bit in and did not let go again – unless he wanted them to.

The first series of bends snaked their way through the countryside and he knew from experience that they could be taken flat out. As the revs rose and the turbo unleashed more power the scenery around him began to blur into a sea of green. Changes of direction were completed so quickly and precisely that it was like watching a great cat giving chase on the Serengeti. This was the easy part though. A sharp right hand turn was fast approaching and he was not yet fully confident in his new tyres. He broke earlier than his huge brakes would necessarily allow him to yet it was still much later than anybody else would. Dropping two gears the rear end of the car began to become unsettled on approach yet as soon as he passed the apex of the corner he planted the accelerator and controlled the unruly back end with a little bit of opposite lock. The tyres had handled their first test admirably and he pushed on attacking each corner, braking progressively later as he went. The brake bias would need to be adjusted to stop the rear end lightening up under braking but for the moment he was enjoying the uncharacteristically erratic nature of his car.

Much like any country road this one was littered with potholes. Through hours of commuting to and from work he had learned their exact locations and mapped them into his brain. Only once had he hit one hard enough to do any damage and that was not on one of these high speed runs but instead his normal commute to work. It had been his first day back in work after the birth of his son. Despite being zombified from two weeks of not being able to tell night from day nor up from down, he had avoided all the potholes upto that point. However, unbeknownst to him, heavy rain over those two week had washed away some loose tarmac to the point where it had formed a sizeable crater. Approaching the sweeping S bend he had maintained his usual line close to the centre of the road and powered up the short straight towards the right hander. All too late did he realise that his right front wheel was on a collision course with a before unseen pothole. His reactions, slowed by tiredness, could do nothing to save the wheel that was severely buckled by the impact. The impact was so severe that it damaged the sidewall of the tyre meaning it had to be changed. Never one to miss a genuine opportunity he used that occasion to purchase the new tyres that were being tested in anger for the first time.


Now as he approached that same S bend he maintained his usual line and successfully negotiated the first without any trouble or fuss. As the bend opened out into the short straight he kept the car planted in the same line hugging position with his tyres running millimetres away from the cats eyes. As the pothole began to loom large he made a marginal steering adjustment and moved towards the grass verge to avoid it. He had seen others avoid the pothole by straddling the white line but the corner was blind and cars approaching on the opposite side of the road did not have to contend with the pothole and normally took it at speed. While he was not adverse to taking risks himself he was not prepared to thrust them upon an innocent bystander so he hugged the grass verge until the corner opened up and then powered his way through the last few corners leading to the quarry.

 

The quarry represented the midpoint of his run and also the point at which he began to slow down for the only village on the route. In fact he doubted whether it even qualified as a hamlet let alone a village. It was merely a group of houses gathered around a large sweeping bend in the road. As was the norm with country villages it had a church at its centre but little else besides. Approaching the bend just before the village he eased off the accelerator pedal and was greeted with a delightful touch of lift off oversteer. Applying arm fulls off opposite lock he rounded the corner in a delightful four wheel drift that was delicately controlled by feathering the throttle. Car and driver working in unison. The steering wheel communicating all the imperfections of the road which he compensated for instinctively. Then with the first house of the cluster in sight he straightened out and carried on sedately.

At the end of the little village was the longest stretch of the entire run. A full half mile of tarmac that was as straight as a die. This was his main overtaking point on the way to work, where he passed dawdlers not long awake, who drove little faster than the tractors that populated this road at other times of the day. Rounding the bend he readied himself by gripping the gear stick and hovering his foot over the clutch pedal ready for some quick shifts. With his right foot he kept the engine running just below the point where the turbo kicked in until the road began to straighten. Then with nothing but the horizion ahead he floored the accelerator and all hell broke loose. Perfect coordination between feet and hands saw the speedo rise at a relentless pace with the straight being dispatched in the blink of an eye. Each gear change was greeted with a kick from the oversize turbo that forced him backwards into the seat. Soon the cabin was filled with the noise of wind rushing past the car at high speed and the constant roar of the engine as it powered the car down the straight. At the end of the straight was a gentle left hand bend that everybody else he saw broke hard for. At his normal driving speed he would take the corner flat out , only braking for the right hand bend after it. However at this speed he had to brake for it but only just enough to shave off enough speed to allow him to negotiate the corner without unsettling the car too much. Safely through, he worked his way through the following series of corner without any drama and began to prepare himself for ‘The Corkscrew’!

