Shanks Pony

Ah, Shanks Pony. She wasn’t my first car; a long way from it. Never really had luck with cars, you see.

My first car was a ’92 Mazda 626 I bought off my parents. It seemed in good enough nick and just into driving age I would have gladly told you it was capable of doing 120 in second gear. I’d only had it a few months when it died from engine decompression while attempting to take a mate to the airport.

My next car was a ‘93 EB Falcon I bought off a neighbour. It did me pretty well until some bird from Canberra, just up from the weekend to see her mum, cleaned me up at an intersection one fateful night. It was a class job; she drove straight through the intersection, only she was in the right-turning lane and flicking left - in the middle of the intersection.

Next came an ‘03 Camry. Having decided that with my track record, it probably wasn’t worth me spending a lot of money on a car, it was an ex-taxi. Only five years old, I bought it for a steal. As a taxi it was well maintained and most of its parts were new. The only catch was the five hundred thousand-odd kilometres on its dial.

Actually, nothing happened to it. My wife’s old ’91 model Corolla needed replacing and we’d been discussing for a long while our need for a ute, so it seemed only common sense to buy the ute we needed anyway and then she could replace her ancient Corolla with a shiny new Camry.

So we went car shopping. What did we need in a car? Well we had a price range obviously, so it was never going to be anything too amazing. We didn’t want anything older than ’00 – it wouldn’t have made sense to replace an old car with another old car.

We needed a ute, but it had to be a dual cab as we were planning on having kids shortly. It didn’t have to have a huge engine, as we weren’t planning on towing anything or carrying heavy loads. As you could probably tell from my first three cars, brand wasn’t terribly important to me. It also didn’t matter if it was petrol or diesel, although I have always preferred the reliability of diesel.

And four wheel driving capacity. Well, it didn’t have to have it, but it was something that I had always wanted. Unfortunately, I figured it would be out of our price range and would have to wait until we could afford it.

So I shopped around and shopped around, went to nearly every car shop in Townsville. For whatever reason, dual cab utes were rare as hen’s teeth at that time. There were a couple around, but they wanted no less than double what I wanted to pay for it.

Coming to the last shop I planned on trying before giving up, the guy that owned the place directed me down the road to another place that I’d never heard of. Said he’d seen something that might be what I was after. My hopes weren’t high, but it was only up the road so I went and had a look.

There, I found exactly what I was after. It was a dual cab ’00 Ford Courier. It was roadworthy, looked in good nick and within our price range. It was a 2.4L turbo diesel which was a bonus, but best of all it had four wheel drive and came with a bullbar, sidesteps and a long range tank.

How the truck came to be named Shanks Pony was simply that I happen to be a fan of irony: When buying the truck, I figured that my lack of four wheel driving experience, combined with the truck’s lack of four wheel driving capability, would amount to a number of experiences where I would have been better off had I been travelling on foot in the first place.

I wasn't wrong.


The Petford Trip

As a Queensland boy I’d been four wheel driving before, of course, but as a kid – just there for the ride and as much as I enjoyed those experiences, at that age you simply don’t have the life experience to appreciate it for what it is.

The Petford trip was my first real four wheel driving experience. As far as things go, it wasn’t your ordinary trip. It started normally enough; a couple of army mates just moved back into town and they both had four wheel drives. We didn’t have ours just yet, but they were both dual cab Hiluxes, so they had enough room for us to ride along with them.

We used to go on trips together quite frequently as teenagers, doing all the local hikes and walking the length and breadth of the Atherton tablelands.

Now, a little older and with a bit more money, four wheel driving was nothing more than natural progression.

So we got together over a barbeque and a few beers and planned our trip. We were only doing it over a weekend, so we were going to travel by highway to Mt Garnett on the Friday night. Our final destination: Mutchilba, where we planned to arrive by lunch on Sunday so we had plenty of time to drive home.

We got up bright and early on the Saturday morning, having had only a few beers the night before in anticipation of a big day of driving ahead of us. After a barbeque breakfast of bacon and eggs, we pulled down the tarp that had been stretched between the two vehicles to provide us with shelter and left the aerodrome that we had called home for a night.

We got off to a scenic start as we passed many dams on the way from Mt Garnett to Mt Misery. The dams were once used to supply the abandoned mines in the area with water.

