October 16, 2005

The Long Slide to Oblivion

As I sit here at the keyboard, waiting for inspiration to strike for this month's trip coordinator's report, I'm experiencing a slight feeling of frustration. You see, this is the second time I've been trip coordinator for the club – the first was in 1989 – and as I was cleaning up my “office space” at home recently I happened to come across the main tools I used to organise trips that year; it was a simple date planner and a map of Sydney and the surrounding regions. On that map I had marked in all the 4WD destinations the club regularly used and that one little map formed the basis of my trip planning for the whole year.

As I sat and looked at the dots on the map which marked out our favourite spots to air down and lock hubs, I was struck by the number of destinations that are no longer available… Heathcote Gorge, Oxford Falls , McDonald Ridge, Bowen Mountain and Yalwal Creek to name just a few. For those who have only recently joined the 4WD scene, these names will mean very little, but to those who remember them, they bring back wonderful memories of interesting and challenging tracks. Those who have been around the club even for the last couple of years will have seen other classic areas such as Porters Road , Cabbage Tree Lane and the Appin Tracks close down with alarming regularity.

There aren't many places on that old map that still exist for our enjoyment. Menai is still there, although access needs to be prearranged and there are a number of restrictions as to where we can and can't go. If you're prepared to drive a few hours to get somewhere, there are still a few places left… Oberon/Jenolan, Watagans, Lithgow, etc, although the types of tracks and the amount of access we have are getting more and more restricting all the time. If you read the forum on the website you may have heard that many of the best tracks through the Watagans were recently graded back to D grade forest roads. It's quite sad.

So for me as the trip coordinator, the frustration arises when I try to put together trips for the next few months. The question is to where? And how do we cater for everyone?

Oh, don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of places to go and things to do – there are more places of natural beauty to see in this country than you could do in a lifetime – but it's not 4WDing Jim, not as we know it. The good ole tracks, where you aired down to 8 psi and took all day to go a mere 3 kms are getting more and more difficult to find.

I know those tracks are still out there, but they are becoming jealously guarded secrets. As more hard tracks close, those who know about the remaining ones are becoming less willing to share their locations for fear of them becoming overused and subsequently closed. It's kind of sad because it creates a situation where the handful of “good tracks” are shared only by those in the know, a kind of “high priesthood” of offroading, while the rest of us never become privy to these spots. But it's a legitimate concern and I understand their logic – there is no doubt that as the pressure on a track increases, it gives the powers-that-be more ammunition to close them down, so why share them and accelerate that process?

So where does the future of 4WDing lie? It's a good question. I'd like to be optimistic and think that managed land access and access-in-return-for-cleanups is the answer. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't… I don't know. I do know that in the almost 20 years I've been observing 4WDing, as a group we've become more political, more environmental, more organised, more obliging to the wishes of governments and the Association, and where has it gotten us? Take a look at my old map and that ought to tell you. For all the great work being done by hardworking, well intentioned people, we have significantly less than what we started with.

Whatever we're doing, it obviously isn't working.

May 16, 2005

Blue Mountains Explorer

It's not often these days that a Suzuki Club trip is comprised of only Suzukis – the zook ambience is usually disrupted with a Nissan or a T'yota or two. And although it's not totally out of the question to have a new member come on a trip, it's unusual for a trip to be attended by only new members. So when I rocked up in Mittagong for the recent Blue Mountains Explorer trip I was pleasantly surprised to find that we had an all-Zook cast and all were new members with the club on their first overnight trip. It was a bit déjà vu for me, as my very first drive with the club was also down the Wombeyan Caves Road and into Limeburners Flat. (Well, it kind of was… long story for another time)

Anyway, Michael (Grand Vitara), Evita (SWB 2.0 Vitara), Steve, Liz, Ethan and Abbey (XL-7), and myself (XL-7) met at Mittagong Information Centre at 9:00am as arranged, and we headed off down the Wombeyan Road. As we stopped at Goodman's Ford to admire the view we were joined by Ron, Andrew and Samuel (XL-7) who were running a bit late and got to Mittagong just after we'd left. And as soon as we continued on to Wombeyan we heard Anthony, Bernadette and Rebecca (V6 Vitara Estate) on the UHF, so by the time we arrived at the caves the whole group had assembled. The Saleme's had just come along for the day and were heading back to Sydney that afternoon, but for the rest of us it was going to be an evening in Limeburners followed by the famous Caves to Caves run the next day.

