Settle in for the final chapter. We’ll be here sometime...
Seemingly nothing but barren, dry, rocky desert awaits us.
Or maybe not...
There are a few muddy puddles on the track. Going around into the hard desert, seems to be the best option.
Although even patches that look bone dry, are not what they seem.
You can drive round Australia’s arid regions, and think that it never rains. I have. But seeing that it does, and how it changes the landscape has been a magical experience over the last week or so.
Abminga Station ruins.
We meet out first car coming the other way since Finke (and really the first one today when you take out the biker support trucks). Stop for a chat.
“A bit of mud back there, by the way” I say to the older couple in a Mitsubishi Pajero Sport “ does it have a firm bottom?” he asks, “Nope! You won’t have any problems getting through, but there are patches that look dry that aren’t”, “should we be in four wheel drive she asks” “errr, yes”. We chat a bit more about where we’ve all been and where we’re going. They want to go the Chambers Pillar and ask if they would make it tonight, as it’s three in the arvo I suggest not. Anyway, a good exchange. We wish each other well and press on (in hindsight I think they must have come across from Mt Dare, rather than the southern track, judging by how much water we found later on).
We crossed back over into our home state with literally no ceremony.
Bloody good bush camp.
I made turkey burgers that night, from some turkey legs we had bought for the pups. No one now uses turkey for burgers over here, but I bloody rate it highly.
Mince up the turkey meat.
Pop in a few flavourings.
Grill some onions.
Cheese, tomato, mayo and kimchi went into these burgers.
The sun went down. Sprinkling outback magic as it went.
We had a good breakfast. Eggs, bacon, mushrooms. We would need it.
The photo orgy continued.
This tree was like something out of a fantasy novel. So gnarled and twisted, you half expected it to start talking, telling its many tales.
Thanks Eringa. You were good.
We get to the first wet patch. I do this sort of should I go through, should I go round? Hesitation, whilst slowly drifting to the edge of the road, that worked well yesterday and it looks dry.
Should have taken my own advice and walked it first.
As soon as I realised this wasn’t what it seemed, I stopped. From the inside it didn’t seem too bad (probably because of all the rocks in the mud). I honestly thought I would just pop the lockers in and drive back out.
(looks like nothing from this side hey?)
Thinking maybe the centre diff lock hadn’t engaged I leaned out the window to confirm, yes, both wheels were spinning. Getting out, all became clear.
I immediately lost both sandals and switched to bare feet - the mud was cold and full of rocks - more to the point it had a slippery, claggy, clay consistency.
Ah yes. A bit more of a problem that it seemed - the same way this initially seemed like dry ground...
BFG KO2 racing slick.
Feeling a bit foolish, but not overly concerned. It’s out with the maxtraxs and the shovel. First tyres down, 12 psi in the front, 15 in the rear.
Plenty of bloody rocks under there to hook up diffs and suspension arms.
Trying to shovel the muddy rocks/rocky mud is testing to say the least. The clogged tyres just aren’t gripping the maxtraxs. Tyres down more, down to 8 psi all round now. I dig again, N offers to help, but no point two of us getting covered in mud. She drives whilst I try to jam a maxtraxs under the front wheel. It grips! and stuck again... One maxtraxs is stuck under the car but I retrieve the other three, all super heavy with the slick, clay like mud stuck to them. I wash them in the main track puddles, which are a few inches deep and hard bottomed, to add insult to injury. More shovel work, I can feel it in my lower back already, trying to heave mud and rock out from under the wheels. Re-set we try again. I say “if it goes, just nail it and try and get it back on the main track”. It goes, she comes off the throttle at just the wrong moment. Trying to get someone to ‘nail it’ who has never nailed it, this is not the place to start. Anyway, again I dig and reset the the traxs. I drive this time, and it grips and I obviously nail it. It goes well! Until I turn the wheel hard to try to jump the small ridge to get us back on the main track, then nothing but four wheels spin. But ok, we are making progress. I dig out the holes again, at least they are no longer filling with water here. We are getting to drier ground, slowly.
