Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 2

My relaxed sleep at the truck pullout was sound, but short. Before the sun had even had a chance to send some rays over the hilltops, I could start to hear a slight hiss, and began rummaging around the camper looking for a gas or air leak. Now I was becoming frustrated, now fully awake, trying to find the noise that was get louder and louder. It wasn’t until I broke out through the rear doors that I realized it was emanating from the jungle wall that I was parked up against. As the sun rushed up into the sky, the buzzing sound coming from the forest had grew to the point that it was nearly deafening. Sleep was no longer an option, time to make my way north.

I’m to be in Brisbane by the 28th to drop off the rental 4WD Camper at the airport, however, I’m told by the team leader, Mark, who is already there, that my chances are slim in arriving on time, as torrential summer rains have cut off the North from the South completely. I spark up the Landcruiser, and decide to take my chances anyways.

Slipping off the main highway, I make my way up the coastal road, and it’s not long before the clouds begin to darken, and the rain to begin. Winding my way through the coastal hills, I’m greeted with some spectacular ocean views, storm driven waves crashing on the rocky shores. The rains turn from steady, too hard, to driving, to “holly crap the roads going to wash away.” Windshield wipers at maximum, I only get split second glimpses of the road before another wave of water crashes against the windshield. My pace is slow, and good thing, as my first glimpse of a Kangaroo is short before it disappears out of vision under my hood. Not to worry, I only got his tail, and he didn’t look worse for wear as he bounded off into the forest, however, if my senses weren’t heightened enough before, they were maxed out now.

However, it didn’t seem to matter. With the rain letting up for a few short minutes, I was driving along an easy straight, when SMACK, something small and feathery bounced off my windshield right in front of my face. If the poor bird that darted into my path didn’t die on impact, it certainly did on the windshield of the poor sucker riding my ass behind, witnessing the kill shot in the rear view mirror. “Bloody hell where did that come from?” SMACK…. AGAIN! This time it was one shot one kill as yet another bird shot from the forest directly into the metal bumper. Ok, this is getting ridiculous now, just as I pass a “Caution, Koala’s crossing next 22km.” I’m thinking to myself, “my animal loving, soon to be sister in-law is going to kill me, as I slowly kill every cute little animal I come across. My first glimpse of a Koala better not be by pealing one off my front differential.”

Simply following road side signs north along the old Pacific highway, I’d stop in at information booths to for a quick map of the area, and word of the roads ahead. After yet one more bird killing, I stopped in Urunga, for some coffee and word of the road ahead. Other travelers coming from the north said that the road was flooded over in three different spots; however, the State Emergency Services were still going to allow single lane traffic for the next hour. If I wanted to get through I needed to be north of Coffs Harbour in the next hour. I jumped in the truck and shot north yet again, cursing the torrents of rain falling from the sky. I wanted to make sure I made it to Brisbane in time to drop of the camper, so not to incur any overdrawn fees or expenses.

Blasting through Coffs Harbour, my stomach aching from 12-hours without food, the rain was relentless. Pushing up the highway to the town of Woolgoolga, my fears came true. Traffic came to a stop, and no one was moving. One kind motorist was telling the rest of the line the issue. “The roads flooded over, they may have it open around 6pm.” For some reason, this wasn’t good enough for me. I swung around, pulled over and studied some maps for alternate routes. A couple side roads pushed through to Orah Way, another smaller highway that could detour me through to Grafton. Slipping up one of the connecting roads, I’m not alone in my quest for Grafton, however, to all our misery, the came to a quick end, with a mountain or water rolling over it. Quick detour, and a shot up the next road, this one is covered as well, but not as violent. There is already someone out in the middle wading up to his waist in the murky flood water. So another adventurous soul with a 4WD and I try our luck.

With the Nissan Patrol ahead of me making it through, I follow a short minute later. With the transfer case set in 4WD, I ease into the water and get a good wave going off the front bumper. As the depth increases, I hold a good steady speed behind my bow wave, following it up to the opposite shore. A short bit of uncovered roadway leads to another flooded out section, and in I go again. However, this time the current is much stronger, the depths much deeper, and the truck is starting to drift off to the right around three quarters of the way through. A little counter steering and a slight increase of throttle had me straighten out and climb out onto another shore. Back in 2WD, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself, that is until I see the Nissan Patrol that was in front of me, coming head on. Damn, yet another valley blocked.

Back across the two crossing I had just forded, I pushed back to Woolgoolga for some much needed food. After some map studying, and listening to the weather reports, it seems as though all attempts would be fruitless tonight, there is just no getting north. So I head back to the traffic stop, were the services crew told me maybe around 2AM they might allow 4WD’s to ford up the highway. So, I head back, found a lovely beech to pull over at, and fell sound to sleep, finally getting the hypnotic sound of crashing waves that I had wanted the night before. My alarm was set for 2 AM, to attempt another strike northward.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Australia Adventure: Log 1

“This is your Captain speaking…. Uhhh… We have a little issue with one of the rear doors not sealing… Uhhh… Unfortunately we’re going to have to move over to the service area for the engineers to look at it…. Uhhh… shouldn’t be but a couple of hours.”

