Saturday, September 15, 2007

Route Survey, Part III

Day 6:

Day breaks warm and humid in Darwin. We replace the broken inverter with a beefier unit purchased at Bunnings (essentially Home Depot). Mike does 3 victory laps at a nearby traffic circle. Purchase petrol and a selection of automotive fuses. Find the start location after some searching (route book is not terribly specific, though it will probably e rather more obvious on race day). Head out after a bit of fiddling with the gps units and we're off on the official race route at about 11 AM. Roll through the Darwin urban area and start climbing the hills out of town. Hit the steepest hill on the route, Hayes Creek Hill, 173 kilometers out. Doesn't look too bad (fans of Momentum will recall that the hill south of Port Augusta near the end of the race is quite a bit tougher). See a few more brush fires and smoldering patches in the trees lining the highway.

We reach Katherine, the first control stop on the race. At 318 km along the route, Continuum should reach this point late in the morning of the first day if all is going smoothly. We pass Mataranka, site of some famous hot springs, and also where, by any luck, we'll be clear of the clouds from the ocean to the north. It's been clear today from Darwin on. Continuing south, the trees start to thin out. Make a brief visit to Daly Waters, a small community consisting primarily of a petrol stop, campground, and a well-known pub with memorabilia (ranging from souvenir trinkets to ladies undergarments) from visitors around the world. One of these includes a large decal of the University of Michigan seal.

Next control stop is Dunmarra, at 633 km. We eat some sandwiches and are accosted by about half a dozen begging stray dogs. We toss them some bread on the way out. Vegetation consists primarily of low scrub and small trees about as high as a person. This area south of Dunmarra will likely be where the team will stop for the first night on the race, so we begin scanning the road for suitable pull-offs and camping sites. We see a very large, flat, low cloud in the distance to the south, which Nate determines to be a cloud formed around smoke particles from the brush fires. We pull off at a parking area at around 800 km from Darwin, just as the sun is starting to set.

We decide to shave Mike's head. For those unfamiliar with Mike, he's a jolly Armenian fellow with a rather bushy head of curly hair and a similarly bushy beard. After some time and judicious application of scissors, electric clippers, and razors, Mike's head is smooth as a baby's. We determine that he has a well shaped, dome like head, and the look is approved.

Leaving the headlights on to shave Mike and read in the car has drained the battery, and, as of around 10 PM, the car won't start. Without much to do about it at that point, we go to sleep.

Day 7:

Day breaks, and the car starts up. We give thanks for lead-acid chemistry. Back on the road, we fuel up at Renner Springs and then proceed to the third control stop, Tennant Creek at 988 km from Darwin. We should hit this point sometime in the morning of the second day of the race.

We stop and spend the morning climbing the Devil's Marbles, an amazing formation of rounded red boulders. These formed due to natural erosion of a granite slab formed 1.7 billion years ago from an upwelling of magma into the surrounding sandstone. Cracks in the granite allowed water to seep in, eroding the boulders which were further shaped by wind erosion. The resulting formations look as if someone has stacked rounded rocks on top of each other.

We fuel again at Wycliffe Well, which is notable mostly because it was the site of numerous UFO sightings. The roadhouse is decorated with various aliens, copies of old newspaper articles, and a greeting sign that reads "humans also welcome". Two little green men wave from a conical spacecraft that appear to have been constructed primarily from old radio antenna parts. We suspect that the Outback might loosen a few screws after too many years of living in the bush.

Just south of Wycliffe, we hit a section of road that is perfectly straight. For 42 km. Some slight undulations in elevation, but the car is otherwise traveling in a straight line for over 20 minutes. There's not much out here in the Outback. We pass the Aileron roadhouse, notable for a very large statue (even bigger than the koala - see comments to Part I) of an aboriginal man walking on a hill behind the roadhouse. Otherwise its pretty desolate out here.

We reach Alice Springs, the midpoint of the race, at midday. Alice Springs, at about 1500 km from Darwin, will be a "stage stop" in the 2007 WSC, meaning that all vehicles will be held at the stage stop for a day and then re-released in the order they arrived. The fastest teams could be reaching Alice Springs late on the second day of the race, with the rest of the pack arriving on the third day. This puts an interesting wrinkle into strategy, as we will likely have most of Tuesday, October 23 to sit in Alice Springs charging the battery from the sun as we wait for the Wednesday restart.

We get back on the road in the afternoon after restocking our food supplies. About 130 km to the south of Alice, we turn off onto a very rough dirt road to visit the Henbury Meteorite Craters. We arrive after 15 km of washboard roads, washed-out dips, and dodging wandering cows. The craters are the remains of the 4000 year old impact of a meteorite about the size of a fuel drum. The meteor broke into 4 large and many smaller pieces in the atmosphere, and the Henbury site we visited is the location of the 4 main strikes. The craters are quite fascinating - the largest crater is about 180 m across and 15 m deep. It is actually two craters which formed close enough together that the wall between them was destroyed in the impact. Two smaller craters from the other two large pieces of the meteorite flank the main crater. Erosion has worn down the lips of the craters, leaving small valleys with a great deal of vegetation (water collects in the basins, forming a small ecosystem unique in the area). Apparently Apollo astronauts visited these craters in preparation for the moon landings.

After rejoining the highway, we continue south, passing Kulgera and reaching the border between the Northern Territory and South Australia. We set up camp and go to sleep after a little bit of "now I'm in NT - now I'm in SA" hopping about.




Anonymous Mark Briody - Carpet Cleaning said...

Wow Garrick, once I started reading this article I found I couldn't stop. I once rode a motorcycle from Sydney all the way through to Alice Springs and back down to Ayres Rock. Kinda lonely ride...glad I was riding with a friend. Did you notice how quiet it gets even in the middle of the day when you pull over and turn everything off? Beautiful.

I love reading stories related to solar energy because I work in an industry where we use huge carpet cleaning truck mount machines that pump out incredible amounts of pollution. Unfortunately it's challenging to change when we invest over $50,000 into just one machine. But if there was a way to convert to solar energy I'd be first to change.

Well I look forward to reading more about your trip and what comes next.

Mark Briody
Sydney Australia

August 30, 2008 at 10:52 PM  

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