The Big Trip – Preparation and Travel

Happy 2014 Barra Season. I’m currently in the final stages of packing and getting my accomplice organised for a couple of days of driving and a few weeks of chasing northern estuary fish and freshwater fighters. From here on out we will be off the radar and living off some of the finest table fare available to Aussies.

My last article covered the planning phase of preparing for an adventure trip. This, the second instalment, will give a rundown on basic considerations when preparing, packing for and getting to your chosen destination. Obviously, planning and preparation go hand in hand and you will likely have started making a mental image of what you are going to need. Make no mistake; thorough preparation and packing can make the difference between a successful trip and a lousy one, and will definitely make for some easy going in the long run.

Sensible packing will make things easier for the entire trip
Sensible packing will make things easier for the entire trip

The Art of List Making

Santa definitely had the right idea. You really can’t get too trigger-happy when creating lists. Preparation is, after all, all about structure – and you can’t get much more structured and pedantic than by setting out a heap of checklists. There are a couple of considerations here that will help in tailoring task specifics; I might even put them down in some kind of structured way.

  1. Start Early. When putting together a list of equipment required for a trip, make a first draft a few weeks out. The first pass will always include too much stuff, and you will forget something for sure.
  2. Check it Twice. Really. Give your first draft a week to settle. This will give you time to think of any other bits and pieces that would be handy. Add them, then, read through with a stingy mind removing anything that seems like a luxury. Check it again closer to the date and preferably after you have put together the equipment already listed. This will give you a chance to see how much gear there is, check whether anything needs repair and/or replacement, and whether anything can’t be sourced.
  3. Archive. Don’t lose a good list once it is made. I keep a notebook (well, a library of notebooks) that contain all the various jottings from many trips. These can be very handy for future ventures; either to spark the mind or as a straight copy.
  4. Keep it Running. Don’t stop once you get on the road. Keep notes of things like travel expenses. These are good to provide ballpark figures on the cost of different trips for future reference, and are perfect for moaning about how cheap things were ‘back in the day’.

Once you get set up, you will hopefully have a store of stuff that will always come with you. From here on in you will only need to sporadically check that all things remain in working order and replenish any stores that get used. I keep two toolboxes on my ute: one designated for basic tools, general weaponry and protective equipment (for me and dogs); and the other for camp equipment such as barbie, billy, eating utensils and long lasting food stuffs.

Depending on the type of trips you do most, you may end up with tailored setups. For example, if you do a lot of backpack trekking you may want to organise a small bag that will go with your gear containing emergency equipment and rations. The important thing here is to have your ‘always’ equipment contained so that it is as simple as picking the thing up and putting it with the rest of your gear.

The Right Gear for the Job

Having the right gear for the task at hand will make things a hell of a lot easier, full stop. The balancing act, for the traveller, is to have the right stuff without taking up too much space or weight. Hence making lists early and narrowing down what is really required.

Again, depending on what you’re doing, some items will be no-brainers – fishing gear for a fishing trip and binoculars for a twitch-athon – but there is always the chance to narrow things down to necessities and luxuries.  Apart from the relevant task-specific gear you will always want some kind of recovery equipment. This will vary depending on the task at hand and your capabilities.

On the Hoof

Foot travel (and for that matter any travel) will require personal recovery gear. At the most essential level this will be a knife, matches in a waterproof container, a candle, compass and a few bandages. This is by no way a full listing of an essential survival kit but will ensure that you are capable of improvising (knife), repairing (bandages), navigating (compass) and doing all in high spirits (matches). If your tinder is wet light the candle to save matches and dry the tinder to start a fire. Depending on where you are wandering you may want to include a good rope. For a more detailed and time-tested manual of survival kits refer to the SAS Survival Handbook (Wiseman 1986). Also, keep a lookout for Big Dick’s upcoming piece on setting up a survival kit.

The first step to personal recovery is knowing where you are. If you are taking on rough country you should have a topographic map of the area and a good quality compass. There is no excuse for not knowing how to use these items, and no technology fast-track. If you get lost and cark it because you dropped your GPS in a puddle it’s probably fair to leave you where you are.

A topographic map and compass should go with you whenever you go bush - and you need to be able to use both
A topographic map and compass should go with you whenever you go bush – and you need to be able to use both

 

Once you learn to read a map you can determine where in the landscape you are and pick the best route for movement before physically seeing it. A compass can help guide you there in less than ideal conditions. Please, learn how to use both.

Foot travel is generally the most restrictive in terms of equipment carrying capacity. This is therefore the best method for becoming frugal in your choice of gear to take and is a great way to learn nifty skills like navigation and improvisation. Feel free to push limits but always work to your abilities. Know your way out before you go in.

