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Big Trip Blog Bigtripblog is a multimedia travel experience capturing the adventures of Kevin and Valerie during their one year trip around the world.

An Alternate Ending

AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 28 June 2007 | Views [1695]

Kevin: After packing up and rolling out of Carnarvon National Park bright and early, we had our sights set on making it to Townsville. If you've got your maps out, that's a hefty 750 kilometers to cover in one day. Traveling at 110 kph, the maximum speed limit on most stretches of highway, that's 7 hours of driving.

On a day like the one we chose, that would be pushing it. A lazy drizzle descended over the region as we pulled out, making us thankful for the beautiful two days we'd had in the park. But it made the going somewhat slow early on, and despite our hopes that we'd outrun the rain, it never happened. Instead, conditions worsened gradually throughout the day. What we didn't know initially was that we were heading into country that was already pretty waterlogged from almost a week of the same slow, constant drizzle. It was becoming, in fact, the wettest (and coldest) June on record where we were heading!

Our route took us through large stretches of rural farm and cattle country, with very few towns or signs of civilization. During one patch with no petrol stations, we were looking forward to a "town" on the map called Belyando Crossing. We knew it was a place to fill-up and probably stop for a break and some lunch. The rest area off the highway had a country store, caravan park, and a couple of fuel pumps. We needed to top off our tanks to make sure we could safely make it to the next town, Charters Towers, over 200 kilometers away. The petrol was $1.47 a liter though, so we only bought enough to carry us 250ks or so. We even debated driving on a little, to see if there were any other petrol stations in town. We put some gas in the tank anyway, and then laughed when we drove on and realized when we saw the "Last Fuel for 200 kilometers" sign that we had already seen all of Belyando Crossing!

The weather was making the roads a little treacherous, and at one point during a desolate stretch of road we approached the scene of an accident. There were fire trucks, an ambulance, as well as a few police officers. They told us to stop while they took some pictures of the area. Ten minutes later we were off, driving past a pretty terrible scene: an oversized truck next to a mangled pick-up towing a caravan, which were both upside down. We heard later on the radio that a 61 year-old woman had died in the accident, and her husband miraculously survived but was in critical condition after being airlifted to the closest hospital.

We finally made it to a place called Charters Towers, just 130 kilometers from Townsville, when it started to get dark. We hadn't seen much roadkill for a long time, so we figured it would be alright to keep driving until we got to our destination. We got some more fuel and set out for the last leg of our long journey, with dark and rainy conditions. About 50 kilometers out of Charters Towers, I noticed the radio wouldn't turn on. The headlights seemed dim too, and pretty soon we were on the high beams just to see anything at all. We were obviously losing our power, a pretty crappy thing on a dark and rainy night, nowhere near anything useful. To add to all of this, a huge road train (local term for a semi) was barreling down on us.

With barely any lights left, it was really hard to find a suitable spot to pull over; there were fairly deep ditches running along both sides of the road. Time was obviously running out to make a safe decision, and a mild panic was setting in. Finally we found a stopping lane on our side of the road and pulled into it. A few minutes later we were on the phone with roadside assistance (free with our rental agreement from Traveler's Auto Barn). They would send a tow truck from Charters Towers and take us back there for the night, since they couldn't fix a broken alternator (the most likely culprit) at night in the middle of nowhere.

We pulled out the laptop and watched some pirated Friends episodes we picked up in Cambodia. In just over an hour and a half, the tow truck arrived. The guy's name was Terry, who was awesome and really friendly. We got our expensive stuff out of the van, took a few pictures of it being winched up for the archives, and hopped in the huge truck. We chatted with Terry on the way back into town, talking about how many accidents the weather had been causing, as well as a local sports controversy we'd heard about on the radio.

He asked us if we had thought about where to stay, and we told him that usually we stay in campsites or caravan parks, and didn't know what to do in Charters Towers. "That's all right," he said. "I can just drop your van off at a powered site and come get you in the morning." We couldn't believe it. And sure enough, we pulled into Charters Towers and he drove us into a caravan park and put the van down at a powered site. We later found out Terry was the owner of the company responsible for picking us up and taking such good care of us, which only makes him that much cooler in our estimation.

The next morning he came back and jumped us so we could drive to the shop in town. We tooled around during the day, updating things and doing a little research at the local library. Charters Towers used to be a big gold town, and now it's a tourist destination in its own right. We were surprised to see a map of town in the Lonely Planet, meaning it had more than a few places of interest. The continuing rain kept us indoors though, and by 4pm the van was up and running and we were back in the saddle, trying one more time to make it to Townsville.

Tags: ambassador van, misadventures

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