No one was quite keen enough to do the full cave tour, so instead we just walked down to the grand archway and had a look before getting back on the road towards Limeburners. Since most of the crew was fresh from their driver training, they were eager to get into some proper 4WDing to try out their new skills. Apart from a relatively easy descent down onto the flats, the driving was fairly straightforward, but I promised them they would get a chance on the Sunday when the terrain got a fair bit more interesting. Until then they all seemed quite content to settle into a roaring fire and make the most of their first night camping with the club. I remember one of the best things about learning to camp with the club was the gastronomic delights of cooking around a club campfire. It's embarrassing to admit, but before the club came along I was content to eat very simple food when camping – say, baked beans from a can, or 2 minute noodles. Then I met a guy called Andrew Gordon who used to say that “when camping, one should eat like a king!” Then on a Vic High Country trip one year, we were all amazed when the Victorian guys were cooking up roast dinners and desserts. I thought all our newbies did a remarkably good job of their meals that night and I didn't see anyone eating from a can, so well done guys! (Although I still enjoyed my honey and soy chicken wings on a bed of steaming hot rice with fresh corn… yummy!)

It was cold that night and the squally wind gusts didn't make it any warmer. The fire was a corker and I think everyone enjoyed the campfire atmosphere that night, including the mandatory marshmallow roasting, and a bit of stargazing through Andrew's telescope into the crystal clear Southern Highlands sky.

Next morning we broke camp by about 9:30 and started our journey for the day. The fun and games soon started with the first crossing of Limeburners Creek. The exit from the creek was not difficult but contained an excellent “learning rut”. The terrain had some great opportunities for learning about the importance of wheel placement, line picking, and using the car's gearing to drive smoothly and with control. Sometimes the best line through an obstacle is not the obvious one, and that single big hole in the track seemed to be a penny-dropping experience for some of the crew. Moving on to the first of the day's steep hills, we had further learning opportunities. Michael's standard tyres were not helping his progress uphill, and the very loose surface caused him a few headaches. After several unsuccessful attempts to climb the hill he reluctantly agreed to me attaching a snatch strap and giving him a hand to get up it. Don't worry about it Michael! Everyone needs a bit of help at some stage, and it just shows you why they say never go 4WDing on your own.

The rest of the team followed up the hill, with Evita and Ron in particular taking some great lines and making it look too easy. Some more uphill and downhill terrain and we eventually got to the Oberon Stock Route Road. Turning right would have taken us to Yerranderrie, but we decided to save that for another time, and instead turned left towards Dingo Dell. The road to Dingo Dell passed through the edge of the National Park, then through some State Forestry pine plantations, until we eventually reached the descent into the camping area. We stopped to admire the views of Morong Falls coming down the nearby ridge, and then crawled down the hill into the Dingo Dell camping area for a lunch stop.

Lunch was had and we carried on to the crossing of the Kowmung. Some of the group had heard all sorts of scary stories about crossing the Kowmung River but there was nothing to worry about this time, as the water level was quite low and the crossing has had quite a bit of work done to it by National Parks, so it's nothing like the crossing it used to be back in the good old days.

Coming up the hill from the Kowmung, past Tuglow Caves , we decided to take a short cut along the Morong Creek Firetrail to get to Kanangra. I'd never used this trail before, so was unaware of the roughness of the entry into the creek crossing on Morong Creek. Some more careful line picking was needed, but by this stage the crew was getting pretty confident and were happy to give it a go. Michael offered to walk the creek first, (thanks mate!) and we discovered the crossing itself was pretty straightforward, it was just the actual entry that was a bit tricky… lots of big rocks, a huge hole in just the wrong spot, and an angled rock shelf to throw you offline. I got my XL across first without too much trouble, and then used the portable UHF to help talk the others across. Apart from a few interesting three wheel moments, (probably the highest wheel lift I've yet to see on an XL-7, thanks Steve!) the whole crew got across with a few scraping sounds but no real dramas. You could see their driving skill and confidence improve throughout the day with every obstacle they came to.

