(* Editor’s Note: I consider this the first true Grimm Report. While notes were taken and written records filed previous to this account, the spirit of the Grimm Trip Report starts here)
I had promised Dwight that if we returned to Australia we would buy a 4-wheel drive and go out bush so that he could, look for rocks (a pastime called “fossicking” here. I have to admit that I was not actually looking forward to, the time that I would actually undertake the first venture, since I am not and never have been an outdoors type, nor am I mechanically inclined in case of trouble. So I was more than a little apprehensive about our first trip, and as it turned out -rightfully so – it turned into a disaster, though it could have been worse.
Dwight has been planning trips every since we arrived and eventually talked our friend, Ronnie, into going with him, taking our van, while I kept her Old English Sheep dogs. Dorothy said she would keep the dogs and I could go along. I still hadn’t, decided, when Ronnie got sick and the doctor told her she could not go that weekend. I didn’t want to disappoint Dwight so I said I would take him, I prepared the van, and in doing so found the spare tire was no-good, so bought a new tire and figured I was in good shape. I also put some gas in the extra tank that is in the van and that is when the trouble started. I wasn’t even sure the tank was working properly and I thought the valve was in the off position. It wasn’t, so about an hour after I brought it home from the service station, I tried to restart it and it wouldn’t start. After trying for several minutes, I found gas leaking onto the ground. So I guess that the gas from the extra tank was pushing more gas than necessary into the engine, flooding it. I turned the valve off and figured that after the extra gas evaporated it would start again. More on that later. Dwight did a pretty good job of rounding up the necessary supplies, with the help of Ronnie. Our base here has camping supplies and she had reserved a lantern, sleeping bag, an iron cooking plate and some gas cans, which we ended up not using. Dwight planned, the remaining supplies, including the food. I guess by now it is clear that Dorothy and Toby were not going to make this trip. Dorothy doesn’t trust my driving out bush, and Toby is not that interested.
We planned to leave as soon as I got home from work on Friday, so by the time I got here, Dwight had the van pretty well packed. I went to start the van and it still wouldn’t start, which gave me an uneasy feeling, but I figured if I got it started, it would sort itself out. I did eventually get it started and we left. We drove north for about 70km, then turned east, still on a sealed road (not really macadam, more oil and gravel and basically one lane wide) for another 70km. At that point we turned back a dirt road (past Mud Tank Bore – bores or water holes are key landmarks here) for about 10 km to the zircon fields. There were about six other groups camped there so I didn’t feel too isolated, figuring if something went wrong I could get help.
It was dark by the time we arrived, so the first test was to pitch the tent by the light of the lantern and cook a meal. I got the tent up by myself while Dwight scouted for some firewood, which wasn’t that easy. Since a lot of people camp there, there was not a lot of wood close by, but we eventually found some and got a fire started. You have to realize that I was never a scout and never camped in the “wilds” in my life. The only camping I have ever done was in organized camping sites in Europe, which have everything from stores to indoor facilities, so this was a challenge for me. We survived that evening and went to bed. Dwight slept in a sleeping bag on top of the van. I tried sleeping in the tent, but shortly after going to bed, the wind began to blow and even though I made the tent as tight as I could, it still “rattled” so I finally gave up and moved into the van for the remainder of the night.
The next morning, Dwight got up and started the fire and cooked breakfast. He made “jaffles” which are a sort of toasted sandwich made using a jaffle iron (a hinged long-handled implement you stick in the fire). They weren’t all that bad. We spent several hours after breakfast, digging for zircons. We found some, but none that are of any real value. The temperature wasn’t too bad, but the flies were terrible. There were always a half dozen or more buzzing around your head. We left the zircon fields and drove back to the “main” road – the sealed one on which you do see an occasional car – and drove another 24 km to the east, and shortly before our destination, some garnet fields just off the highway, the road turned to dirt. The other thing to mention is that this is considered a major road in this area and is called the “Plenty Highway.” We spent about an hour and a half looking for garnets. Dwight found some very small ones; I found none. We ate lunch and then headed to the place that Dwight was most anxious to get to. This was the area I was a bit nervous about. It was some distance off the main road and not visited as much as the first place we had gone to. We turned off the main road and headed back dirt road. It wasn’t a rough road – I never had to go into 4-wheel drive.
The only tricky part was a dry river bed. Dry river beds are a usual hazard here in the outback, because the bottom is loose sand and so it is easy to get bogged in them. One interesting feature we had to negotiate was a mob of cattle that we literally had to plow our way through – they wouldn’t move. We continued on back that road for 23 km until Dwight spotted the area where he wanted to stop, I had to drive about 200 meters cross country through a fairly open area to the base of a hill topped by a beautiful column of quartz. It was a remarkable chunk of quartz and pieces of it lay scattered all over the hillside. We parked the van and walked across to it and up onto the hill. Dwight really wanted to go on to the next hill which was the location of a different type of quartz known as smoky quartz – it is a dark brown opaque rock which I believe is only worth something for specimen value I unlike zircon and garnet which can be faceted for jewelry.
