TRIP REPORT FOR APRIL 23-25, 2005
Friday, April 22:
Time yet again to head on up to The Mountain, only this time for an extended stay, namely for three days and three nights. It's the ANZAC long weekend, and we've all been looking forward to getting away from the insanity of the rat race. Some of the group have taken time off for the Friday and the following Tuesday, so they wouldn't have to rush in order to make the round trip. Those that could, made it up early on the Friday. F and jh took the Pajero directly up to Muswellbrook to join G & c in the Prado on their own way up to the Mountain in the afternoon, because finding their way on their own was going to be too difficult, and F didn't feel like climbing up a steep, twisting track at one in the morning. The lack of dedication of some people... I dunno.
Barb & Barry in their Bundera were to meet us at Muswellbrook; we were due to roll into town at around 2230 hours, which is our usual time. From there, we were to catch up with new couple (as far as the 4WD BDSM Getaway! Weekends are concerned) MP and jwl, who were going to be waiting for us at Scone. MP had only recently bought the GQ Patrol and this was going to be its first trip out. It was only in the week before this 4WD BDSM Getaway! Weekend that I had installed a Motorola Syntrx Plus commercial transceiver and GME 4,5dB colinear antenna, plus a set of pencil and wide angle driving lights, a rear wheel-mounted wide beam, battery isolator, and all the associated wiring. We had finished the wiring on Wednesday, and literally had just finished the driving light alignment on Thursday night, so we were cutting it fine, but I wanted his truck to be fully kitted out for this trip. In the couple of weeks prior, the second battery and heavy-duty alternator were fitted to cope with all of this.
Gd & s were coming along in the Corolla again, and doing the same thing they did last time in that they'd leave the car at the shed and then transfer over to a 4WD for the journey up the Mountain itself.
I had been concerned that the weather in the days leading up to this weekend was going to turn to rain somewhere along the line, just to make things difficult, but it never happened. There was a light sprinkle on Thursday out east somewhere, and that was it. This was just as well, because for this trip we were to use the famous eastern track, and as difficult as it is to get down when it's wet (ask Barry about praying behind the steering wheel), it would be insane to attempt to climb up this track in the wet, even if it were possible. Which it ain't, unless perhaps you were to attempt it in a Pinzgauer. If, one day, I get rich and famous and can actually afford to buy a Pinzgauer, I'll give it a go.
Friday passed at a hectic pace - I had heaps to do in the office, plus get the truck ready and packed for the journey. MP had contacted me on the UHF when I was at the framing place, getting my exhibit piece framed for the Sydney Leather Pride ArtSpace Exhibition, which is coming up in May. He and jwl had picked up nat, a newbie, and were on their way up north. nat had read this web site and had decided she'd like to come along, and MP & jwl were kind enough to pick her up directly from the airport to save time and get away early.
By the time 1500 hours had rolled around, my Land Cruiser was nearly packed, and I went to pick up RopeJ. Everything was all done by 1600 hours, and all we had to do was wait for Gd & s to arrive in the Corolla so we could get going. They finally arrived at 1830 hours, and just to make life interesting, they had forgotten their bedding. Not a great problem, as t had some spare bedding available and we soon had them ready to go. We finally leave for the Mountain at 1900 hours, and hope that the traffic won't be too bad - after all, it was peak hour, a Friday evening, AND a long weekend. Oh joy.
I had planned to take a new route this trip: instead of going up the F3 into Beresfield, or turning off and going into Branxton via Freeman's Waterhole, I thought I'd try going directly to Singleton via Mangrove Mountain and Broke, turning off at the Calga Interchange. Whether it would make the journey any faster remained to be seen.
The trip up the Pacific Highway was hassle-free and clear of traffic, which was a great surprise, considering it was the beginning of a long weekend. We barrelled down the F3 and turned off at the Calga Interchange, and headed for Mangrove Mountain. The road from there all the way to Singleton was completely deserted. We wouldn't have come across more than a handful of cars. As night proper fell, fog enveloped several sections of the road and made it hard going - even with the lighting I had. Gd & s had dropped way back, as the Corolla didn't have anything but its standard lights. The road was, however, all sealed, with the exception of one 600 metre length of dirt road, which Gd & s tackled at a reduced speed. It's at times like this you forget the benefits of having a large 4WD on large tyres - we didn't have to slow down at all. It's a good thing we had given them the handheld UHF radio to keep in contact as we made our way.
"Are there any more dirt roads we have to drive over?"