We had only been driving an hour when we had our first mishap. It wasn’t anything nasty; just the vibrations from being on an unsealed road (we hadn’t done any four wheel driving yet) was enough to disconnect the battery on one of the vehicles.

It was fixed easily enough; we just tightened the bolts back down after putting some rags under the battery to soften the vibrations.

A bit further up the road, scenic quickly turned to weird when we came across this horses leg wedged in the fork of a tree somewhere up on Mt Misery.

There was no one in sight, no houses in either direction for quite some distance and the leg didn’t appear to have been broken or cut.

We stopped to take a photo of this bizarre find and were quickly (perhaps easily) amused as we noticed that, upside down, the photo looked like nothing so much as a man with half a rager.

Eventually we shook off our mirth and got back on the road which soon, thankfully, presented us with our first obstacle as we came across a log that had fallen across the road.

The log was only a small one, not even big enough to warrant getting out of the vehicles to take a look at it.

I wouldn’t even be calling it an obstacle, except that it was enough for one of the vehicles – the same one that had had its battery disconnected – to pop a tire on as it crossed the log on, apparently, the exact wrong angle where it must have caught a knot with a pointy bit.

We quickly changed the wheel out and kept going but we were already down a spare tyre, and since we hadn’t even started the real four wheel driving, we were off to a shaky start to say the least.

But it was smooth sailing after that, all the way to Irvinebank where we stopped for lunch. We were hoping for the massive toasted sandwiches the local pub was famous for but, as is the way of things, we happened to be in town in time for Moffat fest, honouring the bloke that used to own most of the mines in the area and that brought life to this particular part of the country.

So we missed our toasted sandwiches but instead we got a lovely barbeque, a live band, good company and a festival we didn’t know existed.

We stuck around for the feed and a beer, and then off we went on our merry way.

The going got a bit tougher after we left Irvinebank. There had been no water crossings of note and as we were in the middle of Queensland’s nine month dry season, there was no chance of mud.

Unfortunately, our navigator neglected to mention that the maps we were using to guide our way to Mutchilba came from the early eighties and as such failed to mention that the old mining roads had long since washed out and become unusable.

We forged our way as best we could but after the morning’s mishaps and the state of the roads, we were rapidly running out of time.

The going got harder and harder until, (all too aware that although yes, we may be able to get across this obstacle but can we then get back?), the roads simply got too heavily gouged out and we finally had to give up and pick another route.

After short deliberation, we decided on Petford. It used mostly roads that were still being used by currently operating mines, and therefore, was unlikely to be impassable.

The road proved to be better than we had expected and we ended up making excellent time, reaching Petford late that afternoon.

Petford was a lovely little country town and quite picturesque, so we stopped at the railway station for a quick break before pushing on.

It was getting late so we needed to find somewhere to stop for the night. The plan was to get out of the town and just keep following our route until it started to get dark, when we would just pull off the road and set up camp for the night wherever we happened to be.

Our route took us down Three Chain Road, which was once an old railway line. The road was narrow and constantly went through steep cuttings, making you feel like you were driving through some crazy open-air tunnel through the hills.

The road was smooth but somewhat sandy, making the vehicle feel like it was just kind of gliding along just above the surface, making the journey completely bump-free.

As if it were meant to happen, we stumbled across the perfect campsite just as it started getting dark. We were looking for somewhere to camp so we took an offshoot that came off the road. It led us to a little waterhole where the one of the mines used to dump their waste.

Needless to say, we stayed well away from the water but, having thrown up our tarp and collected our firewood for the night, we set up the barbeque.

Being in the middle of nowhere, we decided to take the opportunity and used the cans from the beers we had had with our dinner to set up a little target range in front of a solid band of dirt that would act as butt stop to prevent the rounds from travelling any further.

We spent the next half hour or so taking turns shooting them down and setting them back up again before losing interest and locking the guns away so we could keep drinking, knowing that – since we had cut our trip short and were now not far from the highway and well ahead of schedule, we could afford to have a few beers and sleep in.

And sleep in we did. About nine o clock we dragged ourselves out of bed. We enjoyed another barbeque breakfast and, well recovered, started the trip home.

The road was easygoing and the only water crossing of note was California Creek, which had a hardened floor from frequent use.

Shortly after, we followed the Lynd highway home where we stopped at the well-known Oasis Roadhouse at Lynd Junction where we had a burger for lunch before driving the final two hours home.

