Monday, September 24, 2012

Dust on the Dashboard - a micro-overland adventure

Gibraltar Rocks Fire Trail
Dust on the Dashboard - The phrase I use when the travel conditions have met my craving for a sense of adventure.  This past weekend fulfilled that craving for a micro-overland adventure.

Alastair Humphreys coined the term microadventures, which I think sums up short overland adventures nicely:
They may be small but microadventures can still be challenging and rewarding. Each one is designed to inspire others to set their own challenges, challenges which may be short but which grasp the spirit of adventure.
This is the goal of my microadventures.

Split across my Land Rover Discovery (300tdi), a Land Cruiser Prado (D4D) and a Jeep Rubicon (v6), seven of us headed North from Sydney towards Jenolan State Forest and the Blue Mountains national park.  Our first adventure was to search for a remote camping spot named Gibraltar Rocks.  The night drive in the State forest, following GPS coordinates, proved to be quite challenging to tired eyes and tired bodies.  A few u-turns later we engaged low range and crawled our way down a rocky path to flat piece of ground.  Tents up, brew on and a few stories later we stumbled into our sleeping bags...

0544am: sunlight lit the interior of my tent... my body and mind refreshed, I crawled out of my tiny hiking tent only to stand amazed at the impressive view (which was missed due to arriving late at night).
Our destination for the day was a campsite called Dingo Dell.  Our route to get there was via a number of small forest roads (marked on the Topo 25K map) via the Kanangra Walls view point.

The UHF radio channel we had pre-selected buzzed with conversation between the three vehicles as we headed to our next destination.  Good humour, along with a few comments on vehicle brand reliability vs capability (i.e. Toyota vs Land Rover vs Jeep) had us all commenting on the various overland vehicle modifications, capabilities and driving pleasure.

Memory Map - NSW
Our navigation for the weekend was the Hema paper map and my Google Nexus 7 Android tablet.  I had recently been testing a number of GPS applications for Android (see blog post on apps) and had intended to test my top apps, namely, OruxMaps, Maverick, Locus Pro and Memory Map.  Unfortunately I did not get to test all the applications due to limited number of available maps and no 3G mobile coverage.  An app that did work very well, until I roamed into the an area with no map coverage, was Memory Map.  It had the map coverage that I required via on online Digital Map store.  More on the app later.

'Snake' echoed the speaker on the UHF radio as the front vehicle spotted it in the road.  Twitching in the middle of the road was an Eastern Brown snake, the second most venomous terrestrial snake.  It looked as if a vehicle had hit it and was clearly stressed as it attempted to straighten and slither off the road.   I was keen to move it off the road but its reputation, even when injured, did not justify getting near it.
Eastern Brown Snake
Carrying the right equipment for any adventure, especially a vehicle based micro-overland adventure is important.  Our kit included two winches (out of the three vehicles), recovery straps, shackles, air compressors, and tyre repair kits.  Each vehicle was equipped with a suspension lift, snorkel, bullbar and recovery points.  The Jeep Rubicon had mud terrains, whilst the Discovery and Prado were fitted with all-terrain.
Our first issue was a flat tyre on the Prado, caused by a stick in the road.  This was my first experience of repairing the damage (I usually just swop the flat tyre for the spare) but Mr P wanted to test the puncture repair kit.  We followed the instructions of cleaning the hole and pulling through the rubber bands.  Impressively it worked (not sure why I doubted it).

Our second recovery as man made - we were following a fire road which lead to a creek crossing.  Arriving at the creek, our assessment of the two crossings, that looked the best option to cross was about to be tested.  We opted to send Mr H and his Jeep Rubicon, fitted with 35" mud terrain tyres, suspension lift and front and rear diff lockers, across the creek first.  Mr H opted for 2nd Low and keep the momentum up when his front wheels bogged down in the mud and grass.
Our third issue then arose... the TJM winch on the Prado refused to engage the motor after the first attempt at recovery. Our rushed recovery quickly had the Jeep winch secured around a tree to winch it across the creek and onto dry land.  In hindsight, we would have been quicker using a recovery strap to pull the Jeep out.  Note to self:  Pause, think, plan and recovery on the first attempt.  Instead it took us 2 hours of digging, winching and wood collecting.  The end result was a recovered Jeep but on the wrong side of the creek!
Cross checking maps, adding waypoints to the GPS systems and discussing options, the Jeep departed up the alternative road whilst the Land Rover and Land Cruiser retraced steps and headed to the GPS waypoint.  UHF radio keep us in direct contact but the feeling of leaving a member of the team to find an alternative route was not ideal however the creek crossing, without a 2nd winch, was not feasible based on the risk assessment of getting a 2nd and 3rd vehicle stuck with very little capability to recovery!

We successfully met up at the waypoint and continued through dusty State forest areas.  The dust seals on the vehicles did little to keep the dust at bay and soon a thin layer settled on the dashboard, the digital equipment and ourselves.
Prado & Discovery
Our weekend micro overland adventure ended with a dusty drive along fire roads to the nearest motorway. The vehicles were dusty, the drivers and passengers tired but buzzing with the glow of adventure.  Our desire for more micro overland adventures was re-ignited as plans for the next trip buzzed over the UHF radios.

Once again I was reminded to take time to plan a recovery, communicating with the team what was expected of each person and what the primary and secondary recovery options would be.  Plan, prepare and recover on the first go saves time, energy and moral. Getting stuck should not be reviewed as a negative issue.  Getting stuck is part of any overland adventure but those scenarios where a recovery might be needed, should be assessed and the right equipment to hand.  Plus any recovery makes a good story and that's just one part of why we love overland travel!

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