Going Bush and Giving Back

Many of you may have noticed that this year as part of Club 4X4’s Corporate Social Responsibility program, we sponsored the Drive To The Top event to support Hope Street.

As part of this, I was offered a place in the convoy to actually participate in the event and raise funds personally. I am proud to say that through friends, family and corporate sponsorship’s little old me was able to raise close to $1700 to go towards supporting the homeless in inner city Sydney.

With the business taking up a lot of my time and a very busy home life with a couple of toddler age kids, I both relished in the opportunity to be forced to get out and do some touring, but at the same time couldn’t help but consider the challenges that this puts on catching up on work and time away from the family. More on this later…

So the morning came; hitting the road quite early from Sydney, our first rendezvous was the big Merino in Goulburn. This was where the 17 strong convoy would congregate, register and gulp down warm coffees in the wet and dreary conditions. This would be my last morsel of self-chosen food for a couple of days, so the hot cuppa was gingerly enjoyed while catching up with the convoy.

The event was proposed and put together by the Crossed Up 4X4 Club, with Jono the club president taking the important position of Trip Leader for the event. After a short driver briefing and welcome from our hosts at Hope Street, it was time to collect the rations that I’d be living off and the Backpack Bed that was provided. These were the first triggers for me that this wasn’t the usual weekend out wheeling, but I was happy to be playing my part and after a few convoy photos we hit the road – destination: The Brindabellas.

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Jumping on the freeway, it must’ve been imposing to see a relatively large group of 4X4s travelling together, particularly bunching together to get into an appropriate formation for Mad Matt, the media partner who was filming the event (when he wasn’t racing to get ahead in his nice quiet 80 series :-)). Turning off onto Yass Valley Way we started to take in the scenery that I had been yearning for, crossing the Murrumbidgee and starting to see our first Brumbies really set the scene.

The Victorian High Country has always been on the bucket list for me, but I hadn’t really explored NSW’s own Alpine region enough. If you haven’t, I recommend it, it’s an amazingly beautiful part of the world right in our own backyard.

Pointing the GU onto Mountain Creek road towards Tumut, soon we had our first stop – an unsealed Road! It was a moment to explore the ration pack for a quick snack, while the convoy aired down. We weren’t doing anything too challenging, so with the Generals down to 25 psi we all loaded back up and crossed the border into the ACT and towards Brindabellas National Park.

The incessant rain that had been barraging Sydney for the last few weeks was a distant memory, with beautiful blue skies greeting us as we turned onto Twin Sticks Road and battled through the dust – 17 fourbys kick up a lot of dust, luckily I wasn’t Charlie for a change!

I had really missed the virtues of the forest, the intoxicating smell of Eucalypts and the sun peeking through the tree tops.

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Lunch was at Mt Coree Campground – it was here where some of the team from Hope Street started to share stories about what they do, again, reminding us that this wasn’t an ordinary weekend on the trails.

After a quick morsel from the ration bag, we split the convoy into two to drive to the top of Mt Coree. A short but relatively steep drive up saw the convoy park up and take in views that seemed to stretch forever. Across the various switchbacks I noticed that I wasn’t getting full right lock in the old bus, making a couple of them 3 point turns rather than one – upon investigation the factory splash shield (note I won’t call it underbody protection!) had been forced between the rack and the OME damper causing it to bind, a relatively easy fix.

An incredible vista and experience, we do have a little bit of high country in NSW!

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After a quick debrief on our activity Jono led the convoy into the Namadgi National Park near the water catchment; with the instruction to grab low range and use traction aids as required the response on the radios was of excitement.

The excitement soon turned to disappointment; about 10 kilometres in, it became really clear that the trail had actually been graded and completely changed from what it looked like when the team had done the reconnaissance a few weeks ago. Where it was a single straight rutted track, it was now a bevvy of switchbacks coming down the hillside. The intent was to cross the valley onto bitumen to continue to our campground, but the call came through the radio from Jono that the works had rendered it impassable – we needed to turn the convoy around.

This was not only frustrating as we had to change route, but a number of the convoy were on very steep parts of the track which was barely enough room for a car – thankfully everyone made it back without major problems. This is not uncommon and a great reminder that reconnaissance isn’t always enough – we should always approach with care. If the track were wet that day it would have been a very different challenge.

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Nevertheless, we soon found ourselves at our campground in the heart of the Brindabellas; time to set up. It was heartening to see that many of the convoy had chosen to take the direction to “sleep rough” as part of the journey. I had opted to take on the same bedding that is provided to the homeless in inner city Sydney; a pretty basic but well-made unit that folded into a backpack for portability.

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One thing I noticed quite quickly was that it didn’t seal up, with the top of it not zipping up as I’d been used to with other swags, but it did provide enough room for a sleeping bag and I looked forward to putting the head down later on.

Dinner was tinned soup and some crackers that I had saved from afternoon tea – both were consumed eagerly around a fantastic communal fire. Here we had a chance to hear some more stories from the Hope Street team; the challenges of substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness were made very real with stories about particular individuals.

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Interestingly for me, as much as there were stories of shocking hardship, there were stories of resilience – the example of the one individual who chose to use the small income provided to him to purchase a humble Toyota Tarago to live in – saving to put in a rooftop tent and even a TV at one stage.

The final story was one that resulted in complete silence around the fire, Ken, a Pastor from Hope Street, explaining that he had just received a text notifying him that an individual that he had been supporting long term had passed away.

