Goats. I had expected to see kangaroos on this trip, yet the animal I have seen the most so far has been goats. We left Kalbarri, continuing our trek north in the Australasian Safari Rally, with a stop at a stage at the Murchison House Station, a 150-year-old working station (ranch) where dirt roads crisscross the facility. Autos left two minutes apart, and Amy and Tricia in the #104 Jeep (with the traction control problem solved), started near the end of the group.
As she described it, in this stage, you're going in a straight line and everything is going fine, but then the Jeep would slide to the side, and it felt as if it had a flat tire. But that's just the nature of bulldust, the highly hazardous talcum-like red sand that covered this part of the rally course. There are small parts of the Baja 1000 that are said to have something similar. It is so fine it feels oily. There were stretches of slick rock alongside the route, like what you would see in Moab, but not on the course itself.
But that was just the start of today's challenges. The next stages were brutal. We'd heard over the radio that one SUV had blown its engine. A moto rider had been in a crash and likely had broken ribs. One driver (in a Holden Colorado, similar to the Chevy Colorado) rolled and was injured. By the time Leg 2 was done, six autos, eight bikes, three side-by-sides, and one quad did not finish.
Lerner explained that there were a lot of cautions on these stages. The course today was tight, windy, and soft -- with lots of ruts, and anthills. These aren't like the little ones you might see in the U.S. These are big, practically works of art. Team Lerner/Reina reached a section that was a triple caution rut. The road book warned to stay right, as the whole road was a rut filled with soft sand, and it was pretty chewed up at that point. The Jeep made it through okay, but another team saw that the Jeep had a winch, and asked Lerner and Reina for help. They winched out the team that was stuck; they tried to help another team that was stuck in a similar silty bog futher down the trail, but the winch didn't help. Instead of freeing the stuck vehicle, it pulled the Jeep toward them. They radioed for help and made sure a recovery team was on the way before continuing on. The rest of the stage was soft, but it wasn't as treacherous as it had been earlier in the day.
We had been watching some of the excitement from a popular vantage point along the course, called White Bluff. (You can guess why it has that name.) There were RVs parked along the edge of the bluff, as were we, and the viewpoint was above a high-speed straight that followed a fence line. It reminded me of when you see highlights of Dakar or Baja on TV -- one lone race vehicle, speeding through light-colored sand left to right, clouds of dust kicking up behind it. But there is something odd about the Bluff: a tradition has started where people bring garden gnomes to one particular spot. There were dozens of them there, overlooking the rally course. After we saw what we came there to see, we got back onto the North West Coastal Highway, and saw a lot of roadkill -- and goats. There were signs warning about cattle. A wide variety of creatures that had lost the battle with cars. Yet the only things we saw trying to cross the road were goats.
We turned onto a red dirt road that took us the rest of the way to Gascoyne Junction, our next temporary home. Because of the winch help, #104 came in after we did. The Jeep is doing fine and is ready for Leg 3, with only a flat tire as the day's damage.