Lloyd's Outback: Race in the wrong direction
Our seasoned columnist warns of the consequences when a speedthrift ignores tracks on remote roads.
FOR AGES I'VE BEEN telling people that for many outback roads, the only essential qualities of a motor vehicle are reliability, a good enough fuel range and adequate ground clearance. There are several favoured cars of the 1970s – 1980s vintage that are highly regarded by our indigenous brothers because they perform adequately in all but the worst circumstances, and they cost less to buy and run than a 4WD. What’s more, there are plenty of spares around, so maintenance is pretty simple. No common rail injection systems, no computer management, so if an engine acts up it can usually be repaired with a knife and fork, so to speak.
I have also gone on and on about maintaining visual contact while in remote places, because forks in roads can create confusion as to which way the others went. We had this chap from the Territory who had heaps of back road travel experience, and he was driving a mid-80s Falcon, the kind that still uses a carburettor. Behind it there was about a 13ft older-style caravan that had perhaps circumnavigated the world. A bit of driver misjudgement sent this old van into a rut, and the spring hanger broke away from the chassis. In order that the group get to Cameron Corner at a reasonable hour, they all went ahead with our back-up man while I remained with the crippled van to weld the spring hanger back on.
Repair completed, the Territorian was in the Falcon and off, chasing the rest who were probably 45 minutes ahead. I had to pack the tools and check that everything was properly loaded on the Acco before I followed him. He must have really scooted. I could not raise him on the UHF, so I had to watch the tracks to see where he had gone. My heart stopped beating when I discovered that, at a fork, he had turned south-west and was heading perhaps 90 degrees away from the correct route. Yelling on the UHF, I still could not make contact. I’m sure the Falcon was managing highway speeds on this dirt road, and as the Acco was never fast, I could only assume the gap between us was growing.
After about 20 minutes, I came upon the car and van. Both were stationary. For a moment I thought the spring repair must have failed. But no, the chap had realised he was on his own and decided he should take stock of the situation. With a degree of relief we helped him turn about and retrace the road back to the turnoff. We were able to call our back-up man on the HF radio to explain events, so the evening meal was well and truly under way when we rolled in to the Corner two hours after the rest had arrived there.
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