 

The Corkscrew was his favourite part of the drive. It was a quick left-right flick that started high, dropped off just before the change in direction before rising again out of the right hand turn. The camber also changed through the corner pitching the car from one side to the other without warning. He often wondered if the road designer had ever seen the fabled Corkscrew turn at Laguana Seca racetrack as this particular piece of tarmac seemed to have been inspired by it. Approaching the corner he dropped a couple of cogs, resulting in the exhaust backfiring, and gripped the steering wheel tightly between his hands. Knowing that the corner would pitch him towards the right hand side of the road he kept as far to the left as possible, the outer most threads of his tyres running along the lip of the potholes at the corners entrance. He called it the Corkscrew but it might aswell been a rollercoaster. Approaching it for the first time you had no idea what lay ahead until you were sitting at the brow of the first turn watching the road dropping away to your left before rising steeply. More than once he had seen people come a cropper as the change in camber pitched them into oncoming traffic. But this morning there was no body else around, just him, his car and the rolling, undulating corkscrew.
Aswell as being his favourite part the corkscrew was pretty much the end of his drive.

Sure there was a few more miles of flat out bends punctuated by a couple of sharp, second gear, corners but for sheer driving exhilaration he had reached a plateau at the corkscrew and from there to his ‘cool down’ zone, the point he had designated as the ease off point there was little that thrilled him. His cool down zone was approximately ten minutes from his village and it was the time in which he backed off and allowed the cars tyres, brakes and most importantly engine and cool down and return to normal levels. With cooling oil circulating around the engine he turned on the radio for the first time and sunk into the sumptuous leather seat. His mind wandered to the freshly prepared breakfast he planned to pick up on the way home. Checking the cars clock he figured his local shop should just be open by the time he got there. Ten minutes later he was proved correct when he saw the cute Polish girl opening the shutters. His ‘morning eye candy’ his wife called her and she wasn’t far wrong. He saw smoke rising from the chimney stacks above the shop and knew the kitchen was in full flow. His food would be nice and fresh and not destroyed by hours of sitting under the heating lamps. He saw the milkman emerge from his estate on his white milk float and it reminded him to pick up some baby milk for his son who would no doubt wake up half way through breakfast. He saw the dip in the road ahead just after the junction and began to slow down for it.

What he didn’t see was the large executive saloon careering towards the junction. The driver of the saloon, still drunk from the previous nights festivities, didn’t see him either as he fumbled with the cigarette lighter.

 

She lay there motionless with her eyes closed. She was not sure how long she lay there but, while she would not admit it, she knew she was long past going back to sleep. Turning in the bed she lay her hand on his pillow. It was cold to touch and she knew he had been gone some time. He would be back soon with breakfast for the two of them to eat in bed before their son woke. She had known of his plans as soon as he walked in the door clutching bags of food and a bottle of wine the night before. He was a creature of habit and she knew he would not have undertaken such a detour without ulterior motives. She had known about his early morning drives for a long time and whilst not particularly overjoyed with the idea she was much happier he was in a car rather than a motorbike. He had been an avid biker when they met and had a superbike that accelerated with such ferocity that she had only been on it once. He would regularly disappear for hours on it and she had worried about him every second. She had pestered him for years to get rid of the bike – that it was too dangerous but for years he held onto it and his drives continued.

Then when they discovered she was pregnant with their first child he arrived home from work one day in a car and announced the bike was gone. She hoped that the bike being gone would mean his drives had come to an end but before too long she began to notice an empty space beside her in the bed in the morning. “At least he has four wheels and a car around him” she thought. Upon seeing the food the night before she was expecting to wake up to an empty bed that morning. She had sensed rather than felt him slide out of bed an hour or so ago. It was probably his alarm clock that roused her, even though he silenced it almost immediately. She lay silent as he made his way across the room and got dresses. A picture of peaceful serenity. Even as he bent to kiss her forehead, softly so as not to wake her, she did not react – fearful of interrupting his carefully laid plans. Maybe she would have reacted differently if she had known that that kiss, a tender touch between husband and wife, was to be the last time they would touch.