Dust devils

The Simp­son Desert is an iconic trip that fea­tures highly on many a bucket list. We tackle the trip armed with a cou­ple of Iveco trucks and a eet of dirt bik­ing lu­natics

Australian Transport News - - Contents - WORDS M ATT W OOD

A gainst an early morn­ing back­drop of glow­ing out­back rock es­carp­ments, I rolled out of my swag to con­tem­plate the com­ing day … and to have a wee.

The cries and squawks of birdlife wafted through the trees over­head as our party stirred and shuf­fled bleary eyed into the rapidly grow­ing light.

The early ex­plor­ers faced in­nu­mer­able hard­ships and chal­lenges as they tra­versed this harsh wilder­ness.

In those early days, cen­tral Aus­tralia was no place for the faint hearted. A MOT­LEY CREW Our party con­sisted of an anaes­thetist, an ENT spe­cial­ist, an ex-Mo­toGP star and sports com­men­ta­tor, the owner of an ARB 4x4 store, two ex-RAF chopper pi­lots cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing the globe by mo­tor­cy­cle, a fi x-it-all truck driver, a dirt bike-mad Iveco en­gi­neer, and me … who was told there would be beer.

But in­stead of camels and horses we had trucks and mo­tor­cy­cles. The bikes were a fl eet of Honda CRF450s, the trucks an Iveco ML150 Eurocargo 4x4 and an Iveco Daily 4x4.

As you may have guessed al­ready, the Eurocargo be­longs to ex-Mo­toGP star Daryl Beat­tie.

This truck is the core of his ad­ven­ture mo­tor­cy­cle tour busi­ness where he guides cus­tomers along some of this coun­try’s most iconic out­back trails. Cape York, The Simp­son Desert and the Can­ning Stock Route all fea­ture as po­ten­tial itin­er­ar­ies for those who want a sup­ported dirt bike blast with Daryl Beat­tie Ad­ven­tures.

CUS­TOM OFF-ROADER The Eurocargo has been ex­ten­sively cus­tomised and fea­tures a Unidan body.

This houses stor­age for camp gear and lug­gage, a mobile kitchen, work­shop and external shower.

Un­der­neath the body are 1000 litres of wa­ter, 400 litres of shower wa­ter, 600 litres of diesel (aside from the stan­dard tanks on the truck) and 500 litres of un­leaded for the bikes. On the way to and from tours the truck also tows a trailer to trans­port the bikes, in­clud­ing Daryl’s per­sonal set of wheels, an Africa twin.

Power comes from a 6-cylin­der, 5.9-litre Iveco Tec­tor en­gine which makes 280hp (209kW) at 2700rpm and 950Nm of torque at be­tween 1250rpm and 2100rpm. Gear chang­ing is via a 6-speed man­ual tranny. The big cam­ou­flage beast is con­stant four-wheel drive with a 2-speed trans­fer case. The front, rear and cen­tre dif­fer­en­tials are all lock­able.

This par­tic­u­lar truck has had a cou­ple of af­ter­mar­ket mods to help it in the rough stuff. The Iveco has been fi tted with an AIR- CTI cen­tral tyre infl ation sys­tem, while a set of ex­tremely beefy ad­justable King shocks have also been in­stalled un­der­neath.

Sans trailer, this truck grosses about 13,500kg when loaded for the bush.

Also along for the ride was an Iveco Daily 4x4 that came courtesy of Iveco head of­fice for some photo ops. SET­TING OFF Our start­ing point was Oo­raminna Sta­tion, about 35 kilo­me­tres south of Alice Springs.

The sta­tion build­ings and the rem­nants of an old fi lm set lie in a nat­u­ral rock am­phithe­atre that lights up in the morn­ing and evening sun.

It also turns out that there are a cou­ple of bars of 3G phone re­cep­tion from the top of a nearby hill.

In ret­ro­spect, it was kind of amus­ing to see the sil­hou­et­ted fi gures of phone-tap­ping in­di­vid­u­als with faces aglow send­ing last mes­sages to the out­side world be­fore ven­tur­ing into the desert and look­ing very much like a troupe of tech-savvy meerkats.

Our route was to take us to Mt Dare via Binns Track and Old An­dado homestead and across the 1100 or so sand dunes of the Simp­son Desert to Birdsville. A dis­tance of more than 1000 kilo­me­tres. The bikes would be fang­ing it. In the big Eur­cargo, though, we’d be slog­ging it.

Scott (Scooter) McLean usu­ally steers the big jig­ger on these trips, how­ever I scored fi rst stint be­hind the wheel of the ML150 as we rolled out of the sta­tion via some bush tracks head­ing to­wards Santa Theresa.

LOW-RANGE ROLLIN’

I used low range for a bit un­til we got to the main (dirt) road to join up with Binns Track.

The ML felt very much at ease on these roads. The truck is a vi­tal part of the trip, mainly be­cause it has all the camp­ing gear, food, wa­ter and fuel on board, so I had to keep pedal to the metal. Clearly the bikes are faster but they rely on the truck get­ting there in rea­son­able time.

