Day 10: Batchelor to Darwin
I'm leaving early because I want to get to Darwin to catch up with my brother, whom I haven't seen in 12 years. The others will linger and take their time checking out a couple of waterholes in the Litchfield National Park before heading to our final destination.

The road into the park is a driver's delight, twisting and winding and swooping and sweeping through the hills -- and at this time of the day, utterly deserted. I make the most of the Outback's paddle shifters, flicking through the gears to keep that smooth 3.6-liter flat-six thrumming happily in the middle of its meaty torque curve.

After almost 60 miles, the road turns to gravel, and I'm four-wheel-drifting the Outback gently through the more open turns. A nasty limestone outcrop that forms a sharp crest in the middle of one turn nearly catches me out; I spot it late, too late to brake. I straighten the steering; the Outback dances over the rocks; and as it settles on the other side, I flick it back into the turn, quickly straightening the front wheels and punching the gas, letting the all-wheel-drive system pull us straight.

I rejoin the Stuart Highway just 20 miles south of Darwin, and before long I'm rolling through what counts as urban sprawl up here. After almost 3500 miles, nearly a quarter of that on dirt roads, and all but 40 miles of the rest on two-lane blacktop, it really does feel like I've crossed a continent as I pull onto the pier overlooking Darwin Harbor in the steamy heat. It feels...epic.

BY THE NUMBERS

Total distance traveled: 3464 miles
Total distance traveled on dirt roads: 783 miles
Total distance traveled on freeway: 40 miles
Longest day: 572 miles-Alice Springs to Tennant Creek, via Glen Helen
Total fuel used: 155.2 gallons (to Batchelor, 3330 miles)
Average fuel consumption: 21.45 mpg
Most expensive gas: $7.23/gallon (Curtin Springs)
Mechanical problems: 0