Blown Away

Blown Away

Blown Away is a short story about the perils of camping!

I have been camping so many times and for so long now, I reckon I could write a book about it. In fact, I reckon I could call myself an expert, a campologist has a nice ring about it. I have seen it all, done it all. From sleeping under the stars in a sleeping bag* to hiring a deluxe cabin*****.

Young man jumping around in a blue sleeping bag

Sleeping under the stars at Bawley Point. This is what we called a ‘starman fight’. We would get smashed then try to knock each other over whilst confined inside our sleeping bags. Very hard to balance and loads of fun!

I have even been camping overseas. Brother Steve and I partook in a thrilling whitewater rafting expedition in Nepal. We had an enchanting evening in the valley of fireflies with red wine and guitars as an unexpected bonus. Truly magical experience, 5 stars! Nice segue to another future ‘story’.

Some camping experiences don’t get the 5 stars unfortunately. Once, as a teenager, I camped at Marley Beach in the Royal National Park. I thought it would be more comfortable to pitch the tent on the sand dune area at the back of the beach. However 3 days of constant rain confined in a sand fly infested tent left me with permanent scars. The incredible itching led to scratching which in turn led to infection. The infection left me with boils all over my legs and one dirty big carbuncle. They started as red, tender bumps but quickly turned into painful pus filled volcanoes… I think you get the picture! Anyway, the carbuncle left a perfectly round scar near my left knee. I call it my battle scar because it looks like a bullet wound.

Once, a big group of us went to Glenbrook for the weekend. The general consensus was to collect firewood and build a fire for all our cooking. Constant rain equals no fire. No fire equals no food. By the end of the weekend I was so hungry I tried to eat raw steak but ultimately I couldn’t stomach it. Another camping expedition I would rather not have experienced!

Group of people at a remote camping site

Glenbrook campsite  – different weekend, this time we were able to cook!

Another time we camped at Brunswick Heads and it rained so hard the entire district got flooded. I remember waking in the middle of the night in a cloud of confusion, “why am I wet?”… “Did I wet the bed?”… Of course not, I am too old for that. I couldn’t comprehend how I was inside my tent yet floating in water. Once daylight hit and we assessed the campgrounds (already completely submerged) and we realised there was some serious flooding going on. The forecast was for a few more days of torrential rain and the Brunswick River (which bordered the camping grounds) was set to burst its banks. An emergency committee meeting was held  we made a collective decision to drive over to the Thompson’s house in Lismore and stay there for a few days. The Tommo’s were always so accommodating and we are eternally grateful of their generosity and friendship. We just left the tents where they stood since we travelled so lightly back in those days. All we usually took was a tent, a sleeping bag, a bowl and some cutlery. I remember Eric once got a carton of milk and poured it into his Weet-bix packet and that was breakfast done, all he needed was to find his spoon. For lunch we would buy takeaway and dinner was at the local pub. Actually I have a confession to make.

There was one item that I would religiously take away with me and no… it wasn’t my mum. Sorry mum. That item became a course of conjecture. I remember Brett would always tease me about my toothbrush. “we’re camping mate, you don’t need your toothbrush”. It actually went on for years until one camping trip we were staying in Bega. I went to the amenities block one morning to clean my teeth, lo and behold… there’s Brett blow drying his hair! I rest my case.

Brunswick Heads campsite

Brunswick Heads campsite – Steve erecting his tent before the Big Wet – xmas 1979

Somewhere along the way, you go from roughing it with the barest of essentials to pillaging the house and shed, taking everything. To be honest, I think that time arrives when you take your family camping for the 2nd time. The 1st time you take a few extras that family members say they really need but generally you try to minimise packing to the rafters. Our family favourite spot was and always will be Pebbly beach near Batemans Bay on the NSW coast. We have been going there since 1980. There is no internet, no power, no hot showers and pit toilets only.