So I was able to play out my child­hood Dakar fan­tasies in the Eurocargo. With a mas­sive plume of bull­dust stream­ing from the mil­i­tary- spec Miche­lin tyres, I kept the go-pedal nailed while keep­ing my eyes peeled for ob­sta­cles.

In fact, while the bull­dust holes were a chal­lenge for the bikes and their riders, the big Iveco just ploughed through them with ease.

I even man­aged a lit­tle amuse­ment at the bike tyre tracks in the dirt. Here and there you could see the out­line of a body and foot­prints in the dust where a rider had been bucked off in the pow­der-fi ne dirt.

UN­DER PRES­SURE

With tyre pres­sures dropped to 52psi at the front and 67psi at the rear, the stretch from Old An­dado and its pre­served homestead to Mt Dare proved to be a high­light as we wound through the trees at speed.

We rolled into Mt Dare 400 kilo­me­tres later to set up camp at what would be our last con­tact with civil­i­sa­tion for three days. From here on in the truck would be much slower than the rest of the party.

The rock- and rub­ble-strewn land­scape sprawled out be­fore us as we took things at a much stead­ier pace. We’d left well be­fore the bikes but I had to keep my eyes peeled on the mir­rors and rear-fac­ing cam­era for them as they caught up and at­tempted to over­take.

Once past the oa­sis of Dal­housie Springs and into the desert proper we dropped the tyre pres­sures again to 40psi on the front and 62psi on the rear.

As we fol­lowed the French Line we started the slow work of sand dune climb­ing and even slower de­scents.

BUSY TRACK

Although it was still pretty early in the sea­son, there was still reg­u­lar traffi c along this route.

The eastern face of the dunes was al­ready be­com­ing quite carved up as a re­sult of un­locked driv­e­trains spin­ning up the sand. The re­sult is a rut­ted off- set sand stair­case which makes a truck with a high cen­tre of grav­ity like the Eurocargo rock and buck wildly if a slow and steady ap­proach isn’t adopted.

Af­ter hours of slog­ging up and down the dunes in low range it was al­most a re­lief to turn south onto the Rig Road and run high range be­tween the par­al­lel dunes.

We rolled to a halt to get a bit more stiff ness in the ad­justable shock only to fi nd that the hard desert driv­ing had taken its toll.

A bot­tom mount­ing nut and spacer had dis­ap­peared. Thank­fully the shocker was still sit­ting on its mount­ing, oth­er­wise there may have been a lit­tle more swear­ing and bush en­gi­neer­ing to re­mount it.

With the sun low in the sky, we rolled into camp just off the Rig Road to be greeted by a bunch of sweaty, dust- cov­ered bik­ers han­ker­ing for what passes as beer in these parts.

To a man, they were all grin­ning like lu­natics af­ter the day’s an­tics. I don’t think I’ve ever met so many peo­ple who think that a good day in the desert is be­ing slammed into the dirt by your bike!

DINGO CHO­RUS

As the cho­rus of for­ag­ing din­goes faded, the speck­led cur­tain of night was drawn back by the sun and we stirred for an­other day.

We packed up camp and hit the road again. The width of the truck and the veg­e­ta­tion meant that on the day we ran with the mir­rors tucked in.

Those mir­ror hous­ings may be tough but they’re no match for a re­peated bat­ter­ing from the hardy desert scrub.

We soon found our­selves again grind­ing through the dunes on the French Line head­ing east.

Some may say that the end­less climb­ing of dunes and clay pan cross­ing can get mo­not­o­nous. But for me, the nov­elty of tak­ing in the view from the van­tage point of a truck cab never wore off. It re­ally is a stun­ning land­scape of end­less hori­zons and scrubby dunes.

Although I only re­ally got to con­tem­plate this when not con­cen­trat­ing on keep­ing the big Iveco up­right. It’s no mean feat to keep more than 13 tonnes of truck mov­ing through the sand safely.

We hit Poep­ple Cor­ner, skirted the mas­sive salt pan and trun­dled up to the

“It re­ally is a stun­ning land­scape of end­less hori­zons and scrubby dunes”

Above:

Slog­ging over dunes is hard work but the low at torque curve of the Tec­tor power plant makes the job eas­ier Be­low:

Scott (Scooter) McLean has the best job ever. When not tol­er­at­ing an­noy­ing journos like me, he gets to take the Eurocargo on some of the best out­back trips that this coun­try has to of­fer Break­ing camp at Oo­raminna Sta­tion be­fore strik­ing east Op­po­site top:

Above:

Daryl mans the tongs for a lunchtime bar­bie Be­low:

The Air CTI sys­tem was in­valu­able in the bush; you can inate or deate at the push of a but­ton. The spinifex does give the air­lines a bat­ter­ing, though Op­po­site:

We lost a nut! Luck­ily the shocker stayed put!; We also needed to cut down a spacer; luck­ily Scooter is well pre­pared

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