Friday, December 14, 2012

First Impressions: 2013 Honda Civic

Let’s start out by saying I’ve always liked the Civic, in particular in its last generation as it sported a unique look that made it stand out from the rest of the econo-boxes. The problem began when those other econo-boxes started to build much more interested designs. On top of that, they’ve filled those designs with fantastic new features that you would only find on only top tier luxury barges. Then when it came time to redesign the Civic for the 2012 model year, more than a few journalists were unimpressed with the result, myself included.

As others were striving forward with new unique designs and technology, Honda chose to take a more mainstream direction, leaving a car that needed a sharp eye to catch what work had actually been done. Likewise, the interior treatment seemed even more cheap and plastic than before, but what’s worse, Honda finally succumbed to pressure for more torque, putting a big lazy 2.4L engine into the Si rather than the high-strung 2.0L I have loved for well over a decade. The result was disappointing to say the least, yet sales did not waver as the Civics golden name and price kept the car on top of the sales sheets.

However, you can only fall upon your laurels for so long and after only one short year, Honda is already showing a mid-cycle refresh of the Civic for 2013. So what’s new? Well, the 2013 model receives all-new front and rear exterior styling, new wheels and extensive interior styling upgrades on all models. The devil is in the details and the new exterior looks do go a long way in improving the styling while the new soft touch materials on the dash and doors also bring the Civic up to par with the rest of the top end of the compact segment. Mechanically, retuned steering and firmer suspension sharpen the Civics’ handling, and actually made the car feel much more refined and sharper while on a short test drive, something lacking last year.  Also, extensive body and chassis upgrades further improve the ride comfort and interior quietness. Honda has also packed Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, Bluetooth Audio,  colour i-MID display, USB/iPod connection, heated front seats, text messaging feature, easy to use steering wheel audio controls standard equipment on Civic LX, the highest sold model.

The result is a much higher quality vehicle from the 2012 model year, everything the Civic should have been in the first place, it’s good to see Honda is getting back on track after a few very trying years. However, I’m still not happy with the move to a torqueier but lazier 2.4L powering the Si, although I seem to be a minority. Regardless, Civic fans have a much better, more competitive vehicle to take on the likes of Ford, Hyundai, Chevy and Mazda. And maybe I’ll have my screaming 2.0L in the hot hatch rumoured to be coming our way soon. More on that later.

Price: $15,440 - $26,190
Engine: 1.8L I-4, 2.4L I-4
Power: 140hp-128lb.ft. (1.8L) - 201hp-170lb.ft. (2.4L)
Layout: Front Engine – Front Wheel Drive
Weight: NA – Slightly heavier than 2012
Fuel Efficiency (City/Hwy/Com) L/100Km: 7.1/5.0/6.2 (1.8L) - 10.0/6.4/8.4 (2.4L)


Thursday, October 11, 2012

First Impressions - Chevrolet Volt


It is the environmental halo car of the newly reorganized GM, the new direction for a company that needed drastic change to become competitive once again. I was looking forward to driving the Volt, two years after having tested the prototype in electric mode only. While I’ve been a pretty big fan of the electric car, the Volt was a good meal that left a sour taste in my mouth.

Let’s start with the good, because deep down, it is a good car. I love the looks; the interior design is fantastic for a company that used to launch vehicles with interior designs that were outdated before they even made it to the production line. Build quality has been vastly improved over older GM’s; the Volt is a solid, tight feeling car with high quality buttons and dials. For the first time I’ve driven a car where the light dimmer switch actually dims all light emitting sources inside the car from a single point, even the annoyingly bright high beam light. And finally, the serenity of electric drive; this car is so quiet that the loudest distraction was the gears in the differential coming under load when pulling away from a stop, bravo GM, in electric mode the Volt is a champ.
However, there is a lot of damning issues left unfinished, imperfections that really should have been taken into account back in the research and development days, simple and common sense issues that should have been sorted before the car was ever put into production. Dual screens bombard the driver with distracting information while the centre stacks layout is confusing at best. Even after a week I couldn’t figure out how to get certain operations to work, and had my eyes away from traffic far too much. However, even when I was watching the road, massive A-pillars with a steep rake killed peripheral vision, making left-hand turns almost a crap shoot. The rear-view mirror is mounted high on the windshield behind a raised portion in the roof. This not only obscures the majority of the view out the back but even rendered the auto-dimming function completely useless. The blind spots are large and the shifter will draw blood putting the car in park.

However, the most disappointing letdown was the Volts fuel efficiency once the petrol engine engaged. Averaging 6.3L/100km, the Volt not only gets its ass kicked by Prius, a TDI Golf also gets nearly 1L/100km better efficiency on the highway, pretty much making the whole point of the Volt mute. The Volt was designed for Range Anxiety racked Americans that want kill their dependence on fuel while still being able to drive long distances. If you need to drive long distances you’re better off buying a Golf TDI that is $15K cheaper and gets better efficiency. A city dweller that does the odd road trip, save $1,500 on a Nissan Leaf with nearly twice the range and save it for a rental when you need to travel.

I know I’ve been hard on it, I do actually like the car, but there are just way too many short comings for a car that costs over $41K. Hopefully a good mid-cycle refresh will iron out most of the issue I’ve had, however, how this car won so many awards is beyond me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

First Impressions: Chevrolet Corvette 427


In all my years as an Automotive Journalist, I've yet to put my hands on a Chevrolet Corvette. Stubbornly, I've always shunned the Vette as an "all engine, no poise" poorly built muscle car without really driving one. Well, know I have and I’m beginning to change my tune.

Where I got it right, the interior is painfully ugly and went out of style in the late 80’s. Really, it still uses buttons from that era. The seats feel as though they are planks of plywood with a bit of low-density foam tossed on top. The steering knocks about, the clutch pedal is longer that a tractors and it drives like an old pickup when not pushing it to the limits. Finally it’s the poster car for the man’s midlife crisis, as not one 20 or 30 year old gave me the thumbs up, but every guy over the age of 50 were drooling at the sight of it.
Where I got it wrong, it is a beautifully balanced car, the magnetic ride and super sticky, super wide Michelin Pilot Sports will have it bending physics theories in corners, the brakes are some of the best I’ve ever experienced, the seating position is that of a proper sports car. When you do start to push it, the truck feel of the controls goes away and everything starts to make sense, and finally, it’s just really good fun to drive, while having no refinement, no real technology, it harkens back to when sports cars where no nonsense, no frills, single minded speed demons. Other than a USB port to play you favourite music, a GPS unit to save the real man from the embarrassment of asking for directions and traction control to keep everything on the straight and narrow when in civil environments, there is nothing else added to the 427 Vette that doesn’t make it go faster.