I’m just washing off the maxtraxs again and I see a vehicle coming. I wave them through the middle of the road. They stop “I’ll pull you backwards” “yeah that’s where I’m trying to get” I say, “let me have one more go with the maxtraxs and see if it comes out, before we hook everything up”. So reset the traxs, and again the truck moves well until I turn the wheel... “I’ll pull you out” the cavalry says.
By now another rig has turned up. I run out the snatch strap and with a few goes at getting the trailer to solid ground to pull from we hook up. Third bloke comes over to help.
As it happens it wasn’t the first rodeo for either of these guys. I’m so used to doing recoveries with inexperienced people it was nice just to have a couple of people who just fell into their roles and we just got on with it. It took a fair bit of pulling backwards and I found that all the time I had the steering on full lock it didn’t want to come out, that left had front wheel just acted like a big plough. When I tried straightening up the steering, and then just putting a small amount of lock on, out she came.
Live, and learn.
Thanks and goodbyes said. They carried on north, whist we tried to pack everything back as well as possible without turning the inside into a mud fest too. Tyres back up and we pushed on. Glad we had a good breakfast!
[As usual I do a mental debrief of these situations, how you gonna learn anything otherwise? The big problem there (apart from getting stuck in the first place) was two wheels where over the crest of rocks at the edge of the road, which was also holding more water on that side. So seeing how far we had to be dragged back before it was dry enough to get over, we might have struggled to do that on our own. So? I would have used the highlift, to jack the rear of the car up and then push it over I think. In theory...]
Plenty more water further down the track.
We eventually pulled into Oodnadatta, put in a little fuel in to be on the safe side. Then turned off the main track to take the Painted Desert Track. I was in desperate need of a shower (dried mud and hairy legs do not mix folks...), and not a Nemo camp jobbie, but a proper one. So we headed for Arckaringa Station, not before stopping to quickly take a picture from the first Painted Desert lookout.
Never has a shower felt so good.
The soles of my feet were bloody sore that night. From walking on so many rocks in the mud.
Come morning, we backtracked slightly to get another look at the Painted Desert.
We then took the track due west. Heading back to the Stuart Highway. Not a bad drive by any means...
This fella was looking a bit hungry.
We stop just before the highway, to bring the tyres back up to road pressure and take down the sand flag. The ARB compressor manages one tyre and then gets very rattly, and then doesn’t work any more. This connector is burnt out.
I bypass it, but still no action. I think the compressor is done. It’s already been rebuilt once it its life and made similar death throes last time. It has had a fair work out this trip and I guess bringing four tyres up from 8psi probably finished it off yesterday.
The tyres were luckily up enough to drive down the highway at reasonable speed. So we trundled down to Coober Pedy.
Cue the crazy landscapes.
This is where we were
Our neighbours included a nice 70 year old lady. Travelling solo in a narrow body pop-top Troopy. She was a big Lake Eyre enthusiast, she was there three days ago and said there was no water there yet.
Also a divorcee from New Zealand, travelling around clearing his head. He told us the story of picking up a cyclist yesterday. He stopped for a chat and casually offered the guy a lift, to which the cyclist instantly replied YES! Apparently he was struggling riding for hours “there is just nothing, nothing”.
Amongst others, some of one of the Mad Max movies was filmed here and that’s sort of how the whole town feels. Like you’re in a Mad Max film and nothing has changed since then. The only newer vehicles you see are tourists, the trucks we saw out in the opal fields all seemed to be of 70's and 80's vintage. Anyway, it’s a unique place.
Out of Coober Pedy, we headed due east.
Not before avoiding, then coming back to pick up this piece of caravan/camper trailer and placing it on the side of the road. So it didn’t spoil anyones day.
To the small town of William Creek, which was virtually deserted last time we came through. Now bustling with two and four wheeled travellers.
We take the 60km detour track to get to Lake Eyre, us and about five other trucks that I can see. I let them all go, knowing we will almost certainly be the slowest. What’s the track like? Rough.
At times there are about six lanes of different track to choose from. The main track is so corrugated. People make new tracks around it. Some of these have become heavily corrugated, and so another track is made, and so on.