Being late for my seating call onto Qantas’ and for that matter, the world’s largest commercial passenger liner, the Airbus A380-800, I was last to arrive in my area of the plane, meaning my backpack would have to be shoved under the rather cool carbon fibre seats, leaving no room for my feet. By the time we finally lifted up into the air, my legs were already numb with the lack of circulation. Fifteen hours later, and very little in the way of sleep, I worked my way through customs, bought a SIM card for a borrowed cell phone and caught a cab to the Britz Campervan rental company.

I was renting a 4WD camperized truck, a very capable Toyota Landcruiser Troop carrier with diesel engine and an air snorkel for the engine, something that would come in handy down the road. But the brilliance of this 4WD was the camperized rear section. The long bench down the one side of the truck held storage underneath, and then slid over to become a rather comfortable bed. The other side held a cabinet full of pots, pans, cutlery, gas stove, sink and fridge. The truck even came equipped with bedding linens and pillows. The roof could be unlatched and raised to give standing room in the back, while a series of boards slid rearward creating a bunk up in the raised tented section. It would be perfect for what I wanted to do, get out and meander my way up Australia’s East coast, stopping off on beaches or scenic parks to bed down for the night.  

The only problem was, “Sir, your credit card has been declined.” While I had a good chat with my lovely fiancĂ© that going away for two and a half months, five months before our wedding was fine, she decided to deactivate my credit card while I was in the air. After some calls to the credit card company and to my lovely fiancĂ©, a deal was worked out and the Landcruiser was turned over to me only a bit late.

With nothing more than a small map of the city taken from a travel brochure, I wanted to see the Harbour Bridge, then make my way north out of the city to find a suitable place to bed down for the night. I was on day two without sleep, in a foreign country driving on the other side of the road, and I just wanted to stop traveling. After crossing the impressive Harbour Bridge, catching sight of the Sydney Opera House, I made my way north on Highway #2. However, by this time, I was beyond the reaches of my little tourist map, and was driving blindly north – I think. Highways began to split, traffic began to fill the streets for the rush hour and rain poured from the sky like I’ve never seen before. Some aimless wondering down traffic arteries, I noticed a sign that told me I was only 10 km from Olympic Park. Knowing that Olympic Park is more in town than out, my fears were realized when I crested a hill to gaze upon the Olympic Stadium and Sydney Harbour. I had done a complete horse shoe from the Harbour Bridge – Doh.

With directions from an IKEA clerk taking a smoke break, I turned 180, and was back on track, following the signs to Newcastle. Finally I hit the Pacific Coast Freeway and was out of the city, heading north. Only, the Pacific Coast Highway doesn’t follow along the Pacific coast, but several km inland. Being a typical freeway, there was nowhere to turn off, and my exhaustion was getting the better of me, so the romantic stop by the beach would be replaced with a truckers stop on the side of the highway. The hypnotic crash of rolling waves faded into the roar of truckers flying by in the middle of the night. Maybe tomorrow night I'll be in a nicer environment.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Australian Adventure: Let the Adventure Begin

My next great travel adventure has begun, and I haven't even left the country yet. Winter finally came to Kelowna just as it was time to leave for Vancouver and my flight down under, where the 40-degree heat of mid-summer await. However, the drive to Vancouver was quite the opposite, with compact snow covered roads the entire way to Hope, blinding fog, drifting snow, high winds and temperatures that had warmed to -20 over the connector.

Our trip was detoured before had even begun as the Coquihalla highway was riddled with compact snow, ice and ice rain warnings along with the inevitable hoard of accidents that follow when BC drivers take to the highways in such conditions. However, the excitement would begin shortly after leaving the house, when the passenger side wiper went limp as a salty, sandy mess was dropped on the windshield from traffic in front. To make things worse, the driver’s side wiper began to lift halfway through its arch, only completing 50% of its task. With several stops at gas stations to make use of their squeegees, we made our way to the visual safety of the snow packed Connector, only to run head long into the fog pack that usually socks in the Pennask Summit this time of year.

However, as the Coquihalla was congested with the remnants of stupidity, we opted to take the 5a south to Princeton, connecting to the #3 to Hope. This would add an additional hour and a half to our day, but it would be well worth it as the 5a was a winter wonderland with nearly no traffic, much nicer than following the sheep over to the Coq. Snow began to fall and the wind would soon pick up, however, the wounded wipers would not be needed as the flakes were frozen enough to bounce off the windshield. However, this would change as well began to descend into the warmer Fraser Valley, with salt trucks in full attack, the road was covered in a 10 cm thick layer of slush, and travelling behind a salt truck made visibility a struggle. The wipers would have to come on, and it didn’t take long for the passenger side arm to come out of alignment, in danger of pinning the driver’s side mid-arch, with some loving coercion, Steph leaned out of the window into the salty spray and freed the limp wiper, giving us temporarily limited vision once again.

After a battle of vision, some slipping and sliding and a hand brake turn thrown in for good measure, we made it to Maple Ridge, my short stop over before the my, where the real adventure will begin. Climate shock recovery will most likely be my fist challenge with the expected 60-degree change in weather.

For more information about the expedition and the cause, please visit theflight4life.com.