So do the old guys know something we don’t? I’m beginning to think they do, or I may be in denial of how much my hairline is degrading. Either way, the Vette is a proper sports car, a car that nostalgically brings back the true joy of driving.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 15

It’s been much too long since I’ve posted a blog entry of this incredible expedition; however, it is with good reason, as the team has been through an amazing series of challenges. From Roma, we left Rick’s house and took off from town with several onlookers cheering us along. Our destination of choice is Dubbo; however, landing in the town of Miles, we’re forced to concede to the massive storm system to our front. There are big nasty clouds all around us from the north down to the south east, a wall of rain and wind blocking our path. In Miles, we have to make the decision to change course once again, pushing south to work a crosswind rather than a full headwind. It cuts a large amount of distance off our route south, but it keeps us going.

Glenn makes a late landing in the village called The Gums. There is nothing here other than a couple derelict shacks and a rundown Road House sitting on the junction of two roads. The locals are not as hospitable as others we’ve had the pleasure of running into, and we set up in the truckers parking behind the Road House. It’s not a particularly pleasant sleep with trucks coming and going all night long, their generators starting up and shutting off. It’s another night with little sleep, but we’re back on the road, Glenn lifting off early in a bid to get down to Goondiwindi but sets down 3km short of the town on Moonie. We spend the day at the Road House here, the heat outside keeping me in the shelter of the air conditioned bar, buying overpriced coffee to keep my seat. We’re in wild pig territory here and the wall of the Road House is decorated with the heads of several different species of wild Boar. It seems that every truck that goes by is a pig or Roo hunter’s truck, the padded bars on the windows and rifles under the windshield giving away the drivers profession.

The winds just aren’t calming down today though. We move out to the Cricket pitch to make a lunch and waste away another couple hours, but as the sun begins to sink; the possibility of an evening flight is lost. We look around for a spot to camp as the cricket pitch parking lot has several no camping signs up. Instead we pull behind the bushes on the driveway to a farmer’s paddock. There are “No Trespassing” signs everywhere, but we set up camp for the night hoping no one witnessed us sneak in. We should be gone before the farmer comes to work tomorrow morning, hopefully.

The next morning brings with it kinder winds. Glenn is able to get up and heads straight west towards St. George. Again, he’s forced to set down short of the goal, about 60km out of town. We are forced to set up camp on a derelict side road as storm clouds finally catch up to us. We knew that at some time the run would be stopped with the coming weather, it just sucks that we are stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The storm hits us that night, Craig and I are in the camper while Glenn and Mark are out in tents. The amateur stitching job that I did to the canvass roof over my bed gets its first real test as torrents of rain fall on us all night long. The rain is relentless and my stitching fails big time. At first a small drip of water drips onto the mattress beside my head. I grab a towel and place it under it. The roof above is starting to pool water though and shortly a wet area in the middle starts to open up another leak from saturation. I place another towel in the middle of the bed and shift my body into a crescent shape in a vain effort to keep dry.

However, the rain is relentless, the saturated spot in the middle of the canvas is now dripping in four different places at a much greater rate, and the stitched rip is now a full pouring waterfall onto my bed. It’s a good thing it’s still quite warm out as my bed gets wetter and wetter. I soon give up the fight to keep the water from entering and just try to get some degree of sleep in the bathtub. The sleeping bag is soaked, the mattress nothing more than a giant sponge keeping as much water under me as possible. Sleep is futile and all I can do is wait for the light of day to come so that I can get out of the pool that is my bed.

Finally the sun rises and the others begin to wake. I did not sleep a wink all night, emerging from my sleeping bag dripping as though I just got out of a pool. Mercifully, the sun has broken through some of the rain clouds and I can pull all my sleeping attire out to dry. I wring rivers of water out of the shirt and boxers I was wearing. The sleeping bag and mattress are also heavily laden with water and I wring as much out as I can and lay them out in the sun to dry.

The winds are still high and rain squalls rotate through every hour it seems. There is no chance for Glenn to get back up in the air and we’re forced to spend the day on the ground, deteriorating from boredom. Walks down the old road and highway get boring quickly, and watching all the ants come and go from their little holes in the red clay ground also gets old soon. Craig spots a white snake making its way across the highway and we go up to investigate. It turns out not to be a snake but a row of several caterpillars all linked up for the daunting crossing of the highway, out in the open for predators to sweep in. I guess there is safety in numbers and by being all linked up, they do look like a snake from a distance, scaring away some rodents possibly. I run back to camp to grab a camera and tell Mark and Glenn. We are all so bored that the sight of some caterpillars crossing the road turns out to be the most exciting part of the day.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 14

I’m up early once again, the mere sound of Glenn’s tent unzipping is enough to get me out of bed, even if the night sky is still untouched by the suns rising rays. It’s like the army all over again, I’d automatically wake at 5 am every morning for that was the regimented routine. I put together a round of teas for Glenn Mark and I, and Mark and Glenn negotiate over the computer, watching with worried eyes as weather systems advance on our location. Rain is on its way in the next couple days and will likely hold us up. A quick decision is made to bypass Emerald and cut south. Winds are pushing in from the coast, so Glenn’s thinking is that changing direction south will allow a few more days of travel, only having to fight crosswinds, rather than meeting the systems head on in a fight for Emerald. This also means that we are sacrificing highway miles up north, so we’ll have to find more down south before we cut across to Perth.
With the early morning leave from Barcladine, I’m not so eager for a breakfast this morning as the weight of a deep-fried seafood platter is still sitting in my stomach. Glenn makes a successful flight first down to Blackall, where I get in a much needed swim at the local pool. Day upon day of sitting in the Nissan has stiffened my back, the mere act of turning to look out the window to find Glenn high up in the sky is almost becoming painful. The good swim does wonders to loosen up my muscles; I’ll have to make use of pools more often when they become available. Glenn’s evening flight sees him land in rodeo grounds just past the town of Tambo, offering up an excellent spot to set up camp. After a good meal cooked by Mark, I take the opportunity to sit out under the big sky, taking in the mass of stars that come out in the Outback sky. It really is amazing how much more you see out here, and I take every chance I can to do some star gazing before fatigue gets the better of me.
The next morning, Craig and I walk the Paramotor out to the truck pullout over on the highway. It’s another stroll through long grass; the injection of adrenaline from the threat of the legless menace is more than enough to wake whatever sleep was still in my eyes. With the wing set out, Glenn hits the starter and gets nothing but a click. Within a split second, I know what is about to happen. A furious tirade of profanity spews from Glenn’s mouth as he continues to hit the starter button to no avail. He thinks the battery is dead and Craig runs back through the wet grass while Glenn and I stripe down the Paramotor. Craig is back in a flash and we button up the Paramotor with a fresh battery. Glenn hits the starter button once again, “CLICK.” Boom goes Glenn, he’s so mad that he can’t even string different words together, just constantly yelling out “f@#$, f@#$, f@#$, f@#$….”