Eventually, we arrive at Singleton. It's quite a contrast from the nowhere we've been travelling in for the past hour and a half. We continue straight on, now on the New England Highway, and finally arrive at the Mobil service station in Muswellbrook at 2215 hours, having contacted Barry by radio about five minutes beforehand. Would I take this route again? It depends. We made good time, but it probably didn't save all that much compared to the route of Branxton via Freeman's Waterhole. Although the distance was about 50km shorter, the average speed was slower because of all the twists and turns. If fuel consumption is important, then this road has an advantage to it. I'd like to see it in the daylight - it looked like it would be very scenic.
We meet up with Barry & Barb in their Bundera, refuel, and have something to eat. After dinner is over, I call MP on the mobile and let him know that we're about to be on our way. He's gone off up ahead and will meet us at the turnoff. We hit the highway, and within the hour, I contact him on the radio, and our convoy of three vehicles meet up with his by the side of the road. We spend about five minutes chatting, and then take the turnoff, cross over Page's River, and leave the roar of traffic zipping along the New England Highway far behind.
At around 0020 hours we take the turnoff for the western track and reach the shed on the first property, where the Corolla gets parked, unpacked, and left for the weekend. Gd & s transfer themselves and their gear into the Patrol, and we set off back onto the main road. We travel along the main road for a few kilometres more, and then turn off at the entrance to the eastern track. This can be fun to find, as there's nothing marking it. GPS sure comes in handy, especially when you haven't been here for a while and the overgrowth has made things look a little bit different.
We make our way up across the fields and towards the first of many gates which need to be opened, and closed again after we pass through. Coming to the first gate, we see that there is what appears to be a plastic bag attached to the gate post. Closer inspection reveals it to be full of lollies, proving that jh made good on her promise that candies would be awaiting us on the Mountain. As we were the lead vehicle, we felt it to be our duty to sample these lollies first. After all, somebody in the following vehicles might have an allergic reaction to Food Additive #222 or whatever, so we were merely being considerate. By the time we approached the third gate, there was another bag of lollies. This was duly passed to the tail end vehicle, as they were closing the gate. Barry & Barb had a sugar hit (as if she needs one anyway), whilst the Patrol had to go on the wagon as there weren't any more lolly bags on the remaining gates. Such are the fortunes of
We arrive at the homestead at 0130 hours, and it's time for us to set up three of the tents. Gd & s decide to leave the setting up of their tent until daylight and roll their sleeping gear onto the floor of the lounge room in front of the fireplace, which has a nice glow to it. F and jh are fast asleep, but c comes out shortly after we arrive and greets us, and G does likewise after about ten more minutes. The still of the night air is broken by the sounds of tent pegs being hammered into the ground, the generator humming away in the barn, my compressor blowing up air mattresses, and general activity around the trucks.
About an hour later we're all settled in, and spend some time chatting away in the lounge room, enjoying the fire. By 0330 hours, everybody is either in bed or about to be, so I go over to the barn and pull the spark plug lead on the generator. The engine sputters its last, the lights fade, and the night is filled with silence once again. The moon, almost full, lights up the entire area so brightly that you don't need a torch.
Saturday, April 23:
I awaken a little before 0900 hours and drift over to the house, half-awake, for breakfast. The others have been up for some time, and there is the smell of bacon and eggs in the air. We all have a hearty breakfast, after which it's time to settle into Mountain Mode. Later in the morning, c and nat get on the quad and go off for a bit of a ride.
Gd & s decide to start setting up their tent, seeing as how it was too late (early?) in the morning to do that when we first arrived. Some time was spent in selecting a spot that would afford some views of the valley, without running the risk of having the tent blow away if the wind decided to start blowing. I've been here many times now, and because this place is literally at the very top of the mountain, the winds blow right up from the gullies below and can reach Grade-A strength.
In the end, they choose a spot between the house and the barn, and we figured the worst that would happen if the tent did take off was that we'd hear a loud "splat!" as the tent hits the side of the barn and slides down the wall. Makes retrieving the bodies a lot easier.
By mid-morning, the "campground" in front of the house is all set - camping out with 4 tents relieved the pressure of cramming 14 people into 4 bedrooms, although that could have been perverse fun.
The rest of the morning was spent with people basically pottering about, and before too long, that other important time of the day (lunch of course) rolled around.
Being conscientious 4WD perverts, we duly availed ourselves of lunch, and the burping thereof.
After lunch is over, it's 1300 hours, and time to go off for a drive through the bush to do some exploring. Barry doesn't join us on this one, however, and instead heads over to the western boundary to cut up some firewood with his favourite play toy: the chainsaw. We load up people and cameras, take my Land Cruiser and MP's Patrol, and head off. Going down the track that leads to the eastern boundary, we encounter several muddy patches. Although it hasn't rained for several days, it's amazing just how much water is retained by this clay-based soil. Then again, it's probably not that surprising. This is precisely why this place is so much fun in the wet. NOT.
