Posts tagged “offroad

Drama On The High Dunes

G36 6x6

When a big brand drops a particularly outlandish offering on the public, we’re always treated to a bombastic release in the blogosphere.

G36 6x6

Mercedes-Benz, however, has taken presentation-drama to a whole new level with the psych-up video they’be just dropped, featuring the new G63 AMG 6X6, which I actually caught on the YouTube channel of Russian car site “AutoReview.ru“.

No, “6×6″ doesn’t refer to the size of the ute-style cargo bed.  Though that feature alone would have been enough to render this one of the coolest things to ever leave Mr. Källenius‘s island of Misfit Mercs.

It has tons of power, tons of weight (Four.  Four tons.) and five locking differentials.  That’s like… way more than the usual (one or two).

If you really want to know how pathetic it makes your 4Runner look, the MSN Auto story is actually quite informative.

If you just want to see this monster guzzle fuel like Early Times whiskey and make a proper ruckus in Sheikh Mohammed’s backyard, you need only scroll down and click play:

My favorite scenes were 1:14, 2:16, and 3:12.  But you’re probably going to want to bookmark it right now.  In that folder you keep hidden from your wife.

Can’t get enough?

Here’s a quick clip of the military version traversing Australia with some more familiar four-wheeled friends.


Sighting: Stateside Tdi Defender 90

I could hardly contain my elation upon seeing this parked just a hundred meters down the street from me on my way to work on this particularly frigid morning.  That goofy trademark “polo stripe” down the hull indicates this is an older 90″, possibly even pre 1990.  “Tdi” badging and minisnorkel on the bonnet denote a diesel.

Land Rover Defender DieselAustralian auto-armorer TJM supplied the front bumper, and that “chequerplate” style armor trim is decidedly Euro-style.  (American offroaders tend to favor “diamond-plate” for this application).  The wheels are NATO issue with dedicated off-road tires, a lift has clearly been fitted as well.  The whole package makes for a very rare beast indeed, at least here in America.

Shameless Hipster Land Rover


Mercedes Geländewagen: A New Mania?

Merc’s internationally-prevalent off roader known as the G-Class, G-Wagen, or “Geländewagen” to traditionalists has carried pretty much the same look since it’s design was suggested to Mercedes by the Shah of Iran in 1979.

Oh yes, I had to cross-check that Wikipedia entry with the boys over at TopGear.com… but I have verified that is indeed the true origin of this riotously aggressive looking 4×4.

2002 Mercedes-Benz G500

In most of the world, the G-Class can be found in several engine/wheelbase/appointment levels.  If you don’t mind an older one with cloth seats and a smaller powerplant, a ‘wagen can be a legitimate option for those needing a dependable and capable 4×4.

Here in the US, Mercedes would have us believe that only the 500+ and AMG levels exist.  Combine that with limited shipment counts and you’ll be able to work out why many of us seeking luxury off-roaders have to stick with Land Rovers, which are much cheaper and easier to find.

I’ve sat in brand-new G55’s at the Mercedes store before, but when I saw this 2002 model waiting in line to be auctioned off I saw a unique opportunity to explore a G-Class that had actually been lived in.

This blue breadbox had over a hundred k on the clock, gnarly-soggy carpeting in the cargo area, and a host of MILs on the dash, but the interior and exterior were in fairly good knick.

Sitting at the helm and pushing all the buttons, moving the truck around a bit in the lane, and catching myself in the mirror, I could definitely see myself importing an old diesel G-Wagen and outfitting it as my vehicle of choice for long range expeditions.  For a diehard Land Rover fan that’s saying a lot, but this Benz ticked all the boxes.

Andrew Driving G-Wagen

It’s got an imposing exterior presence, excellent visibility from the cockpit, ample cargo room and a rough-n-tumble military surplus shape.

G-Wagen Profile G-Wagen Interior

Plus the three-pointed-star in the grille says “Pardon me, peasant” almost as well as the raised-letter RANGE ROVER stamp on that vehicle’s bonnet.  Main difference being… the Mercedes might actually, you know.  Work.

Time to hit eBay…


California To The Cactus Patch (ML Across America Stage 2)

Mercedes ML at Joshua Tree NP

Two nights in L.A. gave us enough time to see some old friends, get a few maps, and hit Sprinkles in 90210.  I also convinced Birdie to do my laundry- it was an easy sell when she realized the alternative was to be trapped in her SUV with my unlaundered ski socks for two weeks.

