I used to have a little hatchback car that was great on the bitumen but certainly not suited for off-roading and getting to places to take amazing photos so I decided to sell little Suzie and get a 4wd. We ending up finding a second hand Pajero that was well looked after and mechanically sound and was soon named ‘Redballs’. The weekend arrived when it was time to put her to the test so Aaron and I took her along Black Mountain Road which is a fairly tame road to break her in with. She was set up with basic recovery gear for an easy day’s travel but nothing too extravagant.

We’d come out the other side of Black Mountain road and Aaron says “go down here, I saw a really nice lagoon on google maps” and what ensued was certainly an adventure and a great learning experience.

Aaron pointed to what he thought was the track down to the lagoon and off we went. It had been raining recently but not on this particular day and we started on what we thought was a solid grass track. First whoopsie of the day was not assessing the track properly before driving on it and assuming it would be ok. Turns out the grass was hiding some really deep muddy wheel ruts. Thankfully I had engaged low range before entering the track and by the time I realised how mushy the track was it was too late, I had committed to it and potential recovery points for the winch were too far away. Knowing that momentum is one of the saving graces when it comes to mud and soft ground I floored it not wanting to lose that inertia that was stopping us from stopping.

While trying to traverse this track that felt like it was at least 5k’s long Aaron is shouting at me “DON’T STOP….DON’T STOP…. KEEP GOOOOOIIIIIIIING….GUN IT…..GO GO GO….. JUST GUN IT” thinking I was taking my foot off the accelerator whereas in fact we were bouncing around so much every time my bum bounced off the seat as did my foot off the accelerator.

All the while I’m thinking of poor Redballs and the horror she’s going through. Before me she had lived the sedate life of being owned by a pilot and elderly gentleman. The most hard core off roading she had seen was the Bloomfield track, which really, you can do in a little Getz which we’ve seen often enough by the tourists who don’t care about their hire cars.

Now, like me, she was bouncing all over the place, guts touching places it shouldn’t and pretty sure never going to be able to move again if we get out of this. Before I realise it the tracks starts to solidify and we’re on solid ground again. I come to a halt and prise my fingers off the steering wheel one by one and wait for my guts to extricate themselves from my throat and return to their rightful position. I look over at Aaron and we’re speechless. Redballs made it through. No way. Kudos to the 25 year old vehicle.

I drive a bit further along the track which is solid and we’re not sure what happened at this point but she died….Whether I stalled her or she just decided to check out without notice we’re not sure. I tried to start her and nothing at all, not even a whimper of engine noise wanting to try. I try again and nope…. Again…. Nope. Once again Aaron and I are looking at each other in stunned silence and not because we just did something awesome. We’re in the middle of the bush, no mobile reception, an hour’s drive from the nearest town and pretty much stranded.

Well prepared, but not prepared enough it would appear

Thankfully Aaron is pretty handy when it comes to vehicles so we start trouble shooting wondering what stops and engine and stops it from starting again being pretty sure that the water in the track had something to do with it (or the fact that she just bounced up and down like a kid in a jumping castle). He sprays the entire vehicle in WD-40 to well, displace water, checks all the fuses, connections, and anything else that might has malfunctioned but nothing out of the ordinary can be found and she’s still not turning over. The voltmeter is saying the battery is still charged and on inspection the alternator looks as it should so we don’t think it’s that.

Wondering if it’s just a good ol’ fashioned roll start that she needs we think of how to make this happen.  Sitting on pretty flat ground it would appear the ground looks like it might dip slightly about 10m in front of us so we set up the hand winch and start winching. We get to what we thought might be a slight slope but nope. No movement whatsoever and after trying to push with all our might. We do however have a high lift jack, some custom made rigid recovery boards and an abundance of logs so we set about making our own ramp to push her down. We lifted the back of  Redballs, wedged the boards under her tyres and propped them up with the log. First attempt when we dropped the jack was to crush the log the boards were sitting on. Whoops. We found a sturdy log and used that but we couldn’t get enough momentum down our tiny little ramp to even try jump starting her.

It’s quickly starting to get dark and walking anywhere is out of the question so we resign ourselves to the fate of sleeping in Redballs for the night and re-assessing our predicament in the morning. Thankfully we packed plenty of water but no food and had a couple of towels as blankets. We settle in for the night about 7:30 but I can hear Aaron’s brain churning away not wanting the problem get the better of him.

Redballs had a few aftermarket additions such as remote central locking and an immobiliser and after all our inspecting and troubleshooting figure it has to be something to do with the immobiliser doing what immobiliser are designed to do – immobilise! Aaron decides to take the electrics apart to see if something can be done there. He uses my phone as a flash light and A LOT of choice words ensue about the dodgy wiring and aftermarket stuff that was installed.

This is what followed for a couple of hours:

Fiddle

Try ignition….nothing…swear

Fiddle

Try ignition….nothing…swear

Fiddle

Try ignition….nothing…swear

Fiddle

Try ignition….nothing…swear.