Being the kind, caring, considerate, sensitive, noble, altruistic, selfless (can you see where I'm going with this?) adventurer that I am, I decide to barrel through the mud puddles at top speed in order to empty them of as much water as possible and in doing so, assist my compatriots in keeping their vehicle as clean as practicable. At no time was I thinking of my own personal pleasure at any time.
Here's a little-known scientific fact: the Bernoulli Equation was originally derived by Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782) experimenting with mud and 4WDs. He found that the height of the mud was in proportion to the velocity and mass of the 4WD used, making suitable corrections for the viscosity of the mud. You can see the effect for yourself in the photo (left).
This led to advances in the measurement of phenomena in fluid dynamics (for example, the Pitot tube) and the rest is scientific history.
So, in the end, although it might look like you're actually having fun in the mud, it is, in actuality, valid scientific research. Oh yes, and it also keeps the vehicle behind you clean.
As the basis of scientific experimentation is repeatability, MP decides to perform the experiment as well, in order to verify my results. Duly satisfied, we move on down the track.
As we get to within a few kilometres of the eastern fence line, we come across a couple of the horses that roam the property. They're very tame and don't shy away when approached. MP tries to get some race tips direct from the horse's mouth, but they ain't talking. Which is just as well, really, because as far as I can recall, Mr. Ed never went away on a kink weekend. Well, at least, none that he ever told Wilbur about.
We do a photo shoot along the way, and this is the sort of place it would be nice to get back to at dawn one day. By around 1545 hours, we've gone about as far as we can without committing ourselves to some very serious and time-consuming driving through some tricky bits in the ravine ahead, and we don't have the time, so we turn back and head for the homestead.
We follow our own tracks through the grass, and end up back at the house by around 1630 hours. In the meantime, Barry has been going chainsaw mad at the western boundary, so I figured he must have amassed a fair amount of firewood by now.
I go over to find him at 1700 hours, and lo and behold it's like an axe murderer has taken to the forest, only with power tools. I help him load the firewood onto the trailer I've got hitched to my Land Cruiser, and we take the load to the woodstack near the house. After that job is done, I go for a solo drive and take a few photos. I wander off down to the dam and manage to capture the afternoon reflections.
Soon, it's 1800 hours and time to start getting the barn ready for the evening's activities. I drive back to the barn and, with Barry, begin to assemble the gear. Within the hour, the place is basically ready for use. Barry sets up the old 44-gallon drum for use as a space heater by filling the base with kindling and trying to get it to light, but it's a little slow in taking off, so I do my helpful best and throw some petrol into the drum whilst the kindling is still smoking.
In a scene that resembled looking straight into the exhaust port of an F/A-18 jet fighter as the afterburners kick in, a mighty wall of flame shot out of the top of the drum with a "whoosh". Problem was, Barry was still looking into the top of the drum when I decided to dump fuel into it.
I never saw him move so fast.
Oh well. At least he wasn't singed, and the fire was was well and truly alight by now.
A couple of people played in the barn, but most of our group were too tired to play after our big day out around the place, so instead, we chose to veg out and hang around the house. After all, we did have all weekend. There's no rush.
Dinner starts at 1945 hours and is followed by a very mellow evening. By the time 2200 hours rolls around, almost all of the group are in bed. The only exceptions are F, nat, jh, and myself. We spend the rest of the night looking at the fire, and talking the night away.
Sunday, April 24:
A very quiet start to the morning, with breakfast starting at 0900 hours, and most of us spending the morning just vegging out. The quad got a fair amount of a workout, with several kilometres of dirt track travel being heaped upon it by practically all and sundry. jh and myself start on some of the house wiring - there's a tower just outside with a solar panel and batteries, and we're going to try and provide it with another source of power apart from the generator in the barn. G is on the roof, removing the solar panel that Telstra had put there some time ago. After a while, we find that we can't pass the wiring through, so it's decided to fit an inverter, but that'll have to wait for another day.
1200 hours rolls around, and it's time to start playing with the pay loader to change a flat tyre. First problem is getting the tyre off the ground. A few approaches are tried, including trying to reverse the loader up a girder, but nothing works. I eventually get the HiLift jack off the back of the Land Cruiser and place it under the rear corner. Now the HiLift wasn't designed to jack up a load of this magnitude; it was designed for 2 to 3 tonnes, and this little green beastie easily weighed at least 6 tonnes, but what the hell.
Barry and I pull down on the handle and watch the rear end of the loader slowly rise up (get your minds out of the gutter, will you?) a few millimetres at a time. It's slow going, and the further we lift, the harder it becomes to pull the handle down and advance the HiLift by another click. After roughly half an hour, we've gotten some daylight between the tyre and the ground, just enough to get the tyre off. We decide to stop there, because try as we might, we can't pull the handle down by one single click more. The standard now has a definite curve in it, and the whole thing was starting to make unnerving creaking noises - the strain on the HiLift was so great that I was expecting to be ducking flying shrapnel at any second. It really felt like if we attempted to get one more click out of it, it'd explode.
