Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sunday, October 9th

Sunday, October 9th.  Left Uluru.  The original plan was to tour Kings Canyon National Park taking the “unsealed” (dirt track) to Alice Springs.  A local advised against this due to the bush fires that have burned through that area.  And the guide book said only a heavy duty 4 wheel drive should attempt the unsealed road and to expect heavy corrugation.  After our experience in the Flinder’s Range with the dirt track, we decided to keep to the “sealed” (paved) roads.  Our four wheel drive has low clearance and seems to tend toward 4 wheel drive.  It was just as well since we needed to get some 2000 more kilometers behind us if we are to be in Darwin on Tuesday morning.

Traveling the Stewart Highway is pretty much a straight shot with a slight bend every 10 to 20 kilometers to keep the drivers attention.  It was completed just in 1987.  They tell the story about the road superintendent Art Baker who was known for his bushman skills.  He would get a few kilometers ahead of the road crew, light a bonfire of old tires, giving the bulldozer operator something to aim for making the rough cut and the grader would follow to “tidy up a bit”.  Each year there are accidents and deaths from foreign drivers forgetting which side of the road they’re supposed to inhabit.  The long empty stretches of the road lend to lapses…so an occasional sign is the answer?

 The Stuart Highway is also infamous for the road trains. These are the triple trailers we have on the interstate except that each of their trailers are twice the length of one of ours.  Whether they are passing you coming from ahead or behind, they generate a well felt air push.

This year we came across the old style road train.  Much slower, less laden and it has no problem with wet roads.

One of our duties as we head north on the race route is to do a bit of reconnaissance.  Things like weather, road conditions and possible camps.  Our first few days had such heavy dark cloud cover it could make solar collection interesting.  We also had a lot of steady rain something we had none of last race. 

Now further up north we are running into a lot of smoke from all the fires.  Since before Alice Springs both sides of the highway have been or are actively burning.  Sometimes the burns go on for many kilometers without a break…finding a camp site could prove tough.  We are required to stop each night promptly at 5 PM give or take only 5 minutes. 
Road conditions change drastically, in places they are what we expect asphalt to be, then in the blink of an eye, they become extremely rough, having been covered with “chip seal” essentially tar and three quarter minus rock.  The solar car has thin tires meant to reduce friction losses, they don’t take kindly to rough and sharp pavement.  Flat tires are an issue of safety as well as time lost. 

Between the clouds, rain, smoke and burning the race could have some real challenges.

The rental car we have is proving to have a short range, something of a problem when fuel stops are infrequent.  Seems the gauge is often close to “E”.  We had hoped to make it to a fuel stop at Tennant Creek but were a few liters short so we pulled into Wycliffe Well.
They claim that UFO’s fly over on a regular basis.  I can see why they don’t stop since the fuel was $7.50 a gallon.  We put just enough in to get us to Tennant Creek where we found the cheapest gas since Adelaide at $6.00 a gallon.

Stopped by the Devil’s Marbles just at sunset. 
This was one of our favorite stops last trip.  Actually it was our only “tourist” type stop on the Stuart Highway as we raced south. 
Like before we only had time for a short exploratory visit.  It was fun to revisit my post from two years ago.

All along the road we saw what looked like apples and watermelons.  We finally stopped to have a closer look.

The desert was a bloom and producing wildly. 

We managed to fly along at 140 KPH throughout the day but once night hit, we slowed to 100 KPH.  The kangaroos have an odd inclination to run alongside a car and without warning dart in front of the vehicle.  There are also free ranging cows, dingoes and assorted large birds all of which can cause fatal accidents if hit.  And the little critters that won’t hurt us, don’t appreciate our flattening them and we don’t like it much either.

We counted 1300 kilometers good enough for the days run, ending up in Dunmarra a small road house.  These are found all along the highway as “all in one” stops with the all important fuel, food, coffee, showers, camping and etc.

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