It was about 6:15am when I first saw movement in the boys camp, early by some people’s standards but not overly surprising given how bright it becomes as soon as the sun starts to wake up. They might also have been woken a little bit by the sizzling bacon and sausages I had cooking on the camp stove.
It was Gary who first emerged from the large tent, he was wearing a flannelette shirt and shorts, no doubt what he slept in. While the previous night had been a bit chilly even at such an early hour the sun was already warming the day and it was nudging towards 22 degrees according to the thermometer on the Beast as I cooked my breakfast.
“Morning!” Gary said as he stepped towards the camp stove rubbing his eyes. “You weren’t kidding when you said you were an early riser!”
“Morning Gary, yeah once the sun is up I’m pretty much screwed for sleeping.”
“Looks like another reasonable day ahead of us.”
I’d already picked up the morning weather report while I got dressed in the beast and I knew what sort of day was ahead of us. “Yeah another hot and dry one they reckon, a bit like yesterday. Do you want some breakfast or do you want to use the stove instead of having to restart that fire?”
“Is a continental breakfast all part of the package deal?” Gary laughed.
“Nah a free service to the needy, and they way you cooked last night I can’t think of anyone more needy!”
We were both laughing as Jarrod came out of the tent. “What’s so funny?” he asked rubbing his eyes exactly as Gary had done when he emerged a few minutes earlier.
“Dean here offered to cook me breakfast because apparently I can’t cook. You on the other hand have to starve because you don’t deserve to be cooked for!”
“If my only choice is to eat your cooking or starve I’d chose to starve every time!” Jarrod replied without missing a beat.
When my eggs, bacon and snags were on the plate I offered the stove to the boys, although they had one of their own they happily used mine because it was out and already dirty, Gary even promised to wash the pans when they were finished in return for using it.
As I ate I out lined my plans for my return to Halls. “After breakfast we’ll give the Pajero one final look over, make sure it starts and stays running, make sure the batteries are charging, check the electrics etc. I don’t want you guys driving from here unless she’s in tip top shape!”
The boys nodded.
“I’m sure it will be fine, but thank you, it’s much appreciated.” Gary replied
“No worries. As much as you’re good blokes I really don’t want to have to rescue you again.”
“She really doesn’t want to risk eating your cooking!” Jarrod came back with quickly.
After the boys had cooked their breakfasts I boiled some water, usually I’d have had my coffee brewing before cooking but for some reason I forgot that morning.
“My plan is to leave here by 8am, or thereabouts,” I was happy to adjust my timing a little bit, “once I know you guys are right to go. If you want to follow me into Halls I’ve got no problems with that, if you guys want to make your own way, or head off somewhere else that’s fine too. It’s up to you, I just want to get back to Halls before lunch.”
Gary and Jarrod spoke about it for a few moments. Their original plans had been to keep heading down the Ponton River for another day but because they wasted a day waiting to be towed their schedule was a day out of whack. When the worked out what they were doing Jarrod spoke.
“Thanks for the offer Dean. We’ll be happy to follow you into Halls Creek, I’m sure the car will be fine but safety in numbers in case there is something we haven’t found is a good idea.”
“I do have to warn you guys I’m a slow and easy kind of girl. I’m not a lead foot so you might get bored following me!” I told them. They were happy with slow and easy and leaving me in control of the travelling speed.
My plans were only slightly off kilter because it took the boys a little longer to get ready than I estimated, but after checking the Pajero over and packing we were ready to leave at 8:23am. We both negotiated the river crossing without hitting the large rock and we were on own way along the sandy tracks by 8:35am. We had radio contact between both vehicles and going by our departure time we would easily reach Halls by lunch time.
We aired up about fifty metres from where the highway and our track met, using the compressor on the Beast to pump up all eight tyres, we then hit the bitumen. The boys told me me they were content to travel at the 95kph I chose and they happily sat about five car lengths from the back of the Beast as we travelled.
We’d only been on the bitumen about twenty minutes when I could see two orange flashing lights ahead of us, they were mounted to a sign that was in turn mounted to the roof of a Mercedes Sprinter van. The sign was a warning to all drivers that what was in front of the Mercedes was slow moving and required caution from other road users. In the outback it wasn’t uncommon to see wide loads, loads that took up more than one lane and therefore required an escort ahead and behind to warn other road users. There is all manner of reasons for having an escort party and being a wide load is just one of them, however in this case the load wasn’t too wide, in fact it barely took up any road space at all.
As I approached I used my second radio to contact the escort crew, keeping the other radio on the channel I was using to talk to the boys behind me. They wouldn’t have known me from a bar of soap but like most outback travellers they were polite and happy to talk on the radio. I asked them if it was safe for the two of us to pass and the reply from the pilot vehicle about two K’s up the road was that there was no traffic and we could pass.
I relayed the message to the boys behind me and when we got close enough we began our over taking manoeuvrer. While I suspected what it was that we were passing, because I’d heard it talked about on the radio several days earlier and the escort was stopping in Halls Creek for the night, I still was taken aback a little bit by the sight of it.
As I mentioned wide and oversized loads were a fairly common thing on our roads but what we were passing was neither wide or over sized, it was only about six foot tall and walking. Because it was still relatively early in the day the heat wasn’t as hot as it was going to get but even in the thirty three degree heat the Beast told me it was I didn’t envy the guy walking along the road, I would envy him less as it approached forty.
So are you intrigued yet?
Previous Desert Rescue story here