I love living in rural Australia, but it has its implications.
A few years ago after I had just retired, my husband and I attended a superannuation and life after retirement seminar. The thrust was financial of course, but the message that struck us both with the greatest import was the one about the need for females to maintain their driving skills. That message was truly about independence.
We have pondered and discussed that one many times since. It's a thing about confidence and courage and the need to make sure that if one is suddenly single, that the great loss is not exacerbated by a severe crisis in the ability to do stuff.
I'm sure you are aware that for many of us, when two of you go to get in the car, that it is usually the male on the driver's side for we Baby Boomer generation. And that can lead to a marked deterioration in driving skills.
Living four hours from Sydney as we do there are three areas of driving skills that I personally need:
- I need to drive in my local town of 40,000 people. That one is easy.
- I need to do long distance country driving on highways to Sydney or Canberra, dancing around with trucks breathing down my neck and people who think that the 100kms an hour that I am doing is way too slow. Winter involves black ice and snow; summer means blinding sun and sometimes air thick with insects and locusts. All year there is the hazard of straying kangaroos.
- I need to venture into the city and be capable of driving through the middle of Sydney with all the road aggression that happens there.
It can all seem like a big ask for an ageing Baby Boomer with the million and one attendant deteriorations that life throws at you, or takes from you.
All three contexts involve different road conditions and different skills.
Yesterday, in the spirit of maintaining my driving skills I drove us South-East from Orange to Medlow Bath, a pleasant potter of about two hours. I wore my prescription sun glasses. As I drove in the morning I commented that scooting down the hills outside Lithgow involved all the fun of the Big Dipper with the brake under your foot. I honestly had lots of fun and enjoyed it all immensely. There is much road work on the Victoria Pass. That didn't faze me at all really. Returning home was a different matter.
We left our dear friends at Medlow Bath at 4.30 pm after a wonderful lunch and conversation. I drove due West straight into the lowering sun. It was literally blinding. All the way to Bathurst, then dark for the forty minutes to Orange.
The highway has many twists and turns and ups and downs. Each moment was fraught. Will I be able to stay in the lane? God knows where the lane is? My shoulders ached. I felt physically sick. I refused to change drivers as I had said that he could drink. I drank iced tea only. He hadn't drunk that much but we had not measured his consumption, not thinking that he may be needed. And besides, he didn't really offer to change drivers as he was sticking to the plan that I should maintain my driving skills.
As dusk dropped I changed glasses. Could I see without them? Not really. I didn't need dark and fuzzy. I settled for dark. My other distance glasses were sitting on the dining table. I knew exactly where they were. Changing focus with bi- or multifocals can trigger a migraine. I need to carry a large case with all my glasses in. So I stuck with the bloody sunglasses at night. I must have looked like a Mafia moll.
We stayed safe. I was exhausted and strained.
As I turned off the engine in the driveway, he turned to me and said "Now aren't you glad you did that? You were fine."
I could have killed him. But he was right.