We made it out of la la land by mid-morning and rode through torrential, seat-heater blasting, latte-fogging-my-window, rain for a couple hours.

It cleared up by the time we hit the desert, and when signs for Joshua Tree National Park made themselves apparent we veered off the highway and headed into the bush.

I didn’t know anything about the ‘Tree, except that they go there in an Entourage episode and there’s a U2 album named after it.

Turns out “the Tree” is a hopelessly inadequate moniker… because of trees, there are a shitload.

The moment you pass into National Park land the scenery goes full Dr. Seuss.  The surface is a patchwork of coarse sand and rocks punctuated by monolithic heaps of smooth stones the size of our Mercedes.  And between those commanding bouldermounds are hundreds of strange little trees that bear resemblance to an inverted cross-section of a human lung.

Thanks to the brochure we acquired in exchange for paying the park’s road toll I was able to identify these as,

wait for it;

Joshua Trees.

Boom, box ticked.

These weird plants aren’t really trees- they’re Yucca Brevifolia, which is a derivative of agave (the stuff you get tequila from).  I’m guessing because they taste as gross as they look, the name “yucca” comes from the reaction of pioneers who tried to eat it.

You’re probably thinking; “Yucca Brevifolia has such a nice ring to it, why change the name to ‘Joshua Tree’”?

The answer to that is decidedly less exciting than I had hoped.  The Mormons, in their infinite desert-crossing wisdom, reckoned the weirdly shaped tree looked like the biblical figure Joshua with his arms outstretched in prayer.  Of course it does.

The only biblical figure I’d ever heard of is Jesus, so I’m gonna have to take the National Park Service’s word for that one.

Semantics aside the park really is spectacular, and even has a few 4WD-only routes for stalwart adventurers.  The ML did fine in loose sand and soldiered down miles of track without a complaint, even with the road tires it was wearing.  In fact, the ride was smooth enough for me to wolf the rest of our Sprinkles cupcake cache while at the helm.

Having popped out at the eastern end of the Tree, we linked up with US-10 again and dropped the hammer across the barren wasteland of southeastern California and western Arizona to the city of Mesa, AZ where my aunt and uncle were staying at their place.

Third night of travel and we had only made it one state over… but we hadn’t broken anything.  Chalk it up to good luck so far.


Scrambler Spotted

The Jeep Scrambler (CJ-8) was one of the coolest machines to have ever rolled out of Chrysler’s creation station.  Sadly, hardly anyone agreed with that in the Jeep’s own time and a paltry 27,792 were built during the rig’s 1981 to 1986 production run. After that it was replaced by the equally unpopular and dreadfully ugly Comanche (pickup truck based on the Cherokee).  American automakers just couldn’t catch a break in the 80’s!

image

As you can see, the Scrambler is basically a slightly longer version of the Wrangler, which of course was still called the CJ-7 at the time.  Despite ‘8’s cargo area being almost twice as long as the ‘7’s, the truck only gains ten inches in wheelbase, affording the Scrambler a lot more carry-capacity without sacrificing much offroad capability.  This particular example was resting outside the brewery in Mammoth Lakes, California and is rocking a righteous hardtop.


Sierra Hot Springs

The Sierra region of California and Nevada  is chock full of natural hot springs, ranging in size from two-person motel tubs to full-on mini pools.

Some have even been cultivated by industrious humans with poured concrete benches, recirculation valves and stepping platforms.

Having been given the opportunity to use an N50 Xterra the other night, we decided to round up the neighbors and head for the desert, following directions from a Falcon Guide book.  If you’re trying to find the springs but too lazy or poor to order the book, try this abbreviated online guide.

Whichever map you use to sojourn into the desert, make sure it’s a good one because the ride out to most natural springs is pretty lonely.

We found ourselves making turn after turn as the road deteriorated from highway, to single-lane, to dirt, and finally to about two kilometers of deeply-rutted track.

You do miss the dramatic mountain horizon by heading into the bush by night, but when the headlights have been out for a few minutes the starfield that makes itself known overhead is nothing short of spectacular.  Enjoy that view from a pool of clear, 105˚ water with the muted song of wind blowing over your beer bottle and you’ve got yourself the perfect setting to get to know your friends a little better.


Fast Times On Frenchman’s Track (Cape York Solo 3 of 5)

Cape York Solo: Part III of V

Not to be confused with the French Line of the Simpson Desert (those frogs must have been all over this island) Frenchman’s Track runs through the Mangkuma Land Trust, from just north of Archer River Roadhouse to just south of Bramwell Junction.

