Day 3. 215k into the Simpson Desert
My how things change, and in a short space of time.
From being cruisy and not in a hurry to get anywhere, I was up before dawn this morning, and straight into packing up. I wanted to get onto the dunes while they were still cool, because that’s the easiest time to drive them.
Though I wasn’t in that much of a hurry that I couldn’t relight last night’s campfire and make myself a coffee. Which I enjoyed while watching the first pink rays of the sun appear over the dunes.
I was on the road at 7.23 this morning. Still not really early, but that was just as the sun was appearing over the dunes. Sunrise isn’t too early either.
I’ve changed my course at the last moment twice today. And both times I paid for it.
The first time I was going up a steep dune when I came to a track off to the left, and decided to take it. Of course, with changing direction I lost momentum and didn’t make it to the top. Rolling back down the hill I almost tipped the car when the back wheel rolled onto the bank on my left. The car teetered as I came to a stop, then teetered some more. “Don’t panic” I told myself and I leaned as far as possible to my left, put it into first and slowly moved forward again. It wouldn’t have taken much more for me to end up on my side.
The second time was when there were two separate tracks up and over a dune. They diverged about 50 metres from the dune, and after some internal discussion with myself I decided on the left path. As I got closer the right path looked much better, and just before the bottom there was a clearing where I could cross from one side to the other. I swung the wheel, and stopped. I tried moving forward. Nothing. I tried moving backwards. Nothing. At that point I should have got out of the car and had a look, but no.
You don’t know how glad you can be that the Simpson Desert is sand until you’ve been bogged up to your axle and had to dig your way out. I mean that literally. I was bogged up to my axle. No, let me correct that. My axle was in the sand. Even though it’s a small car, that’s still a lot of digging. And it was only 9.30am. At least I wasn’t digging in the midday sun. Let me tell you, when you have to kneel or sit to dig, and you dig and dig and dig some more, and you’re just wearing shorts, sand gets in everywhere!
That’s when you really start feeling the isolation. It took me about an hour to dig myself out, and in that time I saw nobody. I didn’t even hear a remote voice over the UHF. I was all alone in the Simpson Desert.
But you live and learn. Once I cleared everything I dropped the tyre pressure to 12psi and got on my way. At least I was right about one thing. The right hand track up the dune was no trouble!
I continued on my merry way, mostly driving along in high range at around 20k. Then I’d come up to a steep dune. Put the car in low range and work my way up. Once at the top I’d stop and drop back to low range to amble my way down the other side, often through big ruts. The down side of the dunes is worse than the approach, as proven when I got bogged again. Going downhill! The dune was so chopped up that my back wheel was pulled into a rut that once again left me in sand up to my axle. At least it was only on the back corner this time, so much less digging. And in digging myself out I managed to make some repairs to the track for the next person.
Getting on the road by 7.30, I figure 5 hours is enough driving time. Well, 4 hours driving and one hour digging. Time to pull up and have some lunch, and listen to the sounds of the desert. And collect some wood for my campfire tonight.
That’s probably been the most surprising thing for me. The amount of wood just lying on the ground that you can collect for a campfire. I’m surprised there’s any wood at all in the Simpson, and even more surprised that with all the people who have been through here in the last couple of weeks there is still plenty lying around.
While you can camp anywhere in the desert, there are obvious places where people have camped before. These have nice spaces to throw out your swag and build a fire, and the sand is firmer for driving on. And that’s another things that’s surprised me – the amount of vegetation in the desert. The dunes aren’t just long red sand dunes. They are covered in vegetation – grasses, bushes, scrub.
So you pull up to campsites where there is wood already collected and left by whoever was there before you. You collect more wood, have your fire, and whatever wood you don’t use you leave for the next person.
Though I haven’t seen anybody for a while, so I’m not sure when the next person will be through. Yesterday I pulled up at 2pm, today at 12.30pm, and nobody has passed me at all.
I have found all the flies though. The first two days they weren’t too bad, but when I pulled up today I was immediately covered in them. So much so that I got out my fly net hat. Even with that they were annoying, but as long as they weren’t on my face or in my ears they were bearable. At least they all disappear as soon as the sunsets, and even better, there are no mosquitos to make an appearance
A tip: If anybody is helping you pack, make sure you have great communication. Don’t just assume they’ve packed something because they packed the things it goes with.
I refuelled when I pulled up. I stood up through the roof of the car and untied the jerry cans, then around to the back to lift one down, and … no hose to pour it into the fuel tank. The best I could do was to cut the bottom off one of my water bottles and use that as a funnel. Which is ok, but a little bit clumsy when you’re trying to hold the bottle still with one hand, and pour from a 20 litre jerry can with the other. The trick is to go slow – well as slowly as you can with a 20 litre jerry can tucked under one arm. But not too slow so that the petrol just runs out of the bottle and down the side of the car. I think I spilled less than one litre, which shouldn’t be the difference between me making it into Birdsville or running out of petrol. The practice should make me better next time I have to do it.
Yes, Doc tied the jerry cans onto the roof basket for me, and I didn’t make sure the hose was with them.