On the Water

If water travel is your chosen transport you may have a little more space for stuff. My Canadian canoe has stacks of room to put some cooking gear, food and swag or tent. A kayak tends to have less space and is probably best treated the same as foot travel.

The good thing about rivers is that you can’t really get too far off track. Either you go back the way you came or keep going to the next exit point along the waterway. I’m not going to go into sea travel as I know nothing about it, but the principle is the same: thorough preparation leads to more success and less death.

Of key note, recoverywise, is to keep some kind of flotation device at hand. If you feel that you are going to be chucked in unexpectedly, wear a lifejacket. Always have oars in a boat regardless of how reliable the motor is, and keep a spare paddle in a canoe/kayak if possible. Carry spare shear pins with motors, and from experience, a bit of wire and pliers can always come in handy. If you are in saltwater carry enough drinking water to keep you going for a couple of days and make sure you can get out of the sun. This means good clothing and headgear.

Shipwrecked on Hinchinbrook Island. Some fencing wire and pliers on hand got us home
Shipwrecked on Hinchinbrook Island. Some fencing wire and pliers on hand got us home

Vehicles

Depending on the usefulness of the vehicle you will be able to carry a fair bit of stuff with you. This is always handy and can form a great base camp from which to make other expeditions. Still, there is no point carrying excess baggage and the selection process remains the same.

As for recovery, this depends on your vehicle too. The affordability of four-wheel drive vehicles these days coupled with constant barrages from BCF and the like have pretty much blinded people to the mobility of a two-wheel drive when coupled with a capable operator. So don’t immediately think that you can’t get to far-away places without a Landcruiser. Four-wheel drives obviously have increased capability but patience and determination play major roles in driving.

A momentary lapse in concentration had us bottomed out - the upside is that it's not too hard to get a 2WD back out
A momentary lapse in concentration had us bottomed out – the upside is that it’s not too hard to get a 2WD back out

Whatever vehicle you have at hand, some basic space saving recovery gear is a must. This gear is as follows:

–          Jack

–          Chocks (for tyres and to sit jack on if required)

–          Shovel (an Australian post hole shovel is by far the most practical type)

–          Mechanical hand winch

–          Crow bar (if space permits).

The type of jack is important. It needs to be reliable above all else. Hydraulic jacks are pretty solid. Wallaby jacks, while handy if you are bogged to the arse, can be tricky to use if you don’t know what you are doing and are potentially deadly. I know of someone who was knocked clean out when a vehicle slipped, the jack was set free and the handle clipped him on the chin. He was left lying in the paddock for some time until he came to and got himself home. If you are working alone these jacks require great care.

The type of winch is also important. Good quality mechanical (hand operated) winches are without a doubt the go-to for back country travel. An electric winch seems great until you want to pull yourself backwards; the winch being secured to the front of the vehicle; or when you want to pull your flat battery up the slope next to you to get a jump start. Enough said.

Getting There

As with anything else, the saying ‘more speed less haste’ is paramount. What this equates to is the simple rule: don’t rush. No matter what method of travel you are utilising, the only result of rushing is making a mistake. Depending on what you are doing, the results of a mistake can stem from a minor injury, to getting lost, or having a car crash.

So take your time in travelling and enjoy the scenery. Check maps twice to make sure. Test footing before trusting it. Don’t take a river rapid on if you can portage it. Don’t drive at night if the route is crawling with big animals.

This rule applies just as much following an accident or mishap. The brain works best when it has time to process what is going on, so if it costs a little time to stand and look before acting then so be it. Trust me, a little broad-picture thinking now may make all the difference in the long run.

At the end of the day, equipment is there to help you out and make things a bit more comfortable. The bottom line, however, is you. So know how to use every piece of equipment you take (otherwise what’s the use of it?), know how to maintain everything and most importantly know how to make do with what you have.

Take your time in any endeavour as this will give you plenty of opportunity to realise you are being a clown and let you work out how to do something the right way. This is particularly important during travel as a few extra seconds taken to assess a situation can save hours of digging yourself out of a bog or worse.

The best part about taking your time is that you get to enjoy the landscape you are in. A few nights ago Richard and I were paddling down a remote creek in the middle of nowhere keen for a cuppa and bed after hours of unsuccessfully chasing mangrove jack. All our haste dissipated though when the clouds parted to let the stars through, while our paddles caused clouds of phosphorescent algae to light up the inky black water. A startled mullet was lit up in a ghostly green as is sprinted away before us. Why rush through that?

The fish aren't always huge, but any caught during an adventure trip will be remembered for a long time
The fish aren’t always huge, but any caught during an adventure trip will be remembered for a long time

Further Reading

Wiseman, J. L. 1986. SAS Survival Handbook. HarperCollins Publishers, London.

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