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No Gear & No Idea

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

It was my wife's 30th Birthday. a rather seasonably warm day in June 2018 where we had just spent the previous day exploring the wonderous caves in Chillagoe, a small town about 200km west of Cairns in North Queensland.

As part of the Birthday celebrations, our next planned destination were the Lava Tubes at Undara, a few hours south of Chillagoe about 30km east of Mt Surprise.

After fuelling up both ourselves and the vehicle (2015 Range Rover Sport), we got talking to the lovely lady at the local information centre "The Hub", where we were informed of a nice little locals shortcut to Undara,

I distinctly remember this conversation like it was yesterday... "If you're heading out to Undara, there's a dirt road straight down that will cut about 2 hours off your trip".

"That sounds great! What's it like, many corrugations?"

"Oh I did it a few weeks ago in my shitbox Ford Laser with bald tyres, so you guys should be right. No dramas", as she glances over at our car.

Now before we go on, I should add some context here... when I say "no gear & no idea", what I mean is I had up to that point very limited experience on driving dirt roads, and apart from a "capable" vehicle we had the smallest air compressor known to man and an esky. That's it, no idea about tyre pressures, no idea about what equipment we should have taken, no idea about All Terrain (AT) tyres, no idea about the risks involved, no idea we'd be so alone and so remote. We had beer, food, fuel a party attitude and a vehicle advertised as being up to the task. What more do you need?

The phrases 'just send it' and 'she'll be right' came to mind when listening to her sell us this shortcut. After getting in the car, we looked up the options on Google Maps. a 355km trip on sealed roads the whole way, or a 198km trip with about 140km on dirt. Looking at the time, we decided to take the punt on the shortcut, because it meant we would arrive into Undara a little earlier giving us a few more hours to get settled and explore. Off we set, Google maps locked in, windows down, tunes on and spirits high.

A comparison on the two options we had. 2.45 hours (198km) vs 4.2 hours (355km)
Flat Tyre #1

I roughly estimate we got about 10 km in along Ootan Road ("The Shortcut") before we encountered our first flat tyre. 'Absolutely not a problem. We've got spare!' I thought to myself, internally gleaming as it provided me an egotistical opportunity to show off in front of the Mrs, it was her birthday after all.

After realising (and accepting) literally everything needs to come out of the boot to get to said spare, and a fleeting moment of panic

thinking the locknut was missing, I quickly had the tyre and jack out making swift work loosening the wheel nuts, whilst trying to get the jack to not bury itself into the bull dust, when I felt the ground start to rumble. What in the outback fuck is that!

I've heard about road trains, and I've seen trucks with 3 trailers on the internal highways countless times, but I've never seen one with 4, let alone been close enough to bloody feel it through the earth. Now let me tell you when this thing came around the corner I near shit myself, 4 trailers, full of cattle, kicking up enough dust you could probably see it from space. Having about 15 seconds to throw everything back into the car and wind the windows up, I glace over to see old mate is hanging out of the cab screaming "YOU GUYS ALRIGHT?!" while still doing about 40km/h. I can only imagine how utterly pitiful I must have looked in his mirror raising an insignificant single thumbs, up before being absolutely engulfed by bull dust.

As quick as he came, he was gone. Apart from the 4kg of pure grit now in my arse crack, the only reminder of our passing was the distant rattle of his trailers and mooing. Right! wheel off, wheel on, jack lowered, nuts tight, we're good!

I took a moment to inspect the wheel to see if I could find the cause of why it went flat. Didn't prove too difficult, the whole inside was completely chewed out back to the ply layers and just blew out. I know the tyres weren't in the greatest on condition, but they weren't exactly shot either. Still had about 4-5mm of tread left on them above the wear indicators, which is why I was so surprised the inside had worn out. I thought to myself that maybe the rear's were out of alignment so upon checking the rear right, it had tread on the inside still. The plot thickens! Oh well, can't exactly call up Bob Jane to fix it out here so let crack on.

Now this bit is a little foggy as I can't really remember how long we were driving for before I started to feel like. Maybe 30 minutes? So like 40km from the first tyre, when all of a sudden I started to feel the car pull to the left.

This is where shit got real.

Getting out I walked to around to the left hand side to see not only the front tyre flat, but also the spare I had just replaced! You know when you see something that you distinctly know is wrong, but your brain hasn't processed it yet so you just get that cold shock throughout your body, that happened. I could not believe that we were in a situation where we had three flat tyres.

It's in that moment when Nikki looks at me with the most worried semi scared face and says, "what are we going to do". First internal instinctive response, no fucking idea. Still processing how the hell two tyres manged to go flat, give me a sec.

Panic is starting to set in where we quickly establish that we've obviously run out of spare wheel tokens and we're just slightly outside of the RACQ help me bubble.

I'VE GOT IT! They're both slow leaks (could barely hear them hissing), so we've had to of run over something as it's both on the same side, a nail or bolt or something, We'll use the compressor to keep pressure in them, and check every 5-10km or so to make sure they're got getting to low. We'll limp our way to the highway and then call a tow truck to take us into Cairns and get the tyres replaced. Solid plan I thought. Now where are we?

The thing about Australia is it's a huge place.

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