Big Red Rash

It was a long and difficult trip for John: Impossible at night, highly dangerous at dusk and dawn, and barely realizable during the limited hours of winter’s solstice. The distance was immense: A nonstop round trip of eight hundred and twenty two miles from Mount Isa to Birdsville. Driving in the light of day one could barely comprehend the abject horrors of the previous night: Cows strewn asunder to the left and right, legs sticking straight up like upside down garden tables after some drunken picnic. Either side of the faint white dashed line, dead marsupials and other slain beasts endlessly blotched and stained the road. More than clues, this was cogent evidence of road trains: giant, snarling, heavy trucks with massive metal jowls and menacing lights dragging four or five trailers measuring over 150 feet long. Nocturnal land-based creatures on the roadways have no chance as these pummeling Pullmans stop strictly for destinations and nothing else.


Typical road train with multiple trailers

Nevertheless, John was given an essential task: To deliver a replacement alternator to a client that had broken down in the middle of Australia’s Simpson Desert. Of course, it was my car, a Toyota Land Cruiser that I rented to do a bit of light off-roading on the way to and from Australia’s renowned Big Red Bash. It was a powerful diesel 200 series truck that performed ably for me in the deep silky sands of Fraser Island the week before. Traveling to the Bash from Brisbane, there wasn’t a hint of the problem during the first two long weary days. However, on the third day, the battery warning light illuminated unceremoniously in the dullest possible shade of red. My fellow road warriors turned their full attention to my car’s dual batteries: multiple voltmeters and iPads were produced and the battery was pronounced marginally OK at 12.25 Volts, but to be checked periodically as we traveled further and further into the desert. As our convoy lead, Dave, walked back to his truck he called out to me nonchalantly, “don’t run anything in the car that uses the battery.” Well with no A/C or fans and the swirling dust and sand requiring windows up, this was going to be a sauna: Another two days of continual motoring and this would surely be the Big Red Rash.

For the next 24 hours the voltage continued to check in at a steady 12.25 volts. For my part, on several occasions I tried unsuccessfully to use Vulcan mind control techniques to extinguish the annoying little red battery light. Then, on the fourth day, on the final approach to the campsite I watched the voltage needle plunge swiftly, like the Dow Jones on Brexit. The car’s alternator had died, and I was over one thousand miles away, in the middle of nowhere.


The car was sweet when it was running


Poor baby in the shop

I cannot thank John and Ben at Fleet Crew rentals enough for their service, which goes way and beyond the call of duty. Also, I need to thank the crusty but soft-centered manager at the Birdsville Roadhouse garage, Peter Barnes, as well as my wonderful convoy compadres: Dave, Mike, Paul and Johnny. Gentlemen, what a fabulous trip and thanks for allowing me to ride along!