TRIP REPORT FOR DECEMBER 6-7, 2003
Friday, December 5:
This weekend is totally rained out, and access to "The Mountain" is most unlikely. Why is it that every time we plan a weekend up there, the rain just buckets down? To test our resolve? Obviously the gods have never heard of the 4WD BDSM Getaway! Weekends motto, "Have chainsaw and toy bag, will travel." So the plan is, let's go to Muswellbrook, stay the night, and see what the weather's doing in the morning. If the rain eases off overnight, and the wind picks up, the tracks just might dry out enough to make them negotiable. If not, then we'll put Plan B into action. We're not sure exactly what Plan B would be, but hey, spontaneity is part of BDSM, isn't it?
Unfortunately, Barry and his RJ70 Bundera were down for the count for this particular trip. On Friday last week, he took his truck to the panel shop to get a quote done for some rust repairs to the base of his windscreen. The rain coming in through the holes during the Deua trip two weeks prior might have been a motivating factor here, but I'm just speculating. Anyway, they rang him on Monday and said it would take two weeks to do the work. This trip was only 5 days away. Oh well. We'll keep a barrel of chainsaw lube oil at the spare place on the breakfast bar for you, Barry, so you won't think we've forgotten about you.
On this trip, we meet a new face, Glenn, who's been trying to come up and do a trip with us in his Nissan Patrol since 4WD BDSM Getaway! Weekends started almost a year ago, but was always unable to do so (until now) due to work commitments. Our Canberra regulars are unable to come up tonight due to other obligations back home, but plan on joining us on Saturday, making their way up in the early hours of the morning. My only concern is advising them as to where we'll be, seeing as how our plans are going to be made on the fly.
We left Sydney at just after 1800 hours. The traffic flow up the Pacific Highway wasn't all that bad, and I thought we were going to get a quick run. That assumption proved to be wrong, however, as the traffic started to get very dense around the Mt White area. At least it kept on moving, and once we had passed north of the Kariong Interchange, we had breathing room again. We made our regular stop at Maitland for food and fuel, and continued on towards Muswellbrook.
About 30km south of Muswellbrook, things got "interesting" when a car came up from behind and flew past us, on the wrong side of a double yellow line, and kept on going for at least 2km, overtaking several cars on a blind curve. When I first saw him, I knew he was doing at least 160, which is a bit of a no-no for a P-plater, and thought that once he disappeared over the crest, idiot time was over. But 'twas not to be. It turns out he was catching up to another P-plate moron farther up the road. After a few minutes, we witnessed the sight of these two cars, both filled to capacity with the crème de la crème of the acne-picking intellectual elite of rural youth, barricading both lanes of traffic behind them, as they now travelled at a sedate 60km/h in a 100km/h zone, passing beer cans and other objects between the open windows of the adjacent vehicles (in one instance, the driver of one car actually got out of his seat and sat on his window sill, passing something to the passenger of the other car with his right hand. I presume he was steering with his left hand and pushing on the accelerator with his left foot. This genius should have joined the circus long ago.)
This idiocy continued for quite some time, with the cars alternately speeding up and then slowing down to form a mobile roadblock again. The patience of all the other drivers, our group included, was wearing thin. Other impatient drivers were starting to tailgate these twats, and we soon found all of us in a tight-knit formation behind these idiots. Glenn and I accelerated and caught up with them, and, in a scene reminiscent of Duel, were within a hair's width of just bumping these stupid bastards out of our way and into the bushes. I certainly got their attention when I hit all the lights, and boiled the paint off their boot lid with 800 Watts of very, very bright halogen lighting. The interior of their car lit up like a billboard. As we pulled up alongside the other car, insults were exchanged briefly until I let the roof-mounted air horns go, at which point you couldn't hear anything they were saying anyway. I'm sure it couldn't have been important. They got nervous once they spied one of us on the mobile phone, reporting them to Muswellbrook police, at which point they veered off down a side road towards Denman. Not that it would do them any good, I suspect, for after we arrived at the house and started unpacking for our overnight stay in Muswellbrook, I turned the truck's radio on and scanned the local police channel (Romeo). It turns out that the police had received more than a few reports about their behaviour, and the registrations and descriptions were being broadcast along with their last location (other side of Denman by now). I think they'll get a good talking to by their mummy and daddy when they find out that the kiddies have been doing naughty things with their cars, as well as losing their licenses for a while. There was one thing that puzzled me, though: during all the flashing of lights and blowing of horns, a car (not anything to do with the P-plater idiot brigade) had pulled up alongside me for a few seconds and checked me out. I didn't pay too much attention to this at the time, but now, after looking at the back of my truck, parked in the front yard of the house, it became obvious. Somebody is in DEEP TROUBLE over this. Actually, it's three somebodies. The first one for putting it there, the second one for walking past the rear of the truck TWICE since it was put on back at the service station in Maitland, and not even noticing that it was there, and the third somebody for knowing that it was there, but not mentioning anything about it. As Major Hochstetter used to say, "Klink! Heads vill roll! BAHHHH!!!"
Anyway, we get our sleeping gear together and chat awhile. Due to the rain not letting up completely, the plan is to make use of a secluded cabin that's been made available to us by a friend of our mountain retreat hosts. The rate for the weekend is more than reasonable when split nine ways, and the Canberra crew have already been supplied with directions as to how to get there. The cabin is not all that far from Muswellbrook, and the road is of a good grade and quite suitable for an ordinary road car, which is important, as the Canberrans have decided (for some mysterious reason) to bring their car along instead of their truck. Yes, heresy, I know.
We finally turn in just before 0100.
Saturday, December 6:
Dawn arrives, and it's still sprinkling. I'm up at 0600 sharp and have a look at the sky - it's going to be like this all weekend, for sure. Looks like the cabin is the way to go. I'm disappointed though, as I really like the remoteness, space, and solitude up at The Mountain, but you can't change the fact that the tracks will be impassible. I ring the Canberrans at 0800 hours; they're currently at Marulan and should be here at around 1300 hours or so. I tell them that if for whatever reason we don't see them up at the cabin by 1600 hours, somebody will come back into town and try and contact them either by mobile phone, or radio. We head off a little after 0900 hours, and soon turn off the main road at Aberdeen. The drive out to the cabin takes us through some astonishingly beautiful countryside - lush, rolling hills stretch to the horizon, and the road follows a river for practically the entire journey. In about half an hour, we arrive. It's disgustingly civilised, but I suppose one has to compromise and make do. There's a fireplace, three bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms, large kitchen, TV room, garage... the damned place even has town electricity and satellite television reception. Sigh. The sacrifices I have to make to get these weekend getaways happening. We settle in, and have lunch at 1300 hours.
After lunch, it's time to go out for a little bit of 4WD exploration. The cabin owner has told us of some tracks that take you over the Woolooma Range, and so we set off in search of some scenery. On the way, we stop at the cemetery at Upper Rouchel. I think that rural cemeteries are fascinating places, because they allow you a glimpse into a town's past. I find them a good photographic opportunity, and have several shots on this theme in one of my portfolios.
After about half an hour, we head back towards the trucks. I notice that a car has pulled up alongside mine, and I recognise it as belonging to our Canberra friends. After exchanging hellos, Glenn and I wait while they and the Prado head off back to the cabin to unload their gear. They'll then come back in the Prado, and we'll all go 4WDing.
We head off towards the hills and drive along a stunningly beautiful track. It's lush everywhere; the track and the river (Rouchel Brook) snake alongside each other and weave their way through the folds in the land. We stop at Narrow Passage and take a few photos, and have a bit of a look around. This area would make for a very nice camp site, traffic (if any) being the only downside.
After following this track for several kilometres, we then turned north for Stony Point and Caneens Gap, in the Woolooma Range. The idea was to travel the Caneens Gap Trail and head for Belltrees, via Woolooma. We managed to get to Stony Point, but that's as far as we got. The incline got progressively steeper, and it finally reached a point where gravity took over, and I started to slide back down the hill. The track was wet clay, just like the tracks up at The Mountain, and was impassible. Looks like we'll have to explore this route another time. So, time to reverse it down and turn around. And therein lay a small problem. The ground was off-camber where the truck was parked, and every attempt at going in reverse resulted in the nose sliding sideways, towards the drop. What was annoying about this was that the drop was rather large, and straight down. Ruddy inconvenient. However, with a bit of patience and wheel twirling, I managed to get the truck going backwards without going sideways at the same time, and eventually got down to a small area where I could do a 53-point turn. We eventually retraced our path and got back to the cabin at around 1800 hours. Time to relax, chat, have some dinner, and later, play.
Whilst dinner was being prepared, the music gear was set up for the night's cultural entertainment. I ventured outside and had a quick foray down some nearby dirt tracks (by the way, did I mention that God, I LOVE FOUR-WHEEL DRIVING??) but they weren't very long and I returned within the hour, though not before washing some mud off the truck with yet another water crossing. In terms of the sheer number of water crossings per kilometre of track, this area sure got its fair share. The BBQ was set up, and soon, dinner was ready. I have to admit that those vodka chocolate mudslides sure taste wonderful when you have the moon high above the trees, and the clouds blowing past like in those old Dracula movies. How this relates to dinner, I don't know, but I just thought I'd throw that in. Dinner concluded a little after 2200, and by 2230 hours, it was time to play. The lounge room served as the substitute dungeon, and although it had nowhere near the amount of room that the barn up on the mountain has, it wasn't too bad, once we had moved some of the furniture out of the way. All was quiet again at around 0100, with nothing but the sound of the trees thrashing against the side of the house (See? Even the trees are kinky up here) to break the silence.
Sunday, December 7:
It must have been an aberration. The sun actually APPEARED briefly this morning. Our Canberra crew decided to make the most of this opportunity and prepared to do some hill climbing. Donning their jogging shoes and taking a handheld, off they went, towards the hills at the rear of the property. Within minutes, they were lost from view. This may have meant any of several things:
However, they were spotted about twenty minutes later, half way up along the fence line. We asked them how they were going. The response over the radio was, "it's... *puff*.... steep going... *gasp*... up here.... *pant*... " from which I surmised that they were probably exerting themselves a little bit. We let them get on with their journey to the top of the hill, and to assist them (because I am such a caring, helpful guy), I played an MP3 of the Flanagan & Allen song, "Run rabbit run" over the radio. For some odd reason, I suddenly had a yearning to be in Victoria.
Some forty minutes after setting off, our intrepid climbers did indeed make it to the top of the hill. They were hard to spot from the rear of the house at first, but yes, there they were. Now all they had to do was make it back. We told them they had five minutes and then breakfast would be ready for them. They complained that it had taken them forty minutes to get to the top. I responded by telling them that hey, we can be generous and sympathetic, and understood that it had taken them forty minutes to get up there, so we'll give them ten minutes to get back down. It is down hill, after all. What more do you want?
The rest of the morning was spent lazing around, chatting, listening to some music, and eventually getting ready to go. The PT Cruiser was packed and our Canberran Climbers® set off a little bit after mid-day. It's a long drive back for them, but I'm glad they managed to make it up for this weekend. Glenn finished packing the Patrol and soon left too, at 1230 hours. It's also a long drive back for him. The Prado crew stayed on for the afternoon, seeing as how they were going to visit friends later today, and so we finally left, the last vehicle, at around 1400 hours.
It's been a disgustingly civilised weekend, and this cabin will become a permanent backup plan option for those weekends where we just can't make it up to the regular place because of the tracks being washed out.
PS: After we left Muswellbrook, we decided to make a minor detour on the way home, and headed over to Stockton Beach for a few hours of fun. Continuing straight ahead at Maitland, we made our way down to our regular entry track of Lavis Lane. We spent the next few hours driving up dunes, driving down dunes, driving over dunes... can you see a pattern forming here? There was also a fair bit of shoveling, a result of tackling some of the more "you gottta be kidding" sections. All part of the good, clean, wholesome lifestyle that is 4WDing. We eventually left just after 1900 hours and were back in Sydney by around 2200. I'll hose out the sand I brought back from under the chassis and sell it off to the local landscape supplier.