We devote a lot of space on our website to talking about budgeting and planning for your Big Lap but sometimes, despite all the planning and preparation, something comes out of left field and throws a spanner in the works.
This is what happened to us 11 weeks into our Big Lap when we rolled our Landcruiser and camper trailer in the Snowy Mountains.
In this blog post I want to share with you how we managed to end up lying on our side, how it impacted our trip, and how 7 months later it lead to us being in the Kimberley in northern Western Australia selling pancakes to other Big Lappers.
How we managed to turn this 'adversity' into an 'opportunity' that became one of the best experiences on our entire 16 month trip.
The Big Lap Day 82 - Kosciuszko National Park
When planning our Big Lap we had the idea to set ourselves the challenge of reaching all of the extremes of the continent - North (Cape York), West (Steep Point), East (Cape Byron), Centre (Lamberts Centre of Australia) and the highest point . . . Mt Kosciuszko.
With the exception of Cape Byron, all of the others involve some level of challenge to reach, either driving or hiking, so we figured this would give us a 'mission' for the trip and add another layer of adventure.
Read more about The Big Lap Extreme Challenge here.
As it turned out for us, climbing Mt Kosciuszko was the first extreme on our bucket list.
So 11 weeks into our Big Lap we were camped at the Kosciuszko Tourist Park for several days so that I could walk the 22km round trip to the summit from Charlottes Pass with my Mum, who was travelling with us for a couple of months.
The day we tackled the walk to the summit was the start of several days of wind and rain and sub zero temperatures across the Snowy Mountains and despite the conditions on the day being pretty hectic, we were lucky we went when we did because the next two days were a lot worse.
A couple of days after reaching the summit the weather finally cleared and we packed up our camp and headed down the hill into Jindabyne for some lunch, coffees and a some shopping to top up our food supplies.
Our plan for the day was to drive from Jindabyne down the Barry Way to the south coast of Victoria then turn west and probably stop for the night at Bairnsdale.
Well things don't always go to plan and as we drove out of Jindabyne we had no idea that later that day we would be driving back into town in the back seat of a police car.
Following several days of torrential rain and wind, the Barry Way which was an unsealed road, was very soggy to say the least and would need some repairs to the sections that had been washed out by the rain forming rivers down the road.
The road travels south steadily down hill and on this particular section where we came to grief the road was following along the edge of a steep mountainside with a treacherous looking drop off on the right side of the road and steep incline on the left.
We were driving slow, only about 40km/h, but despite this or maybe because of this, as we came around a bend the right wheel of the camper trailer started following one of the wash out ruts that was running down the road.
This put sideways pressure on the trailer which translated into trying to turn the nose of the Landcruiser towards the sheer drop off on the right.
Jen, who was driving, reacted instinctively and pulled the wheel to the left to get away from the edge of the road but this actually had the effect of pushing the camper trailer too hard to the side and it flipped over and ended up rolling 270 degrees behind us.
With the whole car now very suddenly going haywire and no real idea why it was happening, Jen turned hard to the left towards the embankment and away from the drop off on the right and the car skidded to a stop with the nose in the ditch on the left side of the road.
But no sooner had the Landcruiser stopped when the trailer, which was still in motion behind us, bound up on the tow hitch and twisted the Landcruiser onto the drivers side across the road.
So we went from in control to on our side in a matter of a few seconds and then there was an eerie silence as we all tried to get our heads around what had just happened.
Unfortunately for Jen, her takeaway coffee cup which she had bought back in Jindabyne and wedged into the cup holder beneath her elbow, leaked warm coffee all down her back and her only thought was that it was blood from one of our girls in the back seat.
She had a moment of panic asking if everyone was okay before we all started talking at once and realised that we were all okay.
The rest of the day was a blur of tow trucks, spectators who were stuck due to us blocking the road, police reports and phone calls trying to work out what we were going to do from here.
It really looked like that after 7 years of planning our Big Lap dream was dead just 11 weeks into the trip.