We pull everything over to camp, and start to strip the starter off of the Paramotor, however, there is a special technique to get it off and we decide that it is easier to just do a full engine swap with Marks motor that is stored in the truck. Another hour later we have swapped motors, but the wiring harnesses are different! Another long while of cutting, soldering and shrink wrapping, and we’ve managed to get Glenn’s machine tip top once again, but we’ve lost a good portion of the morning. Glenn takes to the air with little effort and gets a good head start as we have a huge mess to clean up after the frantic search for spares, tools and stripping a new engine out its box in the trailer.
We catch up to him just before the town of Charleville. The name sounds familiar to us, and as we start to notice the signs of flood waters, we quickly remember why. It was Charleville and the neighboring town of Mitchell that were evacuated last week, making the news. The devastation of the surrounding area was immediately evident, all the paddock fences were covered in debris, trees had mud reaching as high up as ten meters in some cases and the bridge entering the town was destroyed, yet being a good six meters over the rivers current level. The town itself was saved for the most part as it sits on high ground, but environment all around the town was left in ruin. We spent our mid-day break here, making use of an air conditioned Road House as a refuge from the searing mid-day heat. This is also where we would say good bye to Mark for a couple of days, he’s off to Sydney to partake in an event put on by Tourism Australia where he can schmooze with big wigs and celebs while giving interviews to all the countries major news stations.

On our way out of town, we stop at the local fuel station to top up the LPG (Propane) for the truck, finding that the pumps are out of service. We top up all the Jerry Cans in hopes that we can make it to the next town on petrol alone. We drop Mark off at the bus station and book out of town after Glenn. The route we take back east once again follows the river that flooded, and from Mervon to Mitchell, the landscape and infrastructure is raped by the forces of the flood waters. The bridge in Mitchell fared even worse than that in Charleville, being washed away completely and we take a makeshift fording ramp across the now tranquil stream.

With Mark now gone, Glenn’s focus and determination is left nearly unchallenged as he pushes to make up as much distance as he can. His risk taking is getting more and more exciting for Craig and I on the ground as he makes some spectacular takeoffs, battling wind and obstacles. One morning, he climbs out into a field with a runway that is too short and just wide enough to fit his wing. With liftoff, he’s just kissing the trees on the left side, but not getting the height to clear the tree’s in front, cranking over on his toggles, he swings right and just clears the paddock, averting disaster by mere feet. It’s an impressive feat, however, Craig and I start to wonder if he’s maybe starting to push too hard, taking chances that are too large.
From Mitchell we push on to Roma, and Glenn is already on the ground on the outskirts of town chatting with a local. We pull up to meet Rick, a large man with large personality, shooting from the mouth and sporting a big gut. “I saw this UFO falling from the sky, and figured I’d come over and see what it was.” He is an extremely good natured person, inviting us up to the shop for a couple of beers, then even gave us his house in town that he was renovating. We set up the trailer in the driveway and had full use of the bathroom and fridge.
We knew that we’d likely be stuck here a couple of days, as the winds were forecasted to be high, and the hospitality of Rick was a welcome surprise, making us feel right at home and tossing us another beer once we were all set up, having a good long chat in the back yard before our beds beckoned us.

Australian Adventure: Log 13

As we fight our way west, headwinds are getting stronger and stronger, challenging our forward momentum. We arrive in the town of Longreach, it’s a small town of maybe 2000 people however, we’re taken back as the tail-wing of a 747 looms over the hangars at the airport just out of town. Glenn gets a shot of adrenaline shoot through him as he flies over what is listed as a rural airport, the sight of a 747 on the tarmac making him search around for equally frightening air traffic. However, not to worry, it’s only part of the Qantas Museum; placed here because this was the town the company began its operations.

It was a quick launch this morning, well before the sun even came close to breaking the horizon, and my stomach is arguing with me over the lack of breakfast. As we pass by the massive 747, we find a Road House to get fuel, and I take the opportunity to grab something to eat, the only thing available is a nasty little sausage roll that looks as though it’s been sitting under the heat lamp for days. Back on the road, I’m not quite sure if what I’m eating is actual meat in the centre of the sausage roll, as we race to catch up to the lone remaining pilot. Mark is sitting in the back of the truck, not making much sound as the reality hits that his dream of a world record has come to an end. He’s doing his best to now concentrate on the charity side of the expedition, however the pain is obvious.

Soon, we’re passing through the town of Ilfracombe. It’s a quaint little village that has a display of farm machinery running the entire length of town on the left side of the highway. It looks like a great place to stop, a couple nice little café’s look quite inviting, however, Glenn is nowhere in sight and we need to catch up. To our surprise, we find him just on the outskirts of town, sitting by the road side, the mid-day heat and thermals forcing him to call an end to the morning flight sooner than expected. However, this does mean that we get to make use of the café.

We truck Glenn back to town, straight to the café, where he wastes no time ordering up a proper eggs, bacon and sausage breakfast. Having already chosen my breakfast purchase, I had to make do with a Flat White as Glenn works a proper meal. We’re in town for several hours before the winds calm for an evening flight. I do a couple laps of the town getting pictures of the machinery and giving myself yet another sunburn before it’s time to leave.

Glenn is back in the air and heading for Barcladine. We’ve already planned to make an early landing here as there is a storm front moving in all around us, and we’ll have to make a decision in the morning whether to fight on east towards Emerald, or cut south to bypass a certain halt to wait out the storms. He makes to the outskirts of town just as the sun slips beneath the horizon, a perfect landing only minutes from a Caravan Park.

Setting up camp with the luxury of electricity, water, toilets and showers, we set about filling our stores and getting a much needed shower in before treating ourselves to a pub dinner. No cooking or dishes tonight.

The Caravan Park manager suggests a good bar to try, the Shakespeare Hotel and to not miss getting a photo of the “Tree of Knowledge.” Not quite sure what he meant, however, we packed along the cameras anyway. A walk into the centre of town soon displayed a rather modern piece of art centered in what is really a classic old Outback town, the contrasts where huge as a large green lit structure enveloped a dead tree. Inside, spires of wood streak down from the top creating a magnificent display of light and art, the dead roots in the ground on display through a glass floor. It’s something we really were not expecting. According to a plaque near the site, the tree was an icon that proclaimed the start of the Labour Party in Australian politics. The Aussies sure take their politics seriously to keep the tree on display with such extravagance. After some meandering around the area, our stomach’s beckoned us on to the Shakespeare Hotel, where I made the mistake of ordering the seafood platter, receiving a massive plate of deep-fried objects of varying shapes and sizes, all tasting the same, of grease. I knew I shouldn’t have ordered it and the after affects wood sit in my stomach well into the morning.

Despite the shower before bed, the nights heat brought gave me little chance of sleep, and the scream Gallah’s made their annoying return at four in the morning. Despite the luxury of a Caravan Park, the night would bring little rest as finding sleep is still a challenge.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 12

The team has taken a massive hit. After Mark has broken one of his propellers on the first leg of the journey, we’re down to no spares; one prop for each pilot is now all we have.