It’s an awesome run; easy to access from the development road, long enough to engage you for a whole day and short enough to do with a small fuel tank.

But the real pig’s ear of this track is the variability of the terrain.  Over just about 120 kilometers you get deep water, deep sand, fast-blast sections, crazy steep climbs and loose rocks.  No combing your mustache on this one; surrender attention and you’ll be in the trees in short order.

I made a map but since my handwriting’s atrocious and cartography skills even worse, I figured you’d be better off with a not-to-scale “textual interpretation.”  These are my notes of terrain as I found it, so if you’re giving Frenchman’s a crack you can use this as a guide for what to expect.

FRENCHMAN'S TRACK, CAPE YORK
Northern Intersection: S/P "BATAVIA DOWNS"
I
Easy, Fast Track
I
Sandy
I
Very Sandy
I
Wet
I
Wet
I
Rock/Sand
I
Steep
I
Pascoe River/Very Deep*
I
Slippery
I
Rock Hard
I
Coarse Sand
I
Southern Intersection: S/P "QUARANTINE"

*I should articulate just what I mean by “Very Deep” in reference to the Pascoe River.  When I did this run, it was the very end of the dry season… when every river in Cape York is at its lowest.  Even the mighty Wenlock is but a trickle you could cross in a PowerWheels car.

The Pascoe, however, rescinds its fury for no man.  With a fearsomely steep approach and departure angle, a surface littered with massive rocks, and fast-flowing water up to my waistline, I can’t recommend attempting this crossing solo.

I approached from the south.  Feathering the brakes in first gear, I crept down the slippery track to the rivers edge.  My execution was masterful, right up to the point when I locked up the rear wheel, stalled and landed smack-down in a pile of mud and kangaroo shit.

No worries, because I could already tell I was going to get wet walking this river.

After picking the bike up I ditched my gear and strode into the water.  By the time I had slipped and fallen in twice I had no choice but to admit- there was no F’ing way I was going to make it through this.  So I sat on a big rock and dried off, which took about five seconds in the blistering FNQ sun.

Looking up at the steep drop-in I had barely made it down to get here I could tell the coming-about process would be almost as hard as continuing north.  But with a little Austin Powers/100-point-turn and a whole lot of throttle I was on track long enough to loose traction at the steepest point, spin out, and come off with the bike pointed sideways.

The recovery process took almost ten minutes of sweating and swearing… after which I was knackered, upset and very smelly.

I decided to head back to Archer River- where I had fueled up at the beginning of the day.  There I was able to stock up on mangoes and more fully appreciate the hospitality of the backpackers working there.  By the next day I was northbound again and tearing up the dirt with a re-activated vigor.

I cut to the Old Telegraph Line (OTL) after Archer, but I did end up completing the rest of Frenchman’s Track a few days later on my southbound trip.  And I’m glad I did, because the section north of the Pascoe is not to be missed.  I’ve never seen greater variability on a track in my life.  The challenge is significant to keep a six-foot smile on your face, but you’re never more than a hundred kilometers from a cattle station and you don’t have to panic every time you slosh your fuel tank.

Even managed to get some video of the Portland Roads region… some high-drama as the bush burns…

…and my pathetic attempt at climbing out of the Pascoe River bed on my DR-Z for your entertainment.


Black Mountain Road

Black Mountain Road (BMR) is a great track about twenty clicks north of Cairns, QLD that I had the chance to explore on my last trip to Cape York.  Running about forty kilometers between Kuranda and Julatten, it’s a chance to get off the pavement early if you’re heading up north… worth checking out especially when the Bloomfield and C.R.E.B. tracks are closed to the east.

It’s a windy single-laner with a hundred blind turns and kicker jumps the whole way.  Yeah, that good.

By “jumps” I mean lips formed by rain runoff… uh, don’t mention that to the Ranger.

Despite being chock-full of whoops and hairpin turns just loose enough to step out the rear wheel, BMR is on National Park land and square in the middle of cassowary* country.  So try and behave yourself.

*Cassowaries, for you non-Australian readers, are large (human-sized) land birds with blue feathers, a sharp blade on their head and a nasty attitude.  They’re quite rare but extremely dangerous, having been known to slice people up and eat them for dinner.  Forget drop-bears, these things are the meanest thing going most people have never seen.  I was told they’re especially fond of Americans… better keep that engine running.

My first run up BMR was northbound around mid-morning.  It was easy enough to find, with a big yellow sign delineating its location off the Kennedy Highway.