We checked into a hotel in Jindabyne and spent the next week trying to find a local crash repairer who could fix the Landcruiser and trailer, before finally giving up and putting everything on a truck back to Melbourne.
As it turned out, the damage to the Landcruiser was more than just the visible panel damage.
Somehow the engine had seized during the accident and would cost around $13,000 to replace.
We had comprehensive insurance but with the body damage (around $12k to fix) and now the engine replacement, the cost to repair was more than the value of the car and so the insurance company wanted to write off the car and give us a cheque for $24,000.
This wasn't an option we wanted to accept.
At the time $24,000 would not get us another Landcruiser setup nearly as well as our own and so we appealed to the insurance company for another option.
They were obliging and basically said that if we tip in around $7000 they would cover the rest and repair the car.
So this is what we did and we justified it by telling ourselves that at least we would have a brand new engine.
This put a big hole in our trip budget but we figured that was a problem we would solve later on . . . the priority now was to get our trip back on track.
So 9 weeks after the accident, and nearly $10,000 out of pocket from the accident, we finally restarted our Big Lap and hit the road west out of Melbourne for our clockwise lap around Australia.
Watch the documentary series of our trip, The Big Lap, if you want to see how it all panned out.
Fixing Our Big Lap Budget
When we started our Big Lap we had about $50,000 in the bank set aside to last us the 16 months of the trip.
So the $10,000 bite out of that budget from the accident was significant.
We did many things to save money along the way by looking for free and low cost camp sites and cutting some sections out of our itinerary like the Flinders Ranges and Oodnadatta Track.
We were filming our trip for The Big Lap documentary which was adding a layer of 'work' to the trip so we were not originally planning to find other work along the way.
However by the time we had made it to the Kimberley in northern WA it was clear that we were going to need to find some additional money along the way somehow to make up the almost $10,000 shortfall in our budget.
On top of that, fuel prices had climbed so we were spending more on fuel than we originally anticipated.
After a couple of epic weeks crossing the Kimberley along the Gibb River Road we made it to Lake Argyle in the East Kimberley where we spent 5 days soaking up the sun and relaxing on and in the lake and generally cleaning and re-organising all of our gear.
While we were there I interviewed Charlie Sharpe for our Big Lap documentary. Having lived there most of his life he was basically a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge about the East Kimberley.
At the time Charlie was the owner of the Lake Argyle Caravan Park and he was very accomodating and helpful in opening doors with other locals to get some great content for our film.
Over a couple of beers we brainstormed the idea with Charlie of us coming back to Lake Argyle one day after The Big Lap trip and making a documentary about the history of the East Kimberley covering the Durack family, the Ord River Scheme, construction of the Diversion and Ord Dams and Lake Argyle itself.
We loved the idea and vowed to be back one day to follow through.
So after 5 glorious days hanging out at Lake Argyle we hit the road once again.
From the East Kimberley our route took us down the Tanami Road into the Red Centre where we would spend about a month exploring the centre before driving up the Stuart Highway to Darwin then continuing our clockwise lap from there.
However our first night out of Lake Argyle we stopped just 70km down the road in Kununurra and that evening we hatched a plan.
Jen and I were brainstorming ways that we could earn some money and the idea of heading back to Lake Argyle and working there for a while came up.
We'd loved staying there so much that the idea of spending a few more weeks there was very appealing.
It would also give me an opportunity to film my Lake Argyle documentary.
We gave Charlie a call and ran the idea past him and he was all for it and immediately starting suggesting jobs that we could do there to make some extra dollars.
So this is what we did.
We continued on down the Tanami Road and spent a month exploring the Red Centre then headed back up the Stuart Highway and turned west from Katherine back to Lake Argyle.
We'd had time to think about jobs we might do to earn some money and word had also got around that we were coming back so opportunities started coming out of the woodwork.