And that’s when it all went horribly wrong. We had just passed Greenvale when we met two road trains at a bend on the Gregory Developmental Road. The lead car radioed back to us to let us know it was coming and we started moving over for them.

Unfortunately, this particular stretch of the road was only one lane. Our driver pulled off the road to make way for the trucks but as we were on a bend there wasn’t a lot of shoulder and we were frightfully close to the edge, where a steep fall awaited us.

Our driver pulled back in a bit to give himself some room from the edge when he lost control on the loose gravel and started fishtailing wildly. With the road trains now dangerously close and our driver unable to regain control, he panicked and applied the brakes which immediately turned us arse-about-face and sent us rolling – in between the two road trains.

I watched as the road smashed the glass of the side window inches from my face, and then the sky, and then I got a final vision of the second road train still driving at us until at last we hit the embankment on the side of the road and stopped rolling.

The second road train driver had seen us in trouble a long way back and, by some miracle, had managed to stop in time.

He rushed out to aid us but we had already extricated ourselves from the vehicle, the driver and I climbing out through where the windshield had once been and then my wife after I lifted her out the side door, which was the uppermost part of the car.

Having called the 000 for us, the road trains departed. Emergency services came shortly after.

The car was a write-off, of course, but nobody was killed – indeed, we all walked away not just whole, but virtually injury-free.

Chapter One

Early, Early Days

Not one to let a near-death experience worry me, I stuck with my original plan and a couple of months later when I had finished saving up, I went car shopping and bought myself Shanks Pony.

Now it was time to learn how to use it. I didn’t do any off road driving for the first couple of weeks, just to give myself time to get familiar with the vehicle’s handling, dimensions and any quirks. It also meant that if there were any problems with my second-hand vehicle, it gave us a chance to find them and fix them before breaking down somewhere help couldn’t get to us.

It was lucky we did: The courier kept falling out of fifth gear and the long range fuel tank had a small leak. Luckily, we had no problems getting the gearbox and the cracked weld on the fuel tank fixed (on warranty).

It was another couple of weeks by the time we got those couple of things fixed and there didn’t seem to be any more problems. Finally, it was time to take the thing off road.

I was at a training course at a fire station when a few mates were checking out my new ride. They also had four wheel drives and one of them had just joined the local four wheel drive club, so I took the opportunity to ask them where the local four wheel drive haunts were.

As it turned out, we were literally across the road from one of the entrances to the Mt Louisa four wheel drive tracks. I’d lived in Townsville all my life and never knew they were there – I knew there were tracks there, because they led up to the water towers and I knew there were a few properties back there, but I didn’t realise the tracks went up and over and around the hill and just how many of them there were.

Another bloke with us had only been in Townsville for a few years and hadn’t been there before either so it was decided that, after the course, the guy who told us about the tracks – who used to ride them on motorbike a few years back – would take us up and show us where to go.

And so up we went; me in my Courier, my mate in his Triton and my other mate on his XR600. The guy with the XR600 shot off ahead of us once he knew where he was going and, having quickly gotten bored waiting for us, shot off home again just as quickly.

So it was just me and the Triton. I was a bit nervous, I must admit: Apart from having never driven off road before myself, I had also never witnessed my companion’s four wheel driving skills and we didn’t have any gear between us – I hadn’t bought anything yet as I didn’t know what I needed and he hadn’t brought anything with him as he hadn’t planned on going four wheel driving in the first place.

Nevertheless we continued; my mate assured me he had been up here plenty of times and there wouldn’t be a problem. And besides, we were still essentially in town. We had our phones, signal, and help was only maybe half an hour away if we really got stuck.

So up and over we went. It only took a couple of hours, although honestly I must have doubled the time as, crazy nervous as I was, I insisted on getting out of the vehicle and physically checking Every. Single. Obstacle.

I had a ball of course, despite my fraying nerves and really the going was quite easy. A few bumps, a few holes, some moderately nasty washouts and plenty of loose shale was really all there was to it. I ripped my mudflap off at one point as I was backing up to make a turn and fell down a little gulley, but I was able to locate it and threw it in the back of the tray to replace later.

Other than the mudflap, the trip proved to be quite uneventful until we got to the last descent before we got back to the road. It was crazy steep, covered in loose shale, and there were some massive washouts just to add to the excitement.