The boys have just completed their longest flight of the trip, a 160 km early morning run that started well before the sun broke the horizon. We’re so far out in the Outback now that landing on the highway is ideal, there are no cars seen for hours and it provides a great runway for both landings and take offs. We’ve been under the pilots all morning and the conditions are good when they land. Glenn asks for a refill, they want to get a second morning run in before the heat of the day makes the thermals too strong. Craig and I top up both tanks and lay Marks wing out across the road for takeoff. However, there is a bit of a crosswind in the air and a set of power lines off to his left. With a heave and handful of throttle, he brings the wing up into the air above him and begins to scamper off down the road. But the crosswind catches him and angles the wing off to the right; he counters which is sending him towards the power lines. He lifts up off the ground and steers once again to avoid the lines, however, the steering input kills some of his speed and as he has just taken off, the wing loses lift an crashes back down to Earth.

Painfully I watch as Mark crashes into the abrasive road surface, the sickening sound of metal striking the rock surface and breaking. It’s all a blur and it looks like there was debris flying from the Paramotor. I run down the road after him, he’s already up by the time I get there, shouting out in a panic, “Is the prop ok, is the prop ok!” Glenn and Craig are charging up behind shouting the same question. I inspect the rear of his Paramotor to find what I had suspected, the carbon fibre blades are shattered at the tips, the metal structure around the fuel tank has buckled and broken free to stick out into the path of the propellers.

Heartbroken, I tell Mark, “It’s done,” then turn and slash my throat with my hand signalling to the others the day is done, and likely the trip for Mark. Glenn comes to a stop; his face falls as all hope dies, turns and walks with heavy steps back towards the camper. Mark is still asking in a panic whether the prop is ok or not, he either didn’t hear my first answer or most likely could not let himself believe the answer. I give him the bad news clear and to his face and the disappointment in his face is enough to nearly bring a tear to my eye. He drops the damaged Paramotor and walks back to the camper as slowly and painfully as Glenn.

Craig and I pick up the pieces from the shattered machinery and drag it back to the camper. Glenn is in deep thought, wondering around, while Mark is sitting silently on the other side of the road, gazing off into the prairie. We inspect the damaged Paramotor further to find the damage was even greater than we first thought, some expert welding and fitment will be needed to get the Paramotor running again, however, nothing goes up without a prop. Mark grabs a breath, picks himself up off the side of the road and comes over. “I’m out, Glenn get up in the air and carry on.” Both Glenn and I protest the snap decision as this was Marks dream to complete a flight around Australia, breaking a record in the process. Mark doesn’t want to hear anymore, the painful situation too much, and wants Glenn to get going, but we insist on a team meeting to further discuss the situation and where we go from here.

With some quick words, the decision is made that Glenn will push on to the next town, Mark will make some calls and try to get a new prop in, and will come back to cover Glenn’s tracks once a new prop has come. Glenn flies to the next town while Mark sits in the back of the truck, working the phones trying to source a new prop. Ben from Kangook, someone we met while down in Brisbane supplies several Paramotor parts and Mark has him courier in a new prop.

We hold up at a caravan park, happy to finally have a shower and fresh water at hand, the new prop will take a couple days to come in. The wait also gives us time to make repairs to the camper which is beginning to fall apart, weld up Marks frame and get some necessities. I’m holding fort at the camp as the others are in town, the Caravan Park manager shows up telling me there is a package in. Glenn shows us just after and picks it up. He hurries back and rips the package open, but something doesn’t seem right. Pulling the prop out, it is a two blade propeller made of wood, not a carbon three blade.

Mark returns, excited that he found some essential tools, the smile on his face sinks as he catches sight of the prop over in the corner of camp, stopping mid-sentence. “Oh no,” he mutters, the twin blade prop will not work on the Parajet motor. The heartbreak from a couple of days ago was replaced by hope, destroyed in a split second by heartbreak once again. “The Prop won’t work,” claims the Parajet rep over the phone to Mark. “The fastest we could get you one is in two weeks’ time,” The Parajet factory is based in England, and we are in the middle of the Outback.

Two weeks would kill any chance of making the world record as Glenn is scheduled to leave at the end of April. Another team meeting is called and we have the painful choice to make, do we wait and give up on the record, or do we push on, now only Glenn will be capable of the record? The hard decision is made, Glenn will push on alone. Mark will join him once the new props are shipped to join him in the rest of the journey. It’s a heartbreaking decision, as this was Marks dream, and all the hard work and finances to put this all together came from him and Jackie. For the next couple weeks, Craig and I will have Mark riding along on the ground, and not flying overhead.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 11

We’ve been fighting the wind along the entire second leg of the trip. The pilots putting in long hard days and risking dangerous takeoffs to keep pushing towards Toowoomba, to keep the kilometres piling up. The Outback is as flat as I’ve seen any part of the Earth’s surface, creating magnificent sun rises and sets, however the daily grind down the straight flat highway is becoming tedious. However, at least it’s much easier to find the Paragliders in the sky, no hills or tree’s obstructing our view.

The pilots are in view as they set down 60 km from the town of Winton. Known for the cache of dinosaur bones as well as petrified tracks of a pre-historic dino-stampede left in the red bed rock of the Outback. I finally get my first proper Aussie meat pie at the local bakery in town, and a rare chance to check internet, something that is even rarer than water out here. After a quick beer in the Tatts hotel, we head back out to the Paramotors and put Glenn back up into the sky. Pushing forward back to town, we fill the tanks and top up on groceries then wait for him on the outskirts of the town. After a good half hour, still no sign of the floating jellyfish in the sky. We push down the road even further, calling them on the radio as we go. Still no sign or call, we figure he must have bypassed the town and we missed him while in shopping.

We rocket out of the back side of town hoping our decision is the right one. I begin to do the math in my head, the average speed that has been traveled in headwinds that is usually around 35 to 45 kmh over the two hours that we’ve left him, he must have already passed, and made a large cut bypassing the town and getting a run on Longreach. We make the call to pursue down range; however, both Craig and I have an uneasy feeling. That is what most likely happened, however, if we are wrong and he had engine trouble, then we are driving away from him, rather than catching up. With the sun sinking, the seriousness of the situation increases. Before we go, we give one last hale on the radio that goes unanswered. The radio has a 25 km range, so he most certainly has bypassed the town, and we missed him.

We first check the airport 3 km out of town, just in case. No Glenn. We then shoot down the A2, Craig and I fixated on the horizon, looking for any sign of the Paraglider. Over the first crest, no wings, over the next crest, no Glenn, past the forest, no Glenn We don’t worry too much, as conditions have calmed down significantly, and he would be able to get 70 kmh out of the wing, and knowing the charge he's been on, he's likely trying to make the most of a rare spot of luck. However, soon the crests become farther and farther apart and our anxiety of seeing the wings over each increases with each failure. We are now 50 km out of town and the sun is now down. I’m still trying desperately to raise Glenn on the radio to no avail. Now it’s getting serious, we’re in the middle of the Outback, the sun has gone down, and we’re missing a man. We result to trying to hail down oncoming vehicles to ask if they’ve seen the floating Paramotors fly by. However, there are no cars on the road, only three Road Trains, all three refusing to stop in our aid, despite being pulled over, with hazard lights blinking, flashing our high beams and I out in the middle of the road waving my arms, pleading for the big trucks to stop; all three rush by.

