Sometimes you’re the driver, and sometimes you’re the passenger

Team Audi - Credit: AudIan

Sometimes in life you just have to hand over the reigns and admit that you’re no longer in charge; you have to relinquish power to someone else and just sit back and try and enjoy the ride. I’ll admit, this doesn’t happen too often for me. I like to be the driver, I like to be in charge, I like to have control. There are few people I trust to be the drivers of my life.

My husband is one of them — for obvious reasons. Normally, when we head out, he’s behind the wheel. I’m a passive passenger, rarely commenting on his driving style (unless he pulls a stupid move, in which case, how could I not say something?!), and I often fall asleep.

Such is not the case when I’m in the car with anyone else. I’m a very attentive passenger when I’m not behind the wheel. It’s a strange feeling, not being in control. You have to have faith in your driver’s skills, your driver’s judgment and most of all, your driver’s sanity.

I’ve been a passenger with Jimmy Vaser as my driver on the Circuit Villeneuve in Montreal doing 200km+ on the straights in his Ford GT with nothing but a street-legal seatbelt and a door handle for support. I’ve been a passenger in a Porsche 911 with a Porsche driving instructor at the wheel, drifting across abandoned air strips in Niagara at speeds hovering on pure ludicrousness. In both cases I was nervous, naturally, but felt completely confident that they would keep me safe. I could also fully focus on the road ahead and keeping my head up and the contents of my stomach in place.

Yet, last night I experienced being a passenger in a whole new light.

I’ve never had to be an active passenger in the sense that I became an integral part of ensuring my driver was a very, very good driver and not just OK at steering the car effectively. My role as a “passenger” meant much more than fiddling with the radio and keeping the climate at the ideal temperature. No, last night I was a navigator in a road rally.

Yup, that means I was reading instructions, making calculations and keeping us on the right path, at the right speed and in the right amount of time — and I had to do it all without hurling my dinner all over the dash.

Tricky.

I have to admit; I was more than a little nervous. I’d studied the terminology and the crib notes my driver (herein known as AudIan ) had so kindly provided me with the week before the event. And yet, I felt anything but prepared — and mostly because I felt such pressure. For once, as a passenger, I was playing a crucial role in my driver’s abilities.

It’s a weird feeling being an active passenger — and I’m not just talking about the nausea (of which there was plenty).

Our route took us 360km across tight twisting backroads with severe elevation changes as well as acute turns and abrupt check-point stops. The roads were freshly plowed, but still had a thick layer of slick, sparkling snow on them to make for an extra squiggly ride. Apparently there were approximately 30 cars on the road with us last night. And at the end, watching the cars pull up one after the other, I’d say 80% of those cars were Subarus (go figure). But our vehicle for the night shone just as brightly as its Subie counterparts.

Our ride for the night? An A3 Quattro equipped with rally-inspired extras: spotlights, a reinforced skidplate (which came in uber handy) and all the technological gadgets we needed inside to keep us on time and heading in the right direction.

I’d never been in a car with AudIan before — ever. This was my first time as a passenger under his wing. In a regular setting, getting into a car with an unknown driver is not that stressful. But getting into a car where you know the ride will have you sideways more than once and travelling at speeds that require serious attention on sketchy surfaces, and the nerves tend to bunch up.

Yet, I had total and complete faith in AudIan from the very beginning. Not once did I doubt his abilities at all as a driver. His control of the A3 was incredible. He knew, and knows, that car like the back of his hand. He drove it as if he was one with it — just like a proper driver should.

Where my nerves mounted was when I thought about my own performance. I could not screw this up. This wasn’t a 5-hour drive I could curl up and sleep through, oh no, this would require my apt attention throughout as well as my brain, calculating arrival times and departure leaves to keep us on track.

The first section sheet of instructions was almost too overwhelming for me to handle. On multiple instructions I told AudIan to turn left when it was clearly a right turn (I even lifted my hand to point right while I said left — thankfully AudIan was an attentive driver and realized my dyslexia was kicking in). The first ET (estimated time) section completely freaked me out as I had to add the time to the time we reached at a certain mileage and then do the addition in a jiffy to let AudIan know how much time he had to reach a certain mileage on the odo.

Stressful? You bet.

Add to that my mounting car sickness from reading and calculating while we careened round twisty, snowy roads and the challenge became even more apparent.

Five Gravol and nearly six hours later, we’d completed the snowy, late-night rally — and we’d survived without running the car off the road (though we came close on one corner) and AudIan was pleased with our check-point times which meant I’d done my navigator job well.

Through the entire journey I was acutely aware of how important I was as a passenger — and that was truly an odd feeling for me. And yet, it was a great feeling and something I can’t wait to experience again.

Sure, I’d love to drive the rally as well (some of those acute, handbrake corners were oh-so tempting), but I’d gladly be a navigator again as well — and for AudIan if he’ll let me.

Because, in my eyes, trust is a huge part of succeeding at any drive event. You have to trust your driver, and your driver has to trust you as the route-keeper, the time-watcher and the speed-monitor. Together you form a perfect, rally-ready team.

I don’t think I’ll ever look at being a passenger the same way again.

I know I’m a good driver, but now I also know I’m a helluva good passenger too.

Drive on,
– M.

~ by drivingmsmiranda on February 13, 2011.

6 Responses to “Sometimes you’re the driver, and sometimes you’re the passenger”

  1. Yo Miranda!

    That was a great read! I’ve watched enough WRC to feel like I was right there in the car with you. I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like. Reading and riding in a car that is going blisteringly fast on less than perfect roads. Frighteningly awesome!

    Cheers!
    G-LO

  2. [...] touched on this briefly in yesterday’s post about the winter rally I participated in as a navigator, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this topic of motion sickness in a car [...]

  3. See, this is why I was so happy you agreed to come along and try this nonsense I call a hobby… I’ve been rallying for 23 years, and not once had it occured to me that the navigator could be thought of as being an “Active Passenger”. I like it!
    Although hopefully the government won’t get wind of this, next thing you’ll know they’ll be mandating “active passengers” as a new safety feature (then again, seeing what’s out there on a daily basis I’d say more than a few folks could use someone qualified in the right seat telling what to do).
    And it looks like we may have bagged third place, an awesome feat for a first time nav performance. Well done!
    Hope you can con “C” in to driving for my event in March.

    • Ha! I totally like the idea if getting some sort of license as an Active Passenger. All those who fail are banned to the back seat on every journey and not allowed to speak by law. :) I know a few passengers I’d like to do that to …

      Really? 3rd?! I thought for sure my shoddy math had pushed us down to a double-digit finsh! I’m even more proud of my n00b nav skills now. :) You may have created a monster!

      I will try my best and convince C to come out in March!

      Drive on,
      – M.

  4. your good

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