66 shades of grey

66 shades of grey
66 shades of grey ... this pic of me was shot by Kim, of Kim Thomsen's Photography at Daly Waters in the Northern Territory. Kim just wandered over and asked whether it was OK to get some character shots.


The cross is in front of the church in Karumba and it seems TV antennas have a greater reach for the sky.


I went fishing out of Nhulunbuy on the Gulf of Carpentaria. We anchored in a bay about 10 hours from Nhulunbuy and went ashore. This poor fella had been snared in the locals' overnight net and then had a run-in with the resident 14-foot saltwater croc - named Nike by the local indigenous fellas - and came off second best.

the rock

the rock

oodnadatta track

oodnadatta track
What a tough place to live ... this is out on the Oodnadatta Track


My photo
G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The nuts and bolts behind the nut who's bolting

I’ll be posting pictures tomorrow. It’s now beer o’clock and I can’t be bothered taking them today.
My truck, aka Elsie, has been a jig-saw of sorts in terms of getting it to a point where it’s cherry ripe to do all that’s asked of her during the trip and, given the places we’re considering having a crack at, that will be plenty.
First, she had to get new shoes (read tyres). I ordered some eight-inch Sunraysia wheels with a set of 17-inch B.F. Goodrich all-terrain tyres. I opted for BFG, given the strong recommendation of Jase, the host of TV show All 4 Adventure. They weren’t cheap ($2250 for five), but the service and staff at Bob Jane was excellent. The guys there told me I could expect at least 80,000 kilometres from the set. They also threw in a wheel balance after (I think) 22,000, no matter where I am.
So far, they haven’t had to do too much off-roading (that’ll change soon) but on the bitumen they stick like shit to a blanket … it’s a good feeling (OK sometimes not) to hit a curve faster than you should and still have confidence that you’ll come out the other end intact. Tick: tyres.
I also wanted to get a decent canopy, given that it was an aluminium tray, to keep my goodies (and sometimes me) out of the weather. I chased down a company at Carrum Downs, which specialises in canvas work. It took them three days to cover Elsie’s modesty with a canvas canopy that’s as thick as a British soccer hooligan, but far more useful. The seals to allow the roof rack to be fitted are double stitched leather and are tighter than a duck’s arse. Each side of the canopy can be opened in two sections (and rolled up) with really good, heavy duty zippers. Each side also has a window with bug screen. It all means easy access to the lockable tubs on each side of the tray and the fridge, which has its own power plug that runs from the second battery under the bonnet. That second battery only gets powered when the main starter battery is full, thanks to an isolator.
There are all sorts of goodies in the lockable tubs, pretty much all essentials. I have three tool boxes, a generator (back-up only if all else fails), a hand-cranked washing machine (think of it as exercise), fishing tackle bags, a bag with eight fishing reels, a gas powered hot-water service (with a pop-up shower tent), a HitchMaster pack (a very simple series of brackets that, when put together, give the lifting or pulling capacity of 32 pulleys, tyre repair kits, a compressor, a good axe, a couple of machetes, tarps … reckon I could go on a bit yet, but you get the picture. The tubs are full of “doing” and “fixing” things and then some. Tick: canopy.
The roof rack sits on a custom-made frame (yeah, it weighs a bit) and is permanent home to a high-lift jack, a shovel, my swag, a set of MaxTracks (just the thing for getting out of a boggy situation), a three-metre PVC tube, which holds all my fishing rods and my sling spear, and a couple of fold-up chairs. There’s room for plenty more stuff, but it’s better to keep the weight closer to the ground. Too much on top alters the centre of gravity and, in really dodgy terrain, enhances the chances of the truck falling over. Nuff said. Tick: roof rack.
Elsie also has a snorkel, a Toyota bulbar, driving lights, a UHF antenna (with an Aussie flag attached … it’s the bogan in me) and a winch that I just had overhauled, which included a new synthetic rope rather than the wire cable.
In the cabin, the seats are graced with custom-made canvas covers (yeah, you just hose them down if they get too shitty). In the dash, I have a Parrot multimedia station, which is my GPS, reversing camera, hands-free phone system, radio, music centre (phone and music are voice activated … i.e. tell it to play Neil Young and Crazy Horse or tell it to phone the ex and, presto, it does), Wi-Fi internet browser, email system … it probably does most things an iPhone will do. There are also four USB ports, so I can charge my phone, laptop, iPod and iPad while I’m travelling. The ashtray had to go to make way for the UHF radio so I can chat to son Liam when we are travelling in convoy … Rubber Duckie and all that shit … and I can also listen to the (usually) foul-mouthed truckers (yeah, that IS rhyming slang) and get a fix on what’s happening on the road.  Also on the floor of the cabin is a small cooler that holds eight cans of whatever or water bottles, so a cool drink is never out of the question. Tucked behind the seats are a few tools, a pair of leather work gloves, a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit and some wet-weather gear. And the cabin is armed with an alarm. It’s cosy … the cabin not the alarm.
