I had been driving all night. My only thought was of coffee. I needed it and I needed it fast, or I was going to fall asleep at the wheel. I couldn’t even take in the little Cornish cove that I had pulled up in front of as I was drawn towards the only source of caffeine I can see. The small cafe is only just putting out the signs, but as I stumble towards it, I don’t care. I can’t even process the fact that I had arrived in Cornwall at long last.
It was long overdue.
There are a couple of paddleboards lined up against the wall, covered in sand, a couple of wetsuits slung over chairs, water oozing onto the ground, and a trail of sandy foot prints. I knew instinctively that these were my people. I had found them.
It was for this reason that I didn’t hesitate as I cross the car park to the cafe door.
A girl was scrubbing a counter down, wearing a pair of board shorts and a bikini top.
‘Hey,’ she says as she heard the door squeak behind me. ‘I put the wetsuits out.’ She looks up. ‘You’re not Nick.’
‘I’m not,’ I confirm. ‘I’m sorry – are you not open?’
She pauses. ‘Come in, can I get you something?’
‘The biggest coffee you can do.’
‘Sure. Take a seat.’ She vanishes and I slide into a seat gratefully. My calf had crapped up after a few hours driving, and I am relieved to be out the car. I was going to be dreaming about clutches and brakes for a long time.
I had always tiptoed around the idea of just getting in my car and leaving, heading off on a road trip, but I had never had the guts to actually do it.
Not until now.
And then it had happened and I had just left.
And now here I was.
From the window of the cafe I can see the sea, gently nudging the shore, and I supposed that yes, it had paid off. The small building sat just above the beach, and a trail of sand followed down from the steps. There were no other buildings around, and if you were looking for an idyllic sanctuary, then this, I thought, was probably pretty close.
I had only just got there, but already I knew that I should go on more road trips.
And this was Cornwall. I had been dreaming about this place for months – years.
It hadn’t been until after midnight that I had broken. I had been trying to plan the trip, but Mum was being funny about it, and Dad thought I should wait until I knew my exam results, but I knew that if I stayed another moment in that lonely house I would snap. I wanted adventure, freedom. Something different.
And anyway, all, if I was going to go, then why not then? Wasn’t that the best time – before I could give it too much thought?
Mum and Dad were already in bed, but I pulled my case out from under my bed, and shoved piles of clothes in, books, wetsuit, and my diary. And just like that, I was ready to go – ready and sneaking out of the house arms clasped around my suitcase with no thought but to get out of there.
And so I did.
As I eased the car onto the road, I felt a giddy feeling in my stomach. This was it. I was doing it at last.
But that had been last night.
When the girl returns she wears a t-shirt and apron, and carries a large mug of steaming coffee.
As I sit at the small table in the empty cafe, I pull my diary and a map out of my bag, and begin to scribble. The waitress hums to herself, and I can just see her out the corner of my eye, swaying from side to side in time with the radio. She seems fun and easy going and I instantly want her to be my friend.
It’s probably a little weird to ask that though, so I don’t. Isn’t the point of travelling to set yourself free, let go of your inhibitions, and do all the things you want to do?
That’s why I came here. That’s what I’m looking for – that sense of freedom and how many road trip books had I read? Enough to know that you had to let go of your inhibitions if you want anything to happen.
When the girl returns to clear my mug and ask if I want anything else, I take a deep breath. She sees my maps first though. ‘You travelled far then?’ she asks.
‘Kind of.’ I smile and click my pen in my hands. ‘I’m on a quest, of sorts.’
Her face lights up. ‘What sort?’
‘Well, firstly, I need to find the best beaches for getting out on the water.’
She beams and pulls the chair out opposite me. ‘I am so glad you walked in here. You’ve come to exactly the right place.’
‘Well,’ she leans back in her chair. ‘You’re talking to the local expert.’ She grins. ‘I think we need more coffee.’
She bounces away and I sit back smiling. Maybe asking questions was all it took after all – I had travelled far, but that was just the beginning.