The southern half of the track is somewhat open, but after about ten kilometers the jungle puts the squeeze on and before you know it you’re blasting through a tunnel of trees, leaves and vines.

Some of those vines are as light as they look- others will clothesline you right off your saddle.  Naturally, I learned this the hard way when I caught a big spiny fern with my right arm, adding a few more scars to my well-loved ballistic jacket.  Other than that I managed to clear the track without incident.  BMR is highly recommended if you’re in the Cairns area and need a quick blat down the dirt.  I reckon it’s some of the best fun you can have in the jungle without a long-range fuel tank.

***

Ten days after my first ride up this road I was back at its northern juncture, this time southbound from the Cape.  With about six hundred kilometers already on the clock that day and the sun getting low, I figured it would be pretty dangerous and irresponsible to have go in the dark.

Then again, it would also be badass.

By the time I got to the trailhead dusk was coming to an end, and the dirt lane disappeared quickly into blackness.  It was so ominous and foreboding I was scared shitless already… and I hadn’t even heard the bats yet.  But I knew I had to do it, otherwise I’d be gibing myself for being a pussy all the way back to Cairns.

So down the rabbit hole I went- high beam on, engine wailing and eyes unblinking.  I had forgotten to check my odometer when I started… a mistake I sincerely regretted about ten minutes into the trip, when I really wanted to be on the other end of the road and had no clue how far I had left.

With no visibility whatsoever beyond what my headlight could hit, the day’s third Red Bull wearing off and a paralyzing fear of cassowaries in the back of my mind, the danger factor of this ride was increasing quickly.

I really didn’t want to stop, lest the cassowaries would come claw my eyes out, but I had to get some photos otherwise nobody would believe I did this run at night.  So I grabbed the brakes and shut down the engine, fumbling for my camera with my clumsy gloves on.

I thought my exhaust was rude… but it didn’t hold a candle to the cacophony brough on by the bats, birds, bugs and whateverthehell else lives out there were making once my engine went quiet.

I snapped a couple pictures and powered back up… quickly.  No chance for a shot off the bike, I was way too scared to leave the saddle.

Here’s a clip of the sounds and sights, or lack thereof the latter.



Baton Pass: Game Time

The second half of the Darwin to Longreach expedition was to have a decidedly… different tone.

We would be picking up the ‘significant others’ of our riders, who would be crossing the Simpson with us in the truck.

That means no more potty mouth, sexist jokes or peeing in the middle of the road.

Now, I’m not licensed to drive a vehicle with paying passengers in this country.  So it also means that I get to swap a steering wheel for handlebars, and my Billu Barber playlist for the the screech of a 400cc thumper.

Remember how we had to rebuild the guide bike in the woods?

When the boys put it back together, they had the good sense to ditch the stock piston for a high-compression Wiesco affair that eats fuel and shits power like an NFL player on a dialysis machine.

Me likey.

I masterfully backed the truck into its space at the caravan park we were staying and handed Magnus the keys… he was already shaking his head for any one of a million reasons.

***

The next day was go time.

Before we took off Magnus looked at the souped-up DR-Z, then to me; “It’s perfectly straight.  No dents, no dings.”

“I aim to keep it that way, sir” I replied, folding my arms and straightening my back.

He looked bike at the bike, and with half a laugh; “You won’t.”

We powered out of town and headed toward Finke, following the route of the race we had spectated about two months prior.  The race track is right next to the main road.  I mean, right next to it.  They criss-cross at a handful of points, and there’s not much more than a few scruffs of camel grass between road and rack for the rest of the time.

Carl and Bruce were into it straight away.  Carl had completed the actual race years prior, and came into his element as soon as his wheels hit the bumps.  I heard the crack of his exhaust, then barely had time to yield as a blur of blue riding gear and black plastic flew past me and into the horizon.  There was no question he was on familiar territory.

With my pledge to keep the motorcycle intact at the front of my mind, I approached the course with a bit more caution.

Hunched over the bars going just fast enough to clear the whoops, I picked my way down the course at peewee pace.

Sweating and scrambling to stay straight, I heard a familiar voice come through the helmet comm.

buzzbuzz “How you goin’ mate?  You don’t have to respond, but let me tell you something- straighten up and drop a gear.  It’ll get a whole lot easier.”

It was Magnus- I was so wrapped up in staying upright I hadn’t even noticed the truck running parallel to me on the main road.

