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.

Australian Adventure: Log 4

Now based in Worongary, a small town in and around Surfers Paradise, we now have the crew together. Mark, the team leader and Craig, the team mechanic, have already been in town for a couple days and had even already procured transportation, a rugged Nissan Patrol 4WD that ran off LPG, that’s propane for you North American folks. The other pilot, Glen, still hadn’t come in from the rains, stuck in Toowoomba. However, the floods had subsided and he would be in the next day, soaking wet, gear wet right through. With the crew together, we did a tourist drive through Surfers Paradise, a real paradise, which is actually full of surfers. In fact, the entire city seems to be void of any real commercial or retail services other than beachside restaurants, coffee shops and surf shops. The whole city seems to be residential high rises full of surfers. We were staying at Marks wife’s nephews house, which he, Nam and his wife Devo, graciously lent us in our bid to get ready for the trip

Soon the epic rains subsided and the procurement of materials began. A camper trailer was purchased out in Ipswich to keep us all out of the baking Outback sun when on the road. The paramotors, camera’s and flight data recorders were all late getting shipped and didn’t arrive until after the start date of February 1st. Rather annoying, however, we needed the extra time anyways to sort out all the logistics. Running all over Nerang, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane and pretty much the whole Gold Coast we slowly got decaling, roof rack, Bull bar and some little mechanical issues sorted with the Nissan. The local paramotor club help us out greatly, with Gary giving me and Glen additional bedrooms at his house, Ben offering up some helpful mechanical advice tuning in the motors. Fabien, who runs a pet accessories distribution gave us floor space at his warehouse to store and work on all the equipment and everyone gave us some great advice in traversing and flying over the terrain that would soon follow.

It all finally came together on the February 4th, with the motors in and tuned up, and all the equipment washed and packed away into the Nissan and Camper, we left Worongary for Townsville, and the start of our record attempting adventure. Leaving late in the evening, the first leg of our 1,500 km trip only took us to a couple hundred kilometres past Brisbane, to a nice little rest area along a now empty Pacific Coast Highway. An interesting stop for dinner at a prior rest stop just before a local theme park, “Aussie Land,” where an equally interesting bar stood tall along the roadside, like five-stories tall. Walking into the ground floor, hard rock music blared over the speakers for the three guys that were playing pool in the corner. A walk up a spiral wood staircase took us to a second level, where there was just additional seating room. Up several more flights of stairs, we finally came to the top floor, where we could finally order some food. The overpriced dinner wasn’t the best; however, eating high up on the balcony, the cooler air was nice refreshment to the heated confines of the Nissan under the hot Aussie sun.

The day was so hot that night I didn’t bother unpacking my sleeping bag, wishing for a cool breeze. Craig and I took the two pullout beds in the camper, while Glen set up a tent and Mark strung a camping hammock up into some nearby trees. As with my experience here in mid Australia, the humidity really rises at night, so while the temperature may go down, it actually feels hotter than the daytime, making sleep a hard and nasty affair. Crawling into bed, I was already a bit wet with sweat, and getting to sleep was a bit of a challenge with the heat trapped in the camper. At some time during the night I woke up, shivering and near hypothermia as the temperature had dropped during the night, but the humidity stayed up, layering everything in thick dew, including me. My sleeping back packed away deep in the truck, I toughed it out, throwing some socks on and covering myself with a towel to stay warm, hopefully daylight comes soon.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 3

Camping on the beach in my converted Toyota Landcruiser, I was up at 3 AM to hopefully find that the emergency services crews had cleared the three separate flooded sections of the highway. To my excitement, I breezed through with no issues; however, one of the crews told me that the highway was still flooded several hundred kilometers up, and that I may want to try an inland route if I had any hope of making Brisbane. However, they said it with a chuckle, making me think my chances were slim at best. Stopping off at another Information outlet, I picked up a local map and planed my route. From Kyogle I would make my way north to the Lindesay Mountain pass in hopes that it was high enough ground to stay uncovered on my way to Beaudesert. However, as I left the town, the rain was falling harder than I’ve ever seen rain fall and more of the landscape was under water than not.