While Aaron is doing his thing I see an opportunity arise… there’s no moon and I can see a glimpse of the stars through the trees so I get my camera out and wait for the Milky Way to reach its zenith point.

In the meantime with Aaron’s fiddling the alarm on the car goes off but the horn has been disabled all that’s happening is the lights are flashing. My phone battery is getting low so we wave the white flag, and decide to wait for morning so Aaron puts everything back together again.

The Milky Way is so close to being in the primo spot and I hear Aaron close the car door to join me where I’m taking photos and as he closes the door we hear the ‘clunk’ of the central locking engaging. You…cannot….be…serious…. Redballs is an arsehole and has just locked us outside with the keys in the ignition and the windows up. The batter level on my phone is 4% and all we have outside with us is 1 almost dead phone, camera, lens, tripod and a million and on mosquitoes. Awesome.

We consider breaking a window to get back in but I say to Aaron that I can fit through the very back sliding window, he said I couldn’t and now it wasn’t about breaking into Redballs so we wouldn’t be sleeping on dirt for the night, it was about proving to him, that yes, I CAN fit through that window. I break the plastic lock and pry the window open and start to have doubts. That is a pretty small window….. I contort myself and bend at angles I never thought I could and get through the back window in a very ungraceful manner but I did it! I unlock the car and we decide it’s a good idea to keep the keys on us.

The window I apparently wasn’t going to fit through

I go back to my camera and the Milky Way is still in an ok position so I snap away. I chimp and my photo is all fuzzy. Huh? I trigger my flash to light up everything and a fog is rolling in. Fine, bedtime it is.

Can’t say we had the best night’s sleep we ever had but we got up around sunrise and hope that Redballs just needed overnight to rest her weary bones and would start again in the morning. We put the key in the ignition, turn it ever so gently and ….. nothing.

We left a note under the windscreen saying “Not abandoned, just broken, back soon” with our mobile numbers with the hope no-one flogs our stuff while we’re gone. We pack up the easy to carry high value items and start walking. We estimate we’re about 30klm to the nearest town of Mt Molloy and we’re about halfway through our walk when we hear an absolutely magical sound. A vehicle coming up behind us. As it gets close we start waving to it and they wave back thinking we’re saying ‘Hello’ and drive past us. We start running after it, this time flailing our arms around and they realise that we’re just not just having a purposeful morning stroll admiring the scenery that we might actually want something. They stop and we explain what had happened and they offer us a lift to the nearest town. Thankfully they weren’t serial killers and were actually heading to Mareeba which was better for us so they took us all the way to Mareeba and dropped us off at the local Maccas. Thank you again to you wonderful, kind strangers who helped us out of a pickle.

We get some food and google ‘bus from Mareeba to Cairns’ not knowing if such as thing exists but yes, it most certainly does. And the only one for the day departs in half an hour. We rush to the bus stop and get the bus into Cairns. We then get a taxi to home where we’re greeted by 2 very happy dogs who looked after our house for us for the night.

We get the BT-50 and start the 3 hour drive back to Redballs coming up with a game plan of how we’re going to get her out of this mess. Best case scenario is to tow her to the end of the track, and roll start her. Worst case is tow her all the way back to home in the dead of the night. In the meantime it’s started to rain quite heavily and the tracks degraded even more and would be quite difficult to tow Redballs back to the main road. We even had a few hairy moments getting the BT-50 into her.

We find her where and how we left her and about 50m away there’s a good section of track that would work well for a tow (roll) start. We have to get her there first though and after some creative winching and towing we get her to the primo section of the track. This is it, this is where it has to happen.

We attach the snatch strap to the recovery points on both vehicles and put a towel around it so if the strap were to break, in theory, the towel helps absorb the breaking energy and it will fall to the ground instead of whipping around potentially breaking things or people. I radio to Aaron that I’m ready to go and this is the moment of truth. Aaron engaged his rear diff locker, mainly because I think he likes to show off, but also just to give the situation as much help as possible with extra traction. Pajero is in high second, ignition on ‘on’ and as I get a bit of roll happening I dump the clutch and the engine shows the first signs of life in over 24 hours. She wants to start so badly but she just can’t do it. I radio to Aaron telling him to go faster but he’s quickly running out of track. He speeds up and this time for sure! Yes, we have ignition and a running engine! Such a relief.

We carefully make our way home and park Redballs ready for a once over. In the end it was the immobiliser that messed with her which in itself it a bit of a relief as it wasn’t due to the vehicle itself. All the aftermarket crap has now been removed and she hasn’t *touch wood* skipped a beat since.

My takeaways from our little adventure were:

  • Going in convoy is good when doing something for the first time
  • A stock standard Pajero can actually go pretty hard when pushed to its limits
  • Not all horror movies are true and there won’t be a serial killer in that van
  • Be as prepared as possible, even for what you think won’t happen
  • Momentum is king

Aaron’s takeaway:

  • “Breaking down in the bush in the middle of nowhere sucks”