Alright, so I have been adventuring and boy do I have a story for you guys! This will be my longest, most epic story thus far. She's gonna be a long one! But if you have the time and the will, I highly suggest sticking around for this tale, because it is quite amusing. Pull up a comfy chair, fix yourself a cuppa tea, sit back and enjoy this one. 'Cause I sure did! Mom, find a relaxed state...
Ok. So, a few weeks ago, my roommate Scott and our friend Peter started making plans for a fantastical road trip through northeast Australia, up along the coast to Cape Melville, one of the northern-most points of the continent. Peter had just bought a Toyota Hilux and wanted to make the most of it. You all must first understand that roadways in Australia are not like those in the U.S. There isn't a ribbon of tarmac everywhere you want to go. The highways between main cities along the coast are paved, but once you get up north, out of the bigger towns and into rainforest/bush/desert, all you have is a bumpy, bouncy, rough dirt road, 4WD-only tracks. Multiple river crossings through croc waters are necessary, and the corrugations in the road are enough to make a breakfast scramble of your brains. We were excited, to say the least.
Peter, me, and Scott - ready for our big road trip!
The plan was to work our way up the continent, taking our time, stopping at various national parks, beaches, swamps, and whatever else looked cool to us. This was to be a true road trip for which plans were made day by day, simply based on what sounded like a cool stop or detour, camping all along the way. The trip would be guided by us looking out the windows and saying, "Hey, let's go there. That looks cool." So our adventures commenced on Saturday morning, and we quickly made our way out of main towns up to the wet tropics of Northern Queensland. We spent the first few days exploring the gorgeous rainforests and beaches of Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation. This part of the country is absolutely breathtakingly incredible. The lush rainforest extends right up to the water's edge, opening onto a beautiful expanse of fine sand and blue ocean.
You'll drive along a backroad 4WD-only track through the thick rainforest, spot a little footpath off the side of the road, get out and follow it through the trees and brush only to face the wide open Pacific. There'd be a stretch of wonderful sand all the way around the bends of the coast in either direction, and you'd see nobody else! You'd have the entire experience to yourself! And then you'd walk out to stick your feet in the cool water and turn around and catch your breath on the incredible wall of lush green that rose up into the mountains behind you. Absolutely incredible.
Mangroves on the beach, rainforest and mountains in the background
We made our way through the rainforests, crossing many little creeks and rivers - a task that would be an entirely different experience if attempted in the wet season! We passed through the mountain range that divides the rainforests of the coastline from the dry landscape of the bush. The drive became significantly dustier, and after passing Laura - our last town before the Cape (and mind you that 'town' in this context refers to 2 petrol pumps, a general store the size of my humble room, and a pocketful of houses) - we were off into the country for the next few days, on our own devices.
On Wednesday, we passed through Laura in the morning, prepared for a long day ahead of us as we aspired to make it to the top that day. The drive was not about the destination, but we hoped that by the end of the day, we might've made it to the top to start exploring all the wonders of Cape Melville for the following few days. We stopped all along the way at any small sign for a turnoff to a swamp or a lagoon or anything cool that might be worth seeing - with a marine biologist, zoologist, and environmental scientist in the car, we were out to see some natural beauty! We drove about 80 km out of Laura, past a campground that sat next to a nice little river (which we forded), and kept on truckin' through the dust. Dust quickly became a key player in our experience...
The road through the flat dry desert continued to get worse. Anytime another truck drove past (which was not altogether too often), all the windows had to go up as we drove through the thick red-brown cloud that'd been kicked up by the passing vehicle. The road had huge pits of loose, soft dust all over the place, which is not unlike sand when you hit them. You feel the car drift around a bit, and you just have to drive it out, aim for packed dirt, and try not to lose speed and get stuck in it.
Mom, feel free to stop reading here. We can just say we got hungry and realized we didn't pack enough food for the next few days, so we turned around and went home... :)
Ahem. So anyways, we were driving along this dusty road, about 110, 120 kilometers out of Laura, and still hours away from the tip of the Cape. Essentially, middle of nowhere. We were doing our best to find ways around the dust pits, seeking out any packed ground to be found... but sometimes they can't be avoided. On one particular incident, the truck began to fishtail, with said fish getting more and more anxious, until a spin resulted, too slow to actually complete the spin and instead just catching sideways on the dust and slowly, gradually-but-surely rolling us nicely over into an inverted position. It was quite an experience! Although, not at all frightening or panicky. It was rather an experience in which we all saw what was happening, saw what was going to happen, and just kind of matter-of-factly accepted that, "Yes, and now we are going to roll." We all had seatbelts on, and nobody was hurt. We were just placed upside down, strapped in as if in a roller coaster, and when we came to a full and complete stop, we simply unclicked our safety harnesses and exited the ride... through the windows.
This is where our trip ended. Quite an experience!
We all stepped outside, stepped back, looked at the situation, and thought, "Hmm. Well. This is interesting. I think we may be done with our trip." The image of a vehicle with its wheels in the air is quite a drastic one, more dramatic than the situation actually felt. So, there was nothing left to do but wait for someone to pass by and help us. Fortunately, this is the 'busy season,' so we didn't have to wait much longer than 20 minutes for another traveler to pass by. You get stuck during the wet season... you could be out there for a good long time! And the thing about traveling a road like this is that anyone traveling it, anyone that would happen to pass by, would have the vehicle and the means to be of help in such a situation.
So another truck came by, and our vehicle was soon righted, sans windshield. We gave our truck a few tries, but she wouldn't go. Towing it was! Now, let's all slow down here so we can fully understand and appreciate this situation coming up. Because it is quite possibly the most pitiful/amusing/story-worthy image of the whole trip... we have a truck, smashed-in roof, no windshield, side windows down and unable to be rolled back up due to the new adjusted shape of the cab and doors... this truck is being pulled via towrope 15-20 meters behind another, bigger truck - through dust. Big pits of dust. An entire landscape of loose dust. And we have no windshield. Best of all, someone has to steer the truck, as if you can see anything in that cloud! Sunglasses are futile.
