TACKLING THE GREAT VICTORIA DESERT
Enough went wrong on this trip… so learn from my mistakes to avoid your own disasters.
Len Beadell and his Gunbarrel Road Construction Crew opened up the desert, creating tracks meaningful for the atomic bomb and ballistic missile tests before becoming a playground for 4WD adventurers like us. After completing a challenging few days along the Anne Beadell and Connie Sue highways, I reflected on what had gone wrong and what I’d learnt.
Tag along, what the?
Travelling solo means I only have look out for myself, and I prefer it this way. On deciding it might be cool to have someone tag along to share the experience, I put a call out via social media and a bloke (let’s call him Ian) from Sydney responded. I’d placed relaxed conditions about what was required and also checked to see if Ian was going to be a legend or a tool.
It turned out that I was misinformed as he was an absolute tool. He was so underprepared, I was gobsmacked! No camera, no maps, no idea where we were going. He had a pet barrier instead of a cargo barrier and wanted to carry his jerry cans in the pod strapped to his roof bars. To top it off, he covered his side mirrors and snorkel with tape – so they wouldn’t get scratched! The fact that Ian drove a Jeep also raised alarm bells. But in the end, the Grand Cherokee performed brilliantly (thankfully). I should have sent him packing on day one, but sadly I didn’t. Ian soured my adventure.
Was towing another drag in the desert?
Having recently built my camper trailer for extreme Outback travel, I was keen to take it on this journey. It would provide me with ample water, good shade, great cooking facilities, a shower, a toilet and a comfortable bed each night.
The downside was the added weight and strain placed on my vehicle and the increased fuel usage. Although the conditions were generally kind to the camper, the poor condition of the Connie Sue certainly took its toll with my stone guard destroyed by the constant thrashing from the trees encroaching on the track. In deep sand, it became an anchor. On these kinds of trips, it may be best to leave the camper at home.
Top up or risk it?
Deciding what to do when you reach a fuel stop can be critical. If your calculations are incorrect or there are restrictions on how much fuel you can purchase (or the fuel stop is closed), you could find yourself up ship creek without a paddle.
I’d contacted the Ilkurlka Roadhouse on the Anne Beadell a week before I arrived to check on fuel availability, so I knew that wouldn’t be a problem. My mistake was not filling up when I had the chance. I had banked on saving some cash and topping up the tanks at a cheaper price upon reaching Warburton. I didn’t take into consideration the time difference in the hours of operation at the Warburton Roadhouse… and it bit me in the bum. Luckily, I still had fuel in my jerries.
Hello? Can you hear me?
I’d purchased a Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot that connects to my iPhone via Wi-Fi. Testing showed that my iPhone was suffering Wi-Fi issues, so I ordered a replacement that didn’t arrive before I departed. This meant my ability to make and receive satellite calls was sporadic at best. Fortunately, I could send SMS messages – but that ended up being an expensive option. This didn’t make Ian happy as he was homesick and couldn’t contact his wife. I now have a new iPhone that connects to the SatSleeve perfectly; but I’m also looking at buying a personal EPIRB as a backup.
Experiencing amazing things
As part of my research for this trip, I’d contacted the Ilkurlka Visitor Centre where I learned they were setting up cultural tours for travellers. These tours were led by high school students from the Tjuntjuntjara community. The tour was an awesome experience that I’ll never forget. The kids taught me a lot about bush tucker and throwing a spear; and even invited me to share some kangaroo tail cooked on a sand dune.
It always pays to explore what is happening in a destination around the time you are going to be there. You never know what you might be missing out on otherwise.
Bad decisions always make great stories
After packing up camp at Point Lilian on the Connie Sue, I wanted to investigate the nearby Point Sandercock. The track in began with a short, overgrown section that delivered some good ol’ bush pinstriping. Once I was through, Ian radioed to say he wouldn’t be following me as he didn’t want to scratch his bloody Jeep. Grrrrr.
Not far along the track, I misjudged my line and the camper hit a rock ledge hard – damaging the rim and deflating the tyre instantaneously. My calls via the UHF went unanswered as I replaced the wheel. My blood boiled as I continued along the track. Not focused, I missed the opportunity to unhook the camper in a large flat clearing and I was soon in trouble. The track deteriorated quickly, with erosion creating deep crevasses that halted my progress. Reversing out would be dangerous.
So with radio calls still unanswered, I went into action on a difficult self-recovery. Eventually, my radio crackled. “How much longer are you going to be?” Very soon Ian and the Jeep were there, and I was receiving assistance to turn around. With some track maintenance and innovative use of the Treds, we were able to get the camper unhitched and the Prado turned around. We hitched up the camper and returned to the Connie Sue. I did shake Ian’s hand and thank him for assisting me, but it was through gritted teeth. If you are going to tackle an unknown sidetrack, think about how wise it is if your colleagues don’t want to follow you. And if you see a good space to park and unhitch the camper trailer… do so. Oh, and I eventually found out why my radio calls had gone unanswered for over an hour. Ian had left his Jeep and gone for a walk!
To finish off…
Yes it was a great adventure and yes there were some issues, but the point is that you learn from your mistakes. Don’t allow errors in judgement to put you off; just don’t let them happen again. Now get out there and enjoy what this great country has to offer the modern-day explorer!