With all of this in mind, many including me headed to bed – it was blowing a gale and cold even though we had the relative protection of he forest right around the campsite. I can confidently say that I had many better nights sleeps in my time. The swag not sealing meant the wind was blowing right through, but funnily enough condensation started forming almost instantly inside, resulting in went hands, face etc. whenever I frequently woke up.

Ultimately I decided to get up quite early in the morning and found my phone in a puddle of water in the bottom of the swag. I wasn’t alone, I noticed the fire was going and on approach I noticed Jono had ditched the swag much, much earlier than I had in an attempt to get some shuteye by the fire.

A quick breakfast of a muesli bar, fruit cup and an “Up ‘n Go” and we got back into convoy and headed towards Long Plain and the Blue Water Holes Trail Cooleman Mountain. After a quick stop for those who preferred facilities at the Cooleman Mountain Campground (this one will be kept in mind for future use!) we headed towards Cooleman Homestead.

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This is true frontier country and it’s fantastic to take some time looking through the well preserved structures, imagining what it may have been like living here all those years ago and feeling quite inadequate for letting the cold worry me the night before!

It’s a credit to the authorities for taking care of these historic locations – hopefully they stand for many a generation to enjoy into the future. Backtracking through the beautiful wide open plains, a group of Brumbies, foals in tow marked the end of our time here and after airing up we hit the blacktop for a transit stage to Jindabyne. Here we stopped for a lunch of a cup of noodles and a short trip up to Charlotte Pass.

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I had never been to this region outside of snow seasons and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and in awe of the beauty of the place. Amazing roads on the way up saw me jealously looking into the rear view as motorcyclists came past on their Saturday sojourns, but alas, they cannot see what I can in the GU!

A relatively quick and cold stop at Charlotte pass allowed us to take in the spectacular views and read about the region. Unfortunately we were not able to gain access to the closed track that would take us to the top of Kosciusko; it was never a given, but hopefully next year with a bigger group and proof of the positive impact the event has had we will be able to change that.

Setting up camp at the function centre in Jindabyne later that day saw a close to the challenge, I had finished my rations and that night decided to retire back to my usual sleeping quarters in our Darche rooftop tent. A wonderful meal awaited us with the groups from the Hike To The Top and Ride To The Top events.

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It was great to hear that as a team we had raised almost $50,000 for this amazing cause. The campfire was particularly large that night and everyone was a little more relaxed.

For those of us who chose to camp outside at the function centre, the next morning started early, pegs up and on the road at 7:30 was the order; we were heading into Victoria to climb Mt Pinnibar! Earlier I had mentioned that the Victorian High Country was a bucket list item for me and let me tell you I was very excited that I had the opportunity for a taste today.

An hour or so on blacktop and the convoy stopped to air down at Tom Groggins Campground. Back down a little further this time to 22psi and after a group convoy picture we headed off down towards the Murray to cross into Victoria!

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There was nothing particularly challenging about the drive other than some relatively steep sections, mostly hard packed rock and dirt, but in some sections some dusty sand necessitated a bit more judicious right foot.

Victoria had certainly put the weather on, because all I can remember was the reddish-orange track, beautiful green atop varyingly shaded tree trunks and a stunning blue sky (when the dust wasn’t blocking the view!).

Everyone was able to manage the drive comfortably, even the Drive To The Top Hero Rig, an early 90’s yellow shorty Pajero that was donated to Hope Street! The final 100 meters of the climb saw my own anticipation building and the view at the top justified it. Rolling hills of forest, green and blue as far as the eye can see – absolutely breathtaking and for me, an inexplicably emotional experience that I won’t forget in a hurry. We had made it, enjoyed amazing experiences, joined old friends and made new; all the while learning about and giving back to an amazing cause and to our fellow man.

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Many people asked me what I took out of this experience and why I was there. For me the answer was two pronged. Firstly, Club 4X4 has enjoyed tremendous support from the 4X4 community and I wanted us as a business to start looking at a way to give back. I was very lucky to have been invited to the Crossed up 4X4 Club meeting all those months ago, where I met with Matt and Rebecca from Hope Street and the relationship kicked off.

Secondly, at a much more personal level this event has taught me a bit about myself. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that life is hectic, we are forever chasing the next thing, running at over 100% to achieve the goals we have and the things we need to do in very day in life. In this process it is very likely that the small things in life get forgotten, ignored, assumed. Yes it was only a short time, but over two days I didn’t get to choose what I ate, I dealt with the relative discomfort of the sleeping arrangement (although I think there are many homeless out there that would love to get their hands on what I had). This wasn’t life altering, as I said two days is not a long time – for me it wasn’t the physical challenge but the mental and emotional insights that struck me. I found it very difficult to absorb the non-physical challenges faces by the drug afflicted, the mentally ill, and the homeless.

Going back to my young family, the one thing that kept plaguing me was that every single homeless person was someone’s baby once. Those irreplaceable (but sometimes frustrating!) little creatures that keep you young, greet you after that long day; the ones that have you beaming with pride at every milestone. Somewhere along the way these people lost their ability to cope with life – this is what I found very difficult to stomach and had me emotional at the top of Mt Pinnibar.

As a society we need to find ways to help these people and to support charities like Hope Street. We certainly look forward to returning as a major sponsor for 2018.

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