Monday, April 6, 2009

Big Sky Country

The Big Red Truck lost all power and rolled to a standstill on the track, stubbornly refusing to budge. It was another remorselessly hot day in the outback and Kris and I were both feeling frustrated and tired at this sudden breakdown. I looked at the harsh barren desert surrounding us and was reminded of a sign I’d seen earlier that day. It read something like this:

Looking at the sunburnt barren plains around me I thought, ‘Yeah, this IS pretty remote isn’t it’, but somehow the stark beauty of the desert was lost on me that day. I guess I was a bit preoccupied with Kris’ words from moments before. They went something like this:

‘Something bad has happened this time Sar. This is bad’.

Trust me when I say that when you are broken down on a track in the middle of no where with no sign of help for many miles, and your number one mechanic says something bad has happened, the words WARNING and REMOTE take on a whole new meaning.

While Kris got busy saving us from becoming tomorrow’s news headline (‘Tourists buzzed to death by flies in desert – world first!’), it gave me some time to reflect on our travels of the past few weeks.

As sweat dripped down my arms and legs, it was hard to imagine that only two weeks before we had been standing amid snow capped mountains wondering if we’d ever be warm again. Now here we were in 40-degree heat, melting away faster than the Liberal party at a Kevin ’07 election and trying to imagine a day when we’d ever be cool, clean and fly-free again.

Since we last left you the BRT has continued on its epic journey, winding along ocean roads, crossing drought-scorched plains and conquering some classic outback tracks.

We started out along an iconic piece of Australian real estate, the Great Ocean Road, eventually arriving at the Twelve Apostles (or is that the eight and a half Apostles?) crumbling majestically into the ocean. We settled in for a perfect sunset with 2000 of our travelling companions; Kris firing off a quick 300 photos while I sipped away merrily on a glass of cheap cask red (only the very best for us) and watched the sun sink into the ocean.

Over the next three days, Kris woke at 4am and made his way back to the Apostles like a moth to the flame, standing sentinel with his camera and tripod trying to capture an elusive full moon setting over the stacks. As Kris will testify, I’m not exactly renowned for my early morning starts so we were both as equally surprised when I, too, found myself standing there beside him at 4am a few mornings later. Even through bleary eyes it was an eerily beautiful sight, made all the more magical as we watched the fairy penguins come to life on the beach far below us and make their way back into the wild Southern Ocean for another day.

(I have to admit there might actually be something good about these early morning rises but don’t tell Kris I said that; I’d like to sleep in for just a little while longer thanks.)

Saying goodbye to the ocean, we crossed into South Australia and slowly make our way north. As the days wore on the vegetation became more sparse, the roads became longer and straighter and human habitation was reduced to lonely signposts on the side of the road indicating an unseen cattle station miles away along a rough dirt track. It’s out here that you start to really appreciate just what an enormous country we live in.

This is big sky country. It’s a land of incredibly massive skies making you feel like you’re about to be swallowed up by blue; where in every direction you look there’s a vast barren plain stretching all the way to the horizon; a place where you could sit on your veranda and watch your dog run away for 3 days without fear of losing sight of it.

In describing outback South Australia you regularly find yourself using the terms classic, biggest, longest, oldest and best. We’ve seen so much and covered so much ground that rather than torture you with long tedious stories, we’ve put together a little list of highlights (don’t worry, there’ll be no escaping the long tedious stories when we get home). Our more memorable moments have included:

* Driving through the longest man-made structure on earth, the dingo fence. We discovered it keeps out more than just dingos when we found an entire kangaroo paw still tangled up in the wire after what was obviously a fierce struggle, the skeletal remains of the rest of the animal scattered around far and wide. It's a harsh, unforgiving environment out here.

* Passing the largest cattle station in the world - Anna Creek Station.

* Discovering the best invention in the world - the fly net (out here if the heat doesn’t kill you, the flies definitely will).

* Driving one of the most famous outback tracks in Australia - the Oodnadatta track.

* Passing over the world’s largest and deepest underwater reservoir, the Great Artesian Basin and swimming in 2 million year old water bubbling up out of the earth at Coward Springs.

* Driving around the ghostly expanse of Lake Eyre, filling with water for the first time in almost 10 years.

* Walking out on the salt-encrusted surface of Lake Frome, so white and devoid of life that NASA actually use the lake to set the white-balance on their cameras from space!

* Finding a piece of adventurer Steve Fossett’s ill-fated balloon on the wall of a pub in Lyndhurst, a two horse town on the edge of the Strezleki track and probably one of the last places you’d ever expect to see such memorabilia.

* Sarah waking up with the biggest hangover she’s had in 3 years after a lively night drinking cheap wine with the publicans at Marree hotel (not recommended when you plan to drive 300km on a corrugated dirt road in 40 degrees with no air conditioning the following day).

* Sustaining our first tyre puncture at Arkaroola when a hefty chunk of rock pierced a hole in one of our BFGoodrich mud terrains.

* Driving through part of the Simpson Desert, some of the most arid, desolate and remote country in the world.

Which reminds me, in all my reminiscing I’ve forgotten all about the Big Red Truck broken down on the side of one of these remote, desolate tracks and our impending death by fly buzzing.

With the help of a trusty manual and some brilliant detective work, Kris managed to find and fix the problem (all the corrugations had vibrated a wire off a solenoid which had the rather inconvenient effect of shutting the engine down). To ou
r great joy and to the dismay of the flies that were obviously licking their lips ready for dinner, the BRT was off and running again and we would live to fight another day...

In the next edition of Where’s the big red truck – Red Centre Dreaming


SCADA Mum said...

Hi guys, just love reading your travels & whereabouts. I am sure you are both having a great time and not missing us at all. Happy Easter & be safe until we get your next blog. SCADA Mum & Crew.

Madhu Dube said... you are still alive...thank god...that fly looked like a big hollywood sci-fi beast ready to eat you use it looks adventurous but I can now understand how difficult it is....a BRT which gives you run time errors :0 & a nagging GF ready to code break any time....but its a life we all dream to live and you living it in real...touchwood and best of luck...

Madhu Dube said...

a typo its us nor use 'to us it looks'

Anonymous said...

G'day Kris and Sarah, Glad the BRT is not holding you up too much.That cheap Loud Mouth Soup is a bugger for hangovers hey Sarah!!! Keep on truckin and I'll try and catch ya's by phone sometime....Cheers Gary

Anonymous said...

hi sara n kris. Finally got to post a comment such a techno wizz!My eldest son managed to find the site for me.
Sounds like your both havin a blast.Not the same without you but we are coping!!!!!Stay safe & keep on trukin.Luv Lea Mac xoxoxo