Every woman has longed for romance, or transformation, or let’s be honest – and greedy – both. It’s there needling us in our twenties as we embark on careers and long for permanence, success, and a place in the world. It hits us again like a sledgehammer in our forties and fifties. That’s when we ask ourselves, “Surely I’m not meant to continue plodding along this same track for the rest of my life?”
Searching for that kind of personal transformation, I agreed to accompany my husband Bernard on an 8,000-mile rally from Beijing to Paris in a 1940s car. All I knew at the time was how romantic it sounded. We would cross the Gobi, following sections of the ancient Silk Route, surrounded by antique cars with dashing drivers and navigators. We’d be facing all the challenges of the road side-by-side… literally! Bernard would be driving while I was in the passenger seat, handling the maps, telling him where to go.
After some thought, I realized that being confined in a 5’x8’ space for 35 days wasn’t what I’d necessarily choose for a romantic vacation. From the start, the whole adventure was less than blissful. Before we even made it to Beijing, Bernard nearly divorced me for enjoying myself at home while he slaved away rebuilding the car. Who knew that my first transformation would come from having to join him every week for mammoth beer and car repair sessions? That year, while doing the car repairs, we spent less time at our own house than at a local Holiday Inn where the desk clerk gave us a cheery, “You again?” when we walked in. I fell in love with their free chocolate chip cookies. Their king-size bed was better than what we had at home. In the process of making a motel our boudoir, we started adoring each other again.
Before we left for Beijing, we took new vows – nothing to do with cherishing or obeying, though. Bernard vowed never to rip the map out of my hands or rage about how I couldn’t find the right way if it was staring me in the face. I swore not to shriek when he drove within inches of another car, braking at the very last second.
We kept those vows once the race started, but other things fell apart. When you’re confined together for hours a day, small stuff gets blown out of proportion. Petty differences, like one of us wanting to stop and stretch while the other wanted to keep going, festered like a glass splinter in the sole of my foot. I dumped out my whole bag of dysfunctional tricks to deal with our escalating relationship problems. My black scowl got a workout. Stony silence was once again my best friend. I glared and avoided interaction with the best of them.
We were on the verge of the Peking to Paris ending with me crossing the Gobi on foot when I discovered that being locked in the car together all day, every day, had a silver lining: I didn’t need any of my usual ploys to resolve things. Just being stuck together with nowhere to go for hours, provided an atmosphere for working things out.
Having had a road trip bring me to the brink of divorce and back again, I have personally tested what I’m about to tell you. Take my word for it. If you have problems in your relationship, get in a car instead of going to couple’s therapy and let the open road show you the way.
- There’s no office, meeting or sports practice with kids to use as an escape hatch. Even if it takes a while, ignoring problems starts to feel juvenile. And juveniles aren’t allowed to drive. So the two of you must be adults, able to thoughtfully figure things out or just say, “I’m sorry.”
- Sulking only works when the person you’re angry at can see your scathing glances. But if you take your eyes off the road while driving, you’ll crash. Being dead isn’t the way to solve any disagreement.
- Holding a grudge doesn’t work either. It’s impossible to turn your back on your sweetheart and stalk haughtily out the door when in you’re in a moving vehicle.
- Stoking the flames of fury requires focus. When you’re also juggling maps, grabbing for snacks, and wondering whether that shrub up ahead will be high enough to shield you as you squat to pee, that sort of focus is hard to maintain.
- They say never go to sleep angry. I don’t know about you, but I have no trouble sleeping when I’m furious. I cannot maintain my aggravation, though, when I have a chance to buy my favorite candy bar. Especially when it’s at a gas station in a little out-of-the-way town bypassed by the nearby interstate decades ago.
A road trip to any place, any time, is the perfect antidote to relationship troubles. It’s what I turn to whenever I feel the need not for speed, but for renewal. We’ve driven through the Horn of Africa, from the southern tip of India to the foothills of the Himalayas, and 9000 miles from Istanbul to Calcutta, crossing Iran and Afghanistan along the way. We’re still alive. And we’re celebrating our thirtieth anniversary next month.
Dina Bennett’s travel memoir Peking to Paris: Life and Love on a Short Drive Around Half the World, is available on Amazon.com.