Lakefield National Park rattled by, the Hilux bouncing over the potholes and corrugations at a breakneck speed as we carried out our rescue mission. Clemo wasn’t wasting any time; a sleepless, muddy night hadn’t improved our tempers or mellowed us out at all. We were hoping to make Cooktown by close of business, but the distance and road quality conspired against us.
Cooktown’s service station attendant was helpful, even if she eyed our disgustingly muddy Hilux with a mixture of amusement and pity. She helpfully suggested that we needed to go to Cairns, then helpfully advised us that driving at night would be difficult and slow due to the cattle on the road. We didn’t have much of an option; if we didn’t make it to Cairns, we risked being so slow returning that Smithy and Lily would run out of water on the side of the saltpan. It had to be now. A round of red bull, a few calls to loved ones and back into fifth. At least it was sealed road.
The trip to Cairns wasn’t too bad, but by that time, we were all struggling to keep our eyes open. Loud music and talking to each other about anything that held our attention helped us stay on the road. Finally, we hit the outer limits of Cairns, pulled the car over on a highway stopping bay, and passed out, cramped in the Hilux cab.
The second dawn of our saga was a humid one, standing on the side of the road with the green mountains of Cairns providing a backdrop. A breakfast, coffee and dirty muffin at Maccas gave us a Wi-Fi opportunity, which we used to build a directory of places to raid for all the gear we needed. The morning was a success, though it was 2pm before we hit the road again for the 10 hours to Bathurst.
Our spirits started to recover on the bleary-eyed night drive back. We passed a dingo, wallabies, a slow-burning bushfire, an echidna and a tawny frogmouth. The four of us concocted a tale of woe to spin to Smithy and Lily when we got back, with our overtired brains vastly overestimating how funny it would be.
Sometime near midnight, our brains fried and our bodies sore from the night of digging and then 30 hours in the car, we arrived at the saltpan. We woke Lily and Smithy, told our story, made some pasta (including some tasty-looking leftovers from the meal the lads had cooked earlier), had a rum, a drowsy laugh and retired for the night. It was over. So I thought. (final part here)