These are some of the jobs that Jen and I did over the space of the 6 weeks that we were there:
- Working behind the bar at the Lake Argyle Caravan Park
- Working in the Lake Argyle Cruises tour office
- Working on the Lake Argyle Cruises boats
- Driving passengers to and from the boat ramp in the Lake Argyle Cruises bus
- Consulting for a client back in Melbourne
- Filming the entire Discovering Lake Argyle Documentary
- Cooking a pancake breakfast for our fellow campers in the caravan park
The idea for the pancake breakfast actually came to us while we were in Alice Springs a couple of weeks earlier.
The Macdonnell Ranges Caravan Park put on a pancake breakfast every Sunday morning and it was extremely popular.
We were staying there one Sunday and we lined up with everyone else to get a pancake, quickly ate our pancake then promptly lined up again to get another one.
It was while we were standing in the line that it occurred to us that since it was so popular, we could do a 'Tailgate Pancake Breakfast' at the caravan park as one of our jobs when we got back to Lake Argyle.
Once again we called Charlie and ran the idea past him and since he wasn't selling breakfast for his guests already he thought it was a great idea.
On the way back up to Lake Argyle we stopped in Katherine and bought a couple of butane gas stoves, gas cartridges, frying pans, spatulas, buckets, and enough ingredients to make our first batch of pancakes.
I also designed a flyer promoting the 'Famous' Lake Argyle Tailgate Breakfast and we printed some up in Kununurra and walked around the caravan park at Lake Argyle handing them out the day before our big launch.
The deal was 'All you can eat for $5 per adult and $2 for kids' and we challenged people to see how many they could eat.
Plus we asked people to bring their own plate & cutlery.
That night we mixed our first batch of pancake mix in a 9 litre bucket using one of those paint mixers you stick in the end of your power drill (all brand new and clean).
I was no expert when it came to making pancakes but I found a good recipe online and figured I'd refine it as we went along.
Next morning at 7AM we had our Landcruiser reversed up to the deck at the end of the main Lake Argyle Caravan Park building and had our stoves setup on the tailgate.
I was the cook and Jen was the hostess with the mostest.
Of course we were nervous that no-one would show up and our little business venture would be a flop . . . and we'd be eating pancakes for the next week!
But our worries were unfounded.
At 7:00AM we started to see people with plates in hand wandering over towards us.
It was a big relief!
That first day we had 25 customers and made $122 and had plenty of great feedback.
Our pancake breaky was a hit and we headed into Kununurra to buy more raw materials so we could keep it going.
Over the next 5 weeks we ran the Tailgate Pancake Breakfast every morning and it did indeed become 'famous' with many people telling us they had heard about it as far away as Broome and even Darwin.
We made around 2000 pancakes for approximately 800 fellow travellers for a profit of around $3000.
While the goal was initially about replenishing our savings and the Tailgate Pancake Breaky definitely contributed to that, it became something much bigger and ultimately it is the conversations we had with our guests that I remember the most.
For that 5 weeks our tailgate was like the water cooler for the caravan park and people would hang out there eating pancakes and comparing stories of their trip along the Gibb River road and asking advice from other travellers about what lay ahead.
Overall our decision to go back to Lake Argyle to work was a great success.
I was one of the major highlights of our 16 month Big Lap and a chance for us to stop and take a breath after months of almost continuous travel.
Between all of our enterprises we managed to put about $9000 back into our savings which gave us the funds we needed to almost make it to the end of our trip 6 months later - our credit cards did get a bit of a workout in the last couple of months.
PLUS I managed to do all of the filming for our Discovering Lake Argyle Documentary which we released after our trip was finished.
I'm a big fan of planning and having a budget for a trip on the scale of The Big Lap but at the end of the day you can't predict everything.
It's inevitable that the wheels will fall off one way or another somewhere along the way.
But you need to back yourself and have confidence that despite what adversity you will encounter, you'll find a way through.
Overcoming the 'bumps in the road' can actually open the door to opportunities you never imagined and will ultimately be the aspects of your Big Lap that you'll end up remembering the most.
At the end of the day if you knew exactly how it was going to play out then it wouldn't really be an 'Adventure' would it?!