By 5 a.m., I hear the buzz of flies outside my tent. I know the minute I slip into the morning air, they'll begin to bite. My first decision of the day will be whether to wear my head net or bathe in bug dope and palm the swirling masses aside as I fire up a camp stove to boil water for breakfast, which consists of instant oatmeal and a cup of freeze-dried java.
The second decision will be about my choice of clothing for the day. I decide to layer, starting with a bathing suit, in the event that the opportunity to swim presents itself, ending with long pants that convert into shorts by unzipping at the knee. And always, hiking boots for running and climbing over rough terrain as well as to protect from venomous, ankle-biting snakes.
Holed up in Australia's hottest town for a night, I am covering the Land Rover G4 Challenge. By 7 a.m., the thermometer will read 85, and by noon, it'll spike near 95. The good news? This is the cool season--and my outback chariot is a 2003 Range Rover. This Tangiers Orange luxo-mobile, kitted with a few add-ons for the bush, offers the best of both worlds. It has a comfortable ride (on tarmac), with oodles of room for food and goods, including bikes, kayaks, and the array of helmets, wetsuits, and other high-tech gear that G4 requires--and great air-conditioning. It also has stout 4x4 capabilities.
I'm riding along with Nancy Olson from Arlington, Virginia, a public information officer with the U.S. Marine Corps, and Paul McCarthy, a stonemason from Ireland. They are two of 16 multisport athletes chosen from a pool of thousands of applicants hailing from around the globe. They were then selected as two of the finalists from 16 nations culled from a cadre of hundreds that competed in national selections, with running, swimming, kayaking, and winching Land Rover vehicles out of deep mud as part of the competition. The next stop was international selections, held at Eastnor Castle in England, where the field was narrowed to a single competitor and a backup.
The old-style castle, complete with turrets and a moat, is home to Land Rover's Driving Experience and boasts 5000 acres and 27 miles of off-road trails. It was an ideal locale for the demanding week-long assessment sessions, which included GPS and navigation, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking, and off-road driving evaluations.