Cape York via Simpson Desert 12 June 2015 – Day 11

Saturday, Jun 13, 2015 at 21:47

Peter Beard (WA)

Nine and a half hours to do 170km. And it was pretty well non-stop driving. That is an average of less than 17km/h - man this is a hard track. We are camped about 500 metres along the QAA Line, about 20km north of Poeppel Corner, the junction of the NT/SA/QLD borders. Another random point in Australia that someone has felt the need to put a stick in the ground and make it a monument.

We were up before the sun rose, happy to watch it peep over the edge of the sand dune east of our little valley as we were finalising pack up. On the road by 8:00, we started the long, slow grind east over the short, sharp dunes that make up the Simpson Desert. The dunes are quite close together, the track generally crosses the narrow valleys in a straight line so when you breast a high dune you get a clear view to the horizon of a the dunes rolling in waves away from you with the track clearly lined out in front. The condition of the WAA Line seemed much better than our brief foray into the French Line yesterday. The "speed humps" - waves of compacted dirt built up on the track by cars traveling too fast with too much air in their tyres - are there, but not as deep or severe as the French Line. It was second and third gear work for the Landcruiser, sometimes in high 4WD, sometimes low range when the dune presented a soft or steep face.

There are very few people out on the track today. We passed a group of three cars camped in a valley about three sand dunes east of where we spent the night, and two cars heading west mid-morning. Reptilian life is rife, tiny black geckos the size of a finger scurrying across the track, or white/grey lizards, ranging from finger length to the size of your palm, running flat out on their back legs, or large lizards easily as long as your forearm sashaying along the side of the track. A big thick black snake crossed in front of us half way up a dune. We stopped until its tail cleared the track - it reared its head, tongue tasting the air as we passed, trying to work out if we were a threat or dinner. The Landcruiser is way too big a mouthful for a snake, and we certainly didn't want to be a threat.

We finally reached the T-junction of the WAA Line and Knolls Track around 12:30, turning left and north to join the French Line. The Knolls Track alternates between following the top of sand ridges - a bumpy, soft grind in second gear over soft sand and speed humps, and valleys - wonderful short sections where the track is over clay plan and you can actually get up to 40km/h. Just before the French Line T-junction the track passes the Approdinna Attora Knolls, small rocky mesas in the desert that has a sign saying they are significant, probably for the local Aboriginal people At this point the rocks appear. White, sharp rocks that emerge above the bed of the track slowing progress to a first gear crawl.

Then it was back to the French Line, as chewed up this end as it was the other. The 40km to Poeppel Corner took hours, a second gear low range crawl over soft dunes and massive speed humps. Some of the speed humps are out of synch, so as the left front drops down the right front climbs up. We lurched from side to side up the hills, trying to gather speed to get over the soft dune face at the top. Both the Landcruiser and Pete performed brilliantly. Pete picked the right paths from many alternatives to keep car and passenger intact, not too many unexpected big jumps or starts although every now and then it was impossible to avoid a bone crunching, luggage jumping bump that made the spare carton of stubbies leap into the air, the wash bag to make its way from the back to the front and both of us to swear profusely. The bliss sections on the track are the lakes, beautifully smooth, flat surfaces where you can forget the bone jarring bumps for a brief time.

The high cloud that has covered us since Alice Springs dissipated for most of the day. But by 3:00 a large grey line of cloud approached from the east and soon drops appeared on the windscreen. It was a nervous trip to Poeppel Corner, both of us hoping it doesn't rain heavily making the lakes slippery mud and impassable. As we got closer to the Corner we finally came across people. Two cars and a motorbike heading east with us and then a whole troupe at Poeppel Corner. We took the obligatory photo then took the short track north to the QAA Line, wanting that psychological marker of the "home run" to Birdsville tomorrow morning. All things being well, we will be having a beer in the Birdsville pub tomorrow night and getting this blog on the web.


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