I also had the rear shockers replaced to give a fraction more lift and to ease the now-considerable load.
The last thing on the agenda is to get a DP diesel chip and new exhaust system. The chip is actually tuned to my truck, taking into account the weight it’s carrying, the weight that it’s towing, and its wheel size and tyre type. The manufacturer says that I’ll get up to 45 more horsepower for towing and up to 10 per cent better fuel economy, thanks to the chip and the cooling effect of the three-inch stainless steel exhaust system. Reckon, given that I’ve heard of up to $4 a litre for diesel being paid in the middle of nowhere, any boost in economy is welcomed. Since I’ve had the canopy on, the truck has displayed all the aerodynamic characteristics of Captain Cook’s cottage and probably needs all the help it can get.
That’s pretty much the nuts and bolts of the truck.
And then there is the trailer and its contents.
The Home is designed to go off-road (the suspension is shit hot), there’s plenty of storage, two water tanks (about 150 litres all up), one with 12-volt pump, the other with a manual pump, two deep-cycle batteries that are topped up as the truck is driving and then drip-fed (read powered) by a two-metre x .5-metre rubber solar panel. According to the electrician, the solar mat (you can drive over it, hit it with a hammer, whatever … it’s robust) delivers enough power to keep the batteries topped up for ever, well, as long as there is sunshine. When I move to a new site, I just roll it up and then start all over again. There are also two nine-kilo gas bottles, one always connected, the other as a spare. There is also a large toolbox on the front, which is home to oil, distilled water, assorted spray cans, lubricants (not the personal ones … they’re in my bathroom pack), a spare 12-volt water pump, fresh-water hose, a drainage hose (that connects to the sink), a bag of tent pegs and hammers, a bag of guy ropes and a bag of various ropes and tie-downs and other bits and pieces such as wheel chocks for the trailer. OK, there’s a shitload of stuff in there. Did I mention the cricket bat and ball?
The tent is a beauty … it’s about five metres long by 2.5 metres wide … and there is a five-metre by two-metre annexe. It takes about 10 minutes to unfold and erect the main tent … there are just two tent poles and a couple of guy ropes and it’s up. The annexe, on the other hand, takes the best part of 45 minutes or so (seven poles, lots of ropes and several long zippers involved to get it right).
The bed, a queen-sized inner-spring, sits on top of the trailer. It has a lamb’s wool mattress protector, good quality Egyptian cotton sheets and a goose down doona and two comfy pillows. There’s a window at each end (with terrific midge-proof mesh) to keep the air flowing.
To keep things tidy in the tent, there are a couple of hanging pods for things such as car keys, glasses, tissues, hair brush (yeah, like I ever use that) … whatever things need a spot so they don’t get lost. There are also two huge windows in the tent walls, which open out to create awnings.
Then there are the clothes. I have two small cupboards, each with three shelves and a larger one (four shelves) chock full of all the clothes I own. And yes, there is one shelf designated for singlets and another for lots of Crocs and the odd pair of boots, another for towels, bed sheets and the like. Then there is the dirty clothes basket, which, when empty, folds flat for easy storage, and a wire basket for all the odd bits and pieces that get used regularly.
Lighting is either a 12-volt LED strip (that lights up the joint like Broadway) of a more sombre (I call it mood-setting) 12-volt fluoro. I also use an environmentally friendly low-voltage globe when I’m connected to mains power. The lights have long enough cords to move out of the tent and into the annexe, depending on need. I also have a solar-powered (it has its own panel) night light at the entrance to the annexe, which is great for finding the joint after I’ve been out on the tear.
