Outback Challenge: Part 1

Watching Wallabies hop around the courtyard of Patrice Ryder’s home in the South of France was certainly not expected. Patrice is the owner of Outback Imports, a distributor of high quality overland products in Europe, and the sponsor of Team USA in the Outback Challenge Morocco. While his choice in pets was certainly entertaining, it was the white PZJ73 Land Cruiser parked out front that captured most of my attention.
 
In early January, my good friend George Carousos from Extreme Outback Products called and mentioned Patrice’s interest in fielding a US team in the African Outback Challenge, held in Morocco and Algeria. After about five seconds of consideration, I agreed, and began my search for a navigator. A good navigator is actually much harder to find than a good driver, as the skills required are endless. Just being able to navigate isn’t enough, but navigate at 100+ kmph, on two wheels with dust surrounding you is what makes a great co-pilot. Recovery, organization, communication and team skills are also required. My selection process was over quickly once Nathan Hindman of Pangaea Expeditions indicated he was available. Nathan has 10+ years of off-highway adventure experience throughout the world, and is solid with navigation.
 
With the team set, preparations began for coordinating the navigation and support equipment that would be needed in the Sahara. The harsh environment demanded durable gear and full protection from the elements. We selected Garmin GPS units (multiple for redundancy), and a semi-rugged laptop for navigation. Color coded Storm Cases were used to store personal and support equipment, including full survival gear for a remote bivouac. HD military gear nets from Load Tamer would secure the cases in the back of the 70 series, and we chose light-weight clothing made from synthetic materials with full skin coverage to protect us from the desert sun.

 
Outback Challenge Team Alice Springs ARB

Team Alice Springs
 

With four huge cases, I boarded my flight to Paris, where I would meet up with Nathan and continue down to Outback Imports headquarters in Avignon. The South of France would be our base of operations for testing the truck and equipment, performing final modifications and loading the PZJ73. Outback Imports is a “candy store” for us overland types, with tens of thousands of square feet of ARB, OME, Engel and other 4wd equipment. Final outfitting of the Land Cruiser was easy, walking the rows with a cart and pulling shackles, ground anchors, Staun deflators and more from inventory. It was Christmas in April!
 
With the truck complete, it was time to leave for the French port of Seté, along the Mediterranean, where we would load the Cruiser onto the ferry and start the two-day journey by sea to Africa. The time in port allowed Renauld from ARJ and I to install the hybrid Warn 8274 into the 73’s ARB bumper and for us to spool 40m of new 3/8” plasma cable.
 
The port provided our first glimpse of the competitor’s vehicles and meeting with the event organizers. This also presented our first challenge: communication. With the majority of the competitors coming from French-speaking countries, all of the briefings and inspections were conducted in French. Teams were established due to safety in the remote deserts of Morocco and Algeria, and we were paired with the ‘73 Land Cruiser of Nicola and Sebastein. In the spirit of the Australian Outback Challenge, our team was called Alice Springs.
 
Outback Challenge Camels

The original model of desert transportation.
 
Over 10 hours late, and down one engine, our rusting hulk of a ferry called the Marrakech Express (ironic) arrived in port. The nearly 30 competitors were like caged animals pacing the decks, thirsty for a taste of the Sahara. We loaded the trucks and settled into the long journey across the Mediterranean, passing the time working with the Ozi Explorer mapping application and GPS units.
 
Through the thick fog of the straight, the Rock of Gibraltar rose from the mist, signaling our proximity to Africa and the start of our adventure. A final briefing was held, and the first road books of the Outback Challenge were handed out. The route would take us over 650 km from Tangiers, across the Atlas mountains and to the Ougnat Valley. The first stage was run as teams and not scored, but we were self supported and had to arrive at the start in less than 14 hours. This meant driving through Morocco in the middle of the night. Rolling off of the ferry was a huge relief and the race trucks spread out along the major roads, turning heads from the howling tires and big diesels.
 
Nicola and I were making good time, sticking to the major toll roads connecting the tourist destinations of Marrakech and Casablanca. This was when we encountered the first carnage of the event. The team from the Canary Islands, in their solid axle Terrano, had destroyed the transmission and was stranded. Several of the competitors had stopped to lend assistance. Alice Springs did the same, and we offered the help we could until it was determined that a field repair could not be accomplished. The team never made the start.
 
