In 1969, Australia’s Simpson Desert was a desolate, lonely, and seldom travelled place. Situated squarely in the heart of the continent’s great red center, it is one of the more remote regions of the planet.
Seasonal temperatures rise past the century mark, up to 50°C, and the sun can beat down hot enough to vaporize sweat as it seeps from your pores. Distances between towns or sheep stations were measured in days or weeks, and few tracks spanned its northern reaches. Anyone that ventured into its bowels required the intestinal fortitude of a camel to survive.
It was the Simpson’s vastness and desolation that inspired Ian McDonald and a handful of mates to muster a few Jeeps and venture into the unknown. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their endeavor, the first full crossing by vehicle of the Australian continent. This summer a multi-national group of like-minded adventurers will attempt to follow the tracks of McDonald and his legendary team from coast to coast. Enter the 2019 BFGoodrich East-West Australia Jeep Expedition.
On July 4th the team will dip their tires into the Pacific Ocean near Byron Bay, New South Wales, the most easterly point on the continent, and turn their wheels toward Steep Point, the most westerly. During the 5,000-kilometer journey, they will retrace McDonald’s original route through the Outback enclaves of Birdsville and Alice Springs, and to iconic locales such as Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).
In the northern Simpson Desert, which hosts the world’s largest collection of north-south facing dunes, the sands of time will have certainly obscured all traces of the original expedition. These are aboriginal lands that have been closed to the public for decades, but the team worked closely with the governing agencies and has been granted special permission to pass.
During this segment the caravan will be traveling perpendicular to the natural lay of the dunes, which will require them to surmount each of the 1,100 before reaching the next fuel depot. Without services or support during this 800-kilometer (500 mile) stretch of deep, soft sand, preservation of the vehicles, provisions and water will be of crucial importance.
An undertaking of this type takes months of preparation and logistical planning. It also requires four-wheel drives that are reliable and capable. Taking cues from McDonald, the group will be driving Jeeps from different eras including Wrangler TJs, JKs, and the new Jeep JL four-door. Each is being prepared at JeepKonection, Victoria, and outfitted with BFGoodrich KM3 mud-terrain tires, Warn Zeon winches, TeraFlex suspensions, and products from Bestop and Factor55. Stay tuned for an upcoming feature on these seven-slot expedition vehicles.
If successful in the Simpson, they will head south from the Wild West town of Alice Springs across the Tropic of Capricorn to the aboriginal ceremonial site of Uluru. Beyond, the expansive deserts of Western Australia and mobs of Afghan camels will await. By the time the team reaches Steep Point at the edge of the Indian Ocean, they will have crossed 37 degrees of longitude over a 20-day period.
The project is being coordinated by Australian Ben Davidson of Seven Slot Expedition and Adventure Architects’ CEO Chris Collard, who will be joined by McDonald and John Eggleston, two of the three surviving members of the 1969 expedition. Other team members include Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductees Rick Péwé and Sue Mead, along with an international contingent from four countries. During the trek they will be updating us with images and videos, and we will be able to track their progress via Garmin’s InReach and Earthmate. For more information go to sevenslotexpedition.com or follow them on Instagram: #sevenslotexpedition.