The best road trips don’t just happen. They go from dream to reality over months of work. Here, our resident road tripper Ben Coombs reflects on the process…
The smallest thing can trigger it. An image flickers through your vision as you scroll through social media. A friend, just back from a trip, makes a throwaway comment. A thought comes to you with startling clarity as your whisky glass empties. It doesn’t take much, almost nothing at all, in fact, to set the familiar process in motion. Just the briefest of moments when your mind is jolted by the thought of some far-flung place.
It could be anywhere. An amazing road, a compelling landmark, even a bar at the end of the world.
The place stays in your thoughts as you go on with your day, but slowly, the focus softens. Your mind’s-eye pans out, to take in the bigger picture. You visualise the web of roads which surround your obsession. Many are forgettable, but some, some you imagine will be beautiful. And others you know already. The famous ones. The ones you just have to drive.
You pull out a map and your eyes are drawn to the possibilities. Naturally, the most alluring roads have a beginning and an end, for they all lead somewhere. Your excitement builds as something compelling is created from nothing. Roads lead to fascinating places, where they link up with other roads. Your finger prods the towns on the route, sliding along the lines which link them, imagining. ‘Here’ you say to yourself, ‘and here and here’. These are the places which matter, the nodes which will anchor the drive’. Before your eyes, on that paper map, an adventure takes shape.
That first thought which triggered the process? For my latest drive, it was Monaco.
And the roads which have come together to turn the idea from simply a place, into an adventure? These are many, from unknown gems full of surprise, to the famous big hitters. The Route Napoleon, the Col du Turini, the Verdon Gorge and Mont Ventoux, for starters.
But for all the dreaming and all the promise, at this stage all you have is a single line on the map, snaking down from Calais to Monaco and back. The idea needs depth. Towns and villages en-route need to be researched, points of interest found, from the world famous to the vanishingly obscure. Hotels must be researched, and restaurants, bars and locales, right down to the last parking space, understood.
And people need to be convinced to join the adventure, as everything is better with friends. And for this to happen, the adventure needs a date, and a name. A catchy name, which will draw people in.
In this instance, The French Revolution was the name, and a week in mid-June provided the dates.
Word of the trip was put out, and people answered the call, signing up for the trip. That idea which had inspired me months before was now inspiring others. The entries came in, car enthusiasts eager for the open road, and the fun, friendships and fascinating sights it can bring.
The date of departure approached, and excitement built. A car park in Kent on the Friday before we crossed the channel brought the group together for the first time. And the cars, too. TVRs and Jaguars. A brace of Aston Martins, and a BMW Coupe. A McLaren and an MX-5. A V10 Audi which could wake the dead. They all answered the call, a disparate selection of vehicles brought together by a love of the road trip.
The channel was crossed, the cars headed south. The lines on the map, all the nodes and details, they all came to life, instantly morphing from that briefest thought of months earlier, into an adventure lived by 36 people, and their life-affirming steeds.
Hotel bars are filled with laughter and smiles. Friendships and memories build with the miles. The sinuous sweeps of the Route Napoleon fell behind, the Monte Carlo Casino rose ahead. More roads, rising and falling, day after day, a petrolhead’s dream. The volcanoes of the Auvergne, the historic turns of the Circuit du Charade. And then we were on the final haul back to Calais, with new friendships made, old ones strengthened, and seemingly months of memories compressed into a week. All thanks to that smallest of triggers, when Monaco came to my mind as a destination months earlier. And in the minds of many of those present, another tiny acorn had already been sown.
The one which was already wondering what new adventure next year will bring.
Don’t worry though. I’m on it…
The French Revolution took place between the 17th and 25th June this year, and saw 20 cars head from the UK to Monaco and back, via a lap of rural France’s best roads. The dates for the 2024 event will be released soon.