At 60 km out of town, I do some more math, and he shouldn’t be this far out. He must have had issues at the beginning of the flight, several hours ago. Hopefully he's caught a ride back into town, and is sitting at the bar, drinking a beer and chuckling with the bar tender and patrons about how his ground crew left him for dead. We turn around and race back towards town, still trying to raise him on the radio. About ten kilometres from town, I give one last call out into the radio waves, and still get no return. If Glenn is in town, he would have heard this call, and our hearts start to sink, as morbid possibilities run through our heads. Hopefully his radio just ran out of juice, as this has been an issue.

As we enter town, I’ve been gazing the side of the road the entire trip, hoping that Glen was just slow and set down at the road side. To my relief, I see the distinctive silhouette of the Paramotor and wing all folded up beside the highway. I call to Craig, “I see him, stop.” Just then, a whistle comes from a nearby house, where a local has been keeping an alive Glenn company for the last couple hours. 

The story goes; Glenn was working the hardest winds that he had seen yet on this trip, only managing to eke out a measly 22 kmh, half of what we figured he were capable of. When we worked our way 10 km out of town and made the call on the radio, he was still fighting the winds, just over 25 km away, and would set down due to the turbulence not too far from where we stopped. After a long wait while we were racing in the opposite direction, Glenn, waiting by the roadside starting to realize no one was coming. So back up into the air he went, fought his way to Winton, buzzed the town and landed near a park, just on the far side of town where we would find him several hours and a tank of fuel later.

Predictably, the usual flow of profanity spewed from Glenn’s mouth; however it was a cockup of unreliable radios, no phone, no phone numbers and the ground crew loosing rearward sight of the pilot that all lead to what could have been a fatal situation.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 10

“That’s not a knife, this is a knife,” are the words going through my mind at I look upon a large fighting knife hanging on the wall behind the bar at the Walkabout Creek Hotel in McKinlay. Sheathed with a belt that has the name “Crocodile Dundee,” written into the belt, I’m sitting at the famous bar that was the location for shooting, “27-years ago today,” barks out the bar tender. This is the site of our mid-day stop after an impressive morning flight from Cloncurry to start leg two.

McKinlay is an impressive landing point as Mother Nature is going to grind us through the ringer for the next week. The slight headwinds that we were battling on our way from Townsville to Cloncurry have changed direction 180-degrees and strengthened. The challenges of leg one will turn into battles for leg two. Taking shelter from the stifling mid-day heat at the Walkabout Creek Hotel, a beer at the bar that Dundee used to call his office was not only refreshing, but completely called for. The bar is wonderfully decorated with pictures from filming, complete with a massive crocodile having beers on the porch next to crew members, and lots of paraphernalia not only from filming, but militaria (caps, badges, insignia, uniforms) boomerangs, traps, and newspaper clippings from mammoth floods and weather. On the side is the pool room, complete with the “Never Never Safari Tours” sign board. What a cool place to spend the mid-day halt, as Glenn and Mark chat up the owner about the movie, the local economy and employment. Most ranches and stations are losing all their young workers to the money and easy careers of the cities, while mining is taking over as the primary resource over farming.

The visit is too short, and we’re back out in the heat, and the pilots back into the air, pushing on towards Kynuna. Craig and I motor over the barren landscape, the road long and flat, we chug along just behind the “jellyfish” so as not to lose them. Not that we could, the land is so flat that you can see the curvature of the earth, and even after a 15-minute rest stop, the paramotor wings are still quite visible just above the horizon. The heat of the day is ruining the refreshing shower I finally got back in Cloncurry, the first since Townsville.

The pilots battle on in the headwinds, and the sun is starting the shoot for the horizon as we pass a sign saying we’re ten kilometres from the village of Kynuna. The sun is down, and darkness is setting in as we enter the tiny village with a strange name. However, we notice that Glenn is losing altitude just as we are approaching the local bar, the Blue Heeler, with a bright neon sign blazing on the roof. Every time we come to a town this size, the bar is almost always entirely empty, except for the odd rugged sun baked local needing his after work beer. However, the Blue Heeler has four people sitting on the porch sipping at their cold beers as Glenn comes swooping into the parking lot just in front, shouting out, “Do you have a beer ready for me” just before his feet hit the ground. The patrons are beside themselves as Glenn comes to stop. We arrive just as he and Mark are getting bombarded with questions, “Where the hell did you come from mate?” and “Know I’ve seen everything,” uttered from the porch. The bars owner has a beer in Glenn’s hands even before I get to the scene, and is asking me what I want as I step up onto the porch. A XXXX bitter is in my hands in seconds, as Glenns spectacular landing sparks off great conversation and stories, ten strangers coming together and sharing a great night of fun and beers.

The owner even offers us a plot at the caravan park in the back to stay the night, and some wild pig meat for our freezer. Needing to be up early, we take the camper to the park in the back, and thankfully, showers are also on the premises. However, the insects here are insane, a bright light on the restrooms pull the majority away from us, but we are still swarmed with hundreds of thousands of flying beetles, mosquitoes, and all manner of other creature. We’re eaten alive as we eat our dinner, the clear night sky is offering up a spectacular star gazing experience, but the mass of bugs forces us to the sanctuary of bed. I notice that the sink just beneath the light is filing with the dead insects as they fight for the light, a good ten centimetres thick at the bottom of the sink and climbing. A fresh shower before I turn in, I try to kill as many Mossies that make it into the trailer on my return; however, there’s literally thousands of other insects flying around, camouflaging the blood suckers. My fight futile, I jump into bed, my skin crawling with a mass of little legs, I pull a sheet over my head to keep them from going in my eyes, nose and mouth.

The night is a disturbing one, with very little sleep, my arms and ankles raw from hundreds of bits from the Mossies and No-see’ems. It was a great day, but

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 9

In the middle of the night, half awake, I feel something moist and cold pressing against my cheek. My mine explodes into action at the possibility of what animal is touching me, fears of deadly snakes fresh in my mind. I dart back and look up to see a big wet nose pressed up against the screen where my head was laying a split second earlier. Thankfully a herd of cows came grazing into camp, one big one giving me sniff as I sleep, adrenaline pulsing through my veins. Back to sleep, need to be up early tomorrow.

The airstrip is an interesting place, cut from the forest, it is an extremely long runway built on compressed red clay. The recent rain storms creating drainage veins that deposit red sand off to the sides. It’s perfect for take-offs, and after several hours of tuning last night, Craig and Glenn now have both Paramotors running at optimal efficiency, now getting up to four hours of flight time out of the 12.5 litre fuel tanks, rather than the original two.

Both pilots lift into the air with little drama while Craig and I break camp. Stopped by a train as we got back to the highway, Craig wisely decides not to push his luck, however as we turn left onto the highway and start to catch up to the train, we’re motoring down the highway at about 90-kmh when a large dark mass leaps from the roadside weeds. With my heart skipping a beat I move away from the door, expecting a massive impact, but all I hear is a squeal and the sound of hooves locking up on the tarmac as the huge wild Boar spins 180 and darts back into the bush. Scared out of the weed by the passing of the train, my senses are heightened from yet another lesson learned.