Time for a log.
Barry fetches a log and cuts it up with the chain saw to the approximate length. He places it under the corner of the loader, and we drop the HiLift by one click, and the loader settles on the log. It's a little precarious, though, so we need another log. We measure the height of the loader from the ground and see it's 630mm. Barry goes back and cuts another log, estimating the length by eye. After he cuts it, he pulls out the tape measure and measures the log's length as... exactly 630mm!
Must have sold his soul to the devil or something. We jack the loader back up by one click of the HiLift (grunt... click... sproing!) and hurriedly place the second log next to the corner one. We then lower the HiLift (clacka... clacka... clacka... thud!), avoiding rupturing any vital organs in the process. Now all we have to do is get the wheel off. No problem - as you can see from the photo, it's a tiny lil' ol' thang.
I take off the wheel nuts with my electric impact wrench, and now we think getting the wheel off should be easy. It wasn't to be. After half an hour of banging, whacking, and doing all sorts of other things to it (get your minds out of the gutter, will you?), the wheel just doesn't bloody want to come off. I get the idea of using the HiLift with the bumper chain hook as a puller, and duly set it up in reverse, so that jacking the handle turns the HiLift into a hand winch. Putting the hook on the inside lip of the wheel and pressing the base of the jack against the body of the loader, with a log serving as a support for the free end of the standard, a few pulls on the handle saw the chain take up the slack, creak a little, and then pop the wheel off the hub all of a sudden, and the job was done.
Meanwhile, all of this was being watched by the so-called "support crew" who just sat around in their chairs, sipping on their red wine and munching on their cheese. They would have been great on the Titanic.
We roll the wheel into a box trailer attached to G's Prado for the trip back down the mountain, where it'll be repaired in Muswellbrook during the following week. Packing the gear away, I looked at the HiLift's standard, and found that the curve had gone completely - it was back to being a straight bar again. That was a relief, as I was sure I had written the HiLift off by placing it under such an immense load.
It was now 1400 hours, and we go off to the house for a well-earned lunch. Unlike the "support crew", we had earned our bread this day.
An hour later, almost everybody disappears into the woods for outdoor play. There are a few people playing in the barn, but the rest of the group is scattered out in the forest somewhere. Naughty perverts - what's the world coming to? I think the most amusing moment was when I was driving along a minor track that started from the dam and terminated in the tree fern valley below the house. As I'm going past a section of ravine, I spy MP in the near distance, being naughty. Since it was MP's first time up here, I'm sure he thought he was in a well-secluded spot, but from where I sit he might as well have put out a sign. I blow the air horns and wave at him as he just stands and stares at me. Poor bugger. Geez, MP, if you're going to do this outdoor play stuff, you can at least do it away from the main highway.
By around 1700 hours, everybody's more or less done playing and returned to the house. I go to see our favourite pyromaniac over at the woodpile on the western boundary, and sure enough, a raging bonfire is under way. I think Barry used to play with matches when he was growing up.
The time until dusk is spent with a few of us enjoying the bonfire. As the sun goes down, we return to the house, and soon dinner is on, followed by an evening of song and relaxation around the fireplace.
By 2130 hours, most of us have gone to bed. I go out and take a few late-night shots of the moon and clouds, and by midnight, the only sound you can hear is the light breeze blowing through the trees.
Monday, April 25:
It's a quiet day today - the time has passed too quickly and now we have to head back for the rat race again. Seems like we had only just gotten used to settling into the routine up here. The Pajero is the first to leave at 1100 hours, and the rest of the group heads off down the mountain at various times during the day.
I take the quad out during the late morning, and go exploring a little bit. It's a pretty handy little vehicle for getting around in, where a normal 4WD just won't fit. It's very tranquil out here today, and a little overcast. I find a few new wombat holes, including a high-rise that I hadn't seen before.
Lunch is simple fare, and we do the easiest thing possible, as you want to minimise the amount of cleaning up on your last day.
MP and jwl leave at 1430 hours, taking Gd and s with them so that they can get back to their car, left at the shed near the main road below. The garbage bins are emptied out and we take the load to the dump, away from the house.
By 1530 hours, we're out of here too, and make our way down the mountain. From the radio, we learn that MP's had a flat tyre, and so he's not as far down the track as we thought, but they still reach the bottom an hour before we do. The drive down is dry and safe, and we reach Muswellbrook by 1750 hours and pull in to our regular servo to refuel for the final leg home.
We arrive back home in Sydney at 2230 hours. It's been a wonderful long weekend away, and we can't wait to get back up here again.