I heeded the tip and indeed, picked up another ten KPH easily.

buzz “That’s the way, you’ll catch Grabbo [2011 Finke Champion] in no time.”

Here I was, riding a superenduro bike on the Finke Desert Race track, getting tips in my helmet radio from a motorcycling guru in a support truck.  Bloody.  Brilliant.

The truck steamed ahead and crossed the track to head for a campsite near Finke river, the other riders and I following over a few deep dunes.

By the time we pulled up I had an all new level of respect for the Finke competitors… I had ridden a quarter of the track at a fifth of race speed and I was knackered.  I can no longer deny the size of kahunas necessary to complete the race.

The river we camped near was bone dry; a wide stream of sand cutting through the desert gully.

We tried to tow some firewood out, but the power-to-weight ratio just wasn’t there.

But since the bike was already in the sand, Magnus took the opportunity to put on a clinic.

He had me hop on the bike in the middle of the river to see how far I could get.  But after all the revving and pushing I could muster, the only movement I got out of the rear wheel was down into the sand.

The captain took the reigns and showed us how the pros do it.

“Start in second, and rev the piss out of it.”

Words that would ring true in my head for the rest of the trip.

He released the clutch and took off down the river, made an easy 180 and was next to me again facing the other way before I was finished shaking my head.

“Your turn.”

I mirrored the technique, and sure enough the tire bit and propelled me down the river.  Using about four times the space Mags had to make the turn, I slowly gained steering control of the bike by shifting my weigh on the pegs rather than turning the bars.

“Aaand that’s sand riding.”

Returning to the camp site I felt like I was getting the hang of this… and was happy to have kept the bike intact as promised so far.


Gregory River National Park

Gregory River National Park, Northern Territory.  Check out the photo album here.

The track through is described as “easy with some rough sections” by the guide… but I pity the fool who braves it in an X-Trail or Forrester.

Sure, some of the ride was fairly flat.  But sharp rock gardens, a few slippery water crossings and one major hill climb would separate the boys from the men in short order.

The “road” all but disappeared a few times and the Isuzu had trees for breakfast.  But we knew we were in the wildlands when we had to break out the axe to make room for our vehicles.

Caught some of the climbing and crossing on video, with some in-cockpit and third person footage for your viewing pleasure:

I caught up with a dingo further along down the track.  I tried to get him to “fetch”, but he wasn’t having it:


Simpson Desert Preview [Teaser Video]

I’ve been out of WiFi range for weeks and have racked up quite a few adventures since I was last able to post.

Now I have a few days off-duty before Magnus and I head south to play the longest golf course in the world (yep) and compete in the 2011 Australian Safari, so I have a chance to catch up.

But I made the mistake of checking in to a hostel with a bar opens at 10AM… so I wouldn’t get my hopes up regarding productivity this weekend.

So as a preview of what’s to come I whipped up a trailer of our last trip, an epic ride from Darwin to Longreach through some great terrain.  Most notably, the Simpson Desert.


Epic Log Bridge

Got to see a couple Park Rangers coax Land Cruisers over the very-sketchy log bridge at Crystal Creek.  Cool to watch, but I was secretly glad I didn’t have to go that way…


4x4s Cross Cockatoo Creek

The same creek we had to carry motorcycles through in May is down to just a trickle of its former self.  Still, a few deep pits and a resident crocodile keep the crossing interesting.

 

 

 


Cape York I (Early May 2011)

My first tour with OAT kicked off beautifully.  Not only was I driving a massive vehicle I could never afford, but I got to dress like Steve Irwin and say cool things into a CB radio like “proceeding to rendezvous point.”

I still couldn’t believe my good fortune for getting this opportunity.

For the first few hundred kilometers I drove like a grandma.  Slow, cautious, peering over the moon-sized steering wheel with trepidation.

But as I became comfortable with the truck, as one does, I started getting careless.  Slow and controlled was NOT how these trucks looked on those YouTube clips I watched instead of doing my homework in college.

Wasn’t I supposed to be powersliding through sand and throwing up tsunamis of mud by now?

At the end of the third day there was one last creek crossing I had to negotiate before setting up camp for the night.

I was just four kilometers from the rally point, and I had passed through this creek twice already scouting the road for the bikes.

The previous times I had crossed in first gear, tiptoeing through like Magnus had taught me.  But it was getting toward the end of the day and the guys would be wanting their beer.  Surely going through in second with just a little more revs would be fine, right?

I came down the gully and dropped from third to second.

“This’ll be slow enough.”

