EAT MY DUST

The Simp­son Desert is an iconic trip that fea­tures highly on many a bucket list. Matt Wood tack­les the trip armed with a cou­ple of Iveco trucks and a fleet of dirt bik­ing lu­natics

Owner Driver - - Owner / Driver -

AGAINST 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 faint­hearted.

I, how­ever, wasn’t go­ing to be rough­ing it too much re­ally. Our party con­sisted of an anaes­thetist, an ENT spe­cial­ist, an ex-moto GP star and sports com­men­ta­tor, the owner of an ARB store, two ex RAF chop­per pi­lots cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing the globe by mo­tor­cy­cle, a fix-it-all truck driver, a dirt bike-mad Iveco engi­neer and me … who was told there would be beer.

Which kinda sounds like a very long­winded segue into a bleary-eyed pub joke. But, in­stead of camels and horses, we had trucks and mo­tor­cy­cles. The bikes were a fleet 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-moto GP 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 that want a sup­ported dirt bike blast with Daryl Beat­tie Ad­ven­tures.

This 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 six- cylin­der, 5.9-litre Iveco Tec­tor en­gine which makes 280hp at 2700rpm and 950Nm of torque at be­tween 1250 and 2100rpm. Gear chang­ing is via a sixspeed man­ual tranny.

The big camo beast is con­stant four-wheel- drive, with a two-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. Firstly, the Iveco has been fit­ted with an AIR-

“I was able to play out my child­hood Dakar fan­tasies.”

CTI cen­tral tyre in­fla­tion sys­tem, sec­ondly, 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, which came cour­tesy of Iveco head of­fice for some photo ops.

SOUTH OF ALICE

Our start­ing point was Oo­raminna Sta­tion, about 35 kilo­me­tres south of Alice Springs. The sta­tion build­ings and the rem­nants of an old film set lie in a nat­u­ral rock am­phithe­atre that lights up in the morn­ing and evening sun.

It also turns out that there are also 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 figures of phone­tap­ping 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, but in the big Euro­cargo though, we’d be slog­ging it.

Scott ‘Scooter’ McLean usu­ally steers the big jig­ger on these trips, how­ever I scored first 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 that would have both Scooter and me bounc­ing off the roof.

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-fine 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 Mount Dare proved to be a high­light as we wound through the trees at speed. It was hard driv­ing, yet with spec­tac­u­lar scenery.

We rolled into Mount Dare 400 kilo­me­tres later to set up camp at what would be our last con­tact with civ­i­liza­tion 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 tyre pres­sures were again dropped 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

It was still pretty early in the sea­son, how­ever there was still reg­u­lar traf­fic along this route. The east­ern face of the dunes were al­ready be­com­ing quite carved up as a re­sult of un­locked driv­e­trains spin­ning up the sand. The re­sult is a rut­ted off­set 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 stiff­ness in the ad­justable shock only to find 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. Scooter rum­maged around in his bag of tricks and found a cou­ple of nuts and a spacer. The spacer how­ever was too long to al­low any pur­chase for the nut, so we had to cut it down to suit. Be­fore long we had a nut, spacer and lock­nut in­stalled and were mobile again.

driv­ing had “The hard desert taken its toll.”

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. They were all to a man 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 speck­led cur­tain of night was drawn back by the sun and the cho­rus of for­ag­ing din­goes faded, we stirred for another day. We packed up camp and Scooter and I hit the road again.

The width of the truck and the veg­e­ta­tion meant that 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, though I only re­ally got to con­tem­plate this when not con­cen­trat­ing on keep­ing the big Iveco up­right.

It’s no mean feat to keep more than13 tonnes of truck mov­ing through the sand safely.

We hit Poep­ple Cor­ner, skirted the mas­sive salt­pan and trun­dled up to the French Line to again find a rav­aging gang of bik­ers ea­gerly await­ing our ar­rival.

The load rack on top of the Euro­cargo’s Unidan body also found another use. I’d climbed up and tied some frozen steaks to it so they could thaw dur­ing the day. I don’t know if the re­peated bat­ter­ing of the track helped ten­der­ize them but at camp around the fire that night, that steak would have to rate as the best I’ve ever eaten.

Judg­ing by the amount of dingo ac­tiv­ity that night, it sounded like the wildlife agreed too. It also may have had some­thing to do with Scooter throw­ing the food scraps on the ground near my swag – bas­tard.

