The Big Van Trip – Over the Mountains and Inland

So where did we leave off? Lets take the adventure from leaving the suffocation of Sydney, when we thought we needed to get out of the City Madness and back to the tranquillity of the bush… First stop, the Blue Mountains…

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So we got the van ready for another stretch, gave our stuff a wash and a wipedown, and began the tortuous exodus from Sydney! Erin’s uncle had given us a hand drawn map, and while the actual distance was short, the convolutions of Sydney’s road network led us on a crazy journey, including two toll roads, where you have to pay a fee to drive on! Interestingly, we still haven’t been charged for those roads, having cunningly attached so many things to the exterior of the van that the number plates are quite hard to see 🙂

But we got there, and climbing a few difficult hills in our heavily laden van, we pulled into a campground at Mount Wilson. This was the spot, beautifully cool, under the canopy of a rainforest full of ancient ferns, we pulled the van up, and put out rugs and cushions to lounge on on the soft grasses.

It was around this time that I started to think about doing some exercise. It had been one of my goals on the trip, but you know how it goes, I hadn’t got around to it that much. So I saddled up, and went for a ride through the mountains! Crazy idea, because its really fun riding downhill and that’s the only direction you can go from Mt Wilson…

Stumbling on Weird Industrial Remains...

Stumbling on Weird Industrial Remains…

Found some weird things along the way, and one of the coolest was this. It appears to be an old stationary steam engine of some kind, and was definitely engineered to take some massive internal pressure with all those huge rivets. But if anyone know exactly what these are Id love to hear!

So I continued burning down that long hill, basically cruising down the mountain. A thought did occur that I would have to push my way back up that same hill at some stage, but it was really, really, too much fun to stop.

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Anyway, I got to the bottom of the saddle between Mt Wilson and Mt Invine, and figured I better turn round.

Took a few bushwalks later in the day, and it was amazing, stalking through this rainforest looking for birds and animals,  wearing my thongs and these baggy cotton pants from India, like a genuine hippy. I felt so loose and relaxed, and had a meditate in the jungle down this wonderful track marked as dangerous for falling trees. I figured that with the totally alertness of meditating I would be able to roll out of the way if I needed to!

Spent another day at Mt Wilson, just because we could. This was a place where you could really chill out. We had our rugs out to the side of the van, bag of clothes for a big luscious pillow, and a tarpaulin overhead for  shelter from the very light misty rain. We sat there all day, and I made a piece of music on my laptop. The place really reminded me of this forest I had visited in India, called Arambol, where people lived in the forest and sat on big networks of rugs like we had, meditating and living peacefully. To rush anything in this place seemed like madness.

Next day I took another ride, in the opposite direction, and stumbled upon some kind of  mansion on a densely tree covered  hill, hidden from view and surrounded by crumbling stone parapets. It was one of the earliest of the rich estates at Mt Wilson, and I was reading that the family was plagued by early deaths. I read about this at (get this) the estate’s very own Turkish Bath, which was the only bit accessible to the public. It wasn’t open though (strangely) and I had to peer through the window to learn about this sad history.

But behind the Turkish bath the steps leading up to the rest of the estate were roped off with imposing signs threatening prosecution and worse for those who ventured further than they should. Through the trees you could see more buildings, stage where the dramas of this family plagued by early mortality unfolded, and I wanted to know more.

What lurks behind the trees

What lurks behind the trees

Continuing my ride, I went past the guardhouse to the estate, the only building that seemed to be occupied. I wondered who lived there guarding the secrets of this place.

The Gatekeepers House

The Gatekeepers House

Next to the gatehouse though was the old gate to the estate. At this point I really wanted to know more.

The Gate

The Gate

I rode further down the road that bordered the property, hoping for a glimpse into the grove of trees on the hill in which the main buildings of the estate were hidden. There was a paddock of grass and I began heading down a steep hill, just getting further from the place, when I saw a small track turn off into the forest to my left. I took the track, and found myself riding through forest bordering the estate.

After riding through for a bit I found myself right up against the electric fence that bordered the property and I could see more buildings.

Castle like walls say keep out

Castle like walls say keep out

Can you see the castle type wall in the right of this photo? This wall encircled the crest of the hill in the trees, and I wondered what was behind it. I managed to circle the entire property but found no way to see what was going on. Electric fences, guardhouses and keep out signs… what the hell was going at this place? More than a little creeped out, we had decided to head off to another part of the mountains that day, and with daylight running out I rode back down the hill to our camp, mystery as yet unsolved…

We took the road to Blackheath town, filled up on gas, and headed down a roughly corrugated dirt road to a place called Perry’s Lookdown, just in time to make camp for the night.

A great camp, complete with blanket chilling

A great camp, complete with blanket chilling

Well this place was pretty amazing too. Damn, the Blue Mountains! Early in the morning I took a walk to the cliff, and decided then and there that I would hike to the bottom. Of course I couldn’t exactly see the bottom, the valley was full of mist like a bowl of heavy whipped cream.

What lies beneath the clouds?