All you have to experience is a little rain and mud on that 1st ‘family’ camping trip to qualify for an upgrade. Once you bring up the prospect of going camping again you are suddenly buying a trailer to fit all the extra ‘conditions’ attached to the “yes”. When you have a family, have have to book 6 months in advance. Get the pets sorted with accommodation and start planning. Everything has to come out of the shed to be washed beforehand. The kids have to go through their DVDs to sort out the night entertainment, then you start adding board games to the mix. It’s not easy to get away as a ‘whole’ family. Everybody wants their own tent, a new wardrobe for each day plus all the of creature comforts of home. You know how it is with kids… “are we there yet”? to which I reply “no, we are still in Sydney. It takes 4 hours to get there”. 20 minutes later “we must be there now”. I used to put Playschool cassettes on to entertain the troops when they were little. ‘I Spy’ was a favourite game on the road and one time on the way to Pretty Beach (South Coast NSW), I was so caught up in the moment that I missed the turn to Mittagong. On this particular trip I was a single dad and I bullied the kids into going camping as a bonding exercise. Anyway, by the time I realised my error, we had no choice but to go the long way from Goulburn which added 2 hours driving to the trip. This ‘scenic route’ made the natives restless and I was cranky with myself so – no fun! To make matters worse, when we finally arrived at our destination and I went to set up camp, I couldn’t find my tent poles (which came in a separate bag). In the loading up phase I completely forgot about the poles so I had to sleep under a tarp each night getting eaten alive by mozzies.

camp site at Pebbly Beach

Pebbly beach luxury camping – Steve, Andrew, Neil, Stuart & Pim (clockwise from left)

family campsite, everything including the kitchen sink – xmas 2007

Sometimes, sitting around a campfire with your family and friends is perfect. You have just finished a delicious meal. Stories are being told, beverages are being consumed and everyone is content. There can also be horror stories however. One night there were about a dozen of us sleeping on the sand, under the stars at Kioloa Beach. Some of the guys were already comfortably horizontal in sleeping bags, in close proximity to the beach bonfire. A few of the other guys went in search for a last horay of wood and they came back with the motherload of log and put it on top of the fire. It took a couple of minutes… a scurry of activity exploded from the log. At first, it was surreal, it was like having a flashback. But the screams of terror quickly brought me back to reality. Hundreds of huntsman spiders swarmed from the log in all directions. People ran in all directions, it was chaos.

The Blown Away incident happened at Catherine Hill Bay. After the normal morning routine of camping… drink coffee to clear foggy head from previous nights drinking, followed by bacon and eggs with burnt toast. Usually accompanied by some dirt or sand as condiments, courtesy of the environment – what’s not to love? A few hours pass then you head for the beach before the sun starts to pierce our skin. On this particular trip I had some surfing buddies so we had a morning surf. It was nothing special, too full so we didn’t stay out long. Mid arvo we decided to go again. The weather was looking ominous with a big angry cloud formation heading our way, possibly threatening rain but you are already wet in the water so that’s not a problem. Anway, once in the water the wind whipped up into a frenzy. There was spray stinging my eyes every time I rode over a swell and the water surface became really choppy.

After a time, I caught this particular wave, did a couple of manoeuvres then got smashed by the lip and went under. I copped a bit of a pummeling in the whitewash then finally surfaced. My board was just there beside and as I reached for it the wind just flipped it into my face. I instantly saw stars and although I was floating in water, I felt staggered. I touched my face and it felt numb. When I looked at my hand I saw blood. I had a small gash under my chin. I guess we had been in the water for about an hour.

I decided that would conclude my afternoon surf so I rode the next wave back to the beach. As I headed back to our campsite I don’t recall if it was still windy because I was nursing a headache from the ‘accident’ but when I got there I was completely confused. Where I thought my tent should be there was a empty space. I was looking for something familiar when people I recognised started coming out of tents on either side of where I stood so I knew I was at the right campsite. Thinking I had been pranked I angrily asked “where’s my tent”? I heard the reply “it was like a mini hurricane here and whosh, your tent was gone… Blown Away!” Looking back on it – another disastrous outcome from pitching a tent on sand… it’s a bad combo!

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