Friday, September 14, 2007

Route Survey, Part II

More on route survey, as promised. I'll forewarn you that for some reason the display at the hostel computer is entirely in Japanese, except for this typing window, so things might get dicey.

Day 3:

Awoke early to a breakfast of toast and tea at the hostel. Group heads out and we make our first stop at Dick Smith's electronics to grab an inverter (one of the key pieces of equipment stuck in customs) and some miscellaneous other electronic bits. We then go to Flinders camping to meet Roscoe Shelton, a longtime Australian friend of the team. Roscoe treats us to coffee, gives us our bearings a bit on the Stuart Highway ("The Track"), and kindly asks "what happened on the gridiron on Saturday?". I had hoped we'd gotten far enough away from Ann Arbor to escape that, but it's a small world these days. Roscoe sends us off with some good advice and a pair of two person tents for the trip. Next stop is at the shop of Bob Allan, another longtime contributor to the team and weather / communications equipment guru. We unpack a bit of our excess luggage, get some more sage advice, and get in touch with Chris Selwood, director of the WSC. He agrees to meet us back at Roscoe's to deliver the official route book, which has just arrived hot of the press. After a brief lunch at McDonald's (which is basically the same here, although they do offer a burger with egg), we stop back at Roscoe's to pick up the book. I should note that Roscoe, Bob, and Chris are all fine chaps with many good stories, so this process actually took somewhere around 5 hours all told. With all that settled, we booted up the computer and began the official route survey in Victoria Square in the heart of downtown Adelaide.

We drove north until about 10 PM, with a stop at the Big W and also Woolworth's in Port Augusta (the last WSC control stop) for supplies (lunchmeat, bread, PBJ, water, a cooler, a shovel, TP, etc.). We stop in the pitch dark (the stars are clouded over) at a barren little rest pull-off just north of Pimba. Mike and Dave can't take the cold (it's below 12 C) and sleep in the car (an arrangement which will continue throughout the trip). Nate and I brave the gale force winds and tie the tent to the car to keep it from blowing away. Lightning flashes ominously in the distance.

Day 4:

We awake early to the sunrise and a great view of Island Lagoon, a huge dry lake that stretches to our south (this particular stretch of the highway runs mostly east-west). Enjoy? a quick meal of frosted flakes in the blustery conditions. Standing with back to the wind prevents frosted flakes from blowing off spoon.

Route survey continues north toward Glendambo, the next control stop, with Mike at the helm and Dave manning the survey computer. Arrive at Glendambo roadhouse without incident, press on without stopping as gas guage is still over 3/4. Inverter pops and smells of smoke. Pull off on the side of the road, repairs unsuccessful. After a brief conference, we determine to press on without the inverter, losing the ability to collect GPS data. Will buy an inverter at the earliest opportunity (not too many electronic stores in the outback). This is not too much of a problem, as the return trip GPS data is what will actually be used.

100 km to Coober Pedy, vehicle display shows a remaining range rather smaller than that. No gas stations between here and there. Mike reduces speed to save petrol, but range is still lower than remaining distance. We coast to a stop and remove the luggage from the roof rack to reduce aerodynamic drag. Only a minor improvement in range outlook, so we proceed with AC off at 80 kph. Somewhere just past the sign indicating 20 km to Coober Pedy, range remaining reads zero with the gas needle on empty, but the car is still running. I'm pretty sure I see a wedge-tailed eagle circling. We decide that 2 of us will start walking when the car stops and 2 will stay with the car. We get out the sat phones to stay in contact.

Somehow the car makes it to Coober Pedy (source of something like 90% of the world's opal), sputtering a little bit as we pull up to the gas station. We fill up and eat a quick lunch of sandwiches and red dust just north of town. Continue to drive, crossing border into the Northern Territory. Pull into Alice Springs, the biggest town between Adelaide and Darwin and the halfway point of the route, around 6 PM, shortly before sunset. Everything apparently closes at 6, so no luck with the inverter. Dinner at KFC. Nate asks nicely and gets a free extra chicken wing with his "ultimate burger meal" (Aussies call basically any hot meat sandwich that isn't a steak sandwich a "burger" apparently, so a chicken burger is just a grilled or breaded chicken breast sandwich). Press on northward for a couple more hours, stopping at Ryan Well, a mid 1800s stock watering well. Wind is much less than last night, and the rocks are somewhat less sharp.

Day 5:

A lot of driving. Pass through Tennant Creek and Katherine. Large brushfires create low hanging smoke clouds, which is the closest thing to weather we've seen since the first night (weatherman Nate is bored). Actually see some smoldering/burning trees on both sides of the road. Pull into Darwin in the evening, stop briefly at our hostel. Wash off two and a half days of dirt. Walk downtown for dinner at the Hog's Breath Cafe, experience burgers with beetroot. Sleep on something other than rocks.



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