A ROAD trip is the ultimate permission to OD on junk food, enjoy late nights and generally be a dickhead. It’s all part of cleansing your soul I reckon, and what better destination than the 40th Australian Van Nationals held in Bathurst over Easter 2015.
My Valiant panel van, Disturbia, had never wandered more than a couple of hours from home, so this was the perfect opportunity to see how she tackles a long haul.
A couple of last minute fixes had her running sweet and I jammed damn-near everything but the kitchen sink in the back – it’s the age old philosophy: ‘If I take it, I ain’t gonna break it.’
With good mate Paul riding shotgun, we left Bris Vegas at sparrow’s fart on the Wednesday, hooking up with fellow vanners Garry and Donna in their yellow HJ and Flash and Suze in the surfie-muralled HX.
Best choose your road-trip passenger wisely. With most vans being two-seaters – or three across a bench if you’re really close – it leaves no room for extra passengers.
I’m lucky. Paul and I were mates long before we had pubes, so there’s little chance of fistycuffs or wanting to run head-on into a tree just to shut him up. He has skills behind the wheel, too, so it’s a no-brainer to have him share driving duties.
The rain was heavy, but not enough to dampen our enthusiasm; it’s nice not to be on a time schedule.
The skies cleared as we met up with Pete and Matt in Warwick; our four-up convoy headed further south-west before crossing the border at Goondiwindi.
As the only van not running dual fuel, but packing revvy diff gears, I was the elephant in the room with a thirst for regular PULP stops. I needn’t have felt bad; their old-man bladders had nowhere near the same range anyway.
As the common friend amongst this lot, I hoped everyone would get along. I couldn’t have asked for more; four hours in and this bunch were as thick as thieves! It’s like they had been friends for years.
Aside from the constant craving for food, fuel and piss stops, the only interruptions were the odd bit of roadworks, a B-Double showering us in gravel – with the stone chips to prove it – and a near-altercation with a wayward bunny affectionately remembered as Bellamy (think The Goodies).
Our vans drew heaps of attention, both on the road and parked up, and every stop was a magnet for happy snappers or the curious.
“I’m having flashbacks to the 70s! It’s like a fucking time warp,” boomed one Moree local who downed tools and ran across the road to greet us as his boss threw his arms up in despair.
We rumbled into Dubbo early that evening and a quick tub was followed by a cracker meal at the local. I swear I hadn’t laughed that hard in years; the food was a bonus to the dinner conversation, and we became ‘that’ table to the peril of other diners. Luckily they stuck us in the kiddies section.
Thursday morning and I leapt out of bed totally psyched for the short run to Bathurst and the promise of heavy vanning action. A quick underbonnet check was thankfully a non-event; all the vitals were spot-on and Disturbia was running like a dream.
What followed was four days of vanning heaven, cubic laughter, newfound mates and awesome pub food, not to mention Bathurst blockies in Rob’s passenger-friendly SL/R5000; check out Van Wheels 11 in the June issue of SM for a full Nats wrap.
Paul left his shoes at the motel in Dubbo so copped Bathurst frostbite at the whim of his pluggers – jandals to our friends across the ditch – but that was the least of his problems. He also copped a thong blowout sprinting across the main street avoiding traffic chaos. It has become one of many hilarities etched into my memory.
Monday kicked off with a few laps around Mount Panorama, but we were delaying the inevitable – it was time to head home to mundane reality.
A whopper storm cell crossed our path north of Dubbo, so we hung back for a bit then sat on its tail for the next couple of hours. It was kind of weird; the wipers were on full noise and barely coping with the rain but there was sun and dry conditions 200 metres to our west. ’Straya!
I scored a flat heading out of Coonabarabran. It slashed the inner sidewall, rooting the tyre, so no amount of top-ups were going to save us – there was no limping home on that one. Of course, it was a fucking back tyre – yep a big-arse 275/60 – and there was Buckley’s chance of finding one on Easter Monday.
My spare’s pretty small, so the only option was to pull a switcheroo with a front tyre. At that moment I was the only person in history glad they removed an LSD centre (a desperate Sunday fix for my grunty Old Daze Valiant) and swapped in an open job.
Back on the road the van sat like it had been kicked in the nuts, but drove surprisingly straight.
The lost time made an overnighter in Moree all the more inviting, but a room mix-up saw Matt bed-less for the night. No worries! Disturbia’s mattress offered some comfort before we set off early for the short run home.
You know you’ve crossed into Queensland when the roads suddenly turn to shit; a niggly tyre scrub required a load reshuffle.
I felt a little sad pulling into home and realising the trip was over. Disturbia didn’t miss a beat – flat tyre aside – and was a pleasure to drive.
Unfortunately, that newfound inner peace kneaded smooth by the road miles wasn’t to last; reality kicked in by way of a monster vet bill and I was back to the humdrum of everyday life.
As I settled into bed that night the zing of the Gilmer belt was still whizzing fresh in my ears. It got me thinking: When and where are we going next?