My insides filled with trepidation as I left work, surrounded by fat water droplets hitting the Clio’s windscreen. ‘Let’s hope it’s over quickly,’ I thought to myself as vicious thunder engulfed the cabin.
Although those droplets remained on the car the next morning, the skies were thankfully clear, returning to the dazzling blue of earlier in the week, the fluffy clouds mimicking the Clio’s FRB-with-white-stripes exterior.
Aiming to be early (as ever), Sare and I set off with time to spare… or so we thought. Instead, we were greeted at our Drive Against Depression meeting point by half a dozen (very) early risers.
Encouragingly, there were new faces already mingling with the familiar. Better still, we had followed a sensational-looking Ford Tickford Mustang, complete with a tribute livery of Moffat’s dominating 1977 Bathurst victory.
‘Cool, it’s a newcomer!’ I said aloud, before the svelte figure of my friend Rene leaped out of the driver’s seat: ‘It has 727 horsepower!’ was his greeting. Ah, the benefits of working in the automotive media space!
Edging closer to the group – already being co-ordinated by DJ as Sare set up the temporary office on the his 911’s whale tail – there were a couple of people in an awesome VW Golf R Wagon that caught my eye… and would go on to prove once more the importance of what Drive Against Depression is all about.
With an easy-to-follow drive route organised by DJ and route master David Henry (who also created a ‘Treasure Hunt’ and word jumble for eagle-eyed participants to pursue if desired), the group of 30 participants set off from Croydon on a meandering tour of the best Yarra Valley roads and scenery.
Crews snaked past Lilydale Airport (subject of a key hunt question) then cut across from Yarra Glen towards Healesville. From there, the breath-taking Chum Creek Road to Toolangi was immediately followed by an engaging Myers Creek Road return run to Healesville.
For those aboard the lithe Clio RS 182 – a car that had kept its mechanical minder knee-deep in maintenance (and cash!) in the lead-up – it was a time to chat and connect. Event photographer Dishan Marikar has always been pleasant company, with a vast knowledge of all things Renault Sport. As we are coming to find with our drives, the conduit to conversation begins with car talk, but with time, scenery and space, deeper connections are made. It was also great to put Dish behind the wheel for Myers Creek Road and reacquaint himself with one of the best Clio 182 roads in Australia!
After a quick top-up of BP Ultimate, I jumped back behind the wheel for the drive through the Black Spur towards the Marysville muster point. Given the traffic on a Saturday, this was more about the cruise and conversation rather than the Clio’s razor responses, as Dish explained he feels the same peace come over him from behind the lens as I do while driving.
We arrived among the last crews to Marysville, and it was great seeing most of the participants putting our new stickers on their rear windows. There was still enough time for some photos and a quick coffee as Sare reiterated our charitable purpose and we played ‘last person standing’ in terms of passengers and drivers.
For the second phase of the drive up to Eildon, I sat in with Mike.
I’ve known Mike on a professional level for several years, but we have bonded increasingly with the amount of international business trips we seem to be together on. From behind the wheel of a new Subaru WRX Mike didn’t talk shop (much); instead we discussed about how different people manage mental health in a modern society that demands instant results. As ever, it was an interesting conversation.
Driving over the Eildon Spillway, the scene of a not-too-dry-yet Victorian countryside was spectacular. It was fantastic seeing people arriving and departing at leisure, stopping to talk to new friends and just enjoying the event.
So, to Skyline Road. Would you believe Sare’s first Clio experience was on this hallowed piece of bitumen?
I was happy to give her this experience, to try and demonstrate just how much benefit the enjoyment of driving can bring, but instead we both used the drive to Alexandra to catch each other up on our days so far, watching several crews get lost on the way out of Eildon township!
After the spectacular Skyline, we sauntered down to the Alexandra Hotel for lunch and the most official part of the day. DJ worked the crowd (largely via playful jibes!) as we tucked into anything from slow-cooked brisket to scrambled eggs. DJ tallied up the Treasure Hunt and word jumble scores, but after officially labelling them as ‘too easy’ he went for a less traditional choice of winner – the person with the most illegible hand-writing.
The wonderful Dean Sammut of Evolve Driver Training donated the worthy prize of a day’s defensive driving at Sandown, the gift going to David, who had come from Derrimut for our event.
David, along with his co-driver Stefan, had come across our charity via the recent motoring.com.au article. A more deserving winner we couldn’t have had.
After some detail on DAD’s background and future plans (delivered by your faithful correspondent) our crews wandered to the outdoors, where some commotion was being made about Cameron’s Kia Picanto and how he managed to swap it for Al’s Porsche Boxster S! It just goes to show that anyone with an interest in aiding our cause is welcome, and the laughs this banter caused quickly became infectious.
As Sare and I watched the crowd disperse, we wandered Alexandra casually, basking in the late-afternoon sun. We happened to run into Stefan, who explained that he was also keen to participate in Evolve’s defensive driving course with David.
As Stefan explained their morning, it became apparent just how vital our work has been so far… and will continue to be in future. ‘It’s just what he needed,’ was Stefan’s gist, while David reiterated how welcoming the day had been for him. I think we have made some new friends…
So with that, 2017 draws to a close… a time for us now to reflect and regroup with a massive array of events and ideas coming your way in 2018.
We’ve slotted in some of DJ’s and Sare’s images below, but I’d also encourage you to view Dishan’s event gallery.
Until we see you on the road again… Happy Driving!