We’re now leaving the foot hills and stretching out into the Outback plains, the land becomes flat and the horizon straightens out. For a Canadian that has yet to fully experience the prairies, these “Downs” as the Aussies call it are really quite spectacular. What’s also impressive is the bloody heat. We may have left the misery of the humid coast, but now the temperatures are shooting towards 40-plus degrees during the late afternoon. The skies are clear and the searing Aussie sun beats down on us.

The pilots bypass Hughenden and make a run for Richmond in the decent weather. After a quick refueling, they’re back in the air heading for Richmond. While the Jellyfish are bypassing towns in an effort to get leg one finished as soon as possible, Craig and I are able to enjoy the attractions of these slightly larger towns, both Hughenden and Richmond being well known for dinosaur fossil finds as the entire area used to be a massive inland sea. No wonder it’s so bloody flat, the land here used to be a sea floor. Hughenden has a couple life size dinosaurs on display as well as the massive wind machines called Comets, which use the power of the wind to pull water up from an underground lake, from one to two kilometres beneath the surface.

Richmond is known for the Koronosaurous, a gigantic Crocodile that used to prey on the dinosaurs, and also have a life size example sitting out in front of a learning centre, however, we don’t have time to doddle around a museum as the pilots are still pushing on for Cloncurry.

After a couple days travel, we make it to Julie Creek for a mid-day stop, and boy is it getting hot. Glenn thankfully found an airport to land at, which had an air conditioned old ticket counter shack for the now defunct Trans-Australian Airlines. With the heat beating down from the sun high overhead, we’re also bombarded from the reflected heat rising from the black tarmac. Some time in town at a local air conditioned pub for lunch was called for, but the cheapest meal on the menu was Fish & Chips for a whopping $18.00, in a pub! A quick beer not to be impolite and we find a grocer to make our own lunch out at the airport, then its back in the air for a final push to the end of leg one in Cloncurry.

The winds have been somewhat kind these last couple days as the pilots have been able to put is some decent distances, and our arrival into Cloncurry comes with a well-deserved night at a caravan park, a much needed shower and even a dip in the pool to cool off from the heat on a day off.

Leg one is finished, however, leg two is looking daunting. The internet is telling us that after battling light headwinds all the way to Cloncurry, the wind has changed just at the wrong moment, giving the pilots strong head and cross winds across to Emerald. On top of that, the trip will be even more desolate than the trip from Townsville, so we make sure the food, water and fuel are all topped up for the trip across the Outback.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 8

The cold dew, Road Trains and Rail Trains kept me up for most the night, but I roll out of bed as soon as I hear Glen moping around in a morning crank. After a series of takeoff miseries with Mark yesterday, we hope that we can get him up in the sky early today. By 6 am, he’s harnessed up and ready to go, but like yesterday, the winds are dead, and moving all over the place. Morale is low, for the whole team and Mark needs a good takeoff to give not only him, but the whole team a lift in spirits.

With the Parajet spinning, Mark gets off to a slow run and struggles down the field, his sail is pushing him from left to right to left again. He’s two thirds the way across and still stumbling. Finally with a great blast of throttle, his feet come up, the Paramotor sinks and just kisses the ground, the three of us hold our breath as he skims out of the freshly cut Cricket pitch and into the long grass beyond. He lifts out of the long grass, but directly ahead, a stand of trees look him straight in the eye. With throttle maxed, he splits between two trees, just grazing the right tree with the tip of his wing, and lifts into the safety of open air. A huge sigh of relief and pleasure comes over the three of us left on the ground, nervous chuckles of what could have been. Had Mark caught one of his guide wires on the branch he hit, it would have been disastrous, ripping him around and dragging him out of the sky.

Glen rushes back to his Paramotor, with a nervous grin, barking away, “Jeez, that guy is going to give me a god damn heart attack,” followed by the usual swearing and cursing that regularly spews from his mouth. He throws his Paramotor onto his back, powers up, and shoots into the sky with a fair bit of difficulty himself, taking an uncharacteristically long run to get up, the dead air playing havoc with everyone. However, now it was time for the drama’s to hit Glen. His motor bouncing the throttle, something didn’t seem right, then the issue went away and the two floated off into the distance. However, as Craig and I broke camp, we start to hear the familiar drone of the Paramotors coming back. Glen does a quick fly by, yelling at us that he’s lost his flight computer, a little handheld screen that displays GPS, Compass, Direction, Altitude and such, a rather important and expensive bit of kit. Craig and I scour the takeoff path as Glen comes in for a landing, cursing and yelling his frustrations. Glen and Craig continue to run back and forth on the field in search for the little black computer, while I scan the video footage for a clue, not are found. On my way back out to show Glen the footage, maybe he can see something I can’t I stumble upon it just around the starting area, sitting neatly in the grass.

Carrying his Paramotor back to the takeoff point, Glen try’s to start his motor to get back in the air with Mark who is circling above. Whah, whah wah. The battery is dead, and another stream of profanities spews from Glen’s mouth as he dismounts once again. Craig and I rush to the camper and break open the spares box. Thankfully a spare battery is sitting there and we rush it over to Glen’s machine hoping that it came with a good charge. After a couple failed attempts to start and frustration rising, Glen finally sparks life into the Parajet, and rockets in to the air with the upmost of anger. We cheer as he gains altitude and swings by, his attitude turned 180-degrees kicking his feet in the air with joy and cheering us on. We’re back on the road, back on task.

After a refill at an airfield in Pentland and more takeoff dramas for Glenn as the wind just will not keep in the same direction, they finish off a good mornings flight in the equally small village of Torrens Creek. We make our way back into the village centre, a bar and gas station, and find parking in a field next to the bar with power, and we head in, Mark is buying a round for thanks, as are patience with his liftoffs kept a pressure free environment. The inside of the bar is unique to say the least, the bartender is working on a Harley in a garage off to the side and meets us inside the bar, which is covered in felt pen autographs and graffiti, flags, photos and mementoes of passers buy. The bearded bar keep at first seems annoyed that we interrupted his Harley time, but after we buy a round, he’s deep in conversation with Glen, who has a knack for getting to know everyone he meets. Many subjects are covered, why we’re here, what the weather is like, how far down the road the next towns are, but what peaked my attention most was his talk of killing three large snakes in the last couple days in and around the building. “Yup, big Blacks they were. Gotta watch out for them, this is real snake country, and they’ll kill yah quick. And they’re vicious too, they’ll attack you!” My phobia, while being controlled at the moment just took a real hit. It didn’t help that when we left the bar, I was buzzed by a hornet about 3-inches big and found a beetle up against the wall the size of my hand. Everything in this country seems to want to kill me; everything is bigger, meaner and poisonous. And everywhere I look, nature is fighting itself. Bird in particular are constantly screaming, fighting and keeping me up all night. Even as I write this, some big white Parrot is screaming out its death throes as it is slowly devoured by something evil behind the leaves of the tree on the other side of the road. Australia is such a beautiful place, yet so raw and viscous at the same time. I love and despise it at the same time.

