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Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, Day 17

The weather in Australia has turned cooler again, and we’re set to start hunting down some more meteorites. To give you a taster of what that’s like, here’s some more of Luke’s blog from a recent trip … (the story started with On the Road Again)

Reconnoitre day: Rob went to pick up the UAV (Arthur) and the rest of us drove off to try to find an access road to the low mass end. We had scoured satellite images for anything that resembled a path and there was one potential access road that would take us there.

I was driving the lead car and it was just like driving through the most extreme obstacle course: squeezing through gaps with branches touching either side, before looping around the path as it tuned into a river gorge! No one had been down this road for maybe twenty years and trees were growing in the middle of the track.

After two hours of dodging obstacles, any one of which could have ended our trip, we eventually hit an obstacle we couldn’t navigate around. A fence! There was also a path tantalisingly close on the other side, taunting us. We somehow managed to turn the cars around, which was no mean feat, and headed back. We went into Wilgena Station to see if the owners knew of any path in. They categorically informed us it was impossible to access.

We split up again as there was no point in all of us going on a wild goose chase. The girls stayed behind to do some searching, we made some lunch to have on the go and Phil, Trent and I drove off in search of an access road that didn’t exist. We found the fence that we had been so rudely stopped by, and then a railway, with no way across. We doubled back to find someplace to cross. Hugging the railway, we hit a fence, skirted down it, and found a gate! Which led to a 4 m deep gorge. A tad further up there seemed to be a place which wasn’t so sheer a drop and we gunned the car over. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Now, there was once a road next to the railway, but it was overgrown, rocky and occasionally blocked by trees. It turns out the gravel next to the rail line was much nicer to drive on and we followed that until we hit the next fence. Fence phase one complete! We followed the side of the fence. It was torrid going, the road was bumpy and in places non-existent or washed out. After bashing trees out of the way and driving at precarious angles (please don’t roll!), we got to the first corner, and it was completely washed out. There was a deep hole on the right and a large tree on the left with just enough space to drive through an unstable but flat bit of ground. Too much to the left, and I’ll crash into a tree. Too much to the right and the wheels will slip into the hole, the car rolls, and death becomes a close possibility.

I took so much care navigating, but made it through! Trent then calmly followed as if it was the most normal thing in the world. We followed the track, such as it was, for a while before it gave way to a dune field. The first one was a monster. Again, there was just enough room once Phil had pushed the fence back.  A rock on the left, and the fence on the right to slot the car through … I revved up the first one and stopped half way … awkward. I very, very slowly reversed back down changed to low gear and let down the tires. Trent followed suit but meanwhile, Phil was road building. He had found a gentler slope up on the left and proceeded to use brute force to move several trees out of the way for the cars to pass again. If I stopped, it was game over and I’d slide down the side of the dune and hit a tree, roll or both. I hit 5000 revs and glided up the side, over the top had a quick right turn after the crest to avoid the tree and I was over. Trent nonchalantly followed.

The plan is to not stop – ever – when on soft sand. The cars were cutting deep trenches, and these dune hills were not gently rolling, so much as giant walls. Some were nearly vertical at the crests! This drive will take all my cunning!

I was a bit miffed that no matter how hard the obstacle and how much I struggled around/over/through them, Trent just followed, nonplussed. It was amazing! We stopped for lunch and carried on until we hit the dog fence. It had a gate (excellent!) and we drove along a much nicer track and made good speed to the closest point from the fall line. This time there was no gate and no track. Damn! But still, we had successfully got to a position that even the owner of the land thought was impossible, so we’ll call that a win.

Trent, just chillin'

Trent, just chillin’

There was not much else to do but drive back over the dunes, around the crevasse of death, through (literally) the trees and along the railway. We were exhausted, but we had one more idea – maybe there was a gate further along one of the tracks we had already used to access the fall line. We drove down the path, through some small dunes and found a gate! It was still a bit of a way from the closest point but it was at least an option. We drove down the last few kilometers over a massive wall of sand and nearly slid into the fence as it turned sharply. This was the closest point as the crow flies to the low mass end but it was still a 7 km walk and no gate. Ah well, it was at least hackable and didn’t take two hours to drive to …

Sometimes there's a good, obvious track. Today was not one of those days

Sometimes there’s a good, obvious track. Today was not one of those days

By this point Trent and I had been driving for nine hours. We were shredded. But the gate had given me hope and after hacking through dense bush and being foiled at every turn by the land I wanted some of my own back! I was all for bushwacking through the gate cross-country style to the fall line but it was getting late, we were all knackered and it was decided we should head home. Man, I used the word ‘home’ to describe camp – I’ve been out here too long!

We drove back and collapsed into a folding chair. Now, because the party had been split everyone knew how hard they had worked today and how broken they were because of it. However, everyone else had been working just as hard and was just as broken. The girls had been out for five hours searching in the heat of the day, as well as preparing a pork joint so when we all got back to camp everyone thought it was everyone else’s responsibility to wait on them hand and foot.

Sadly, our poor pork joint had had its fire fed all day, and was much hotter than it was normally, the result was that even the inside was cremated and the potatoes had formed coals!

Mmm tasty charcoal

Mmm tasty charcoal

There was surprisingly still some not ‘burnt to a crisp’ bits of pork in the centre, and it was quite delicious. But to plan B for dinner it is!  There was a bit of joking about inabilities to cook which I immediately lived to regret as I started BBQ-ing some sausages and fell into the same trap they had had with the hot fire. Before I knew it my sausages were black on the outside but raw in the middle. A veritable British BBQ …

A too-hot campfire that managed to spoil dinner plans A and B

A too-hot campfire that managed to spoil dinner plans A and B

I hastily took them off and waited for the fire to cool while the girls enjoyed a large helping of schadenfreude. Trent had better luck with his pasta with bacon and pesto, so at least we would have something edible. Whilst stoking the fire I managed to get a splinter, and got a needle from the first aid kit – which was rubbish! Well, it was good at stabbing me, but not at removing the offensive piece of wood! Thankfully Ellie exists and has the device for every eventuality. She and her amazing tweezers pulled it out no problem, thanks Ellie! So multiple fails from pretty much everyone except Trent … Trent was having a good day what with spectacular driving and culinary skills of not burning food. And we had a lovely meal!

We then got Arthur (the UAV drone) flying and shot some awesome videos of the camp and some less awesome ones of us singing happy birthday to Ellie’s sister. I had brought my guitar and then everyone decided to sing in a different key to the guitar which led to much hilarity and frustration. Ellie then crashed the drone into the ute but thankfully didn’t damage it.

Beer just wasn’t cutting it anymore so the gin came out, which was a suitable night cap. The girls also reported that the dunes were criss-crossed with snake tracks and then, on cue, Phil nearly stepped on one behind the ute. It was small and silver, the most beautiful snake ever, and a quick google implied that it was a brown snake (in spite of all evidence of our eyes, and the fact it was tiny). This is one of the most deadly snakes in Australia. There was nothing else for it – we can’t have a deadly snake in camp … I reversed the car and Phil made short work of it with a hand axe … A further search the next day revealed it was not actually a brown snake but a blind snake which is completely harmless, not to mention blind … but let’s not go into that. It ate ants and now ants were eating it. Ellie felt quite bad about her misdiagnosis.

But the evening was still pretty

But the evening was still pretty

Luke’s adventure continues in Luke Crosses the Nullarbor, day 18

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