Its OK to hate us. Were usually the first ones to get our hands on really cool new products. We wear shorts and greasy T-shirts to the office. Our bosses encourage us to beat up our trucks. We get paid to wheel. And if thats not enough, every so often we get sent on exotic, all-expenses-paid trips to cover cool events.
In this case, Ron Moon, the editor of 4x4 Australia magazine, invited us to his magazines second annual ARB/Warn 4x4 Outback Challenge. The Outback Challenge is sort of like our own Ultimate Adventure, Four Wheelers Top Truck Challenge, and the now-extinct Camel Trophy Challenge all rolled into one, but with a decidedly Australian flavor. The event tests not only the capability of the vehicles, but the bush, survival, first aid, and navigational skills of the two-man teams.
The competitors are put through five days of excruciating trails and activities specific to surviving the Outback in a 4x4. They endure physical hardships such as pulling a winch cable 100 yards through a freezing cold chest-deep billabong (thats water hole to you and me, Russ), to hauling spare tires up 20-foot embankments while fighting the clock, to dragging sand anchors up a sheer dirt cliff. But the hardest part is the mental game. If theyre lucky they sleep about three hours a night. Sleep depravation and physical exhaustion make it all but impossible to complete necessary tasks like navigating by GPS, staying on course, and just finding your way from one stage to the next.
The event is based in the mining town of Broken Hill in the state of New South Whales. Base camp was just outside of town, but the event takes place at 12 different stages that are spread over a 300-mile radius. It wasnt uncommon for a team to finish an event at 3 a.m. and then have to haul ass 200 miles over Australias unimproved, kangaroo-infested roads to make it to their next stage by 7:30 a.m.
The event organizers go out of their way to make sure theres a little bit of everything. Terrain ranged from soupy mud like youd find in Louisiana, to rocks, to sand, to water crossings up to 8 feet deep if the wrong line was taken. And trust usthe wrong line was taken.
We only saw about three Jeeps in the entire event. The rest of the time we were asking, Now what was that again? There were Range Rovers (always break the transmissions), Nissan GQs (bombproof and look like a Dodge Raider), Toyota Land Cruiser utility flatbeds (what to have if you dont have a Nissan), some old-school Toyota FJ-40s and FJ-55s, and a few other odds and ends. Engines ranged from four- and six-cylinder turbodiesels juiced-to-the-moon, to swapped-in Ford and Chevy V-8s. Tire size for the competition is limited to 36x12.50, with many of the competitors running Swamper TSLs, BFG Muds, and the unfamiliar, but aggressive, Simex. However, the thing that set these vehicles apart from most competition vehicles in the states is that they are actually driven to the competition, thrashed, then put back to duty as the daily driver/grocery getter.
You 4x4 junkies like us, if youre considering taking a trip down under youd be stupid not to have it coincide with the Outback Challenge. Theres tons of cool things to see in Broken Hill (its the jumping-off point for the outback as well as where they filmed a lot of Mad Max) and you get to see a lot of the countryside while traveling to and from the stages. But best of all, you get to see the Australian version of the Billy Bob thrashing junk like you wouldnt believe. For more info on the event or to find out about Broken Hill, contact 4x4 Australia, Outback Challenge, Locked Bag 12, Oakleigh Vic, Australia 3166, 4x4australia @acpaction.com.au, or Broken Hill visitor information center, 61-08-8087-6077, www.murrayoutback.org.au.