It didn’t take long to find a familiar sight; traffic signes, caution signs and a roadway that sank into the murky depths of the flooded low lands. However, this time there were no Emergency Services Crew standing guard, and measuring the roadside indicators, I knew that this body of water was only about a foot deep, even if it was travelling across the road with some velocity. With the speed of the water, I nosed in much more cautiously this time, not worried about depth, but of the possibility that the road surface was washed away underneath. After a good 15-minutes and several hundred meters of water crossed, I was on the far shore and shooting north once again.

 This was a situation that would show itself two more times as I crossed the water logged low-lands, however, my wary disposition turned positive as I left the farmlands and began to lift up into the lushest green tropical rain forest I’d ever seen. Massive tall standing eucalyptus and Gum trees where surrounded by shorter fern trees with a forest floor packed full of yet even more ferns. The gentile winding country road was already quite pleasant working its way through the hills before the forest, however, once in the forest, the nature of the road changed quite radically.

With the rain pouring down, the Lindesay road began to jerk and kick its way through the thick undergrowth. Long open bends quickly turned to sharp narrow bursts that wound up into the mountains, the forest spilling out over the road with the weight of the water pouring down. However, that cruel bitch, Mother Nature, wasn’t done with me yet. About 20-kilometres up the road, a large pile of red mud had obscured the roadway in front of me. This time, 4-Low was locked in and the increased ride height saw me not only safely over the 100-meters of dirt in front of me, but another nasty washout shortly down the road.

As I began to descend down the East side, the rain began to become more and more violent, and having been through this situation for the last few days, I knew that I was now in a race with the water to get down to the lowest point. Before I knew it, the tropical rain forest was being replaced with open meadows as the road continued to wind just a viciously down through the undulating and hilly topography, however, still lined with several layers of trees to keep the corners blind. What wasn’t blind anymore were the rather serious drop-offs that now lined the left side of the road. With no barriers to save me if I locked up a wheel, my slow speeds in the 4x4 allowed me to momentarily look away from the road, and straight down a 200-metre drop. All of a sudden, this road, race with Mother Nature and situation just got a lot more serious.

Finally I broke out of the trees and into the meadows, although I was still racing the water down the mountain. Great rivers of water were now flowing across the roadway and undermining the side edges. I soon came to a bridge signed “Tamrookum Creek bridge #7.” Having crossed over several bridges before, I was hoping that these numbers would be going up, however I was not very surprised to find “Tamrookum Creek bridge #6” only a short distance down the road. The race was on for “Tamrookum Creek bridge #1” as that will likely be the lowest in the rapidly flattening out terrain, and the most likely to be covered by flood waters. The suspense built as my fears were coming true, each bridge was getting a little lower to the ground, the water getting a little higher as the countdown continued.

Finally I rounded a sharp corner, spraying water to both sides of the road, to find that “Tamrookum Creek bridge #1” was still over the water, at least just as I rocketed over top, crossing the finishing line. I had felt like I had just won a long distance marathon with mother nature, and I really couldn’t ask for a better battle ground for the fight to take place. Despite not having a machine that would give me the greatest driving pleasure on such a road, I never would have found it if it wasn’t for the fording and off-road abilities of my Britz 4WD camper. Thank goodness I did have it, as this was one of the most epic roads I’ve driven yet.

The pressure was off, and I could now meander my way to Brisbane, only a short, and finally dry, 150-kilometres. I arrived at my destination, the home of Marks nephew… kinda… inlaw, who has graciously put up the team. Both Mark and mechanic Craig, my fellow ground crew member are waiting, and they even have the vehicle that we will be traveling in around Australia, a beat up old Nissan Patrol. After three days on the road, I finally get a well-earned shower, and can finally relax as we wait for Glen, the fourth team member who wasn’t so lucky getting through the washed out mess I had just endured.