Out back Challenge Sahara Run
Physical tests were part of the adventure, including this 2 km run in the Saharan sun to retrieve road books for the next stage.
 
Continuing on at 100 kmph, the big Baja T/A’s threatening to shake the truck apart, we made good time into the setting sun. Unfortunately, the setting sun also made it clear that Nicola’s Cruiser was not generating 24v power. Within a few hours, his lights were dim and the high-beam-happy Moroccans threatened to put Nicola in a ditch from blinding him. We had to continue, so we drove at less than 40 kmph through the switchbacks of the Atlas Mountains. Nicola would drive within a car length of my rear bumper, using our headlights to see the curves ahead. It was a slow, and incredibly dangerous progress. We needed new batteries or a new generator, and quickly.
 
Dropping into the Eastern flanks of the Atlas offered new hope, with several villages and cities shown on the map. Disappointingly, each service station we stopped at did not have replacement batteries, so we continued on. Finally, at the larger city of Azrou we found an all-night service station and an attendant eager to help. The attendant jumped onto Nicola’s rack and yelled directions through the dark streets to the door of an autoparts shop. It was 2:00 in the morning, and the shop was silent and securely closed. After inquiring to how we could find the owner, the station attendant pointed to the second floor, and began yelling “Amal” at the top of his lungs. Within a few minutes, the shop owner stepped onto the balcony and after a few heated comments came to realize our plight and the opportunity at hand. In about an hour, we had two new batteries installed, and Nicola had lights! Kicking up the speed considerably, we sped through the foothills, pushing the Land Cruisers further East, and into the rising sun.
 
We arrived at the starting point in Moulay Ali Cherif with 15 minutes to spare, and walked into the hotel lobby to grab a quick breakfast. All of the other competitors had already arrived and were fortunate enough to get some sleep. One of the French competitors asked if I had slept well, “bon dormi?” “No dormi” I responded, and with that, the organizer yelled to get to the trucks. Stage one would begin, 450kms from Erfoud into Algeria…
 
Outback Challenge Winching
Great teamwork and a fast winch meant victory for Team USA.
 
Outback Challenge 4WD toyota Owner September/October 2006

As featured in 4WD Toyota Owner, September/October 2006
 
 
TEAM ALICE SPRINGS:
 
1986 PZJ73: Team USA
Driver: Scott Brady, Expeditions West
Navigator: Nathan Hindman: Pangaea Expeditions
Engine: PZJ 5cyl Diesel with AXT Turbo
Transmission: Upgraded 5speed manual
Transfer Case: Marks 4wd Gearmaster built unit with 1.08:1 high range and 3.05:1 low range
Axles: Factory, 4.10 gearing, factory electric lockers
Suspension: OME heavy springs, twin OME shocks
Tires: (6) BFGoodrich Baja T/A 35×12.5 R15 Kevlar with Staun internal bead locks.
Bumpers: ARB front, Kaymar Rear
Winch: Custom 8274 with 6.5hp motor and 40m of synthetic rope
Additional Modifications:
Outback Imports seats with 4 point harness
Outback drawer system
Specter fuel and water cans
Stormcase Cases
70L Aux fuel tank
Terratrip 303
Garmin Vista GPS
Laptop with OziExplorer
 
1987 HJ73: Team Luxemburg
Driver: Nicolas Min
Navigator: Sébastien Robert
Engine: HJ with Garet T3 Turbo and intercooler
Transmission: Upgraded 5speed manual
Transfer Case: Standard
Axles: 80 Series with coil, 4.10 gearing, factory electric lockers
Suspension: Custom coils with twin Reiger remote res. shocks.
Tires: (6) BFGoodrich Mud Terrain T/A’s, beadlocks
Bumpers: Custom front and rear
Winch: Front M12000 with wide spool an 50m of rope, rear Warn 9,500
Additional Modifications:
Cutting brakes (L/R)
Internal cage with racing seats and 4-point harness
Terratrip 303
Custom rack, water tank and gear mounting
Garmin GPS

 
Resources:
Outback Imports: www.outback-import.com
Extreme Outback Products: www.extremeoutback.com

 
View Part 2 here.

Scott is the publisher and founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. He lives in Prescott, Arizona