My mate didn’t seem phased though, just gave me this comforting warning; ‘I know this sounds strange but try not to use your brakes on the way down or your wheels will lock up and you’ll slide out on the shale’ – and into one of the washouts, his sentence finished itself in my head.

Needless to say, I panicked and rode both my clutch and my brakes the entire way down the hill. I slid out frequently but luckily I never quite got up enough momentum to slide far and I managed to steer myself down to safety with no mishaps, although I only narrowly avoided pooing myself.

Filled with adrenaline from the descent, I raced home to tell my wife all about it and we found ourselves back at the Mt Louisa tracks that weekend.

We still had very little in the way of equipment but we did pick up an air compressor, a basic toolset (not that I knew how to fix anything), a snatch strap and a couple of jerries, one for diesel and one for water.

It was my wife’s turn to drive this time. I thought it would be wise if she could drive off road as well as I, in case something happened to me out there and she had to drive us to help. It wouldn’t have mattered though; my wife was as keen on four wheel driving as I was.

I attempted to navigate her back along the trail I’d been on a couple of days ago but quickly lost my way.

So she got out of having to do that last descent but there were plenty enough challenges for drivers of our skill level as it was.

The trip was uneventful, thankfully, except for a couple of dings in the side steps where my wife had to squeeze through a couple of big rocks placed inconveniently on a bend at a narrow part of the track.

But we both had fun, my wife was keen as mustard to get off the road again first chance we got and we found another couple of entrances to the tracks from different points.

Next came our first spot of real four wheel driving. Someone at work told me about a little place called Ollera, just north of Townsville, which had some four wheel drive tracks heading down to the beach.

We still didn’t have any recovery gear and little experience at this point, but we got a map of the tracks off Google Earth (and a map of the Mt Louisa tracks while we were there), and arranged to go with another four wheel drive.

Well, the other four wheel drive bailed on us at the last moment but as Ollera was apparently quite well known and regularly used by both dirt bikers and four wheel drivers, we decided we’d go anyway.

The Ollera 4wd tracks are split into four distinct routes from a cross-road near the start. We took the road to the right, having decided that it looked the most interesting. We didn’t get far when we came to our first creek crossing. There was a copse of mango trees just off the side of the road so we pulled over there to give the turbo a chance to cool down before we put it through water, as it would be nice and hot from the trip along the highway.

It was quite pleasant really. We got out in the shade, cracked our first beer and took the opportunity to pick a few fresh mangoes while we waited.

Maybe twenty minutes or so later we were satisfied the turbo should have cooled sufficiently and we set off. Of course I backed over a rut in my excitement. It was only a little one but it was enough that it tucked my mudflap under my tyre and ripped both it and the mudguard off the vehicle. I had to stop and retrieve them before we pressed through our first ever creek crossing.

At two metres across and all of a foot deep, well travelled and bottomed with stones, it wasn’t a challenge. A bit further along we came to another creek crossing (the same creek, as it snaked around in front of us). It was exactly as challenging as the first.

After that we headed up a sandy hill and followed some powerlines for a distance. That got boring quickly so we headed back to explore a little sidetrack that looked reasonably well-travelled.

Then the fun started. We came up to a few nice muddy ruts; about hub deep (we got out and checked with a broomstick), they were terribly sloppy but only a couple of metres long at a time. So we ploughed through a few of them.

My tyres, which were just shy of road tyres (about 80:20), turned into slicks in short order, but we got through the ruts with a little bit of sliding but no real trouble.

After we passed the ruts, I took the Pony over some gravely dirt and some grass to clear the tyres. Then we came to some bigger ruts. They had obviously been dug and redug by big muddies over time as the ruts resembled nothing so much as a steep cutting.

Well, we were here for some practice so I opted not to take the easy way around the ruts and instead went straight for them.

The ruts were only the slightest bit deeper than the ones we had already been through but considerably sloppier. However, the dirt between the ruts was sufficiently mounded that we got caught up on the diff.

So we squeezed ourselves out between the doors and the sides of the ‘cutting’ and started throwing branches and things under the tyres in an attempt to purchase some traction but got nowhere.

We were starting to get worried at this point as, although we had seen plenty of four wheel drives when we first arrived, we were no longer on the main route. But our fears were grounded. No sooner had we given up on our first attempt to free ourselves than a Bravo and a Landcruiser heading back down the track from the way we were going came to our rescue. We hadn’t even had the opportunity to scratch our heads and try to come up with an alternative method.