We move the launch area out to an old abandoned World War II airstrip just on the other side of town. More dramas plague Marks engine and we’re spending another night on the ground.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 7

The adventure is underway, the heaps of rain that fell last night has soaked the airstrip, but that didn’t stop Mark and Glenn from lifting up into the air after yet another few early morning anecdotes from eccentric Roy, the airfield custodian. Mark takes a few try before he’s able to get up into the air, then Glenn lifts off in follow. Craig and I break camp and after another chat with Roy, a couple shots of the local Kangaroo, we’re off down the A6 in chase of the “Jellyfish in the sky,” as Glen and Mark quickly become known as. We are relieved that we are finally doing what we were supposed to be, and that we could now concentrate on the task at hand and not all the little worries about what could go wrong.

We’re headed for the prescribed landing point just past Challengers Towers, a gold mining city about 90 km down the road. Along the way we keep gazing in to the sky looking for the colourful wings and into farmers paddocks just in case. We see nothing for 70 km, then as we round a bend, there is Glen, circling above the road only a couple hundred meters in front of us. A quick look into the paddock to the left I catch Mark on the ground. We pull over, not knowing if there was a physical or mechanical problem that forced the two onto the ground well before the goal. Craig runs into the tall grass beside the road, jumps a fence and checks on Mark. I go to follow, but pull up short of the grass, in the back of my mind; I know that this is snake country, and that that tall grass is snake territory. I yell to Craig to ensure Mark is unhurt, he yells back, Yeah, he’s fine, just misread his fuel level,” and I get away with not having to venturing out into the unknown. There isn’t a whole lot I’m scared of, but one of my biggest frights is snakes, and Australia is home to eight of the ten most deadliest. We pack up the wings, lay the paramotors by the fence and shove off to Challenger Towers to get some food and internet.

Challengers Towers is an interesting mining town built during the gold rush, with classic Outback architecture. The people are extremely friendly and we are approached everywhere we go, asking what we were doing. “Whats a Paramotor?” After a long break at a caravan parking lot, Glenn and Mark came to the conclusion that the conditions were not clearing up enough for an evening run, and so we packed up and headed out of town, stopping at a tourist stop near a display mine shaft and wooden elevator tower to see if overnighting was allowed.

The mosquitoes were out, and as the sun dipped down to the horizon, a massive bat came flying over. Soon another one flew over, then a couple more. Glenn has seen this phenomena several times, and comments, “here they come, we’re going to see millions of the little bastards.” Sure enough, the sky was being blacked out with the dark wings of hundreds of thousands of bats. They were coming from the south west, and three main arms stretched over us, as the herds moved off to the East. What a phenomenal sight, it was rare that I ever get to see a single bat in Canada, and now the Moon was being blackened out by the sheer mass of Bats from horizon to horizon. After a good half hour of watching the spectacular sight, our stomachs started talking louder than the squeal of the Bats overhead and we pushed out to “6 Mile Bridge” where a camping friendly rest stop was found just on the other side overlooking the long bridge. As we pulled into the lot just up from the water, a warning sign read, “WARNING – This area is inhabited by Crocodiles!” However, the others did not fear these words, and to be honest, it didn’t bother me much either, my fear was of the serpents in the tall grass. A quick dinner is made, and we’re off to bed, Glenn and Mark not fazed by the proximity to the river and its rather large deadly inhabitants, and string up the hammock and tent once again.

The Next day, we’re up with the suns pre-dawn light, and get out to the motors just after the sun breaks. I know that I now will have to venture into the deep grass over to the paddock to help Mark and Glenn get up into the air. The other three trump confidently through to the fence not fearing the ground they walk, while I stumble along at a snail’s pace, carrying as much equipment as I can, so that I only need to make the unnerving walk once. I prod the grass with a long stick, but the ground is covered with old cuttings, disguising the bottom few inches. As I make my way to the fence line, the other three chuckle at my fear, however in the freshly munched grass of the cows paddock, I’m much more confident. Mark has a couple failed attempts to get into the sky, narrowly missing the barbed wire fence, then the wind changes and we need to relocate the runway up over the hill. With another attempt, Mark runs down through the paddock, ironically over the bleached bones of a dead cow, then loses his feet and comes crashing down to the ground. His Paramotor smashes into the ground, the rear frame bends and catches the carbon fibre prop. RACK… the black propeller explodes into tiny shards, pieces hitting me several meters away as I try to film the event. Mark has broken a prop, and the only spare we have left is 10 klicks down the road at the rest area, where we left the trailer.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 6

That night was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced. The heat was relentless, the humidity was just gross and there was no breeze to cool down the camper. Still suffering from heat stroke, not able to sleep in the heat, I lay in bed sweating profusely. It really is gross, no mater what I do, I can’t stop sweating, its like I’m in the middle of a hard summers run, but I’m just lying in bed, creating a pool underneath. I pull out a towel to lay on and another for the pillow to save some kind of hygenic sanity, but the water is coming out faster than I can replace it.

It is a night from hell, and the sun just couldn’t rise fast enough. I didn’t get one wink all night, and all I wanted to do is get up and sweat somewhere else, other than in my bed. Like a cruel trick, the sun breaks just as the early morning temperatures come to a non-sweating level, bumping them right back up again. Enough is enough, I’m getting up. My head still aches from the heat stroke and my energy is at zero as a meander over to the washrooms for a quick shower. It feels great to get under some cold water, but all the washing is for not as I’m a sweaty mess as soon as a make it back to the trailer. All its good for is taking off the layers of old sunscreen, bug spray and previous perspirations in turn for fresh layers

It’s an early run out to an airstrip about 50km out of Townsville, we are greeted by the airstips caretaker, an eccentric old guy named Roy, who amusses us with all the anecdotes we could ever ask for. Then when he’s not chuckling out a story, he’s “whooping” with amazement at everything he sees. He’s a character to say the least. Glen and Mark are setting up the Paramotors for their first flights. However, it wouldn’t take long for drama to ensue as Marks first take off is late and sketchy at best. He clips a tall bush at full throttle, and circles around the airstrip looking rather uncontrolled. Then he makes a dart for the ground, not letting up his speed and crashes into the ground at nearly 50 kmh. Craig runs to the crash site while I get the money shot on video, problem was the sun was obscuring the screen and missed the whole shot. Regardless, Mark is on his feet, just a couple bruises to tell he had just fallen out of the sky. The issue was a mirror strapped to his wrist to check his fuel levels. It had become tangeled in his steering and brake lines on takeoff, and sent him on an uncontrollable ride into the ground. However, he’s all fine and after a couple flights, both pilots know what needs changing and what’s good to go.

