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Road tripping. Gone a bit bad.

26 March 2018

I’ve completed the 1 500km trip between Johannesburg and Cape Town on more than 50 occasions.

I always prefer to use the N12, driving via Kimberley, and then linking up to the N1 at Three Sisters. I like to drive alone. It gives me plenty of time to ponder things, listen to my music as loudly as I want, eat unhealthy roadie food, and just relax.

So, when our long-term Mitsubishi had to return to Gauteng in the beginning of December, and I had some meetings to attend in Cape Town, the modus operandi was clear cut: I’d drive the Pajero back to JHB.

But even when navigating out of Cape Town’s outskirts it was clear that road works and a never-ending line of long-haul trucks were going to make the drive quite an interesting one.

It turned out to be pretty stressful, actually. The N1, all the way to Three Sisters, was a blur of trucks, passenger cars overtaking into oncoming traffic, road works. Turning off onto the N12 was a great relief. The road was beautiful, the traffic light, the early morning scenery spectacular.

But it only lasted about two hours. Trucks, road works and a steady stream of VW Polos (it seems to be a trend) who, impatiently, insist on overtaking on blind rises with solid lines and speed along at 160km/h.

By the time I reached Kimberley I was not relaxed at all. And the radio warned of major road works between Kimberley and Warrenton, with possible delays of more than an hour. So I cut in-land, to Bloemfontein, to link up to the N1 again. That 177km was actually quite good, too, with only some Free State potholes to dodge.

The N1 though, was in a sorry state. Cars and trucks were overtaking regardless of oncoming traffic. So much so that oncoming vehicles had to take to the emergency lane on their side to avoid a collision.

The upset motorists who had to swerve out of the way flashed their cars’ headlights and hooted, but as someone famously said: “And then?” It made no difference to the reckless gang.

Throw in some frustrating road works… and the impatient lot became even more brazen, overtaking on solid lines, on blind corners. At one stage I pulled off the road, and stopped, waiting for the line of nincompoops stuck behind a slow moving truck to disappear over the horizon.

When I eventually arrived home, I was not relaxed at all. Quite the opposite: it had been a stressful, mostly unpleasant journey.

In November, I had spent some time driving in and around Melbourne in Australia. Everyone sticks to the speed limit, keeps safe following distances and gives each other gaps with a smile and a wave. Driving in Oz is actually relaxing, even fun. When I returned to SA, the missus even mentioned that I looked the most relaxed she’d seen me in years.

In South Africa, you constantly feel you have to protect your little bit of road because there’s someone else just waiting to grab it from you. There’s that constant ‘looking over your shoulder’ feeling, because someone, somewhere, wants to hijack your car or steal your phone. Traffic rules have become suggestions and no longer rules. It’s definitely not relaxing.

And not fun at all.

It’s a small miracle that our annual death rate on our roads is not much higher than it actually is.

In future, I think I’ll be steering clear of main arteries such as the N1 and N12 as best I can. And I’ll rather take in some lesser-known gravel roads and visit some small towns along the way, too.

It may take longer, but it will be much more pleasant, and relaxing.

Text and image: Danie Botha