We threw out our snatch strap, the one piece of recovery equipment we did have, and were pulled out within sixty seconds of their arrival. We were warned not to go any further as the track had apparently been quite damaged in the recent rains and was nigh on impassible. More importantly, they had actually made it to the beach at the far end and warned us that there were no other vehicles further ahead and if we were to continue we were on our own.

So we turned around and headed back to where we came from, deciding this time to take the main route so we would be near other vehicles should be get into trouble again.

This track was much easier. There was rut after rut for most of the length of the road but most of them were only a couple of inches deep, or there was enough room to keep one side of the vehicle out of the rut. The worst ruts had tracks bashed through the bush around the ruts. Having already gotten stuck once, we opted to go around the bad ones.

The track led us to the beach and it turned to sand a few hundred metres from the end. But the layer of sand wasn’t real deep and there was hard, well travelled dirt beneath it so we pressed on until we reached the beach, where we stopped for another beer and a snack while we took in the view.

The beach stretched out before us, tyre tracks going left and right tantalising us with possibilities. But alas, we only had a compressor and a snatch strap. Next time.

So my wife drove back. We let our mate have a crack (that’s him in the black shirt in the back of the ute – and me, wearing the good ol’ Aussie wifebeater), but he was a bit timid and didn’t fancy the idea of getting bogged again so he took it gentle gentle and between the two of them we got back with no trouble whatsoever.

We went back to Ollera the next weekend, this time just the wife and I. We wanted to try four wheel driving at night, to test out the spotties and for a bit of extra excitement. It had been raining recently, which worried us a little, but we figured the main route was easy enough and we had another vehicle coming with us so we figured we’d be okay.

Well, once again the other vehicle bailed on us at the last moment. But we wanted to go so we threw our little pop-up tent and some extra beers in the back, figuring that in the worst case scenario, if we did get stuck, we could always just bivouac there the night and get pulled out the next morning.

When we got out to the tracks, we thought we might have to just turn around and go home after all; all the little ruts had filled with water. But as we probed at them with our broomsticks, we learned that that was all that had happened; they had simply filled with water. We could go around the ones deep enough to cause us grief and the rest we could go through; their bottoms were still very hard and worn.

And so we did. We got out at every single rut and tested it painstakingly with our sticks but we got out to the beach with no drama. After a barbeque dinner cooked on our little gas stove, we chilled out for a while on a picnic rug thrown in the back of the tray, looking up at the stars and sipping at a well-earned beer.

After a while the mosquitoes started biting so we got back into the Pony, my wife driving this time, and headed back.

We didn’t get out at every rut this time. Having successfully navigated them on the way out, we simply stuck to the same ruts on the way back.

Unfortunately, things look different when you’re facing the opposite direction, particularly at night, and we took a wrong track which led us into a particularly nasty rut. We got through a couple of metres of it and thought nothing of it until suddenly all forward progress stopped. We were caught up on our rear diff again and the wheels were all just spinning freely in the murk.

As it turned out, we were actually incredibly lucky that we had gotten caught on the diff; as I stepped in front of the vehicle to start packing the wheels, I immediately fell into a hole that brought the water almost chest-high.

We packed the wheels anyway and tried to reverse out, but there was nothing for it. It was quite late and there was no one around – well, there were a few people camped down at the beach but I wasn’t about to go and disturb them – so we were stuck for the night.

So we flagged the back of the vehicle so no one would drive into us during the night, threw out our little pop-up tent, had another beer and settled in for the night.

It was quite a pleasant sleep as it turned out, and a bloody beautiful morning to wake up to with great Australian bush all around and the sounds and scents that go with it.

Bizarrely, at some point during the night – maybe two or three o clock in the morning – a few vehicles passed us. Unfortunately, the sound of their machines had worked their way into the dream of off-road driving I was having and I didn’t wake up in time to flag them down.

But I woke with the sun and dragged myself out of the tent to sit with the vehicle so I could flag down the first vehicle to pass us. It didn’t take long; I had barely thrown my boots on and mounted the vehicle when a couple of quads came along, a father and his kid. They belonged to one of the vehicles camped down at the beach and went and fetched one of said vehicles to pull us out with.

Out came the snatch strap again and, a minute later, we were free. We thanked them, then packed our gear away and headed home.