Fortunately for me (and I'm sure to the vexation of the boys), our helpers made a chivalrous offer to squeeze me into their cab, so that at least one of us didn't have to sit through the dust-hell. I cannot express to you my appreciation for this offer. Simply because I cannot express to you the hell that the guys had to suffer through, for 30 km, back to the previous campground where our helpers dropped us off. The guys stepped out of the truck, completely caked in dust. Monochrome grey-brown. They looked as if they'd been rolled in wheat flour, battered up and ready to be baked for dinner. Scott (who had the delightful task of steering the truck through the dust), had dark wet streaks down his face, where his watering eyes had tried in vain to purge themselves of the particulate matter. They were quite a sight to see.
Peter and Scott, after being towed behind a truck through the dust for 30km, without a windshield or side windows.
Do you guys need a break? I know this is a long adventure. For those of you who have made it this far through the epic tale, congrats. Isn't it fun? I'm having fun. Anyway, take a quick break if you need it. Go refill your cuppa. Go grab a snack. Make some popcorn. Stretch. And come right on back, and we'll finish this story. Mom, if you're still here, relax your shoulders. Relax your back. Stop crinching your forehead. Loosen your arms. And just enjoy the story.
Ok. Are we back now? Everyone here? Settled into your chairs again and ready for more? Alright. Then let's continue.
So, we were dropped off at the campground by the river, still in the middle of nowhere, where there were actually quite a number of people camped out. Our crunched little truck sat on the side of the road, naturally drawing the men out of their campsites to come take a look and comment, "Looks like you had a bit o' trouble there, hey?" The hood of the truck was popped and soon a crowd of men gathered to have a look and offer their two cents. Really friendly and knowledgeable people, willing to help out and get us back on the road home. Lucky for us, one of these men had been a Toyota mechanic, so he knew his way around our engine! Diagnoses were made, solutions were tried and tested, and soon we had a truck that was running again! It was too late in the day to head off anywhere, so we camped there for the night, with the hopes that early in the morning, we could start her up again, and head off, limping our way home. The thought of having to tow the vehicle 700 kilometers back home, from the middle of the bush all the way to Townsville, was a painful one. Our bank accounts are not that resistant to pain.
7:30 the next morning, and sure enough, we have a truck that is running! Have any of you seen the TopGear episode where they try to kill a Hilux? I know some of you have. Anyway, Hiluxes have a reputation for being "invincible," so the guys on BBC's TopGear took a Hilux and did whatever they could to it - crashed it, drowned it, burned it, ran it over things and into things, hit it with a wrecking ball... and every time, a mechanic - equipped only with spare parts and standard tools - was able to fix it and get it running again. It was an epic episode. Anyway, I digress. The point is, we put our Hilux through a test, and what do you know? Given some tools and a mechanic, it's ready for more action!
We headed out of the campground at 8am, and nursed it a slow, bumpy 80 kilometers back to Laura. Only this time, we could not avoid the dust clouds of passing cars and the putrid stink of cow and pig carcasses on the roadside. We had to endure it all, bouncing over the landscape, wind in our hair. And our eyes. And chilling us to the bone. In Laura, we were able to commandeer some opaque plastic, unsuitable for a windshield but sufficient for the side windows. This at least created a pressure pocket in the cab while we were driving, which really helped to reduce the wind and the dust that blew in.
Off we went, taking a different route of backroads towards Townsville. We drove down the inland side of the mountain range, avoiding the coast and the rainforests - rain would not be a pleasant thing without a windshield! This route also kept us out of main cities, reducing our chances of running into the law, who might disapprove of our 'au naturale' approach to front windows. We just kept going, finally hitting tarmac which was glorious! Much less dust, still lots of bugs.
Constant 80km/hr winds get quite chilling, despite the pleasant weather outside. We were soon all bundled up in every piece of warm clothing we had, layers of socks and long sleeves, hoods pulled over our heads... but it wasn't enough, it couldn't stop the wind from cutting through our layers and stealing our heat. Once the sun went down, I grabbed my sleeping bag from the back and curled up in my little fortress of warmth and protection. Here again, I'm sure the guys in the front - who were switching off driving, fully exposed to the wind and cold, trying to squint through the wind to see the road - were having a much more uncomfortable, unpleasant experience than I. I sat in the middle of the back seat, looking straight forward at the road and the world in front of us, wrapped up in my mummy bag, giddy with the experience.
We drove straight on through, never stopping for food, just eating what scraps we had in the cab with us. From 8am to 10pm we drove, no windshield, over dust and tarmac, nursing the truck back home. 14 hours straight. And this was not a 14 hours in which you zoned out, gazing out the window at the land, listening to music or chatting. This was 14 hours of in-your-face wind, smells, temperature changes, dust, bushfire smoke, and bugs, with howling wind and rapping plastic that made it impossible to carry on a conversation without losing your voice. For 14 hours.
But I loved it. I loved the experience. I was tickled by the ridiculosity of the situation. Sure, we didn't get to see half of what we planned on seeing, we didn't make it to our destination, our trip was cut short, and there was a truck that needed some fixing. But we made it back home, no one was hurt, and what an experience we had under our belts! It was rich. And I loved it for that.
Making our way back to Townsville, battling the bit of a draft we had in the cab.
Thank you all for letting me share my story. I thoroughly enjoyed reliving it. I hope you enjoyed reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it. Check out my photo album to get a fuller (more full?) image of the experience. I can't wait for what adventures will come next! Stay tuned...