The sun was an unwelcome addition to our lives. The previous night had seen the last teams arrive in time for an early breakfast rather than a late dinner, but incredibly 27 was still intact. Rebel Base had received an alternator from a completely incompatible vehicle, persuaded by an angle grinder to fit. They had even rigged up a single working headlight. Life was rosy. The Mini, team BMC, had fared less well on the last part of the Gibb River road, adding a cracked windscreen to their existing engine problems, which meant that the remnants of 27 had been heading at a steady 85 kilometres per hour all of yesterday. This was due to piston failure: the Mini was now running on three cylinders, a pop rivet patching up the hole in the cylinder they had picked up due to burning it out.

The American Marines have a credo that they adopted from the Shitbox Rally: never leave a man behind. We made the long procession north through Katherine to Darwin all together at a stately pace, though still faster than Braking Bad, an ancient VW that was only able at this stage to manage 80. Vintage cars attempted to pass each other while the Northern Territorians in their Hiluxes roared past in the far outside lane, used to the 130 speed limit. As in 2011 on the same route we missed the Stuart Highway turnoff into Darwin, but this time experience prevailed and we were able to form up in close convoy on the alternate route towards the main drag through Darwin city centre, horns honking. In a startling break with tradition, we rolled across the finish line before sunset, parked the car and then headed into the hotel bar for the first proper cold beer since Broome. As a baromter of our mental state at that point, I’ll just say that it was Castlemaine XXXX and it tasted like nectar from the gods themselves.

Hyped, we checked in, grabbed a quick shower and headed back out for more food and drink. After the shower, I was suddenly my usual pale complexion, all the orange fake tan of two days of Kimberley dust washed down the drain, hair no longer sticking up as if I had received an electric shock. Franzl fared better in the hair department, but that was due to general sparseness. A good group gathered for dinner, cracking jokes and retelling tales, but one by one falling quiet as the expenditure of the last week caught up with them. We were back at the hotel by 10.30pm.

Next day, we headed out to the Showgrounds for the car sale. In 2011, it had been a challenge to offload a hundred shitboxes into the local market, and this time there were two hundred and fifty. Learning from previous experience I parked Bruce up at the front to make sure there would still be some interest when his number was called. In the end, we got $100 for him, which was better that the Camry in 2011 that went for $60 – and that included a brand new jerry can and $30 of fuel. Franzl, however, was not to be put off and registered himself as a bidder. In a dazzling display of auctioning prowess mixed with bloody mindedness and seasoned with a pinch of mid life crisis, he entered into the bidding for the Land Rover that Alicinda Outback Safari were driving in (and usually at the back of) team 27, and clocked a Shitbox Rally record of $4280 when he secured it. The plan quickly fell into place: Troy from IT Crowd, a 27 team mate who is from Perth, would drive it back to home over the course of a week while we flew back.

So, Shitbox Rally 2014 is finally over. Franzl and I have covered the longest course in Shitbox Rally history, sharing a confined space from sun-up to sundown for seven days without me once having to resort to the tire iron and the spade in the middle of the desert. It’s the kind of event that lets you take a good look at your life and where you should be heading. For Franzl, the proud new owner of a Land Rover Discovery on the cusp of his fortieth birthday, that’s obviously towards the life of the landed gentry. I just hope that if he takes it on Shitbox 2015 he has an accompanying shitbox for his butler….