What lies beneath the clouds?

So I loaded up a bag with food and water, GPS camera and pocket knife in case I had to cut my arm off like that guy, and descended down the steps into the now clearing mist. The hike down was amazing, and as I passed many people I tried to ignore my ego’s taking pleasure in it. Stupid really, after I passed them I could observe myself shifting from guilty pleasure to feeling nervous that they would catch up to me and pass me! What a way to ruin a day. At least having noticed this madness, I managed to let it go and enjoyed the ride!

The way down was very steep, so steep that my knees started to hurt, and my legs turned to jelly. I was descending quicker than I could control my legs properly, so I had to slow it down a bit.

The way down...

The way down…

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At the bottom of the hike, there was a Bluegum forest and a stream flowing through the valley,  where I had lunch and a nude swim. Was a great feeling! Then I layed back on the log that was fallen across the river, and meditated for a good half hour. Fantastic!

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I didn’t spend much longer at the bottom, just a quick explore, then began the long hike back up, that the sign said could take 3 hours. It had been about 2 coming down! Man I was pouring sweat, my legs were weak, and I had to push down on my legs to keep them moving for the second half of the climb! It was fantastic scenery, only improved my my almost psychedelic exhaustion.

Psychedelic Exhaustion

Psychedelic Exhaustion

Met some cool people on the hike, and had various conversations. One group was a bunch of photographers and filmmakers who had taken some awesome footage, including some underwater stuff at a waterfall, magic.

At the top, Erin was no where to be seen, because Id got back early and she was off with the van at another hike. So i struck up a conversation with some other van travellers, real hippies these guys, dreadlocks, girls doing yoga and all. The guys were rockclimbers, who did climbing work on oil rigs for a fat pay cheque every now and then, and travelled the rest of the time! These guys had just done an insane rope swing stunt at the nearby “Hanging Rock”. You know how kids sometimes tie a rope to a tree then swing out over a river? These guys tied their rope to the hanging rock itself, walked the rope over to the side of the two hundred meter deep valley, and jumped out over it! Left hanging at the bottom of their 70m rope, they each had to spend about 45minutes climbing back up, hand over foot, hanging over open air and certain death should they fall. They invited me to join them the next day, and a large part of me wished I had the recklessness to try!

We joined them for dinner, in our little van city. It was great fun, but one of the dudes drank too much vodka and became a bit of an asshole, giving every one a bit of hassle. Maybe being such a thrill seeker he needed constant drama. No worries, aint no one perfect, least of all myself when I’ve had too many beers!

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Next day we went exploring around the Mountains, seeing much spectacular scenery, and a few people who looked like they’d been camping in the mountains for years. Interesting idea.

Frozen Falls

Frozen Falls

The Big Drop

The Big Drop

The last two photos are from Wentworth Falls, this was a beautiful place but there were way more tourists here, so we had a look around, then headed back to Mt Wilson for one more nights camp.

Erin Happy in Camp

Erin Happy in Camp

Staf looking like a wild man in camp

Staf looking like a wild man in camp

Next morning it was up and at ‘em, off to Dubbo for Christmas. Dubbo is pretty far inland, in a place called the Westerns Plains, so it was down the far side of the mountain, and into the flat country. Well, pretty much as soon as we got down out of the mountains the heat hit us… we had been spared it up in the high country, with cool misty evenings, and come to think of it, cool misty days. But down here it was scorching.

Not too bad though, we were both used to doing fieldwork in hot remote areas of Western Australia, so we were well prepared, and just rolled down the windows in our old non-airconditioned van. Bring it on!

We got out to Dubbo, the furthest point in our journey, you can see it on this map, but you may need to click on it to bring it up big enough, its quite a big map.

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Well we had a real wholesome Christmas out in Dubbo, and enjoyed really genuine hospitality from Erin’s uncle, aunt and cousins. We parked the van up in their huge backyard under a tree, and stayed out there most nights, though we did succumb to a couple of nights inside in a bed too! Hot showers were a highlight too I must admit. Continuing on my aim of getting some exercise, I even went mountain biking a couple of times with Erin’s cousin Alex, and came very close to injuring myself a number of times. Great fun!

John had this great old ‘Rugby’ car from the 20s, the kind of this I would usually love to take a photo of in its ruined state! We went for a spin around town, and it was pretty cool, but I think its really the old rusted ones abandoned in paddocks that really do it for me.

An old car - too alive for my taste!

An old car – too alive for my taste!

Ill round out the story with just a couple of photos that I think pretty much tell their own story.

“Ambrose Lamond, alias Kelly” - a prisoner from Dubbo Gaol, 1893

“Ambrose Lamond, alias Kelly” – a prisoner from Dubbo Gaol, 1893

Galapagos Tortoise at Dubbo Zoo enjoys a meal despite my interruption…

Galapagos Tortoise at Dubbo Zoo enjoys a meal despite my interruption…

 

All old stuff!

All together we had a great time at Dubbo, and very much enjoyed being the guests of the Readfords. But it was time to hit the road again, back to Sydney for New Years Eve!