DAILY TIME

Af­ter three days in the Euro­cargo, I snaf­fled the keys to the lit­tle Daily

and pointed it east to­wards Big Red. Af­ter the truck, the Daily 4x4 felt like a sports car. Ad­mit­tedly the Daily didn’t re­ally have any load on board, but this was the first time that I’d had a chance to drive the up­dated 4x4 in an off-road set­ting.

This lit­tle truck just flew up the dunes. Light weight and a set of 37-inch mud ter­rain tyres and low tyre pres­sures re­ally made a huge dif­fer­ence in the desert. The Daily has high, in­ter­me­di­ate and low range, but in this ter­rain there was no need for any­thing other than high-range with the cen­tre diff-locked.

The Daily uses a 3-litre Euro 6 turbo- diesel en­gine for power and makes 170hp and 400Nm of torque. This up­dated pow­er­plant does have a habit of be­ing a lit­tle laggy even though peak torque is from 1250rpm, but keep the tacho nee­dle at around 3000rpm ( peak power) and it will have a fair old crack at most things.

A cou­ple of times I grabbed the rear diff lock to make crest­ing of a cou­ple of dunes a lit­tle more dig­ni­fied.

BIG RED

Af­ter run­ning amok in the desert sand for a few hours, I crested a dune to find Big Red await­ing me. I nailed the go pedal un­der the gaze of the wait­ing bik­ers on top of the fa­mous dune but to my em­bar­rass­ment, I didn’t make it to the top.

I could see the ner­vous look on the face of Iveco’s Joel Reid as he watched me make another at­tempt. If I hadn’t man­aged to get this tough off-roader to the top they may still be search­ing for my body. Re­ally, it just came down to speed and tyre pres­sures and the Daily scrab­bled to the top of the dune.

The close-gated gearshift in the Daily made it very easy to slip into the wrong gear when try­ing to grab a cog in a hurry. That’s my de­fence any­way!

Ul­ti­mately, I walked away quite im­pressed by the ML150 and its off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The long, flat torque curve of the Tec­tor en­gine made it a flex­i­ble per­former off-road.

Dura­bil­ity hasn’t been an is­sue for this truck to date ei­ther. This wasn’t a staged me­dia drive, this was a work­ing truck with more than 40,000km on the clock so far, much of it in the out­back and on the dirt and close to GVM.

In this role how­ever, a torque con­verter auto, such as an Al­li­son, would help with off-road tractabil­ity and would make the most of the Iveco donks’ avail­able oomph.

RETARDATION AND AUTO

The only down­side of an Al­li­son off-road though, is it needs some retardation. Re­ly­ing on an ex­haust brake to hold you back off-road with smaller dis­place­ment en­gines equipped with an auto, gen­er­ally re­sults in bump-fart­bump-fart kind of boo­gie on steep de­scents as the ex­haust brake cuts in and out in con­junc­tion with the ris­ing revs.

An auto, even when locked in first, will still let the revs climb.

I re­alise that op­tion­ing an Al­li­son and ’box-mounted re­tarder isn’t a cheap ex­er­cise but it would be an of­froad mon­ster with that setup.

The Birdsville Pub was a wel­come sight af­ter a few days in the desert. It had been a great trip and as an added bonus, af­ter four days shar­ing a truck, Scooter hadn’t felt the need to stab me with a biro. He must be a top bloke.

I’ve had a cou­ple of big nights in the Birdsville Pub in the past but this one took the cake. I’d go into more de­tail but, hey, what hap­pens on the road, stays on the road.

Diff locks front, rear and cen­tre, as well as cen­tral tyre in­fla­tion help the ML150 Euro­cargo in the rough stuff

The lit­tle Iveco Daily 4x4 also came along for the ride. This thing’s no slouch in the sand

Perched on the rock strewn Western edge of the Simp­son Desert, the Euro­cargo makes for an im­pos­ing sight

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

It may be camo but you can’t re­ally miss this thing in the dunes!

Fuel stop at the Old An­dado Sta­tion turnoff

Daryl mans the tongs for a lunchtime Bar­bie

Lunch stop at Old An­dado Homestead. The build­ing has been pre­served as a piece of out­back his­tory

The Air CTI sys­tem was in­valu­able in the bush; you can in­flate or de­flate at the push of a but­ton. The spin­nifex does give the air-lines a bat­ter­ing though

The truck cab gives you a great van­tage point for ad­mir­ing the vast empti­ness of the desert

just ate The Daily 4x4 was a the dunes and heap of fun

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