The path I had taken the last two times was looking knackered and the creek was too stirred up to see the bottom.  But I saw some rocks off to the side, and decided to use them to gain traction.

I scooted down the gully, into the creek, and started sliding away from the road up the river.

“Uh oh.”

The gully was pretty steep on the other side- I thought I would need some power to climb out.  So I squeezed the throttle even harder.

“Uuhhh oh.”

The truck’s momentum carried it a few meters up the hill, but with the tires humming and traction rapidly dwindling the vehicles own weight sucked it back into the creek.

“No no no no no!”

But it was too late, I was bogged and each revolution of the tires sucked them a few millimeters further into the mud.  The engine revving/mud squishing sound could have come from a Saw IV soundboard.

In a full-on panic I grabbed the comm. and yelled/stuttered like Andy Kaufmann into the mic;

“Ah, M- Mags I’m, I’m, I’m stuck”

crrrk “Worse than last time?” crrk

Yeah, the day before I had buried the truck up to its axels in mud.  Trying to park.

“Um, a lot worse”

The squadron of motorcycles came roaring back, each rider shaking his head with the same expression behind their goggles.

These guys had been searching for a way to give the American a hard time since we left the city, and this little incident opened the floodgates of abrasive Australian humor on me.

Magnus was more understanding than I would have expected anyone to be, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like a proper asshole.

I had overridden my instructions with my own methods and now I was costing everyone time because of it.  Thank god the water didn’t make it up to the cargo bay where everyone’s bags, cameras, and iPods were staying dry.

Once we assessed the situation Magnus and I dug the wheels out as best we could and set up the recovery straps.  Now we just needed someone to pull us out.

Hours went by and not a single car, truck or horse-&-buggy passed us.

Finally a chick in a Land Cruiser pickup rolled up, crossed the river easily and rolled down her window

“G’day fellas.  Why’d ya park there?”

We lashed the straps from her truck to ours but alas, when she hit the accelerator all the Cruiser could do was spin its wheels while both vehicles remained stationary.

She disconnected the cables and started to head off, but not before telling us she worked at the station we had planned on camping at that night.

She promised to return with a machine that could pull us out.

A machine?

Minutes felt like hours as we waited, and for me those minutes were practically eternities of feeling like the biggest dumbass on the road.

Finally the shelia from the station came back.  With a machine.

We heard the rumble of a massive diesel engine and a twinkling orange light was rising over the crest of the gully.

The vehicle slowly revealed itself from the other side of the hill, as she crawled over the rise in a Case 950.

The “machine” she had referred to was a full sized construction loader with tires tall as me and more horsepower than our entire fleet of vehicle combined.

It was like watching the sunrise after ten years in a jail cell.  That thing would pull us out.

She hitched a cable to our recovery point, pulled a lever and with a blip of the machine’s throttle we were out in seconds.

Uh, marry me?

The show was over and the boys rode off.  I climbed back in the driver seat and headed forward dead slow.  There was a puddle up the road Magnus’ voice crackled in over the radio

crkk “You alright on this one mate?”

Christ.  This blunder would not be lived down anytime soon.

We finally got to the camp and I parked far away from the bikes.  Shut the comm off, took a deep breath, and sauntering over to the team already bellied up at the bar.

In one fell swoop I had completed a trifecta of getting hopelessly stuck, held up the entire expedition and been rescued by a woman.

The Aussies had a good laugh or ten at my idiocy, which I completely deserved, but had the good heart to put a beer in my hand while I was razzed.

An Australian won’t soon let you live down a gaffe, but they insult endearingly and don’t hold a grudge.

The next day was easy driving to each rally point.  I was firmly locked back in caution mode and determined to remain that way for the rest of my time behind this wheel.

At the last rendezvous with the bikes, I was to follow Magnus just four kilometers north to the camp site.

But the sandy, deserty track I had been driving on all day became increasingly difficult to negotiate as ruts sprang up and trees closed in.

This day’s drive would end up consisting of 300 trouble-free kilometers sand followed by four kilometers of the swampiest, tightest, most technical off-roading I had done in years.  And I was in a godam 5-ton cargo truck.

Off-roading from the luxury box perspective is awkward and cumbersome.  Where a Land Rover or Jeep keeps you near the center of the truck with a little slit of a windshield, the Isuzu placed you square on top of the front bumper with a movie-theatre sized windshield 20 centimeters from your nose.

At the point where the ruts on the track became craters I caught up to Magnus, perched on the BMW X-Challenge with his hand on his comm.