So we hit the road, too late in the day probably, heading back to the mountains, and after about an hour a warning light came on on the dashboard… A problem with the electrical system of the car. Well, I figured that it must just be our battery dying, and because I had put in a second battery figured that it wasn’t a major problem, and pushed on to the mountains. So cocksure I was, that we made camp (at Mt Wilson again) and I didn’t even look at the engine, thinking to leave it till morning. Well, morning came and we were in trouble! Nothing would work, not even indicators or the radio, let alone being able to start the engine.

So we lifted up the front seats, necessary to access the engine and all the other vital organs of the van, and had a look. First thing I saw was some melted wiring coming off the alternator… Great, at least we hadn’t caught fire! Not knowing much about cars, I usually would have left it at that, but the reality was that if we didn’t fix it ourselves, we might be stuck in Mt Wilson for quite some time. Of course, we loved the place so much that this would have actually been OK, but it was a 40km round trip to get to the shops for food and drinking water, too far even for my new found liking for exercise.

So I got down in the guts of the van and tried to take off the wire with a spanner, inadvertently touching some positive part of the wiring to the chassis of the van and creating a short circuit and sparks… Not a good start!

Problems...

Problems…

After disconnecting the negative terminal of the battery to prevent any further short circuits, managed to take off the burnt cable, the positive cable of the alternator, and found that it had been loosely attached. This might have been the problem, but who was to know. It also could have been a million other things! So I cleaned up the cable and reinsulated it with electrical tape, and put it back on real tightly with an extra couple of nuts. Still car wouldn’t start.

Next thing we thought it might just be the immobiliser had stopped working again, as we had that problem before. So we pulled out all the wiring underneath the dash and tried to make sense of it. Man, we even took the panels off the two front doors to see if the central locking was shorting it out. No joy! Then we found a broken fuse in one of the bits of the immobiliser spaghetti of wires. Eureka! This had to be it! We congratulated ourselves, and then changed the fuse. Well, wrong order buddy. Car still wouldn’t start.

Next thing we checked the batteries, charge good in both of them, so it wasn’t that. Then the fuses, checked all of them three times, and no joy! What the hell was going on!

Then we found some crazy huge fuses next to the car battery, hidden in this black box. Sure enough, one of them was blown, but we couldn’t pull it out! Trying to, I ended up pulling out little bits and pieces of the fuse until its wires were exposed, and then had an idea: What if we just held the two wires of the fuse together, and shorted it out? Surely that would let the electricity flow through it for long enough to start the car (if the fuse was the problem anyway…). The only thing is, the fuse blew for a reason, and if that reason was still there, it could potentially fry the rest of the car because I would be bypassing the safety mechanism of the fuse! What to do!

The Culprit... And the Plan!

The Culprit… And the Plan!

So I rode up the hill to get phone reception while Erin packed up camp, and did some googling about blown fuses, melted alternators wires, etc etc. Even called a tow truck and got a quote. But screw that, I felt that we were close. Didn’t find exactly what I needed, but got enough confidence to try my idea, so went back down the hill, and prepared to try it!

First, we disconnected the melted alternator wire in case it had turned evil and was the source of the problem. Then Erin got ready to start the car, while I lifted up the passenger seat and got ready to short out the fuse… I held the two sides of the fuse together with the pliers, and bang, we had lights!

Then Erin turned the key, and we had engine noise! Only thing to do now was jump in and drive! But the car died again. Turns out it would keep running with generous use  of the accelerator pedal, so we shorted it out again, slammed down the passenger seat, jumped in, and drove triumphant up the hill!

Our plan was to head to Blackheath and find an auto electrician, but it was the day before New Years Eve after all so we didn’t hold out much hope. At every stop sign and most roundabouts the van died again and we had to jump out, lift the seat, open the battery box and short out the fuse again to get her started. But we made it to Blackheath in fine fashion, limping into town with huge smiles.

Well, we spent the night in the Blackheath hotel, and had a great time actually, meeting a bunch of people and staying up partying till about 2AM. Had a great room with ensuite for $75, pretty good! And the next day we looked around for auto electricians or even just mechanics, but everyone was close for New Years Eve of course! So we took a train to the next town, bought a fuse from the one parts store open, asked how to actually get our out (turns out they are bolted in haha no wonder), and returned to Blackheath expectant…

Heres Hoping...

Heres Hoping…

Well, the fuse went in, and we took one last gamble and bolted the alternator cable back on, and started her up…

Bang, we were back in business!

Back in Business!

Back in Business!

I think the alternator cable being loose had made it start to arc and had melted the cable and blown the fuse. Of course, if it hadn’t just been me shorting it out with that spanner… Who knows the truth! I blame the alternator Smile

Or maybe it was this guy, otherwise known as the desert devil. By the way he looked at me at Wentworth Falls, I knew there was something in store for us…

A Watchfull Eye...

A Watchfull Eye…

2 thoughts on “The Big Van Trip – Over the Mountains and Inland

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