Under the bed (in the trailer proper), there are eight 50-litre containers and a long flat container for storage of food staples (read cans of stuff such as tuna, chick peas, beans, etc). The large containers are all labelled on their lids … it makes life easy when you’re trying to find shit, especially when beers have been the order of the afternoon. There are two for pots, pans and kitchen utensils, one for electrical stuff such as a small flat-screen TV, a DVD player, the top of the TV antenna, various leads, a 600-watt inverter (which turns 12 volts into 240 volts so I can use the stick blender in the kitchen), another container is full of plastic containers for pasta, rice, flour, breakfast cereal and the like, another with the leftover kitchen stuff such as a vacuum-pack machine and bags, a knife block, big bottles of olive oil, veg oil, jars of olives, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, whatever. Then there is the really important container, aka the grog bin, which has all sorts of goodies aboard. It doesn’t matter if you are a glass half full or glass half empty person. The bottom line is that in both cases, there is always room for more in the glass. Hence, I have two bottles of Pimm’s, one of gin, one XO cognac, two excellent single malt whiskies (one is Glenrothes 1991) and three bottles of wine, sealed in a temperature-sensitive container and packed tighter than a duck’s arse. They are a 2001 Peel Estate zinfandel, a 2004 Old Adam shiraz and … drum roll please … a 1990 Grange Hermitage. Spare a thought for me (and especially my liver) because I drank everything in my home wine cupboard with the exception of the three wines mentioned (and there were some absolute crackers in there). I’m very much looking forward to a remote campsite somewhere, a steak cooked over a fire and sharing the Grange (and the other two) with my son, Liam. I’ve even packed a really good decanter for the occasion. There’s also a container for other bits and pieces and another for essentials such as needles and threads, and odds and sods that at some stage we’ll need as well as one with personal stuff such as medicines, etc … and a bloody big first-aid kit. Liam’s kit even includes sutures although I hope neither of us needs to sew the other’s bits together. There is even room for the small step ladder (easy access to the bed … I’m tall, I can make it easily, but it’s, you know, for guests …). The only other mandatory thing is a small jerry can for when it’s cold at three in the morning and I need to pee … OK, it’s only to use when I’m staying at a paid campsite … in the bush, well, just point and pee.
In the annexe, the tailgate of the trailer folds out and becomes the kitchen, with a sink (with running water) and a three-burner gas stove, each with a glass splashback, and a fold-out bench. Under the sink and stove is a cupboard for the cutlery drawers, drawers for utensils, one for cleaning stuff and one for storage bags, plus storage on top for cups, plates, etc. The fridge, an 80-litre Waeco fridge/freezer looks after the food and sundry things such as milk, a couple of bottles of French Champagne, mixers (tonic, dry ginger, soda water and lemonade) and other stuff that needs refrigerating after being opened. There’s also a (I think it holds eight cans) 12-volt cooler and a fold-up but very efficient (it needs ice) beer fridge. There are also a couple of pods for bits and pieces (read shopping bags, magazines, books etc) and a hanging bug-proof and rodent-proof canvas pantry for bread and other bits and pieces.
The annexe, which has walls of midge-proof screen, also features a string of Nepalese prayer flags, a gift from my late best friend, Steve Walden. Did I mention there is also a peace sign hanging in the main tent? And, shit, I didn’t pack any incense.
Then I have to find room on the truck for my box of tricks … hunting knives, slingshot, two hand-held UHF radios, torches, fire-lighting flint and, of course, my survival pack … i.e. a backpack, which has a three-litre water bladder in it and a tube on the shoulder to drink from, a first-aid kit, spare knife, some kindling, a hand reel with plenty of fishing line and a few hooks, a torch, an aluminium blanket (it gets bloody cold if you get lost) and sundry other essentials should shit happen and I get lost in the bush. Then there’s got be room found for the camera case, a box filled with spare and replacement lights, a container of books, a couple of fishing nets, some crab/yabbie nets … and, yeah, a walking stick. It’s kind of a sentimental favourite. I bought it at Lourdes in France in 1975.
Are you getting the idea that I have a lot of shit with me? You’d be right, but that’s what comes from packing up and selling life as I knew it and deciding to keep whatever will get me through the next however many years I spend on the road.
Anyway, that’s the nuts and bolts of the truck and the trailer and perhaps an insight into why it takes time to set up camp and probably even longer to pack up a camp.
That’s why, once the road trip is on in earnest, it’ll be a case of find a place we like and stay there … until we no longer like it. Nobody likes packing.

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