Andy, Cam and Max – Defender TDi
Paul, Emma and Logan – County V8
Herve – Defender TD5
Chris – Rangie V8
Slunnie and Matt – Disco TD5
Well I know I was last to arrive, and hence score the trip report, though I would like to just like to set the record straight now, and state that I was only 16hrs late!
Meeting at the Oberon turn off, just barely on time, the Tuff Trip crew reunited once more. This month there were the regular stalwarts such as Max, Andy, Chris and myself. It was great to also see a lost lamb return, as Herve fronted with a big grin, a bomb load of enthusiasm and a white Defender.
The night before was an informal camping session on Herve’s nearby property, something that has quickly become a feature of tuff trips. The fire, the meals, the drinks, the camaraderie and swags next to the fire are all part of what makes it such an enjoyable club event. Those that are resilient enough to present for a journey, sometimes epic, led by Mad Max are certainly resilient enough to camp out. On the other hand Oberon is really cold and Herve did have a comfy house, it was snowing outside, it was warm inside and there were no witnesses to say there was no camping! The camping moved indoors for this TT, but that’s just between you and me!!!
After meeting and greeting at 9am, we aired down in preparation for what could be an easy day or a day from hell. You never really know on these things. 12 Simexs, 4 BFG AT’s and Chris’s Olympic Military spec tyres all flattened for maximum traction, the surface for the day was going to be hard clay, or greasy clay – of course depending on the moisture content at the time.
We headed off down the road and into the bush to follow the trails in. How Max knows where to go is a mystery to me, though he’s pretty decent at it. Meandering through the Pine plantations and then into the scrub the call then came over the radio that we were about to start descending. The ruts were deep enough to keep you on track but traction was an uncertain. I took comfort in knowing that Andy in front had good traction, though I wasn’t too sure that the A/T’s behind me had the same. I offered my standard advance warnings, apologies and disclaimers to my passenger Matt, and suggested that if I suddenly accelerate hard, its not that I’ve lost traction, it because we’re about to be hit from behind! He laughed and got out. The reality is that the A/T’s were never to be a problem on the day.
This decent had three levels to it, the first had just been done, but for the next two levels there was a myriad of lines that could be taken. There were lines that were sensible, and there were lines from hell, well that’s if the definition of hell is an erosion rut big enough to swallow a Defender! Over the radio comes another call. Come down the hill, but you may not want to follow the car in front.
Now Andy had descended through the maze, and I followed. Do I follow Andy’s line? Well he did make it! The calls came, just stick it in the rut, you’ll be fine, you’ve got rock sliders! Yeah, well they won’t protect the roof I laughed. Needless to say, I opened my wings and flapped my way down the chicken track, followed by Chris.
Well Herve is experienced, and has manliness made from steel! Stainless steel that is! It’ll be right as he descends heading straight for the rut! The theory is that if you can wedge it into the rut, she’ll be apples. On the other hand if the wedging doesn’t go to plan then it’s a great character building experience ….. and also a great reason to install seat covers…… canvass ones! Now don’t get me wrong here, Herve was doing a sterling job, but at the top we notice something is not quite right. We weren’t sure what it was, but the bent track rod (linking the two front wheels) hanging down with a big bend in the middle was increasing our anxiety. How it bent, we’ve no idea. It wasn’t impacted at the time, I think lady luck had just slipped on her stilettos at that moment and Herve was on his way down the rut! Well it slipped left, it slipped right and the pigeon toed Defender had wheels pointing in every direction until finally into the rut she went. How in the heck a Defender can lift a rear wheel that high I’ll never know.
Well let’s just say it was time for an early lunch.
The shovels came out and dirt was scratched, the axe came out and the dirt was cleared, the boulders from further up the rut were shifted into position behind the Defender to form a filling ramp out of the rut, a snatch strap was used to bring that cocked wheel back down onto terra firma, and Paul winched Herve rearwards up and out of the rut. With the winch securing the vehicle the track rod was removed, straightened, reinforced with Andy’s Tirfir handle and reinstalled. I marvelled at the action and wondered if so much experience was a good or bad thing. Again, we were ready to rock (but not roll!). With the “discretion being the better part of valour” saying in mind, we all decided to run the chicken route completing the middle decent.
Well women say that fellas only think of one thing, and they are absolutely right! We were eyeballing the ruts in the final descent, having forgotten the charms of winching Herve not 10 minutes prior. Straight into the ruts we go, and the machines were flexing like there was no tomorrow. The ruts were deep, but the gods were with us as we twisted our way to the bottom with a little more respect. Vehicle and tyre placement was the key to getting this right with little margin for error. We all descended safely to the bottom.
Once at the bottom we were pumped and ready to ascend! Hi ho, Hi ho, its into the ruts we go! Well you needed to be millimetre perfect on the way up and smooth on the controls or you stop in a flurry of wheel spin, slip into the ruts or throw a wheel way up into the air. Sometimes all three! Driving ruts is a lot of fun. It’s driving for the sake of developing the art of driving. If you are precise it rewards you with a flat drama free drive, if you’re slightly wayward then it bring you to a screaming halt. One of the Tuff Trip moments was looking down the hill to see spaced trucks all with a front driver’s wheel cocked high up into the air. No dramas, let gravity back you out, change lines slightly and away you go. Before long and without real drama we were up the hill and out again.
From here on out it was a fairly straight forward drive out via the 6 foot track, but there was one last hill to climb. It was Kevin’s hill! Now this hill has a mean reputation. The first time I saw this hill was via some footage of a previous Tuff Trip that I had missed 2 years ago. Kevin in his Disco was driving it when before he knew it the Disco had called it quits and laid down for a rest. Now that’s not the most comforting thought, and whether it was the greasy clay surface, the hill or the tyre ruts I wasn’t sure. We came back last year to tame Kevin’s Hill and once again we were slapped in the face and told to go away and think about it some more. The climb was greasy, but the chicken route was even worse, with Max, Kevin and I all getting bogged on it! Yep, that was the chicken route! Well finally this year we conquered it! We looked at it and we all got up with minimal fuss. It served it’s warnings with Paul’s motor cutting out in the mud hole at the bottom, then kindly let us all through.
From here the trip out to the main road was drama free, where we aired up, said our goodbyes and made our journeys back to Sydney. Once again another fun filled tuff trip. Look out for next month as we tackle the famous Rope Rd in the Watagans and then head back up to Awaba for some good driving!
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