I was skeptical. Having been on the road for what felt like ages now, the landscape refused to relent to what was promised to me. The Maserati Quattroporte GTS loaner I was in, too, almost seemed to be voicing its displeasure at having to stick to Dubai’s infuriating speed limits. I’d been promised a divine road to drive on, and I’d been prepared.
The fuel tank readout on the instrument cluster was nudging past, rather satisfyingly, ‘F’, I had a bag of raspberry and mint water bottles (should really read what I’m buying more carefully…), and I was plenty early to avoid any traffic on the road. That’s about as much preparation that I could have done, really, and with each passing kilometre, this impending sense of doom kept growing within me. Don’t let this be another hoax, another failed exploration attempt at finding a road that’s worthy of the machine I’m in, I thought out loud to no one in particular.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? As someone who’s constantly in touching distance of cars that make me go weak in the knees, it pains me to realise that it just doesn’t matter at all unless I can find a piece of tarmac worthy of its inherent talent. Racetracks are an option, of course, but the feasibility of constantly rushing to even the one that’s closest to home (and it’s quite far away, mind), is ridiculous. So when it was mentioned that I could make this match while I was in Dubai, there was very little stopping me from picking up a loaner and driving right down. Like I said, though, I was skeptical. One person’s definition of nirvana doesn’t always match up with everyone else’s, I suppose. The road I was on seemingly went nowhere. It simply stretched itself out as far as the eye could see, all the way into nothingness. Serves me right to trust some random guy’s words. And then, just as abruptly as my monologue ended mid-sentence, Maser with the road it deserves to be driven on. This was redemption.
What lay ahead of me, quite simply put, was a piece of art. I had pulled over at the base of what is the Jebel Jais mountain in Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE. Twenty spectacular kilometres littered with hairpin bends and pristine tarmac all the way to a dizzying 6300 feet above sea level awaited me, and a rear-wheel-drive car. It’s said that this road is still under construction, which would explain the lack of any speed limits and signboards along the way. It’s also said that this road is a spectacular sight at night when the only source of light around for kilometres comes from a train of cars and bikes all snaking their way to the top as fast as possible. No speed cameras and restrictions, remember? I’m not certain that’s entirely true, going by how strict Dubai’s law enforcement is, even for roads and areas under construction. Although it has to be said that the deep black tyre marks on the hairpin bends speak their own truth.
The Jebel Jais road leading all the way to the top of the mountain isn’t the widest road. Certain parts of the road haven’t even been marked all that well, and the runoff areas, well, they exist, but you’d be falling a considerable amount of feet before you hit them…
It’s perfect, then. Car set to Sport, traction control set to ‘Leave me alone. I know what I’m doing’, and mint water sipped, it was time to set off. It’s not that the tarmac it began. My first instinct was to pull over and simply gawp at the magnitude of the monstrosity that lay ahead of me. This is what I’d driven all those hours and kilometres for. This was what was supposed to help me match my quality was significantly better, really. Dubai’s roads, especially compared to the ones back home, are uniformly excellent. So, in a sense, I could very well have done the kind of speeds I did going up Jebel Jais anywhere in Dubai were it not for the speed cameras and the fear of spending a night or five in a cell where I’d have to bend over at some point. In a strange sense, I suppose it adds to the pleasure of driving on a derestricted patch of road having driven like a caged bird all the way leading up to it. But it is a feast for the senses, it must be said. There are very few roads that allow you to be so focused that you start drowning out the physicality of the environ you’re in. A sort of numbness falls over your ears when you’re driving up a pristine patch of tarmac much like the one Jebel Jais has…
You begin to zero in on what the car’s saying to you; things that you wouldn’t ordinarily hear. I’m not hinting that I’d developed some sixth sense that bonded me with the car or some such. Or maybe I am. I’m unsure, really. Driving up Jebel Jais, using every inch available, and utilising as much of the Quattroporte’s ability as I could (I’m sure I didn’t come anywhere close to maximising it, though), and simply banging through the gears as hard and fast as possible… Well, it came very close to being otherworldly for me. One of those moments in life that make you reflect and think, ‘This is probably as worth it as it’s ever going to get. Stick with this feeling. Remember it.’ And it went on and on, right till the top, after what felt like a thousand hairpins and a significant increase in wear on the tyres.
And then, like a quick snap back to reality, everything comes back into focus. You can hear the wind screaming outside, the birds, well, there were no birds at the time, but if there were, I’m sure they wouldn’t get very far (it was seriously windy that day), and the uminstakeable feeling of having done something very special hits you. It all culminates at a point that conveniently looks over the progress you’ve made over the past 20 kilometres. Each and every snaking hairpin is visible, clear as day, just waiting to be gawked at and photographed.
It all seemed worth it. The drive back down, even though it was a single lane all the way through instead of the two lanes on the way up, was as involving, if not a bit trickier. It dawned on me that I’d run through nearly half a tank going up and coming back down, and that I wouldn’t be able to do it again even if I wanted to unless I went roughly 50 kilometres out and refuelled. To most, that would have been an exercise in futility. To me, because I had the luxury of a bit of time and no particular place to be, it was a necessity. And so I did the whole loop once more. How often can you say you’ve driven on a stretch as beautiful as that anyway? Thank you, random person who recommended this. This was a highlight for me. As was the mint water…
[This story was originally published in our January 2019 issue]