Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters
Expeditions7 Australia - March, 2013
Text by Kurt Williams, edited by Tacoma White & Jeremiah Proffitt. Photos by Kurt Williams & Jeremiah Proffitt
Top Ten Ways to Know You're on E7 Australia
10. You're washing clothes in the bathtub of a 2 bed motel room shared by 4 people
9. You have learned to successfully eat and drink through a fly net
8. Get asked to drive through the night and into following day and the group says "sweet"
7. Underwear can last for 4 rotations.
6. You don't notice your own smell after a week
5. During the past two weeks, you've witnessed more camels, kangaroos and dingoes than you have people
4. Gas under $2.64/liter ($10/gallon) sounds absolutely fair
3. You've tried all 5 meal options on the menu of an outback roadhouse, twice.
2. You've seen a camel powered Suzuki Samurai
1. You've driven for twelve days and the landscape hasn't changed.
I knew from the beginning that simple words would fail to do justice to what I have come to know as Australia. Australia itself wasn't new to me, but much of its deep Outback indeed was. My wife Candace and I spent a month touring Australia with our good friends, the Eppersons, in the summer of 2009. It was a whirlwind tour that had us and catching flights to the next city overnight, so we could maximize our on-the-ground-experience and explore all day. This “whet your appetite tour” included Brisbane, Gold Coast, Fraser Island, Alice Springs, Uluru, Cairns, along the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney, Melbourne , and stops in between. My appetite for more of Australia was huge, and opportunity presented itself with an invitation to join the Expeditions 7 Team for their upcoming Australian leg. They planned to cross the continent and conquer the legendary Canning Stock Route, which has the honor of being the longest historic stock route in the world and perhaps the longest unsupported 4WD trail as well.
My travels started like most, at the airport, where I bid my bride goodbye with a prolonged hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. It would be nearly 6 weeks until I saw her again, but time would fly. As with any other adventure , my nerves were flush with excitement: so many moving pieces of a puzzle were coming together in the next 72 hours. Rewind a couple of months to when I received a call from Greg Miller, the Lead Adventurer of Expeditions 7. Greg and I spent the better part of an hour discussing the concept for a third E7 vehicle dubbed “Sherpa II”. The Sherpa II would replace the beloved “Sherpa” that I piloted across the continent for the North America leg of the E7 Expedition during summer, 2012. The name came naturally, homage to the mountaineers of Nepal known for their amazing ability to climb daunting peaks while burdened with the load of others. The E7 team then shipped the truck to Europe, where it carried team members and gear through nearly a dozen countries, as they traversed the continent en route to Russia.
Along the European leg of the ongoing E7 journey, it became apparent that the Sherpa wasn't going to work for the remainder of the trip. It was a fantastic truck, but its aftermarket, turbo-equipped inline-6, 1HZ diesel didn't provide for the same comfortable cruising speeds of “Fernweh” and “Mateship”. These V8 turbo-diesel equipped troop carrier (VDJ78s) have been on the Expeditions7 journey from day one and have quickly become a proven platform. While it sounds like a trivial problem to many, even 10% different cruising speeds can equate to hours apart at the end of a long haul day. Add the fact that Australia would present some special load capacity needs for additional team members and gear, and it wasn't long before a VDJ79 was being discussed as the ideal solution. The newly released Workmate is a 4 door (dual cab) 70 Series platform that shares an identical drivetrain with the existing E7 VDJ78s, including the hardy 1VD-FTV V8 engine. On top of that, the Sherpa II would have a much higher load capacity and is offered in a cab-chassis model which would prove to be an ideal solution for the team's needs.
Within minutes of de-boarding the plane in Canberra, Australia, I was hailing a taxi for the hour-long ride to Goulburn. There, a treasure was waiting at the Bosston Auto Bodies facility: Expeditions 7's newest addition to the fleet and my pet project, the VDJ79 Workmate. It had been a remarkable road to this point. One month earlier, the E7 team in SLC finalized the acquisition of the truck via a Brisbane-based Toyota dealership, and had it immediately delivered to ARB Coopers Plains, a premier ARB service center on the outskirts of Brisbane. The E7 Team, ARB, and Bosston consulted for many hours on the phone regarding the build details, criteria and scheduling plans. ARB did an initial round of mods that included the ARB bull-bar, Warn winch and wiring. The truck was then shipped 1200 kilometers south to Bosston Auto Body's facility where a custom canopy was set to be installed. Through a chance internet search, Greg had found Bosston Auto Bodies and was able to speak with their operations manager, Stanley. Bosston is a specialty truck canopy manufacturer that has earned a name for producing extremely rugged and practical self-contained rear canopy units that are used throughout Australia. Their clients range from the military to utility companies. Our project was a rather unique concept, but Stanley and crew had been more than willing to accommodate our build criteria on a particularly constrained time schedule – several weeks versus the several months they are used to working with. The canopy design was simple: a large gull wing door on either side, twin spare tires mounted to the rear, an internal rack mounted to the ceiling, and a rear drawer unit that would offer quick access to camera gear and spares. Stanley also recommended a tool box that mounts just behind the rear fender and a water tank occupying the same spot on the opposite side of the truck. The end result was a tidy setup that would offer vast amounts of secure and watertight storage for the journey ahead.