We’re not the slowest as it turns out. Some people are towing caravans down here (?!). A 70 Series with all the mods comes thundering past, maybe he thinks he can drive fast enough to skim over the corrugations? Good luck to him (these aren’t those sort of corrugations).
Anyway, eventually we get to the lake. You can just about see water at the main car park. It’s pretty busy and we don’t hang around.
There was actually more water on the drive in, so I stop and take a quick picture. As there was no water here three days ago, and the water is predicted to peak late June, as it is currently the end of May I would say that’s about right. I guess we’ll just have to follow this from afar.
The landscape around the lake is like something out of a dark sci-fi movie.
We rattle and bounce our way back out. Passing two big trucks full of irrigation hose (?) heading in.
Knowing the only camping round here is Coward Springs, we head down the Oodnadatta Track for that. I warn N that it might be full, judging by the amount of vehicles up this way.
The old boy at Coward Springs greets us, says they are nearly full. With just a tent we are flexible to where we can go and the slots us in a little spot out of the wind. He is unimpressed with the ‘water’ in the Lake and can’t understand why it is so busy. I point out that the tracks on the other side of the lake are all closed, so it’s only here and the bitumen highway to get north. Good point, he says.
You can tell we’re back in South Australia, because people, no matter where they are from, are talking to each other.
The next day, driving past the people camped outside of Coward Springs we take our last section of dirt road. I’m heading back through the towns of Roxby Downs (mining) and Woomera (defence). I’ve given the truck a good look over that morning. Not wanting any issues now we’re so close to home.
However, once we turn onto the Roxby Road it feels like the truck is pulling to the right.
I stop and have another check over. I can’t find anything that would cause the steering pull, but I do find another rear shocky is broken.
Again, just the top cover. I’m beginning to think they are designed to break there, rather than bend and get in the way of the damper action. Oh well, that’ll live for now.
I stop several more times are the truck continues to pull. Nothing found, I say to N “it could just be this road” and in the end it was. Had me a bit concerned for the last 100km or so of dirt. But once back on the blacktop everything was ok.
Onto Woomera. The Air Force base is off limits to the public, but the little village created to support it you can drive into. There is a big display of the sort of things that go on at the air base.
We are heading south. Passing us in the other direction, would have been at least a hundred tourers and their caravans. Now that way only leads to the Oodnadatta Track and onto Lake Eyre. That’s how busy it is.
As we intersect the main Stuart Highway, I remember the food was good here last time and stop. Good work Spud, food still good.
Here I realise that for the first time in a long time I don’t have to think about where our next fuel stop might be. Where the next grocery store or water supply might be. Strange.
This completely feels the right time to be heading home. Cairns was the right time to turn around and not doing Cape York was the right decision. I’ve (obviously) had a lot of time for thought on this trip, and the last few weeks I’ve been in pretty reflective mood. I’m looking forward to getting back to normal life. I’ve always said I didn’t think I would want to travel full time, and this trip, no matter how awesome, hasn’t changed that. Life was good before this, and there won’t be any massive revolution as to how we live our lives going forward, maybe just some gentle evolution.
So, I’m writing this a couple of weeks later. From the notes I made at camp that night. Which I normally just delete after I’ve written the journal proper. However I think I’ll just leave this set here, as a reminder to myself and for something to look back on. Maybe it also as it shows the benefits of taking a break from the day to day routine and looking at your life from afar, so to speak. You can really see what is good about it, and also what you want to change and maybe how to achieve that. Deep!
All the small tweaks we want to make back home. Nothing major just lots of details. More getting away. Less internet. More books and am radio. Jobs? Who fucking knows...
Question is, why aren’t we out here every weekend. Or every other weekend, or once a month or whatever. Rather than four times a year. Use the tools available and make it happen.
And so it was. One last bush camp, pretty little spot in the southern Flinders. Last campfire. An easy drive the next day. We did take a few different routes to get home. Then used the last of the firewood we had been lugging around, to have a fire to warm the house.
It has been nine months since we finished work last year, and we’ve done 50,000 km since originally leaving for the Red Centre.
Thanks for reading.