A Taste of the Outback

Let me tell you, the outback tastes like red dirt. Sometimes I forget that I’m in Australia, because the idea of traveling abroad carries a connotation of fun and relaxation, but here we are roughing it and dealing with real-world problems, very far away from home. The experience is unlike any other.

We are finally in Darwin at a very nice rental house, where we can take a breather at last. I’m thankful for mattresses and an internet connection and air conditioning.

A lot has happened in the past week (two weeks? three? a month? I can’t be sure) since we left Coober Pedy for the mock race. Someday I’ll write about it all. But now things are moving along, and the team is in Darwin preparing for the real race. Not long now.

It was a long time on the road, up and down the Stuart Highway. Traveling north always felt like running away from the flies, and traveling south felt like just the opposite.

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mech check under the stars

The first night of the mock race was our first night camping in the bush. It was also the first night we could really see the stars, and the first time I had ever seen the Milky Way.

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sunsets in the bush
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Hayden tried to get some cool night shots of the convoy vehicles, but I wanted to light-paint RAB instead

The next night of the mock race, we camped in Coober Pedy at the same old campervan park. The third day, we completed the mock race.

charlie the parrot
charlie the parrot

On the way north, we hit the small city of Kulgera, home to a (female) parrot named Charlie and a pub and not much else.

the Kulgera pub - the biggest establishment in Kulgera
the Kulgera pub
#1 of top ten activities in Kulgera
#1 of top ten activities in Kulgera

We also stopped briefly at Erldunda, the turnoff to Uluru, and I saw emus up close for the first time. I decided that they must be descended from velociraptors — why don’t they have any feathers on their necks?!

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emu farm at Erldunda
jamie "testing" out the helmet as he consumed a sandwich
jamie “testing” out the helmet as he consumed a sandwich

We headed up to Alice Springs and stayed at another campervan park for what felt like a week (it might have actually been a week). The team worked at yet another Volkswagen shop and afterwards headed to a track in Alice to characterize Arctan’s vehicle dynamics. Hayden drove the solar car for the second time ever since he has experience with track driving.

Hayden in the solar car
Hayden in the solar car

All in all, it was a productive day of testing and afterwards we headed out of Alice Springs (finally) and went back south to do some MORE testing in the southern territory (NO FLIES NO).

cleaning parts
cleaning parts

I jokingly told Hayden that he better not have broken any of my parts while taking the car to its limits. The joke was on me, though, because when we did a mech check on the car, we found some minor damage to my parts. Luckily, everything was fixable. The team spent the evening in Kulgera doing the necessary repairs.

roadside repairs
roadside repairs
Sara, Chris, and Logan playing on the Kulgera playground seesaw... Logan to Sara: "Would you like to seesaw?"
Sara, Chris, and Logan playing on the Kulgera playground seesaw… Logan to Sara: “Would you like to seesaw?”

After more testing in the southern territory, we were finally done and could head up to Darwin. We had another evening camping in the bush.

me and the Stuart Highway
me and the Stuart Highway
our tent and a safety vest haning on a branch watching the sunset
our tent and a safety vest haning on a branch watching the sunset
signing the team shirt
signing the team shirt

At a random stop along the Stuart Highway, we encountered a dude who had seen a lot of solar car teams pass through his rest stop. Jamie donated his team shirt to this guy’s establishment and I found an SSCP sticker to paste to the counter along with some other solar car team stickers.

Eventually we ended up at Devil’s Marbles and camped there for the night. It was the neatest thing I’ve seen so far in Australia. Hayden and I decided that we were sick of setting up the tent and slept on a marble that night. The stars overhead were incredible.

the marbles at sunset
the marbles at sunset
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the marbles silhouetted against the darkening sky
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Hayden and his camera perched on a marble

From Devil’s Marbles the next morning, we drove for nearly 12 hours to make it to Darwin in time for dinner. There is less than a week until WSC begins — not long now.

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