FOR most of the participants in the Variety Resurrection Run, the long drive in the country is about simultaneously fundraising and a little hell-raising.
But for Gary Adams and Elaine O'Hearn, this is also a relationship test on four wheels. They have been a couple for about two years. This is Mr Adams' 24th driving event, and it is Ms O'Hearn's first, as they steer their dog decal-covered car, known as Paw Patrol, through rural NSW for six days.
"I've got the Greyhound bus stops and train stations marked," explained Ms O'Hearn, from Anna Bay. "And I'm the navigator, so we might end up in Sydney yet."
Mr Adams, from Sydney, was confident Paw Patrol - and their relationship - would last the 2300-kilometre course.
"We've vowed if we get aggro in the car, it stays in the car," he said.
Aggro isn't really on the map of a Variety driving event. Basically, it's a fundraising drive for a serious cause, so that the charity can help sick or disadvantaged children, but done so in the silliest and most fun of ways.
And this drive, setting off on Sunday morning from McDonald Jones Stadium, had an even greater air of lightness, as 220 or so participants and officials sought a release from COVID in all manner of colourfully weird and wonderful jalopies.
Among the 82 vehicles was "The Jungle Brothers", containing a few Sydney boys on safari. With their tiger statue-crowned gold Mercedes blaring out Eye of the Tiger, Mark Barlow, Marc Christowski, and Michael Greene said this was about more than having fun - or winning (which they did in their first year of entering). Over the past few years, The Jungle Brothers said they had raised more than $250,000 for Variety.
"We just do it for the kids," said Mr Barlow, wearing a tiger's tail.
For the charity, this event was much-needed. Vic Sheil, Regional Motoring Events Manager for Variety, said due to the pandemic, events had been cancelled and funds had drastically dropped, while the demand for services had increased.
Vic Sheil said it was hoped the Resurrection Run would raise between $150,000 and $160,000 for the charity.
"But it's an excuse to get together, to cut those COVID chains off and get back out into country NSW," Mr Sheil said, adding that the event was also good for the communities visited along the way.
"Some of the towns were a bit scared [due to COVID]," he said. "But then they learnt we'd bring $40,000 a night into town, and they liked us a lot better."
For Gary Adams, this event not only allows him to travel with his partner, but also with the memory of his eldest son, Michael. Father and son built Paw Patrol, and they competed in seven Variety drives, or Bashes, together. The 41-year-old died of a brain tumour in April.
On a side window of Paw Patrol are the words, "In Memory of Michael". Being on the road once more, helping others and having some fun have brought relief to Mr Adams.
"I've seen a lot of people who I know from our 'Bash Family', as I call them, and that gives me comfort," he said.
Vic Sheil said about 40 per cent of those driving in this event were from the Hunter, and many had participated multiple times.
Errol Hancock, dressed in a "Where's Wally?" outfit, has been competing in Variety Bashes since 1992.
"It can get very dusty," the Charlestown resident said, apparently referring not so much to the state of the roads but the head.
His wife, Mel, at least won't have to ask, "Where's Errol?". She was coming along for the ride, dressed in a matching outfit. This is her 12th event.
"The dirt and dust are a little out of my comfort zone," Mrs Hancock said. "But you meet so many people."
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