Chapter Two

Testing the Gear

I was never one to like relying on other people. And the thought of having to ask a stranger to help un-bog me was an unpleasant one at best, and something I had had to do twice already. It might have been irrelevant if my piking mates had have actually turned up, but what can you do.

Anyway, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before I got my own recovery gear – I just had to get a little experience first so I knew which gear to get. After the first few runs and getting bogged every time and unable to even attempt sand driving, I now had a fair idea of what it was I wanted.

There was a massive list of course, but I couldn’t afford everything at once so I had to prioritize:

Sand tracks were a priority; throwing a couple of them under was bound to be more successful than trying to pack the wheels with branches the way we had been doing. It also meant that we should be able to un-bog ourselves on sand, so with them and the compressor we should be able to drive on the beach.

A winch was the next item on the list, so we could un-bog ourselves instead of having to wait for – or pester – passers-by. I decided on a hand winch. An electric winch would be nice of course but they were only good if you wanted to be pulled from the front and so far we had had to be pulled out backwards both times.

And we got the rest of the crap that goes with the winch; snatch block, 30m winch extension strap, tree trunk protector, gloves, U bolts and so on.

We also got a few extra bits and pieces, such as a tyre repair kit.

The winch alone was $500, the max trax $300 and the rest of the crap added another couple of hundred. That pretty well maxed out our budget for the spree but we also got a high-lift jack. Didn’t know when one of those was going to come in handy and I could only think of a few uses for them but every four wheel driver I’d come across raved about them so I thought I had better not be caught without one should I become stuck again.

It wasn’t much but it was a start.

I’m a firm believer in training, so the wife and I organized another trip out to Ollera to test the gear. The plan was to deliberately bog ourselves in one of the ruts we had already been bogged in, so that we knew we could always be snatched out of it in case our gear failed or simply wasn’t enough to do the job. We would also try our hand at some beach driving.

We also organized for two other vehicles to join us, having learnt our lesson.

We planned an overnight trip; that is to say, my wife and I would head out the afternoon before, head down the beach a short way and camp the night. The next morning, the other vehicles would join us and the bogging could begin.

Before we left, we had a few goes with the winch at home, pulling the Pony over a weighed-down tyre with the winch on various set-ups (with the snatch block, without the snatch block, right angles and so on), just to make sure all the gear worked before we took it out to use it for real.

By chance we also had a punctured tyre from another vehicle lying around. The tyre itself was over-worn and we were only keeping it to give to a mate who was trying to build a motocross track but we took the opportunity to try out the tyre repair kit. There was nothing easier and the tyre has kept its pressure since.

The afternoon was no trouble. We stuck to the main route and were a bit more careful about going around the deeper ruts this time, and got up to the beach with no trouble and time to spare. We went left at the beach, taking us past a few other campers until we rounded a corner and found some neat little cut-out space just off the beach that would make a perfect camp for the night.

It was just approaching dusk and I hadn’t yet had enough so we threw out our little pop-up tent and took a bit of a spin just around the bit of beach in front of us, heading up and back along the beach but staying up on the high side so we wouldn’t be down in the tide should anything happen.

It was too easy; despite the quantity of sand, it had obviously had a decent amount of traffic on it over time and the Pony drove over it like it was hard ground. There were a few soft spots though, so I picked a couple of these and tried to bog myself in them.

That got nowhere so I tried digging myself a hole. The hole went down to hub height and the sand got looser and looser but the Pony just kept pulling itself out, even when starting the car in high third.

The sand had a decent bank on the bush side, and the slope itself was pretty unfriendly and there was so much room to drive on the main strip that very little driving had been done over it.

It was as soft as it was going to get so I went for it, keeping as close to the edge where it was soft as I could without actually exposing myself to the slope.

A bit of back and forward action and a bit of wrong gearing and finally, we had a bog. You beauty! So I pulled out the max trax, scooped a bit of sand from the back wheels, and was just slipping the max trax in when a few young campers from a bit further up the beach came down to see what the noise was about – they had been watching our lights dipping up and down and were curious.

Seeing we were bogged they offered to help out but we let them know it was deliberate and there was no need, so they went back to their camp.

I finished slipping the max trax under, jumped behind the wheel, threw it in reverse and – we were free. Well, we had been hoping for a little more of a challenge but it was good to know that the Pony could handle a little bit of sand and that the max trax could get us out so easily.