I had already learned that this was rarely a good sign.

crrk “Just keep it slow and take this bypass”crrk

He gestured to a pathetic turkey path not fit for a PowerWheels car.

I squeezed the mic on my comm; “Through there?”

Mags nodded.

I put the truck in first, leaned over the steering wheel and dropped a feather on the throttle, creeping around trees and onto the bypass.

Right turn, ok, straight, left tu-

ck “STOP!” ck

Mags was waving furiously.

“You’ve got to wait until the rear wheels are completely passed an obstacle before you turn”

What the hell was he talking about?

A quick glance in the mirror revealed that I had planted a sapling squarely into the side of the cargo bay.

I shook my head, backed up and tried it again.

This time I made it through, suspension creaking and tires making cacophonous love to the wheel wells- an annoying side effect of hard cornering with oversized tires under factory ride-height shocks.

I negotiated the next few turns trouble free and thought I was getting the hang of it.  Then, Scrrrunnnch

Mag’s voice reverberated the comm; “You’ve GOT to stop doing that, man.  WATCH those back wheels!”

Sorry, sorry!  Jeezus this is a steep learning curve.

I executed about a 30-point turn and had myself on track again- pointed at a long, deep, soggy, bumpy, all-kinds-of-shitty stretch of swamp.

“All right mate, this is pretty soft stuff.  You’ve got to power on, keep momentum and push through this”

“Schize.”

I could not.  Would not.  Get stuck again.  I had already whiffed two strikes and another pathetic display of dumbness would get me fired for sure.

Clutch in.  Engage low range, engage 4WD, lock differential.

I pulled into first gear and hammered it.

The comm crackled “Go Go Go!” and Magnus jumped clear of the trucks path.

I was a wild rhino of half-controlled fury.  Ruts tossing tires in the air, axels plowing through mud and my ass getting a brutal birthday spanking from the truck’s seat.

One more splash- and-

I was through.  Praise the mud gods, I was hitting the long track to redemption.  Couldn’t help but crack a smile; that was some Land Rover promotional DVD-style stuntin’.

ck “Nice.  Don’t hit so many trees next time.  Haha just kidding, nice work.  But seriously watch my paint.  See you at camp.” ck

I came up on the Suzukis next to Cockatoo Creek and parked to make camp.  The riders even took a short pause from reminding me of yesterday’s rescue to congratulate me on bringing their beer in a timely fashion for once.

But before I had time to feel any shred of self-satisfaction I was overcome with by the repugnant smell of wet dog ass.

Now if you’re off-roading and you didn’t bring Fido, that can only mean one terrible thing.

I dared a glance under the truck’s engine and my fears were confirmed: a steady piss of coolant was erupting from a badly scarred radiator.

The drip eclipsed Magnus’ shaking head, already on the other side of the engine bay… the outback veteran had recognized the smell as well.  In seconds one of our riders, a mechanic by trade, appeared also.

We looked at the drip, each other, back at the drip… and collectively uttered a four-letter assertion.

“It’s gonna be a long night,” Mags added despondently.

The fan was fractured, shroud was in tatters, and the radiator had received American History X treatment.  We were 50 kilometers from anything resembling a road and there ain’t no OnStar service on Cape York.

So we set to removing the crippled components.  We took the radiator to the creek and washed it like a couple Laura Ingals Wilder characters, ignoring the “No Swimming: Crocodiles” sign for the sake of the Isuzu.

We marked off the leaks (where it bubbled when held under water) and Mags patched it with QuickSteel after setting it by the fire to dry.

Drying precision engine components with a campfire- now we were on an adventure.

We crawled all over pulling, patching, and twisting to set things right by headlamp light.  By the time we got to bed we had about three hours of sleep to enjoy until the next morning when we re-installed our bush-patched radiator, the trashed fan and what was left of the housing.

Poured in some water, said a few prayers, aaand fired it up.

“Ouwa La!”

But it was still leaking like Polish submarine.

That is, until we got some insight from another rider on the trip.

“Crack a few eggs in there,”

At this point we had nothing to lose, and plenty of eggs in the food storage cases.

Mags got a couple and cracked them into the radiator, hoping to give it some Sylvester Stallone strength.

We waited, the truck ran, and the drip… actually slowed down.

There was no time to argue with this coup of logic.  We had to get the truck on the main road before it burned off the Rocky sprit now frying in its cooling system.

Mags took the helm of the truck and I followed on the BMW.

Truck roared out of the campsite… and got bogged.