After Dwight wandered off, I started to look around and noticed all of the many types of wildflowers on the hill, and. then gazed off into the distance and realized we were in a really beautiful area, surrounded by mountains in the distance, with wide open I fields close by, also full of wildflowers. I also noticed that I could pull the van closer to the hill so I would be able to be close to a supply of rocks to build an enclosure for a campfire later, so I walked back to the van to move it and also to get the camera. Dwight joined me about that time to get some more gear out of the van. That was when the fun started. The car wouldn’t start. I readily admit that I was in a state of panic. I am not a mechanic, and I knew we were in an isolated area – we had not seen another car on that road. I told Dwight he could go back to the hill to look for rocks and I would stay and try and start the car I told him that I was sorry, but I was too nervous about this situation and if I got the car started I thought we should leave. About 25 minutes later, the car finally started after I played with the carburetor and kept trying to start it. We started back to the main road, and although I did not relax, I did breathe a sigh of relief.
However, it was relatively short lived. About 7-8 km up the road I had a sinking feeling that I had a flat tire. I stopped and asked Dwight to check. He jumped out and looked at me and said, “You have two flat tires.” Although I didn’t doubt him, I couldn’t believe this was happening, so I jumped out and checked. Well, I had several choices – we could walk the estimated 15 km back to the main road, I could put the one spare I had on for one of the tires, but I didn’t want to turn off the engine to do it and didn’t think it was a good idea to change it with the engine running. Instead I ran on the tires, knowing I would ruin them, but figuring I could get us closer to the main road, before they fell apart. I got to within about 2-3 km before I knew I couldn’t go any further. You can imagine what the tires looked like.
Dwight said he would go out to the road and try and flag someone down. I couldn’t think of any better idea so after he left, I figured I would go ahead and take the wheels off so I could give them to whoever came, to take back to Alice Springs. This was one of those times when you wonder what else can go wrong. The lugs were rusty and two of the 6 snapped off while I was trying to get them off. I got the spare on the back and had no trouble getting the front tire off and left the van on the jack. I was almost finished when a carload of people pulled up with Dwight, They were going on in to Alice Springs and offered to take Dwight and the wheels with them, I have to admit by this time I was in a mild state of shock and didn’t even get their names.I told Dwight that I knew it was too late to ask Dorothy to come back out that night and besides she may have trouble finding tires, so I would stay with the van overnight and she could come out the next day.
The car, with Dwight and tires, left me at 4 p.m Saturday afternoon. After they left, I just sat in my lawn chair and fought off the flies. I was really too depressed to read the book I had brought with me. It was like I had taken a course and when it got to exam time, I flunked. My first bush trip and I had screwed it up royally. I figured I would never hear the end of it, including the money it would cost to buy two new tires. As it got darker, I had to make a couple of decisions. Should I set up the tent? I decided I wasn’t up to sleeping out there by myself in a tent, I would feel safer (I don’t know from what) inside the car. I did start a campfire, but decided it was too much trouble to cook the steaks that we had brought for supper that evening ,and besides, by that time I had started to worry about Dwight, and I didn’t feel up to eating. I worried that the two couples were trustworthy – reason said that since there were two couples and they had brought Dwight back to me to pick up the tires that they were OK. The other thought was that the Northern Territory roads are not the safest and I had no idea how good driver the guy was, except that they had traveled all the way up here from Melbourne, through some very desolate country, so guess they were OK in that respect, as well. Dwight told me later that they drove about 140km/hour (over 80 mph) on the way back. Leaving me for a moment, Dwight arrived back in town about 5:30 and as expected there was some question about getting tires on the weekend. They (he and his mother) were unable to find any that night, but located some the next morning at a Shell service station.
I guess the attendants got -a good laugh at the condition of the tires. Meanwhile, that evening, Dorothy was covering a big social event in town – a 4-hour fashion show and she and the photographer from the paper talked to a lot of people about finding tires. At the same time, Ronnie was calling all over town trying to find some help. I was sure the big news in town that night. I was, however, unaware of what was happening, and after the daylight faded, and I was even more alone with myself, my worse fears began to surface – not about myself, but whether Dwight was OK. I got some sleep throughout the night, but I was a nervous wreck by the following day.
Although Dorothy had located tires, she was afraid to drive her Datsun the 200 km to deliver them. To be honest, the car does not ride well. I think both front tires need to be replaced, Dwight called up a good friend of mine who volunteered to bring he and the tires out to me and brought his family with him to make it an outing. (After dropping the tires off he and his family had a barbecue at a place just off of the main road.) They arrived about noon. Although I had reasoned with myself that it probably would be noon or thereabouts before someone got out, I was starting to get a bit frantic, again not about my situation, but because I still didn’t know if Dwight was safe. I had not seen another soul since the people had left me Saturday afternoon. No one came back that road from the time we drove onto it, so I’m glad we didn’t wait for help to come in that manner.
Needless to say, I was very glad to see Dwight when the car arrived, We put one of the new tires on the front, and I started the car. Ironically, it started immediately. At that point, my friend Jeff, thought one of the other tires looked low also. It turned out it was only a couple of pounds low, so it must have been the way the car was sitting. However, I now had to worry about the wheel with two missing lugs, whether another tire was low, whether the car would restart if I had to stop it for some reason, and. whether the gas would indeed flow out of the extra tank because there was not enough gas in the main tank to get us back to town. Especially because of the missing lugs, I did not drive very fast back to town only about 60—70 km/hr so it took almost 3 hours. But we arrived, back in-town safely. Dorothy was glad to see us, and didn’t even give me a hard time about my ruining two tires. I have to admit that I am not anxious to go back out bush, but if someone with-another vehicle, asks us to go with them I will consider it – but no more–trips with just one car.