Holy hell, I’m tired. That trip, hands down, has to be the most exhausting I’ve ever done. Queensland and South Australia were waterlogged and getting more (unseasonal) rain in 24 hours than they’d had in two years.
We are an outback touring company and we go on dirt roads to our destinations at least 60% of the time. That is, we go on dirt roads when the roads are open. Which most of them weren’t. You take every road closure extremely seriously because if any authorities catch you driving when you shouldn’t be, you get a fine of $5000 per tire. That’s $60 000 dollars for our rig. Obviously, we don’t drive on closed roads.
In some ways it was actually easier when the roads were closed because we could then focus on an alternative route. If they weren’t closed, or if they were only open to vehicles of a certain tonnage that precluded us, or if they were only open up to some specific point, then five or six possible scenarios had to be planned for to take in all of these possibilities.
Okay, if it was closed as far as here, do we go and then risk being stuck in a town running out of food, if they close it behind us and in front? Do we have the time to wait? Can we get accommodation for our group at such short notice if we are stuck there? Do we have enough food and water and camping equipment and fuel to be self sufficient if we have to? What does the weather forecast say? What does local boy Johnny in the pub think? How can we get an insider in the roads department so we might know a little more?
Or maybe we could go around another way if they closed the roads. In which case, all of the above scenarios again but for a different town.
And rinse and repeat.
Add in extremely spotty, if even existent, phone and internet coverage; a myriad of breakdown problems that usually required a couple of hours each night lying underneath the truck in the mud to fix; frustrated passengers who had to cope with long driving days, diversions and literally not knowing more than four hours ahead where we were going (where we could go, even): well, you can see why that might be exhausting.
Oh, and while we were working it from the ground side, operations back in Perth were doing it, too.
We did this for 13 days. We missed out quite a bit of our itinerary and drove about 1000 more kilometres than originally scheduled but we got one beautiful day where the skies lifted and the passengers were able to fly over Lake Eyre and we got them in and out of Birdsville.
The days were very long for us crew, often starting at 5 and going through to 10 or so. There was so much pressure on my partner with fixing things that broke and they broke constantly, due to the conditions. I wasn’t a tremendous amount of use in actually knowing what to do but I was rolling around in the mud down there with him, holding torches and passing him things and revving up air pressures and so on. When he was driving, I kept him awake by talking and playing music and passing out snacks. I even got to drive a fair bit this trip, which shows you how exhausted he must have been as he hates relinquishing control.
If accommodation was an issue, we as the non-charged crew, often got the worst of it. We ended up sharing rooms a couple of times and I slept in the trailer once and he slept in the shed. He’d get me to make phone calls and research things and I’d come up with viable suggestions and routes as we drove along. We ate a lot of chocolate and laughed a lot. In short, we had each others’ backs and it was, well, just very nice. A good partner is worth their weight in gold and we work incredibly well as a team.
He made the comment once that he spent more time with me than his wife and its probably that way with me and my husband as well. The relationship I have with him is very intimate but in a totally non-sexual way. It’s always been one of the things I loved most in my work life: that instant camaraderie you get with any work colleagues and the occasional deepening into a solid like. No jealousy on my husband’s part and (I’m presuming) his wife’s, either. Touring is really a single person’s occupation and I’m pretty sure that our respective partners are amongst the few that can cope with their other half doing it and forming these close bonds.
Not that we always get on. We do bicker amicably and on this trip, we had one major blowup. It was about reversing, of all things.
To explain properly, you need to know that our 4wd truck tows a trailer, filled with all our kitchen and camping stuff and luggage as well, behind it. We often detach this trailer if staying somewhere for a couple of nights because it adds another seven tons to our weight and limits our ability to get into places. The attachment is a sort of thick hook with the pointy end pointing up and a locking pawl . The hook has to go through a thick metal donut on the trailer (edited to add that it is actually called the lunette ring but google prefers the menstrual cup definition of that item, with a diameter of around 8 cms and there isn’t a camera on it that lets you see it while you are reversing onto it. There’s also the added problem of having to adjust ride height in order to hook it in and then raise it up.
Consequently, usually somebody reverses back (him) and somebody else (me) stands next to the trailer and eyeballs the angle of approach and height and adjusts, by way of handsignals viewed in his side mirror, pointing left or right or up or down. If you don’t get it exactly right, down to the cm, then it will not hook on.
I’ve got to say that I’ve got pretty good at directing him and we pretty much always hit it first try. Except at night. Remember, I’m trying to do this fine tuning adjustment thing and it’s complicated by the fact that a) I can’t really see it well and b) the reversing lights of the camera glare and c) he can’t see my hand signals very well in the dark, no matter what torch I have and d) laser eye surgery from years ago has left me with the halo effect around lights at night, which distorts vision when looking at lights.. So I hate hooking on at night and would prefer to wait until the morning.
On this particular evening however, he was determined and so I trepidatiously took up my position and utterly failed to direct him on correctly every time we tried. The first time I suggested we try again in the morning, the second time I told him I couldn’t see properly, the third time I said that the lights were too glary, the fourth time I forcefully reiterated that I couldn’t see and the fifth time I yelled it at him. He made some remark about my uselessness and I nearly lost it right then.
The sixth time I stormed up to the cab and screamed in his face “I’ve told you that I can’t fucking see it! I’m not doing this any more!” and stomped off in a fury. I was so angry that he’d been ignoring what I had to say and in my rage and desire to kick him hard, ripped off my head torch and threw it as hard as I could onto the ground, where it satisfyingly exploded into a plethora of plastic parts. Then I realised that you can’t stomp very well in ankle deep mud and it was also very dark and I had nowhere to stomp to anyway.
So I sheepishly had to come back and pick up all the pieces to reassemble, which made my dramatic exit somewhat less effective but he gave me a hug and said ‘sorry’ and we left it for the night. Still, if we only had one fight it probably was to be expected, given the strain the of the trip.
We just got out of Adelaide before the power went out but another, forecast storm was already hitting and it was touch and go whether we’d make it. Sort of like the entire trip, really. As our plane took off my partner and I high fived each other and decided that company purchased lunch would be alcohol.
One hour after we’d taken off, the entire State of South Australia lost power everywhere and shut itself down.