My Camping Misadventures
I originally considered an alternate title: ‘The Otways would be lovely if I weren’t a fool’ -- far too lengthy and way too accurate.
First of all, let me start by saying: I'm not a camper. By this I mean, I don't camp. Truthfully, I've been afraid of camping for the majority of my 26 years. It's a fear probably spurred on by my own misconception of the entire practice. I was fairly confident that all camping experiences involve digging holes to hide excrement or fishing for your dinner. I mean, I’m sure there’s probably a campfire and marshmallow toasting but that hardly makes up for the humiliating experience of asking for the toilet paper before you wander off into the woods. I’ve never judged those who enjoy camping (very much), but in recent years I’ve actually come to envy their sense of adventure and general preparedness - I think campers are the true geniuses of travel.
Before I delve into my second ever camping adventure, here are my key learnings:
- A blanket does not a sleeping bag make. They are not the same thing and certainly are not interchangeable.
- When packing an inflatable mattress, ensure that all crucial components have also been packed -- pack the plug.
- Do not assume that an inflatable mattress can be blown up manually. It can not.
- Read the instructions. On everything.
- If you insist on not reading instructions, you may be fortunate enough to depend upon the kindness and initiative of the Regular Camper - he or she can be identified by their enviable set up which includes a camp fire, deck chairs, a loaded esky, shade and an obvious disdain for your ineptitude.
- If you are going to pack anything, pack vodka. Vodka makes most everything better.
It’s strange to write about my second camping experience without explaining my first but suffice to say my first time camping was hardly camping. I arrived at the campsite after all of our friends. This meant that everything was already set up (hoorah) and my complete lack of know-how was compensated for by a group of Regular Campers -- my tent was set up in 30 seconds flat while I ‘oversaw’ the project.
My second camping trip was where the adventure really begun. Oh my, when I think back to that time it gives me shivers and a reluctant shudder of shame. It actually still surprises me that I suggested the idea. My partner and I had wanted to have a weekend away and I was trying to minimise the costs and suggested that we try camping. It sounded so fantastic. Picture this: Wake up in the early morning, crawl out of the cosy sleeping bag, unzip the tent peer out to the horizon with the waves lapping up on the shore, the warm beams of light brightening the sky. Sounds incredible doesn’t it? I had convinced myself that we would camp at the beach. I had no concept of how that would happen. I didn’t know where you can camp, I certainly didn’t know that you should always book. And I was absolutely astonished to learn that almost every campsite books out on a long weekend. I unfortunately learned that sad fact on the day of departure after my partner frantically called every campsite he could find along the coast. In the end, no beach front venue -- we would be heading to the Otways.
The morning of....
The morning we were due to leave was a frantic mess. I had run to the shops to buy essentials: vodka, soda, chips, bread etc. I cooked a big pot of pasta to make a pasta salad and I made at least six sandwiches. My housemate watched me in horror (which, in hindsight, should’ve been my first warning sign). “How long are you going for?” she asked.
“Two nights,” I said nonchalantly.
I figured the food I had made would last one or so days and I also made the assumption that we could ‘get food there’ if we needed, even though I didn’t really know where ‘there’ was.
My partner was packing items from his house and I was preparing myself (a process in and of itself) and when we eventually came together to fill the car up we realised 2 items were missing: a plug for the mattress and a sleeping bag.
“A small hitch but not to worry,” I said. “Here’s a blanket and we can buy some sticky tape on the way.”
We filled the car with everything we decided was essential and headed off on the road to the Otways.
The nightmare begins…
Success! After minimal bickering, we arrived at the campsite in a relatively timely manner. We drove into our space and started the process of setting up the tent, which should have been a smooth exercise. But then there's pride. Insisting that I could work it out, despite no solid experience to substantiate such confidence, I got to work. Naturally, when the tent failed to assemble by my hands, I blamed my partner. A quick look at the instructions and I was no closer to solving the mystery of how to build a 3-person tent. To complete the humiliation, a Regular Camper observed my shame from the comfort of his own camping chair with an open beer and loaded esky at his feet. And with little more than a glance over our collapsed tent pieces he gave us this one piece of golden advice: You have to put the pegs in first.
“Do you need a hammer?” he asked.
Of course I needed a hammer and, of course, I didn’t have one.
After borrowing a hammer from the kind Regular Camper and setting up the tent, we moved everything into the tent (the 6 sandwiches, vodka and pasta salad included), gave ourselves a pat on the back and proceeded to completely unwind.
We soon realised there was literally no way to fill up a mattress without a pump and so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would spend the night lying on the deflated mattress. We went for a wander around the area and as the sun started to set, we cosied up in our tent with drinks, pasta and some card games.
It makes me feel physically uncomfortable when I think back to that evening. The sleeping arrangement ended up being:
Blow-up mattress lying flat on the base of the tent
A thin blanket on top of it
Our bodies lying on top of the blanket
A few t-shirts and jackets on top of us.
We tried to sleep.
It was cold. The kind of cold that doesn’t subside. It seeps into you in waves. It cools your skin, your flesh and then your bones, where it stays. It was cold when we started to drift off to sleep but I’d been convinced that it would warm up - our bodies are warm, the tent will warm up. It never occurred to me that the ground was cold as ice and reinforced by kilometres of more cold ground beneath it.
I laid on my side, and then when that side became too cold, I would turn to my other side. And repeat. We spoke to each other during that night, we spoke of the cold -- it was reminiscent of the scene in Titanic as they lay floating in the ocean. “We can leave, Lara. We can get in the car. We’ll be warmer there.”
But I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t stomach the thought of the Regular Campers finding us in our car in the morning -- the shame was crippling. We waited it out and as soon as we saw the beginnings of the sun rising we abandoned our tent and ran to the car where we turned on the heater and drove. We didn’t even know where we were going or what we would do, we just needed to move. The car heater was a euphoria I have never known since. We decided to head into the nearest town and plan our next move -- do we go home? Do we find a hotel? All we knew was that we couldn’t go back there. We arrived into town and found an open McDonald’s. We went through the drive through and ordered a hot breakfast and coffee. The most glorious coffee of my life.
After some failed attempts to find a suitable (read: affordable) alternative to returning to the hell hole that was our camping grounds, we decided to take some corrective action and try again.
Despite it being a public holiday, we found an open camping store. In the end we purchased a sleeping bag, an air mattress plug, a car pump and a handful of other items. Suffering a bad case of camping-induced PTSD, every so often I would frantically query the salesman, “But will we be warm enough?!”
We went back to our campsite and prepared our sleeping quarters. We used the car pump to fill up the mattress, and although the plug did not fit perfectly, we were able to mostly seal the hole and cover it with duct tape. Success! The air held - granted it was not particularly plump but it was off the ground and that was all I needed. The sleeping bag was thick and cosy and designed to keep the human body warm at temperatures much cooler than the previous night. We laid on the (mostly) inflated mattress, tucked into our sleeping bag,
We were so warm, I almost cried tears of joy. That night we slept like babies.
One bonus piece of advice you probably don’t need: Don’t drive down an unfamiliar road lit only by the light of the moon. Ever. You might just be driving towards a very windy, very narrow, single lane road that doesn’t have a turnoff for several kilometres. Just trust me, don’t do it.