Three States of Driving


When driving a new road, with new scenery, the eyes dart constantly, vigourously. They dart from road, to scenery, to rear view mirrors in rapid succession. Of course, in such a situation, driving speed is greatly reduced. It’s the Sunday Drive mentality. Except it was Saturday, so I pulled over whenever necessary to let the normal traffic pass.

For me, a field trip is getting out of the comfort zone and encountering something new and unexpected. Our brains need the new and unexpected. It keeps us “on our toes”, as they say, but it specifically benefits creativity and problem solving. Even so, I can’t go past the opportunity to experience wonderment for no other reason than to experience wonderment. So much so that I’ve trying to schedule it into my routines.

I’m off to somewhere new at least once a month. Just a day trip. Nothing fancy.

Recently, I headed south from Canberra into Namadgi National Park. Apollo Road takes you to Honeysuckle Creek where the tracking station that helped with the first moon landing was located.

It wasn’t planned but this trip presented an opportunity to ponder three states of driving.

In the first state of driving, there are the twists and turns of a new road while scanning for interesting subject matter, keeping a mild panicky eye on the fuel gauge and planning “what next”. It’s an invigorating state of being. Preoccupied with the new. Not noticing the normal.

In this state, it’s easy to lose track of things.

Add to that the adventure of road-side photography. Finding a safe place to pull over on a mountain side. Heading out into the bush to get a better angle. Clambering up and down rocky slopes. The mind is now tackling the creative and technical requirements of a digital camera while avoiding kangaroo poo and unseen holes in the ground.

In this state, it’s easy to lose track of things.


I decide to head for home and stop for lunch at Tharwa Bridge on the way. It was here I realised I’d lost something. Not so expensive that I couldn’t replace them, but too expensive to be comfortable about it. I knew where I’d seen them last. Only about 20 minutes back. I decided to retrace my steps.

This brings me to the second state of driving.

Now the eyes settle and stay on the white lines. The chin is lowered slightly. The hands sit high on the steering wheel. Driving speed has increased by 20k, though still within speed limits. There is a motionless no-nonsense inside the moving vehicle.

I walk the spot twice to no avail. Could someone have found them? Possibly, but in a such a short time? And here, in what is not a common stopping point? I had checked in the car before I headed back to this point. I couldn’t think of any other alternatives.

I turn for home.

Now the eyes settle on the dark bitumen. The hands sit low on the steering wheel. The arms are heavy. This motionlessness is different. It’s disappointment … in myself. I did not stop for lunch.

This was the third state of driving.


The trip was one of emotional highs and lows. I’m not talking about extremes here, just an exuberant mid-range roller coaster of emotions. Just enough to make finding my sunglasses down behind my camera case a mild relief tinged with an uncomfortable embarrassment.

However, finding them doesn’t overwrite the fact that I got myself into such a pickle.  Why did this happen? And can I do things differently next time?  According to an article in today’s newspaper, probably not.


“In many instances when our brain seems to be malfunctioning, it’s actually taking charge.”

The idea goes something like this. The brain has a habit of deciding what to prioritise at this exact point in time. In the stress and rush of all that life throws at us, we don’t always agree with our brain’s decision.

That’s all well and good. Even encouraging.  However, I would like to avoid situations where I waste time backtracking after one of these perfectly normal malfunctions.

I wonder if there’s a fourth state of driving I could adopt instead?



Sunday Canberra Times, 20 April 2014, “Middle-aged peace of mind: Far from being a forerunner to dementia, memory lapses can be a sign that your busy brain is efficiently prioritising, writes John Elder”, p15.




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