Despite the situation being decidedly shitty, I couldn’t help but feel just a touch better about my own crashes after seeing the Master of All Things Off-Road stuck 50 meters into his drive.

We threw rocks under the wheels and shoveled dirt away as I lost about 10 pounds from doing all this in full motocross gear.

The truck got free, powered through the swamp and got bogged again.  This time I stripped down but still managed to work up a solid tropical sweat fighting the death-grip of mud on the Isuzu’s massive tires.

Once the wheels stop moving forward, the start moving down.  Quickly.  It’s scary stuff when you’ve got a quarter-million dollar truck sitting on them.

After the second recovery it was smooth sailing, apart from having to stop the truck every ten minutes to add water to the radiator.

The egg trick had reduced the bleeding, but we were off-roading in the jungle for christsake- the only way to make the engine hotter would be to drive back to Boston through the center of the Earth.

The jungle track gave way to sand again, and Mags and I could pick up some more speed.

I was getting comfortable with the Bimmer and sprinted ahead of the truck.  As we got further from the tree the sand got deeper.  I had negotiated it easily in the then-undamaged Isuzu the previous day, but on a two-wheeler it was a whole different ballgame.

I was sliding all over the place, anxiously resisting the urge to tense up.  A X-Challenge 650 is not a light motorcycle, and with the boss man right behind me I was NOT keen on making an ass of myself by putting the handlebars in the sand.

The lack of a rear-view mirror meant I had to turn my head around every minute or so to make sure I hadn’t left the truck in the dust.

After a nice long turn I slowed down and glanced back, expecting to see the truck a kilometer or so behind me.  But instead of a sandy vista I saw the Isuzu’s chrome bullbar about a meter off my taillight, ripped fan roaring and driver laughing manically (I think).

I panicked and wrenched the throttle.  The torquey Bimmer rewarded me with a satisfied grunt and surge of power, pulling my wheels straight and frame upright as if to say “Why didn’t you do this five kilometers ago?”

Indeed.  The note from the Remus exhaust was so intoxicating I found myself forgetting that Magnus had mentioned the bike’s rear wheel bearing was near the end of it’s life.  High speed is the secret to stability in the sand, and I allowed myself to indulge in this concept for a few hundred meters.

Still hoping to stay in visual range of the truck, I backed off the throttle to enjoy the sounds of the wind, birds …and my rear wheel bearing about to frag itself.

Like, any second.

I reeled the bike in and pulled over.  A few minutes later Mags stopped and hopped out, concerned look on his face and WD-40 in hand.  He already knew what was up.

I held up the rear wheel and gave it a boot- it was about as stable as one of those wagon-wheel chandeliers in a wild-west saloon fight.

“You had maybe… another kilometer before this wheel seized and threw you into the scrub.”

Great.  I had incapacitated our first and second most expensive vehicles on my first tour.
We weren’t carrying any BMW wheel bearings and the truck wasn’t set up to carry another bike at the time.

The only option was to hide the bike in the bushes, mark down the GPS coordinates and recover it on another trip up here.  Next month.

I started to protest… were we seriously going to leave this sweet BMW in the weeds?  What if it got cold?  Or lonely?

But Mags knew what he was doing and said reassuringly, “Happened to me a couple years ago, had to leave a Honda XR in the bush”

“Came back to get it a week later, fire had gone through and melted everything by the frame.  Let’s hope for better luck this time, eh?”

Indeed.


Squashing Spiders at Landcruiser Park

Had a chance to join Dave of P7 Offroad a few days ago as he taught one of his 4WD courses.  We made a 4AM journey to the famous “Landcruiser Park” in Kilcoy, Queensland- and with an address of “MS526, Diaper Road”, you know this place is out there.

We spent about six hours climbing, winching, crossing rivers and generally wasting diesel.

Shirts were optional and cowboy hats were mandatory… it definitely felt like “authentic Queensland.”

I was excited for the chance to spend some time in the redesigned Ford Ranger, which oddly enough isn’t for sale in the United States.

Out of four trucks only one had to ride home on a flatbed- the Nissan Patrol belonging to the driving instructor.  Guess he should have bought a Land Rover.

By the time the tow truck showed up it was 9 o’clock at night and Dave was insistent on getting towed to his house- four hours north in Hervey Bay.  The first half of which was on dirt roads.

Luckily the tow truck cab was comfortable enough for about 3 minutes of sleep between jolts through ancient suspension.

Why don’t breakdowns ever happen closer to home?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 940 other followers