Headed back to town, its still early in the morning, however, with the sun much higher in the sky, I can feel the heat stroke soaking back in. I’ve had a camel back hanging from my mouth for nearly 24-hours now, and I’m already on litre number 4 of water today. A headache, bit of nausea and very little energy had me and Craig moping around the site, slowly loading up the truck and camper to move out to the airstrip that night, so that the pilots can take off first thing in the morning and we can hit the road.

Arriving back at the airstrip, We’re greeted by Roy once again, and yet another couple stories distract him as we set up camp next to a barn. I start cooking up some sausages for dinner while darkness falls, multi-tasking as I set up a camera to shoot a spectacular lightning storm that his floating in from the west. Glen and Mark are making last minute modifications to the paramotors before we all sit down to eat dinner and watch the spectacular light show going off in the distance. A full moon and clear sky behind us shines more than enough light for us to eat. It looks as though the storm won’t quite make it to us, then a few minutes later, we see that it is spreading out to the sides, and an arm of cloud has actually reached around the back of us, almost like a hook, reeling us into the storm. A quick cleanup and we’re off to bed; I throw a towel over the hole in the roof above my bed, just in case it rains. in the darkness, then a quick clean up and off to bed.

Out here the temperature is much cooler, less humidity and a breeze being sucked in by the storm is making form one of the most comfortable nights yet. I’m just about to fall asleep when… CRACK… the inside of the trailer lights up as a streak of lightning strikes somewhere very close. All of a sudden, the silent streaks of lightning we were watching earlier were now upon us with the upmost fiery. Sheet lightning fills the sky, Buckets of rain begin to fall, and the trailer begins to shake with the force of high winds. At first nothing is coming in as we have all the windows open to cool the camper down. Then, water starts to spray in from the left side, and Craig and I close it up. Then the wind picks up even more, one of the paramotors just outside topples over and I notice a light in the garage. Glen has dragged his tent into the barn then runs out to save the paramotors in the driving rain. Craig in nothing more than his underwear, bolts out the door to help, quickly returning completely soaked, while I’m trying to zipper up the right side as the wind has changed. Then the trailer begins to rock back and forward, the wind pushing it, the walls bubbling in like some great force on the other side wants to get at us as the lightning continues to streak all around us, great booms of thunder quickly follow. Somewhere out in the tree’s, Mark was still in his hammock, likely getting rocked around more than us.  I jump back up into my bed, the angle of the rear window is currently enough to keep the rain out, at least for now. However, the tear in the fabric roof above my head is giving up the ghost as the towel has blown away and water begins to stream down next to my head. I spend several more minutes maneuvering my mattress and laying down another towel to soak up what was getting in, but it was a fruitless attempt.

Mercifully, the crashes of thunder became more and more distant, and the rain eased to a slight shower to nothing at all, and the bright full moon showed its face once again. With a mattress only slightly damp, I could now get some much needed and earned sleep. Our introduction to the expedition proper was official and something we will not soon forget. The boys will be in the sky for the first leg in the morning.

Australian Adventur: Log 5

Still in a shiver, I’ve watched the sun come up, unable to sleep in the cold damp humid camper. The rest stop we laid up in was quite a nice large park with a pond in the middle. Several different kinds of birds scoured the ground in search of their early morning breakfast while a thick eerie fog hung in the humid air. Enough is enough, I’m getting up and going to have myself a bird bath over in the washrooms, grab my towel and go for a walk in the early morning fog as the others sleep. Walking past the pond full of vegetation and wildlife, my mind can’t help but realize that I’m now getting into crock country, and my senses are on high alert, even though I know there is little danger. A quick splash, wash and dry and I’m a new man heading back to the camper.

The rest of the crew are now rolling out of bed, getting ready for a long days travel towards Townsville, 1200 kilometres away. As we hit the road, the fog lifts and the blazing sun beats down, temperature shooting north of 30-degrees and it isn’t even 8 in the morning. While the rest of the crew are basking in the heat, my Nordic blood is reacting in a much different manner. The refreshed cleanliness of my morning wash turns into a mid-morning mess of sweat and burning skin. I figured a day spent in the car wouldn’t require slapping on the sun block for at least a couple more hours, oh how wrong I was.

As is becoming a morning ritual, we find a McDonalds in Bundaburg for a bit of breakfast and short jaunt of Facebook and blog updating. Then it’s back on the road heading north, where more heat and humidity lies in wait. Now with sunscreen on, it doesn’t seem to matter, with the sun beating down at an angle; my left arm is a slave to the unrelenting rays. Stuck in my seat, the Nissan just keeps getting hotter and hotter, and word of stopping on a beach a ways up the coast is a refreshing sound as I sweat away, only the hot breeze coming through the window keeping me sane.

As we work our way north, the scenery change is magnificent. The lush tropical hills of Surfers Paradise fads into the wide open expanses of savannah, wide open flat country with large trees sparsely spread throughout, with low pointed mountains far off in the distance, it’s a mixture of the African savannah and coastal mountains of Asia. By 2 pm, I’m working my third litre of water, and it occurs to me that I haven’t gone to the washroom yet.

Soon, we come across sand dunes, and just beyond the beach, and we pull over for a much needed dip, four men peeling themselves out of the hot stinky Nissan. The ocean never looked so good, it’s just a shame it’s so far away. We hit at the height of low tide, and the long shallow beach stretched on for kilometres, a refreshing dip a frustratingly harsh hike away. So, a quick moment to unwind on the beach, and we are back into the stink box for another 8-hours.

By the time it was my turn to drive, darkness had fallen, and reaching Townsville today was just not going to happen. As fatigue took its toll, I searched for a rest stop to spend the night. However, it would take another hour before we would find anything, and in our desperation, a truck stop would have to do. However, the Nissan began to run rough pulling into the stop, stalling several times when jumping on the clutch, a new challenge is likely ahead.

I wake up in another sweaty mess, just wanting to get out of bed, very little sleep as big diesel rigs pass by all night. However, a glorious sunrise gives some beauty to an otherwise uninspiring truck stop. Back on the road, it only takes us a couple hours to reach Townsville, a nice tropical city on the ocean that wraps around a large plateau. It’s a beautiful city, and we find a caravan park right on the ocean. Ah, we’ll get that ocean swim after all. “Nope, there’s stingers in the water there, the closest swimming area is down the coast,” utters the attendant at the park. Damn.

We set up, and do final checks on all the equipment and electronics giving Glen and Marks issues, while the truck is giving me and Craig stress as well. The humidity here is ridiculous and the temp is well over 30, how far I have no idea, and I don’t want to know, however, it all hit me in an instant, lifting a load into the roof rack. All of a sudden my head goes light, and my heart begins to race. I know exactly what going on and stumble over to the tap to douse my head and body with water, which doesn’t make me any wetter than my already sweat drenched cloths and take in as much water as I my stomach can handle. My energy level plummets as heat overtakes my body. “I’m out,” I comment as I stumble over to the shade of a tree. The heat finally got me, I’d been battling it since I landed two weeks ago, and now I lay exhausted and useless against a tree, as mosquitos attack every inch of my body; a camel back tube constantly hanging from my mouth.