So we threw the max trax back in the tray, pulled back up at our camp site, had a barbeque dinner on our little gas cooker and laid out in the sand on a little picnic blanket under the stars. Eventually the mosquitos became a nuisance and we crawled into our tent for the rest of the night.

The next morning, we got two separate phone calls to say that both other vehicles were bailing.

Well, we were already out there, we had the gear now and there were plenty of other vehicles around if we really did get stuck so we went ahead with the plan anyway.

First off we tried some more sand driving. Still no challenge but a bit further up we noticed a nice drop off so we went and had a few goes at climbing it.

Well that was a bit of fun and we had no trouble so we headed back down the track and turned at the crossroads to take us to the ruts where we had gotten stuck the first time.

They were nice and full of water this time. We actually made it a bit further this time, possibly without the extra bloke in the back the slight loss of weight might have been enough for us to get that little bit further. But, we still got stuck. So I jumped out, wacked the max trax straight under the back wheels and the Pony pulled itself straight out. Well, after all the driving through ruts, the sand driving and the deliberate bogging, we had pretty well had enough for the day and thought we would just follow the track up avoiding the hard bits and see if we could make it to the beach. Well, we made it to the beach but that was it. The inlet for the creek crossed the track in front of us and we were forced to make a decision. We got out and checked and decided that although the creek crossing looked well-used, we thought it would be too deep for us as we didn’t yet have a snorkel. So we looked for another way around. There was another bit just around the corner that looked like it might have been used. The creek was only inches deep here but immediately on the other side was a reasonably steep bank. We figured we wouldn’t have any trouble crossing here and we wouldn’t have any trouble getting up the bank but getting up the bank while our rear wheels were still in the creek – well, we didn’t think we were going to achieve that. Anyway my wife got out and started poking around further up the creek to see if she could find another way across. Then I found our crossing. The water on top was only a couple of inches deep and the water was only a meter wide. Our rear wheels could push our front onto the other side and then our front wheels could pull our rear wheels over. Nothing easier. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. It turned out the sand I could see only a couple of inches under the water wasn’t actually the sand bed but was just a water-sand slurry, which the two tonnes of Pony quickly sunk in. And the crossing was no longer only a meter long but was more like three metres now it was all disturbed. As I was crawling across, I watched a little Suzuki drive straight across the original crossing in front of me. They gave a wave and off they went down the beach. Just then, the Pony ground to a halt. Well it was salt water, so we were in a pickle. By luck more than skill, I had managed not to stall the vehicle. I had a quick go at trying to extract myself from within the vehicle but it was blatantly obvious it wasn’t going to work so I jumped out and called out to my wife while I went about setting up the max trax. The Pony was sunk, alright. The water came up not just above the side-steps but was just high enough to be coming in the doors. She was under. Just as I had the max trax wedged firmly under the wheels, I got her to race up to the beach and see if she could flag down the Suzuki that had passed, just in case we couldn’t extract ourselves so they could either use their vehicle to pull us out or send for help. For once, the max trax got us nowhere so I went about setting up the winch. Problem was, there really wasn’t too much in the way of winching points. A fallen tree looked the most promising – it wasn’t rooted to the ground anymore but it was a big heavy hardwood tree that I couldn’t get my arms around. So I used that for the anchor initially but, as was to be expected, the winch simply dragged the tree along the ground. We tried the next best thing, another tree that wasn’t as large but that was rooted to the ground. The winch just pulled the tree out of the ground and then dragged it along the ground. So we tried a right-angle, using a solid, rooted tree a good distance away and setting up the snatch block to make the angle. Trouble was, there wasn’t much to anchor the snatch block with except for groups of well rooted bushes, which all got ripped out of the ground after the first few strokes. We were getting desperate.

Finally the Suzuki came back, having had enough fun on the beach. They noticed our plight and stopped to help; two young fellows, one of whom it turned out we had met once before at a mutual friend’s engagement party.

Both of them were in the army; one was in transport corps, the other RAEME (he was a mechanic), so given our present situation we couldn’t have been in better company.

Unfortunately, their little Suzuki just wasn’t enough. We set up the snatch strap at first, but the Suzuki just didn’t have the balls to snatch us out.