Back on the Kanangra Walls Road we got out to the Walls in time to see them catching the full force of the westerly sun, and had our final group photo shoot from the lookout.

We walked back to the carpark, then it was just a quick trip along the 30k of dirt, back to the tar of the Oberon-Jenolan Road where we stopped to air up and say our goodbyes.

Thanks to all who came along on the weekend. The weather was perfect, the 4WDing was interesting and the company was excellent. Everyone got on really well, and I thought the kids on the trip – Sam, Ethan and Abbey – were the best behaved kids I've met in ages. A credit to their mums and dads! I thoroughly enjoyed myself on the weekend and was pleased to hear that most of the attendees had a good time too. A few have even booked in for their next trip already, so they must be telling the truth!

See you on the next one.

Chris Betcher
May 2005

April 19, 2005

A Jamboree Poem

(inspired by James from Tamworth , and to be read with a bush drawl and a silly hat)

Each time I visit Bathurst I like to drive around the track
Cause I'm never really certain just how often I'll be back.
I scoot around Hell Corner, through the Esses, all those bits…
And imagine that I'm Brockie heading down into the pits.
But that's not the only motorsport that Bathurst has now is it?
Cause at Easter time I went there for a different kind of visit
No, speed was not the purpose for my journey up the hill
This time it was a slower and more dusty kind of thrill.

The four wheel drivers gathered at the campground at the top.
And for four whole days the action with their trucks just didn't stop!
There was lots of tough events to test their mettle to survive,
At this giant extravaganza known quite simply as J5.
And those that made it happen always knew it would occur,
It was two years in the planning, It was bigger than Ben Hur!
For the team that made it happen there were endless things to do,
And at times they felt they'd bitten off way more than they could chew!

So, what exactly is it, this thing called Jamboree?
And what's supposed to happen? And what's it meant to be?
If you've never ever been to one, you don't know what you're missin',
That's regardless of your choice of truck; Toyota , Zook or Nissan.
It doesn't really matter what you've chosen as your car,
What you do is meet with others who have come from near and far
To share the four-wheel driving life, the sorrows and the glories,
And to bullshit round the campfire with exaggerated stories.

And of course there's lots of things to do on each and every day
Whether kid, adult, (or bit of both) there were lots of ways to play.
You could drive the Rocky Horror, over rocks and slippery logs,
Or get teamed up in the Mud Run to go paddling through the bogs.
The Hill Climb too, had wombat holes to test out your suspension
And the mystery of the classing, it just helped to build the tension.
It was meant to work you harder with your spring lifts and your lockers
And to level out the playing field for those that just drove stockers.

If competing in the logs and mud was not your cup of tea,
There were lots of other things to try, things to do and see.
If slightly more light-hearted fun is your offroad Nirvana,
Then you'd probably have a ball as you raced round in the Funkhana.
Or maybe you'd prefer a more cerebral sort of bash?
Then fire up the GPS and find a Geocache
I hope you get the point that there was plenty to keep you busy
If you tried to do it all you'd end up dazed, confused and dizzy!

In the afternoons you'd form your teams and then get cracking
To toss an egg, or cram a Zook or prove your talent was lacking
You could get on stage and be a goose or just act like a zombie,
But those that did it helped their club to visit Binacrombi
And speaking of the cram, it was a highlight of the contest
Though the Zook club and Blue Mountains squeezed in more than all the rest
Of the seventeen folk that crammed, some were strangers to begin
But they knew each other better coming out than going in!

Three day trips left the site each day to please the eager trippers,
And though I never got to go, I'm sure that they were rippers.
Cause 4WDing in the Bathurst region's always grand,
But sometimes there was work to do, and gates that should be manned.
We chose to go for catered meals back at the time we booked,
It was really good to know each day that all your meals were cooked.
Just roll up to the smorgasbord and start to fill your plate
I wish we could have that at home, that'd be bloody great!

And on the final night we had the prizes and the speeches,
Where we recapped on the whole event, the highlights and the features.
And when that bit was over then we partied with the Horn Stars
Though if Sheena really showed her tits they could have passed for Porn Stars.
So if you never got there cause you had to take a dive,
Well that's about as much as I can tell you of J5
If you're into 4 wheel driving it was pretty close to heaven.
And maybe in just two more years we'll see you at J7!

Chris Betcher