For osteopath Jessica Weatherall, four-wheel driving was the solution to her itchy feet. The self-confessed nature lover had limited experience in the off-road world, but jumped at the opportunity to spend more time in the great outdoors.
Little did Jessica know, this would soon develop into a love affair with her Land Cruiser 78 Series Troop Carrier V8, affectionately known as Maggie.
IT BEGAN IN THE MIDDLE
For Jessica it all started with weekend trips away from the city and a yearning to explore dirt side-roads.
“I love being in nature. I tried to spend at least one day a week getting out of the city, so I’d go to the beach or the mountains for a hike. Eventually I found myself out in the bush, looking down these little tracks wondering where they went,” she said.
After years of sitting around with her housemate planning imaginary camping trips and joking about finding “a man with all the gear”, it was a trip to Darwin to visit a friend that turned Jessica away from her city-dwelling Peugeot and toward her Troopy.
“After a couple of days in Darwin to visit my housemate’s brother, I hired a 4WD and went to Kakadu on my own. I had so much fun and I thought, ‘screw this, we don’t need a guy for these things,’” she said.
“When I got back from Darwin, I started researching vehicles. I was pretty sure I wanted a Troopy because I needed something safe that I could sleep in.
“Up until that point, I knew nothing about 4WDing. The only advice I had been given was to put it in 4WD and don’t stop in sand. In hindsight, it wasn’t all that safe!”
Eventually, she found ‘Maggie’ (see breakout) and after a mechanic’s maintenance course, she began planning a big trip up the centre of Australia – but not without a bit more training.
Jessica quickly learnt how to drive through slippery slopes and over rutted tracks, but that didn’t come without its terrifying moments.
“As soon as I bought my Troopy, I went to the High Country with a friend from work. It was great; he would tell me when to put it in low range and what gear to use. I remember wondering where he was taking me. It was very nerve-wracking.
“On one track, which was a bit wet, he went silent. I figured if he wasn’t saying anything it wasn’t going to be a challenge. It was pretty slippery. When we got to the bottom he told me he didn’t let me know it was a tricky track so I wouldn’t get nervous and he wanted to see how I would cope. I was thrown in the deep end but it was good – I got to learn the capability of my car.
“I love my car and I don’t ever want to damage it, so that’s where most of the anxiety comes from.”
Plans eventually fell into place for Jessica’s eight-week trip to Australia’s top end. Travelling from Melbourne to Adelaide, Jessica and Maggie travelled up the red centre to Alice Springs, through the Tanami Desert and then across to Broome from Falls Creek.
From there, she travelled to Cape Leveque, through the Kimberley, on to Darwin, and visiting Litchfield, Kakadu, Katherine and Mataranka, before driving the Oodnadatta track south,
“The Tanami was kind of the start for me. It was a real ‘this is it’ moment because I had heard so much about it. For the first 200km, my toes were gripped so tight. It took me a while to relax,” she said. “A lot of the roads had been graded, so some sections of the trip weren’t as difficult as we thought they’d be. It was unusual actually, we were disappointed at how easy it was to get to Mitchell Plateau on the way there, but five days later, on the way back, it was a totally different story.
“The Oodnadatta track was really cool too. It added an extra 100km to the trip but it was so good I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it! It may take longer but it’s really beautiful.”
WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?
It’s this seclusion and immersion in nature that has Jessica preparing for her next trip to South Australia and Kangaroo Island. The bigger trips may have to wait, however, with Jessica’s first baby on its way in the near future.
“The 4WDing is fun, but it’s about getting places that I couldn’t get to and exploring parts of nature I couldn’t reach without a 4WD,” she said. “It’s just being out in nature and especially out in the desert. It’s impossible to come back from that not wanting to instil some of that pace into your life.
“I like living in the city, but I feel like there’s a separation from what is truly me, so making an effort to spend time in nature is part of being a better me. I bought the Troopy for that reason and the actual 4WDing came secondary.
“It’s strange coming back to the city. I’d wake up every morning to the sunrise and now I’m in a house and the curtains are drawn and you miss out on all of that. There’s no way I’d willingly get up at sunrise now.”
There’s no doubt Jessica’s itchy feet won’t keep her in one place for too long with plans of another big trip next year.
“My favourite moments were just camping off the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. The places where there was no-one else around, it was completely silent. Sometimes the silence was so loud and the moon was so bright it kept you awake.
“It’s not about the grandness of the location or the beauty of where I was; it was just about the experience of being completely isolated.”
ABOUT THE TROOPY
Jessica bought her 2008 Land Cruiser 78 series Troop Carrier V8 as a stock-standard second-hand vehicle. Affectionately called Maggie, she came with driving lights, a bullbar, a winch and front and rear diff-locks.
The first thing Jessica changed was the clutch and then added a towbar. Jessica also fitted Maggie with custom-designed drawers which sit behind the row of forward-facing passenger seats. A custom cargo-barrier doubles as a bed platform when the passenger seats are folded forward.
“It takes 20 seconds to convert and it’s absolutely perfect for me. That was the start of the transformation for me,” she said.
In the same week, she forked out for the suspension with Koni 82 Series shocks combined with Old Man Emu leaf springs on the back and King Springs on the front, with a two-inch lift in the rear to counter-balance the sag.
With a lift and standard tyres Maggie looked out of proportion, so Jessica got her fitted with Mickey Thompson ATZ P3s. On top of that, Maggie carries a roof rack and a side and rear awning.
Jessica said there’s plenty more she could add to the set-up, but the Troopy worked so well on her trip away, she’s happy to keep Maggie the same... for now. No doubt with a bub on the way, there will be some more mods to come.
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