I was excited to see the finished product when I hopped out of the taxi at Bosston's facility in Goulburn, and the staff at Bosston was excited to show off their workmanship. After a quick tour of the canopy and its features, the keys were in my hand and I was off. I didn't waste much time and within half an hour I was on the road northbound. It was roughly 4PM when I rolled out of Goulburn and with some good rest on the flight over and my adrenalin pumping, it was time to motor--just 1200 kms to go. I drove into the evening and through the night. My route primarily consisted of the Pacific Highway, which had me traveling along Australia's scenic eastern coast through Sydney, the Gold Coast, and eventually Brisbane, where ARB Coopers Plains still had a decent amount of work left to do. The route offers innumerable picturesque sites while winding up the coast; however, I had my mind on the goal of getting to ARB and finishing the truck. Our plan was to have the truck back in their shop the following morning. Taking just a short cat nap on a quiet side street north of Sydney and stopping for a quick “brekky” along the Gold Coast area, I pulled into ARB just as they opened shop for the morning. I was met by Scott Brady, the E7 Expedition Leader for the Australian leg, and the “ninja of logistics” as I like to call him. Together we met with Mark, the manager of the ARB store, and outlined the remaining wants, needs and goals for the Sherpa II build. Mark's team is nothing short of amazing. They move an incredible number of build projects through the shop each month, and while our build was quite substantial and on an extremely tight schedule, each of our requests was met with “no problem guys” from Mark.
Sherpa II outfitting at ARB Coopers Plains
For the next week we would be at ARB each day, assisting where we could and staying out of their way when appropriate as well. It was a rewarding experience to work alongside the fabulous techs that make this highly efficient shop click. I learned a lot watching their system and the precise efficiency with which they operate, moving up to several hundred trucks through their shop each month. When we were not in their shop working on the truck or in their parking lot working on the VDJ78s, we were at the local hardware store assembling cribbing for the fuel containers that Sherpa II would be hauling across the Canning. Bruce Dorn, the E7 cinematographer, had arrived and was put to work documenting the work performed to date as well as doing a bit of carpentry too. He is a man of many talents that never fails to surprise, making quick work of the Sherpa II's cribbing setup, designed to hold the fuel containers that the Sherpa II would be hauling across the Canning. This truck's mission wasn't only to haul 4 team members and their gear. It would be tasked with hauling nine 60L fuel drums, each weighing upwards of 120lbs when completely full. With just over half a ton of fuel, plus water, food and team member gear, the Sherpa II had its work set out. ARB's techs set the trucks suspension with this in mind, using literally the beefiest springs available for the back of a 70 Series Land Cruiser.
The fuel containers and cribbing
While still in our stateside planning phase, Mark at ARB had connected us with his graphics contact, Nathan, at Sign Effect, a local Brisbane decal specialist. I reached out to Nathan and let him know what kind of a schedule we would be working with and sent him a couple of photos of the E7-clad VDJ78s so that he could gauge the amount of work to be done. Again our needs were met with a “no problem”-- did I mention just how on the ball these gentlemen are? Nathan was kind enough to swing by ARB and take a peek at the decal kit I had brought over on the flight with me. The vinyl for the hood and doors was no worry at all; however, he had never installed the 3M windshield protectant. Nonetheless, Nathan was willing to give it a go, and spent some time on his own researching the product install. We had one day left to go, and the truck was near completion. ARB's stalwart crew was willing to work late into the evening to ensure it all came together, and we were there with them tying together all of the loose ends over some pizza in the shop… some things are universal in this world. We spent the remainder of the evening in Nathan's shop, where he was kind enough to let us make some last minute repairs and do some minor cleaning to the 78s while he installed the vinyl on the Sherpa II, saving only the canopy decal placement for Greg, as he had a special layout in mind.
Decal installation - Finishing touches on the Sherpa II
The fleet together at last, the Sherpa II right at home with the 78's
The following morning more team members arrived. Our group size had now tripled and much excitement was afoot. In the hotel parking, Greg and his sons went to work on the final decal arrangements for the 79 as we shuffled bags and gear between the trucks. Our team spent the day in Brisbane, picking up some last minute gear and getting a personal tour of the HEMA Maps facility by proprietor Rob Boehheim. HEMA's HN6 Navigator, books, and paper maps were used extensively throughout Australia; they literally have navigation perfected for back country travel in the Outback. Our final agenda in Brisbane would be a nice send-off lunch with Rob from HEMA and Mark from ARB before officially getting underway.
The Expeditions7 team ready to depart from HEMA's facility.
Too be continued...