So we tried setting up the winch using the Suzuki as an anchor with both its hand and foot brakes engaged but the winch just pulled the little Suzuki instead of us. So we upped the ante, using the large fallen tree as an anchor for the Suzuki, but the winch just pulled the Suzuki and the tree along the ground together. We tried the right-angle again, using the Suzuki as an anchor for the snatch block but the winch just pulled the Suzuki across the sand sideways trying to line it up with its own anchor point and pulling the Suzuki dangerously close to the water on the other side.

Then another vehicle came, a little Jumbuck or something similar towing a boat. He dropped the boat and came to give us a hand as well, but still we couldn’t get anywhere.

Later, a group of dirtbikers appeared, about thirty of them. We figured, you beauty! At least a few of them must have four wheel drives here that they would have towed the bike trailers out on.

But the bikers just sat down and had a smoke and a giggle while they watched us struggle and then left again when they had had enough.

So we gave up for the time being. Luckily we had a full tank so we just left the Pony idling, monitoring the temperature gauge from time to time but the water we were bogged in must have kept it cool and we never came to grief.

We figured we needed a break and a fresh perspective on the problem. But, just in case, I called my mate with the surviving Hilux from the Petford trip. Unfortunately, he was out at the pistol range on the other side of town and it would take him a bit over an hour to get to us, but he was on his way.

In the meantime, we threw on a barbeque lunch for ourselves and the two helpful fellows in the Suzuki who still hadn’t abandoned us. They told us they would wait until our mates with the Hilux arrived, when they would drive down to the entrance to the tracks to meet them and then guide them back to us.

After lunch we had another go at unbogging the Pony. We tried winching off the Suzuki again but this time we put the Suzuki on the other side of a dip so it would get a gravity advantage and set up some logs in front of the Suzuki’s wheels and actually pegged them down so the Suzuki couldn’t just get dragged along again. Unfortunately, the winch just pulled the Suzuki over the logs.

We did get to have a laugh when the Suzuki tried to cross the logs again under its own steam and couldn’t.

Another group of dirt bikers came then. We didn’t pay them much attention after we had seen the behaviour of the first mob and just kept struggling along but eventually one of them came forward and reluctantly offered to help.

Off he went on the back of his mate’s bikes and then eventually returned in a nice shiny new Landrover. A big bugger, it was, and bloody impressive looking. No wonder he was reluctant, he wouldn’t have wanted to get the thing dirty.

As it was, he stayed well away from the saltwater and insisted on pulling us from just on the other side of a steep bank. We warned him against this, figuring the winch would probably pull him down the bank rather than pulling us out of the bog and we were right, but he eventually managed to get the rover in a position and with me driving forward up the max trax, the Landrover reversing and the winch pulling, we managed – barely – to inch the Pony forward just enough that we got traction and could drive again. But now we were on the other side of the crossing and needed to cross back to get home. This time we just used the deep but well-travelled crossing, what we should have done in the first place.

No sooner had we been rescued than our mates with the Hilux pulled up. They weren’t thrilled at having driven out so far for ‘no reason’, but they understood and a bottle of black label high-brand scotch sweetened any bad taste the would-be rescue trip had left in their mouths.

Ended up being quite an expensive little rescue actually; on top of the scotch, the Suzuki boys got a carton of rum and our rescuers got a case of the most expensive beer they could name. But without their help, it would have been far more expensive. I shudder to think of the damage the Pony would have taken had it been left in the saltwater overnight or until a full-scale rescue could be attempted.

We headed home after that. The Suzuki boys led us to a decent creek that we could bathe the Pony in to try and remove as much of the salt water as we could before the drive home.

After we had bathed our truck and our recovery gear, we headed home where we left sprinklers on and under the truck overnight and in the morning we took it straight in to the shop to get the diff oils changed, which it turned out that – by some miracle – didn’t need doing.

Got the Pony checked out while it was in the shop for any damage from its saltwater immersion and it actually fared alright – no damage, somehow.

I, on the other hand, had suffered extensive sunburn during the two hours I had tried to manually extricate the vehicle. I had to take an entire roster off work and I couldn’t drive for nearly two weeks.

In fact, I couldn’t even sleep in a bed – my back was so severely burnt I had to sleep at the kitchen tablen for the first three days.

My wife and the two Suzuki boys also got quite badly burnt, but none of them had anything like the tennis ball size blisters on my back and they were all able to go to work the next day.

Chapter Three

The Trail Blazer