17 Hours In A Sweaty Tin Can On Wheels

Article by Sarah Williams.

Recently, travelling home from Nuremberg to Manchester, I opted to join Fair Do’s in their van for the 20 hour drive, rather than making use of the flight that I’d booked. They thought this was completely insane. It kinda was.

In fairness, I was travelling home from an overwhelmingly good weekend at KNRD Fest, my flight was absurdly early (and would probably have caused anxious, hungover Sarah to have a morning panic attack about missing the plane) and I love hanging out with Fair Do’s. There’s no doubt that 20 hours in a cramped tour van is no piece of cake, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to everyone and it meant that I could party hard on Saturday night, now that the worry of impossibly teleporting to an airport wasn’t weighing on my mind.

That said, there’s a romance to tour vans for the punk rock fan. A sweaty, uncomfortable, seemingly endless journey is in itself a part of the fun.

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As I write, I’m now locked in a hot tin can on wheels, driving with some of the Lockjaw Crew from Brakrock Ecofest in Belgium to Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia. It’s 17 hours in total, taking in a pick-up in Cologne and an obscure mission to collect a PRH ticket from a friend in Salzburg. We’re flying through the alps at 120kph in blazing sunshine with fuck all air conditioning, no stereo and so much merch (buying 500 Lockjaw compilation frisbees seemed like a great idea at the time…), vinyl and camping gear that there’s zero space for your feet in the footwell.

It’s a pity the van runs on diesel rather than accumulated sweat, as we’re drenched in it. I’m moist in places I’d rather not be, there’s Belgian festival dirt caked into all of my pores, I’m scratched, bruised and mosquitoes have made a meal of me. I keep exhaling clumps of black dirt, ingested during a dusty circle pit for Mute at Brakrock.

I haven’t been able to shower. Every time I’ve attempted a wet-wipe wash I’ve been dripping with sweat again five minutes later. I’m regretting the choice to wear a white t-shirt, which I’ve had on for 32 hours (including a full lager spillage and an incident where I was required to commando crawl under the van to collect a lost lamp). I smell like the crack sweat of a thousand hobo’s arseholes but, fortunately, so do all the people travelling with me.

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That said, I’m drinking a warm tin of Jack and Coke, listening to Mute and Meshuggah, sharing this experience with five of my favourite people. The team attempt to yell ‘tunnel’ for the full6 minute duration of a huge alpine borehole. We’ve got a crate of Monster to keep the drivers awake. We’ve all crashed out in shiftsthe back of the van, propping ourselves up with pillows and sleeping bags. There are empty cans, crisp packets and rucksacks everywhere. We have a good laugh about the number of times we collectively shat or pissed ourselves (spoiler: 2 out of 6 of us have soiled ourselves in the last fortnight, feel free to guess who).

Inhaling the utterly fetid scents of Andy Borg’s gaseous anal expulsions, I do begin to wonder if I’ve made the right choice. I could have flown and saved myself this sweatfest.

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We’re 15 hours into a 17 hour drive, but this isn’t the first leg of the trip. I’ve already done Manchester to London (7 hours!), caught This Is a Standoff at the New Cross Inn and driven to Dover straight after. We get told off for swearing too loudly on the 4am ferry. Another hour or so on the road sees us crashed out on our friend’s couch in Oostkamp (Belgium) before a fresh lunch, a business meeting and another 2 hour drive gets us to Brakrock Ecofest. Friday’s a hard party and Saturday’s a hard recovery, with a plethora of bands.

In order to get a decent camping spot at Punk Rock Holiday, we agree to leave Brakrock immediately after the bands finish and drive overnight. This leads to us playing van tetris with weighty crates of vinyl at 2.30am, three of us sober, one of us absolutely spannered, causing more hindrance than help (although that’s amusing in its own way).

We tag team the drive overnight, grabbing snatches of shut-eye in the back of the van in-between. At around 11am I find myself driving some of the stretch between Cologne and Salzburg, which takes us on an unexpected detour of windy Germany countryside roads, passing through fields and woodland. The journey starts to feel like an adventure.

The sun is blazing; it’s overwhelmingly hot in the van and I’ve rarely been so desperate for a shower in my life (there’s still seven days to go before we return to civilisation). We stop for an urgent piss break near a farm, I stall the van three times while attempting to reverse out (turns out you can use the handbrake, thanks Rob).

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We drive past a vast expanse of sparkling blue water surrounded by mountains and I debate driving the van off the bridge in an attempt to cool us down; the people paddle-boarding out on the lake are absurdly jealousy-inducing. Suddenly, faced with this beautiful scenery, the discomfort begins to ebb a bit.

We get to Salzburg, meet Petter from Rebuke to do a very quick festival ticket handover. I burn my feet on the pavement because it’s too hot to put my shoes back on. We stop at a services and load up on Desperados, salad and crisps.

Driving into Italy, towards Slovenia, the majestic peaks of mountains and deep river valleys begin to unfold around us like a pop-up picture book. It starts to feel like we’re really on holiday, heading out to one of the most spectacular festivals Europe has to offer. I can’t stop gazing out the window at these glorious mountains.

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At around 4pm, we stop at a service station and spill out of the van, suddenly realising how pissed we are. The back seats of the vehicle have transformed into a gin-and-Desperados induced drunktank within an hour; Daggi’s sozzled enough that she forgets that we can’t understand German, which is sweet. The road’s started to feel like home and the end is in sight. We’re singing along to the Spice Girls and Fleetwood Mac, spotting black clouds in the sky and begging it to rain and cleanse us of our weekend of sins. Friendship never ends, folks.

Fair Do’s couldn’t understand why I’d want to spend 20 hours in a van with them. A few of my friends couldn’t understand why I’d want to do a ridiculously convoluted van ride with the Lockjaw crew on the way to Punk Rock Holiday, when I could have flown.

It’s not just the afternoon party or the stunning scenery; it’s the uncomfortable half-awake sleeps in the back, the disgusting under-boob sweat and the sketchy gear changes and engine stalls at 5am. You get to share the good and the bad with your friends. The journey isn’t just a gateway to wherever you’re heading; it’s an important, memorable part of the experience.

Now, “Who’s got the van key?”

Article by Sarah Williams.

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