“So, we’ll just hook up the Hilux to the Patrol, snatch it out… should be 15 minutes. Hopefully.” Riley put on a brave face, but there was an undercurrent of worry in his usually optimistic demeanour. Seven hours in a mosquito-ridden mud pit will do that.
Skip forward half an hour. The Hilux is positioned on a slippery swamp bank, engine revving, wheels spinning, slowly sinking into the soft ground, a taut snatch strap failing to budge the Patrol at all. We gave up. Time to cut our losses, drive the Hilux out, and get the Patrol in the morning. Clemo put the Hilux in gear and started forward. Nothing. Two cars bogged.
We launched into manual recovery again. Cursing, digging, dragging, levering… the only thing that we didn’t do was blame. At 4am, Geoff wisely rounded us up, grabbed some food and led us out of the swamp to make a fire and regroup. The warmth of the fire dried the mud on our clothes and skin, which was a welcome feeling. We snacked and hydrated, gazing into the flickering orange and red, mostly lost in our own thoughts.
Click! My mental tape caught up to the present. Some of the boys had headed back to the Patrol to get swags and snatch a few hours of sleep. I declined, not wanting to ruin my swag with all the mud, instead stoking the fire and unsuccessfully trying to use the smoke to ward off the mosquito swarms.
As dawn broke, I went for a walk. Standing on a dried-out mud pan, I listened to the dawn chorus as I watched huge water birds gliding around the nearby lake. The mud pan was criss-crossed with pig, buffalo and bird tracks; evidence of the abundance of life in the tropical north. The rising sun scared off the mosquitoes and I returned to the fire, dozing for half an hour on the bare ground near the coals.
Heading back into the swamp, we resumed the recovery efforts, but were interrupted almost immediately by three more cars passing. This time, we were lucky enough to meet some awesome blokes with an electric winch. Within minutes, they’d dragged us out of the swamp. Things were genuinely looking up: we were free, the cars were OK, Bathurst wasn’t far off and the sun was shining. We negotiated the remaining crossings without any problems and bashed along the rough track towards our destination.
The final leg was a short drive across a wide, dusty salt pan. I was sitting in the back of the Patrol when Smithy and Riley looked at each other worriedly. Riley stuck his head out of the window and yelled to stop the car. We jumped out and looked under the car. The panhard rod, which controls lateral wheel movement, had snapped, chewing into the rear tyre and rendering the car undriveable.
I was craving nothing more than the chance to rinse the mud off my body, drink some water and get some much-needed sleep. Instead, we left Smithy and Lily with the tent, the remaining water and a pile of food and hit the long road back to civilisation in search of car parts. We’d get to Cooktown, hit the mechanic for a panhard rod and tyre, and be back the next morning at the latest. Of course, I didn’t know the half of it… (part 3 here)