For some time now, and as documented on the blog here and there, I’ve been ticking off visiting some of the Extreme Points of Australia whenever an opportunity presented itself. I’ve also been accumulating long service leave at my current job for over a decade now, and I’m putting these things together starting in a week or so. In a time of potentially abrupt border closures and quarantine requirements, I’m doing the most logical thing possible and planning a huge road trip to Cape York. The first thing I needed for this was a car.
I bought a second generation Toyota RAV4 for this purpose. There were a few options I considered but I was tightly constrained by budget for a start (this is not going to be a luxury expedition), but also desire for a few specific features. Firstly, I wanted something very common in case I need spare parts in the middle of nowhere. Secondly, I wanted something from the era before things got heavily computerised. If I have issues I want them to be mechanical, not related to some complex bit of tech that requires elaborate debugging. Thirdly – enough space in the back for me to sleep while stretched out somewhat. This model has easily removed rear seats, so that helped a lot. This particular one also came with the bullbar and towbar options fitted, plus decent roof racks. I’ve come to love this little thing over the last six months or so.
Not a Car Guy
I’ve said “I’m not a car guy, but …” so many times now that I think I might just be in denial, or maybe I just don’t like the kind of guy who calls himself a “car guy” in my experience. That said … I’m not a car guy, but I’m kinda getting into this particular car. First thing up was buying a service manual, because Google only gets you so far with this kind of stuff, if you don’t already know what it is you’re trying to find out. Despite all this, I rolled up my sleeves and started work.
The first priority was a leaking sunroof. I might do a separate post on that alone, because it involved some interesting discoveries after some detective work. I broke a personal rule about no sunroof on my cars, and that was a mistake. It always sounds like a great idea, and there’s always more downsides after you’ve lived with it for a while.
Nevertheless, despite not being a “car guy”, I fixed the sunroof leak. I followed this up with diagnosing and replacing a faulty reverse light switch – I had to buy tools for that one, as I didn’t have any kind of suitable socket for unscrewing the old one. A cascade of odd jobs after that. A new head unit that I could properly tether my phone to, with a touchscreen and everything. The old tape player in the car didn’t even have an auxiliary input jack.
Then I got more ambitious. I started doing rudimentary cabinetmaking to build a box for a backup battery system, and fitted a voltage sensitive relay so it’d charge from the alternator when the main battery was charged. Then I was strapping a solar panel to the roof rack and setting up a switching system to use that when parked.
A sleeping platform took shape, not a very generous amount of space at all, but enough to slide in a small mattress while posting my tent underneath. This gives me a ton of flexibility. If I’m setting up camp for a few days, I’ve got the big tent and a nice cot. If I’m just pulling over somewhere for the night, I can crawl into the back and get some sleep without having to look for tent pegs.
What do I need to take? I’m possibly going to be on the road, living out of my car for up to a month. Last time I contemplated this, it was out of desperation and planning wasn’t really a factor, so much as just cramming in anything that’d fit and that I couldn’t stand leaving behind.
I’m possibly going from Melbourne in the winter, to a tropical area in the dry season. What clothing covers all that, and in between? Will I be able to do laundry? How often? Experience with travel has taught me to always double the amount of socks I think I need, then add a couple extra pairs on top. Besides that, a lot of t shirts, undies … two pairs of jeans? Shorts don’t take much space – pack ’em all. Layers are going to be key. Anything easy to slip over the top of something else sounds good.
Bedding! A decent sleeping bag for sure, but why not throw a big soft doona in there as well. The layering theory can apply here too. It can always be shoved aside if I’m too warm, but it’s going to be a while before that’s a problem. I’ve got a bit of time in the wintery southern states to get through before I even need to consider being too warm. A big soft pillow, yes. A spare sheet or two to throw over the mattress. I’m not planning any parties back there, but there’s a lot of spillable liquids in the car, you want to be prepared.
Water, food. A 10 litre reserve water supply on the roof, plus my usual 6 litre bag I take hiking, and a couple of bottles I’ll refill whenever opportunity presents. I have also stuck my micro-filtration gear in the back, that should make most water drinkable if needed. The food needs to be dried, non-perishable. Nothing that needs refrigeration would be ideal. I settle on a huge tub of rice, given I’m going to assume water is available. Some lentils too, also some dehydrated peas, instant mash and some spices to make it interesting. I might have some boring meals sometimes, but I’m going to have to be stranded a very long time for this to be an issue.
I’ve overpacked, I’m sure – but this is car camping, I don’t have to fit all this on my back.
Failure is Always an Option
“These uncertain times” is a bit of a cliche now, isn’t it? It’s crazy to be thinking about interstate trips, especially on a budget with minimal planning … or is it? My lack of bookings and commitment is feeling like a strength right now. If I can’t cross a border somewhere, I can go another way. I can stop for a few days at a bush camp on short notice with no issues. I always have plenty of food and water on board, and can cook up a meal pretty much anywhere.
Cape York might not happen. Maybe I’ll come up short, maybe I’ll make it. I might end up somewhere I didn’t expect or just turning around and coming home early. I might end up selling a broken car for parts by the side of the road and hitching a ride home.
I’ll take anything other than being stuck at home as a win.