Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gravel roads...

Gravel roads are diminishing as the black bitumen creeps over the old dusty back roads of Australia.  It is getting harder to find those original gravel roads that have been immune to the creep of tarmac - yet one website in Australia is encouraging people to list their 4x4 routes and share them.

I stumbled upon 4x4Earth Australia in an effort to find alternative routes between the major cities. I was after gravel - lots of gravel.  My destination for the excursion was based on the 4x4 Earth route: Canberra - Goulburn: for those who think tar sucks.  With a title like that, I just had to follow the suggested GPS track.

I departed Canberra close to 6am so as to allow myself time to explore before beginning the full commute to the office.  Sunrise was schedule for 0626 which was perfect as I had a few kilometers to cover before the detour.



I was buzzing with excitement as I threw my overnight bag into the back of my 300tdi Land Rover Discovery.  I love new trails and the start of this day was going to offer just that!

The creep of the bitumen is constant and so it proved on this route.  A third of it was already tarred yet the remainder allowed for a pleasant drive over hills and through shallow water crossings.  I was once again reminded how comfortable the Discovery is on gravel roads... it simply soaks up the bumps with a few rattles to remind you that you are still driving a mechanical beast.

My destination for the morning was a trig beacon mentioned on the 4x4Earth route page.  My GPS indicated that I was nearing the junction - almost there I thought.  An oncoming Australian Ute was covered in mud and looked like they had just driven down the track I was about to take.  The track gradient was not overly steep yet as I headed up the hill, the Discovery began to loose traction.  The road, freshly graded, was extremely slippery.  I slowed enough to keep momentum up as I shifted into high-range 4wd.
At that point I began to worry - the muddy conditions were making the easy gradient harder. I was loosing traction and sliding towards a fence.  I was alone and had a business appointment later so getting stuck was not an option.  My options were to continue up the road and find a turn around point, or to retrace my tracks.

I engaged reverse and slowly crept back down the hill.  A few times the wheels refused to redirect the vehicle at which point I needed to stop the vehicle, plan ahead and begin the process again.  At one point I attempted to go forward but the wheels were caked in mud and had no grip. The only option was down...
I was also feeling pretty guilty that I had just managed to churn up the grader crews perfect road.  I do attempt to adhere to the old Land Rover slogan 'Tread Lightly' but was caught off guard due to the rain.

The BFG AT tyres (still inflated for road conditions) did the job and kept me heading in the right direction - although I did have a few moments when the fence seemed to a target for the rear of the vehicle.

Overall, what a great mini adventure to break up the commute between Canberra and Sydney.  This diversion adds an extra hour on the journey but it is worth it.  I shall be returning to this route after our summer of rain to explore beyond my return point...

GPS Tracklog:
My GPS is ancient.  It is a Garmin III+ which I used for my extended Trans-Africa trip in 2005.  It has a monochrome screen, 1.44meg memory, takes 4xAA batteries and can only connect to a PC via a serial cable.  The task of creating this route was very manual - I had to enter the coordinates for each main junction by hand as my current laptop has no serial connection. The one good thing is it still records a tracklog, unlike my TomTom satnav.  The image on the right shows the tracklog linked to the old Garmin software and the Tracks4Africa.   Yip, I do recognise that I need a new GPS but read this: GPS Graveyard

Additional photos: