TRIP REPORT FOR NOVEMBER 6-7, 2004
Friday, November 5:
Why is it that every time we plan on going up to "The Mountain", the Gods let loose with torrents of rain? In the week leading up to this 4WD BDSM Getaway! Weekend, it had been raining here in Sydney more or less non-stop. A mid-week phone call to G, the owner of the property, led to doubts about the tracks being passable. Even if the rain had stopped by Thursday, it was very unlikely that they would dry out in time for Friday night. We agreed to get in touch by phone again on Friday afternoon and see what the weather was doing up there on the north-west slopes, but I was getting the feeling that I would have to formulate a "Plan B" and organise an alternative location.
Friday morning arrived, and the rain was still belting down in Sydney. Still, I contacted G mid-afternoon to see if the weather was any different up there. Although yes, it had stopped raining, no, the tracks were not passable. He was unable to get up there himself, so The Mountain was out. I had an alternative however: one of the places I've done a lot of 4WDing in was Stockton Beach, around 30km north of Newcastle. I'd toyed with the idea of holding a 4WD BDSM Getaway! Weekend somewhere around the back of the dunes for some time, so I figured this might be a good spot. So Stockton it was. I told G that we were heading off to Stockton, and he and his sub C were more than welcome to come down - for them, it was less than a 2 hour drive.
He agreed, and said that he and C would come along on the Saturday. He'd call me and I'd drive down along the beach and guide him to the camp site.
I informed Barry, one of our regulars, of the change in plan, and that a tent would be mandatory on this trip, as we'd be camping OUT. I could almost hear him beaming on the other end of the phone. His final comment was, "Whatever the weather, I'm not turning back to Sydney!" I like Barry - his attitude is 'BRING IT ON!" when you mention driving through rain, slush, and mud. A true pervert.
The weather back home in Sydney had settled down by late afternoon. The rain had stopped, there was only a light wind, and we even had some clear skies with the sunlight breaking through. It looked like the weekend might be fine after all.
All was not smooth sailing, though. A call from Gd & S, who were coming up from down south to hitch a ride with us, revealed a certain, errr... trepidation on the part of Gd, who had been looking at the government meteorological web site and was concerned about reports of hail storms, gale force winds, and other trivial climatic phenomena that we hard-core 4WD perverts tend to dismiss with a wave of the flogger as being inconsequential. The phone conversation went something like this:
"Have you seen the weather radar maps?"
After much to-ing and fro-ing in the conversation, Gd finally agreed to come up, and his parting comment to a third party was, "He's a bossy bugger, isn't he?"
O ye of little faith.
We soon had the 'Cruiser all loaded up and left in the late afternoon. We were meeting the Bundera at our usual stopover of Beresfield, just short of Maitland. The run up the Pacific Highway through the northern suburbs was quite pleasant, with moderate traffic which didn't get bogged down anywhere. The cruise along the F3 was under glorious, sunny skies, and it indeed looked like the weather was going to be ideal for the weekend ahead.
At 2002 hours, we pulled into the servo at Beresfield to catch up with B&B in the Bundera. They had already eaten, so they waited whilst we availed ourselves of Hungry Whacks. A little under an hour later, we made our way to the Metro servo at Lavis Lane for our refueling stop. The Bundera also had to purchase a beach permit. It turns out that B had never been sand driving before, and this was going to be his introduction to it. Night time, over soft, powdery dunes. I was sure he'd be alright though, as he'd done a lot of driving in the mud. The trick is to think of soft sand as clean mud, but with a yellowish colour instead.
Before too long, we were stopped along the track at Lavis Lane, airing down to get ready for the soft beach sand. Deflating is easy with the Staun deflators I carry in the truck - you just screw one of these little brass valves onto each tyre valve stem, and wait. When the hissing stops, you remove them, replace the valve caps, and drive on. Experience had taught me to use very low pressures at Stockton, and when my tyres had reached the preset 0,8 bar, we applied the Stauns to the Bundera and aired that down to the same pressure. We were shortly cruising along the beach, heading north, seeking out a suitable camp site.
We found an ideal location about half an hour later. It wasn't back in the dune area, but directly on the beach itself, with a view to the waves crashing on the sand. We would have been around 20 to 30 metres away from the water, and the flat area we set up camp on was far enough away from the "freeway" (the beach) so that passing traffic didn't intrude on our privacy. We got ourselves organised and by 2300 hours, the camp was set up, and everything battened down, JUST in case that nasty hail storm decided to come along. You never know.
Saturday, November 6:
The sunrise was GLORIOUS. At least that's what I thought when I unzipped the tent door at 0600 for a brief peek, before going back to sleep. I wasn't getting out of bed until it was damned well necessary. I "officially" woke up a few hours later, and emerged to the sound of breakfast. Some of the group were under the tarp, chatting, whilst Gd was scanning the skies for signs of hail.
One thing that did annoy me, though, was that during my getting the 9kg gas bottle refilled on Friday, the attendant had forgotten to refit the thread reducer that converted the (large) thread on the bottle to the smaller Coleman size, which was used by the hose connector from the cooker. I hadn't noticed this when I put the bottle back in the car, or when I packed it into the truck. It wasn't a problem for this morning's cooking, as I also had the 2kg bottle used for running the gas light at night. Fortunately, part of the lighting kit is an extension pole which has a T adapter on the bottom of it, with the smaller thread size. All I had to do was bring the gas light over and connect the cooker's hose to the T fitting, and we were in business.
I wasn't satisfied with this, however, as I didn't want to risk emptying out the 2kg bottle with the weekend's cooking demands, and consequently not be able to run the gas light for the night. Since B and I were scheduled to do a wood run later this morning, I figured that I just might go back to the servo at Lavis Lane and pick up a gas fitting from there, so we could use the 9kg bottle.
At around midday, some of us (myself and Gd in my truck, B and J in the Bundera) set off on a wood run. Nothing makes a pyromaniac happier than a good, raging bon... errr... campfire at night, and there was plenty of dead wood back on the Lavis Lane track. When we arrived at the track, I told B that I was off to the servo to see if I could get a gas fitting. B was happy to find a suitable chainsawing spot and start causing havoc while I was off looking for plumbing, and I said I'd radio him when I got back and find him. Gd was even happier to stay with B and do the wood collecting thing, and not come with me in my truck, so J came along with me instead, and we left B and Gd in lumberjack mode. I think I might have freaked Gd out just a tad by doing some gentle dune driving on the way down to the track this morning. If not, I'll really have to try harder later on.
We arrived at the service station, but alas, they didn't stock anything at all in terms of gas fittings. They did tell me, though, that the BP on the road towards Medowie had that sort of thing, so we aired up and off we went up the road a few kilometres to try our luck. No luck there, either, but they said that the hardware store just one kilometre farther had what we wanted. We found the hardware store easily enough, and yes they did indeed have what I was after. A short while later, we arrived back at the Metro servo at Lavis Lane again, where we got some snacks, and I called G&C to see how they were faring on their drive down. They were halfway between Singleton and Maitland, and would be at Stockton after they had found a nearby motel to stay at (city slickers in the country - great). I told G to call me when he was coming up the beach, as I was going back in a few minutes to find B and Gd. After all, we couldn't leave them alone out there in the bush for too long. What if the hail storm hit?
We aired down again and headed back down the Lavis Lane track. Sure enough, as soon as we got to the clearing, B popped out, overalls on, chainsaw in hand, and grinning maniacally. I was beginning to wonder if Gd wasn't safer battling the hail storm and the gale force winds. They were practically done cutting up the firewood, so J and I helped them load the remainder of it into my truck, and we headed back to camp.
The afternoon was laid back. People chatted under the tarp, went for walks along the beach, did naughty things on the dunes (well that's an assumption because B&B headed due west towards the dunes, and I didn't see them for quite a long time after that, so my pure and innocent mind gave them the benefit of the doubt). G&C hadn't arrived yet, and I was beginning to wonder if G hadn't done what he had done on the 4WD BDSM Getaway! Weekend on Moreton Island back in January this year (left the Pray'n'Go (Prado) in 2WD mode on road tyre pressures), gotten bogged, caught by the tide, and drifted out to sea. Certainly, if that had happened, he would have gotten here FASTER.B and I had dug a fire pit in the sand, a safe distance away from the tarp. By 1700 hours though, I had this sudden urge to add to the already generous wood supply (note in PDA: I am NOT a pyromaniac, I am NOT a pyromaniac, I am NOT a pyromaniac... ) and I remembered this rather large tree trunk that I had seen washed up on the beach, about six kilometres south of camp. So S and I head south to do a wood run. Along the way, we do the inevitable bit of dune climbing, and stumble across a nice one that we were sure her Master, Gd, would surely appreciate. It wasn't particularly high, only around 10 to 12 metres or so, but it ramped straight down at an angle of about 45º. Thus I waypoint this dune, dubbing it "Gd's Trouser Tightener", and we make a note to bring him back here tomorrow to experience it. We continue heading south, and when we hit the beach, spot B&B, sitting on a dune, looking at the ocean. I don't know if they were naughty or not - maybe it was the fresh air that made them smile.
We eventually get to the tree on the beach, and I get out the chainsaw and cut off a few sections and load them into the truck. We head north of camp and do a little bit more sand exploring, when the mobile rings. It's G&C, and they're heading up the beach. We immediately hit the beach and head back south to intercept them. After a couple of kilometres, we spot them and meet up, then guide them back to camp. The whole area was by now immersed in a deep reddish glow. I decided to try a little bit of fishing and see what was out there. I had brought along the overhead gear and had bought some squid at the Lavis Lane servo before heading back this afternoon.
Although it was too early (the sun hadn't set yet) I decided to give it a try anyway. I could get a cast out to around 80 metres, which was where the gutter was, but the current was incredibly strong, and within a few minutes, my line had been towed sideways by several hundred metres - this was not good. I wasn't getting any bites, either, so after 45 minutes or so, headed back to camp, figuring that I'd try my luck later in the evening, or perhaps even at dawn tomorrow.
As it turned out, I didn't do any fishing at all after that (never got around to it) so I'll have to make an effort and do a dedicated fishing trip back up here in the near future.
Stockton is a 4WD mecca for the east coast; come here on any sunny weekend and you'll find many 4WDs running around. It's never really crowded, though, and it's easy enough to spend all day somewhere without ever having anyone intrude on your peace and quiet - the place is that big. As the sun sets though, it becomes eerily deserted, and takes on a truly alien feel. The only signs of humans you will see are the odd tent set up on the beachfront (never seen more than half a dozen anyway), and the occasional fisherman, tending his lines. When night falls, even the fishermen disappear, and you can truly feel like you're on your own at times.
The music finally stopped at midnight. It was time for G&C to head for their motel, but they'd be back up in the morning. After they packed their gear away, I headed off, to guide them out. Stockton Beach has two approaches: the northern track, and the southern one. The northern track is well signposted and marked, and you can find your way in and out at any time, day or night, with great ease. This is not the case with the southern approach via Lavis Lane. It can be treacherous. If you head to the southern end, and then head inland to where you think the lane might be, it's all too easy to suddenly reach the end of the dunes, where they meet the scrub. From there it can be a vertical, 40 metre drop effectively off the edge of a sandy cliff. I remember my first night foray to the southern end of the beach, a couple of years ago. On my way in during the day time, I was naïve enough to only mark the end point of the Lavis Lane track where it met the sand: I didn't actually record the (GPS) track itself from there to the beach. On the way out, at night, all I had was this waypoint. I headed south along the beach, then inland and made my way for the waypoint. You wouldn't believe how hard it was. Every time we were within a couple of hundred metres of the waypoint, there was a cliff edge right in front of us. Taking what looked to be promising alternative routes resulted in either another cliff edge, or impenetrable scrub. It took us over an hour to find a way out.
I knew that G&C wouldn't have any way of getting off the beach via the southern exit unless I guided them out. By the time we got to the edge of the Lavis Lane track, a real pea soup of a fog had settled in. You could barely see 10 metres ahead. By the time we reached the Lavis Lane servo, you literally couldn't see it until you were almost upon it. We stayed and chatted a while, aired up the tyres on the Prado, and I saw them off, before heading in to the store and getting a drink and something to munch on. By the time I was heading back down the road again towards the beach, the fog had become unbelievably thick. I killed all the forward lighting and switched over to the special, low-mounted fog lights. Past the bull bar, I could see virtually nothing. I was lucky to be doing 10 km/h. This was going to be fun.
The fog cleared a little once I was in the bush part of the track, and I thought that the drive up the beach back to camp was going to be easy. Wrong. As soon as I emerged onto the sand, the pea souper was back, and worse than ever. Heading purely by GPS, I followed the track I had stored, and made it to the water. I followed the water's edge all the way up, using it as a guide to the shape and direction of the beach, because the GPS track I had made on the way down a little while ago was now under water. Visibility was absolutely zero. I finally made it back to camp at 0230 hours - and if it wasn't for the GPS, I wouldn't have found it at all. I had left the gas light burning, which was quite bright. The fluorescent light in my tent was on, and although it wasn't blazingly bright, it did create a very large, diffuse light source. Also, the fire was still going, and as you can see from the photo, it wasn't exactly a tiny fire. And yet, with all that, I couldn't see the camp at all, until I was literally 5 metres away from the waypoint on the GPS. Now THAT's what I call a fog.
Everybody was asleep by the time I got back, so I pulled up a chair, and went nuts with the fire. I put on everything we had stockpiled and built up a rather nice blaze (note in PDA: I am NOT a pyromaniac, I am NOT a pyromaniac, I am NOT a pyromaniac... ), drove the truck up between the fire and the tarp area, and stripped off to have a shower. I plugged the pump into one of the power points on the floor in between the front seats and enjoyed a nice warm shower under the stars, standing next to a roaring fire. Gee, do we really have to go back to Sydney after the weekend is over?
After that, I sat down, had a drink, and watched the fire for awhile. A short while later, a huge crescent moon started to rise above the sand hills on the horizon. Combined with the fog, it was mesmerising. Then, at around 0300 hours, I noticed that the sky seemed to be lighting up. It was like fireworks being let off in the far distance. I had a look around, and saw, north-east of the camp, a spectacular light show, perhaps a hundred kilometres out to sea: a lightning storm. Massive lightning bolts were strafing the sky. I had to get a shot of this.The thought fleetingly crossed my mind to run, screaming, into the second room of my tent, where Gd was sleeping, drag him outside towards the beach, point to the lightning in the distance and scream hysterically that the hail storm was coming, all the truck batteries are flat, and we're going to die. But I wasn't that mean. Was I? Perhaps I was, but I think the determining factor at this moment in time was that if I delayed, I'd miss the shot. I went into my tent and got out the camera bag and the tripod. Making my way down by about 15 metres towards the beach, I set up the Nikon and waited to see where the most activity was, to compose a shot. I composed, and started a time exposure. You wouldn't believe it, but about one minute into the exposure, that shot was ruined by traffic. Yes, even at this time of the morning, even in a fog, there is the odd vehicle travelling along the beach. The headlights lit up the fog like a giant diffuser, effectively killing my shot. I cancelled the exposure and decided to wait until they had gone past, and then try again. I waited for what seemed ages. Finally, two vehicles went past, in convoy. They stared at me, probably wondering what the hell was I doing, standing in the middle of a fog-bound, deserted beach at three in the morning, with a camera? Hell, fellas, I'm NORMAL, OK?
Anyway, I got a couple of frames after the fog had lifted sufficiently so that I could get some definition. By 0340 hours, the fog had lifted completely, as if it had never shrouded the beach in the first place. Amazing.
The sky was full of stars.
("Open the dungeon room door please, HAL."
The others, asleep in their tents, had no idea what they missed.
I sat beside the fire again and watched it for a while, before finally turning in a little after 0400. It had been a very special night, between myself and Mother Nature.
Sunday, November 7:
I was awakened at 0530 hours by the loud sound of something in the tent flapping. In fact, it was the tent flapping. Or part of it, anyway. Disgruntled, I chose to ignore it and tried to get back to sleep, which I think I managed to do, for all of 5 minutes. Bad move. I was awakened again by the door of the tent. Or should I say, by the door and the wall it was in, on my face. Pushing it off my face, I managed to unzip it a little way and saw that the ocean winds had arrived. Not overly strong, not gale force, but enough to cause problems. I leapt out and secured the tent fly on both ends of the tent, then crawled back into bed. I think I managed to get another 10 minutes sleep before the roof smacked me on the head. The winds had picked up. A lot. A moment later, one of the poles forming the wall support snapped in half, bringing the whole face down onto the mattress. T and I spent the next few minutes frantically keeping the sharp edge of the snapped pole from tearing the fabric of the tent. This was looking like it was going to be an... errrr... interesting morning.
Ever seen the Woody Allen movie "Sleeper" made in 1973 where he's wresting with this out-of-control doughy mess in the kitchen while he's pretending to be a house robot? Well, that was me trying to unzip the door of the tent so I could get out. I finally made it, and headed for the truck. I brought the truck around and parked it in front of the tent in an effort to provide a windbreak from the beach, but it was no good. All I could do was tie the guy rope from the centre front of the tent to the bull bar, and hope it wouldn't do any more damage. As luck would have it, it held.
Of course, with all of this activity in the early morning sunlight, there were bound to be consequences. And thus it was that nature called. Suddenly. Desperately undoing the shovel from the rear wheel carrier of the truck, I bounded across the sand dunes, carrying the shovel in my left hand, a roll of toilet paper in my right, my form bathed in the deep yellow light of the rising sun. When I knew I wasn't going to make it more than about 50 metres, I stopped and dug the fastest I've ever dug in my life. It's always a good idea to stand upwind in situations like this, for obvious reasons. Problem was, when I was finished, I looked down at the hole to start back-shoveling, and noticed that there was no paper in it. What the? Then I looked towards the dunes, and saw the majestic form of used toilet paper spiraling ever-so-elegantly in the 30 km/h plus winds, embarking on a journey of mystery.
I awoke at around 1130 hours. It was a fine, sunny, day, and the winds had totally abated. I could hear C's voice in the background, so I knew that they had come back up the beach, as they had said they would. Breakfast was delicious pancakes, which went down quite well.
G demonstrated his latest nipple toys on C: an interesting form of nipple stretcher that I had not seen before. It's basically two flat concentric rings, with four machine screws that pass through the annulus of the top ring, and rest on the annulus of the bottom ring. The idea is that you place the bottom ring over the nipple, then the top one, then a bar through the piercing, and then turn the machine screws so that the two rings increase in separation, thus stretching the nipple. I must admit that I found the industrial design quite interesting and am presently trying to figure out if it's possible to add stepper motors to it, and maybe also add some thermal overload protection... hmmmmmmm.
At around 1300 hours, some of us decided to do some dune driving, while the others chilled out and relaxed in camp, or went for a wander on the beach. Gd had the front passenger seat, and S and B (a newbie) had the rear. G, C, and J followed for a while in the Prado, but radioed back after a while that they were returning to camp. So off we went on our own. Up dunes, down dunes, up more dunes, that sort of thing. We went to the waypoint from yesterday, "Gd's Trouser Tightener", and went over that. Problem is, the winds had made it even steeper, so it was jolly good value going over it now. Gd obviously agreed, although I have to admit that it was sometimes difficult to make out exactly what he was saying through those clenched teeth.
I then headed over for some reasonably high dune faces that I had waypointed from my previous visits here, because neither of the girls in the back had ever been sand tobogganing before. I decided to take them to a tiny slope first, as they'd need to get accustomed to riding a boogie board without water. Although nervous at first ("Come on, it's only a TINY dune!") I must say they adapted very quickly and went onto slightly steeper stuff in no time.
I think I've created a monster. S wants a boogie board now, and B said she can get used to doing this. Later in the hour, I had my go on one of my old favourites. It's about 40 metres or so high, and has a slope of about 45º. You hit about 50 km/h on the way down. Problem is afterwards, you're shaking sand out of crevices you never knew you had.
We headed back to camp for lunch and to get ready to pack up. Lunch was Stagg Chili, introduced to us by B on his first trip to Deua with us. Despite our best efforts, we failed to rival the baked beans scene from Blazing Saddles, but at least we gave it our best shot. G&C left shortly afterwards, and after some chill time, the task of packing up was tackled. We were ready to go in a little bit over an hour, which wasn't too bad. We left the beach via the northern exit, so that the others in the group could see the sights (dunes, dunes, and more dunes) of this place and get an appreciation of how large it is.
I think everyone had a good time, including certain people who weren't exactly "camping" types. You know you've passed The Rite Of Initiation when someone asks you "Have you done a sand poo yet?" and you can proudly hold your head up, look them straight in the eye, and answer... "yes!" This seemed to be a common topic of conversation on the Sunday afternoon in camp. I think this trip has changed some people in a small way.
They'll be back. They always come back... MUAHhAHhAHahhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
PS: We didn't find any hail stones on the beach this time, but we'll keep on trying.