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Road Trip Gridlock
You can never plan ahead enough
I have always enjoyed going on a road trip. I particularly enjoy driving long distances and exploring the scenic landscapes of Australia. An experienced traveler may not consider the one hundred and forty-one kilometers to my parents' house a real road trip but when it takes five and half hours to actually drive from A to B, this perception will change.
I was delighted these holidays when our three year old went to sleep within the first half hour of travel despite having risen only a few hours before at a reasonable time. Unlike previous trips to visit my parents, we were on the road a few hours earlier thanks to my diligent planning and management of the morning family activities. Coffees had been purchased through the drive-through at the local MacDonalds Restaurant and I had convinced my husband to take the toll road around Brisbane city. We were on our way North for a three day break.
As it was the middle of the summer holidays I was determined to be on the road as early as possible. The traffic despite the rain was sure to be thick. My parents live in a tourist corridor on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane. Their house is not that far from a number of popular summer beaches and Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo. As it was also a public holiday and a long weekend, these destinations were sure to be popular. So with these considerations in mind I managed to get the entire household except for the cat, packed and into the car by 9.20am.
Thirty minutes into the trip the driving was going fine. My husband's eyes had shut about the same time as my daughter's. As the road was extremely wet and there were quite a few pot holes, I was taking special care with my driving. My head lights were on as visibility was poor and I made sure to keep below the speed limit.
Even though the rain was falling steadily I could not decide between the speed settings of the wipers. The first setting was just not fast enough and the second seemed to wipe the screen too often creating annoying sounds against the glass. The traffic slowed down once as we skirted the City. This was not encouraging but despite there being more traffic on the road then I had anticipated we merged onto the Bruce Highway making good time.
Approximately half-way to my parents' house is a road house where we usually stop to grab fresh coffees, visit amenities and stretch the legs. It wasn't long before I saw the exit signs appear but after a brief conversation with my husband whose eyes had peeled open, we decided to soldier on. It was only another thirty to forty minutes until we arrived at our destination and the traffic was not as bad as I had anticipated. I finished my now cold coffee, put the car into cruise and tuned the radio into the ten-thirty news.
"Oh," I said with a frown. "There has been an accident..." and almost in tandem with hearing the news report on the radio, the traffic began to slow. Five minutes later, we were completely stopped, wedged behind a wide caravan and a four wheel drive SUV and in front of an old white bus that appeared to be parked right on my car's backside.
No Mans Land
After five minutes, I turned the engine, head lights and windscreen wipers off. There was no reason for keeping it on until the traffic in front of me began to move though I did miss the cool breeze from the air conditioning. My daughter chose this moment to wake up, perhaps due to the lack of car vibrations that helped to lull her to sleep. It was rather quiet around us and it appeared that I wasn't the only driver turning off their car.
I watched the rain falling on the windscreen for a bit, chatted with my family and listened to the radio as I kept my eyes peeled on the traffic in front of me to determine if there was any movement. We crept forward about five car lengths over the next half hour.
A quarter of an hour passed and my husband decided to have a look in the street referdex. If there was an exit close by it might take us to a less traveled path to my parents. We were I estimated, gridlocked near Wildhorse Mountain just before an exit which I believed would lead us to another road house.
After searching for at least ten minutes for our location we discovered that our car was located in area that our street referdex defined as "No More Maps ". Neither of us had any modern technology on us that would provide us with an electronic map. Without a clear guide it was too risky to take the exit in case we ended up lost. As the car crawled closer to the exit we remained in the left hand lane watching a few other cars take the exit up to what I later discovered was Johnson Road.
Just after 11am I decided to call my parents to let them know about the delay. Even though I was parked on the highway and the engine was off, I was still a little nervous talking to my father on my cell phone without a hands free device. My father was quite surprised to learn we weren't that far from the house as normally we would only just be starting our journey at this time. He suggested a couple of bypass routes that would lead us to Steve Irwin way. They were a short distance after Wild Horse lookout but they came with the proviso that a few of the routes may have some local flooding and further congestion.
We had been stuck in the exact same spot for at least half hour an now and the rain had eased enough for drivers around us to begin emerging out of their cars. Some stood on the road puffing away on cigarettes and looking ahead at the vast amount of traffic that disappeared into the horizon while some turned to look behind. I heard in a radio report and later read that the traffic was backed up for 60 kilometers.
A jogger who had abandoned their car ran past us and up the exit to the Road House. He was soon followed by other people who had left their cars in favor of obtaining a snack. The cars ahead began moving and a few of the people began to run back to their cars just as the rain began to grow heavier again. We moved forward about ten car lengths before stopping again.
I looked across to the middle lane of traffic where a four wheel drive was parked. A newborn baby was hanging half out the window. I pushed back the feelings of horror that began to surface. We were parked, engines were switched off and no cars were going to be going anywhere fast.
It was mildly entertaining watching what people were doing. Some travelers were making new friends with the occupants of vehicles in front of them presumably discussed the gridlock, while others were taking their dogs for a walk in the rain. One man in a car in front of us got out and knocked on the door of the caravan, perhaps to see if the caravans plumbing was working?
We were now past the exit to road house south of Wildhorse Mountain. As my coffee was completely empty abandoning the car to grab a refresher seemed appealing, except for the persistent rain and the promise of moving forward once more.
Minutes later I joined others who were standing in the rain much to the delight of my three year old who surprisingly was finding the traffic jam exciting. My daughter had decided it was time to change her diaper so I used the back seat of the car as a makeshift change table. Just in case, I took the opportunity to pull out a couple of toys from the boot of the car to keep her entertained. I had no idea how long the gridlock would last.
Back into the car we moved again. This time we moved forward a whole two cars lengths. This happened a few more times over the course of an hour until we were on the opposite side of Johnston Road.
To the left of the road was an on ramp leading away from the Wild Horse Mountain Lookout road house. While we sat there we watched at least a handful of cars reverse up the one way on ramp as other cars who had taken the exit to the road house were coming back down to rejoin the dirge of traffic.
An ambulance went screaming towards Brisbane city on the opposite side of the road. The traffic heading towards the City was also congested but moving. I decided to call my father again. It was just after 12.30 by this time and my parents had been expecting us to arrive for Boxing Day lunch. I advised we would call back when the traffic cleared.
Time ticked and we sat and watched the raindrops. I patted myself on the back for ensuring we had a full tank of petrol before leaving home. Even though many of the drivers were turning off their engines while we waited to catch the next forward wave, there was speculation that the cars pulled off on the side of the road had run out of fuel.
It was about 1.20 when we finally began moving forward slowly again and this time it looked promising. The traffic was still crawling for quite a few more kilometers and we passed a four wheel drive that had decided to take an off road detour to only end up bogged in the mud. My husband kept an eye out for a turn off that my father had suggested but during our slow crawl no opportunities arose.
Fifty minutes later the turn off approached but as we neared it, the traffic cleared so rather than taking our chance with flooded creeks, the potential for getting lost and further delays, I chose to remain on our predetermined route.
Thirty minutes later and near to five hours after we had left home, we drove up the range and into the mists and clouds that surrounded the small community of Flaxton. It was so beautiful to be up in the low lying clouds that all negative feelings about the delay had faded and a late but delicious Boxing Day lunch awaited us. We had finally made it to destination B.
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