I’ve just recovered from our family’s most recent 36-hour, self-inflicted sanity test. Sometimes it’s called camping. I’m seriously thinking about re-popularising the literal description of this hobby, where it shall once again be known as ‘making camp’.
Unless you have as many holidays as a private-school teacher, your trip will probably be so short that you will actually spend more time planning your trip, packing for it, and erecting the blasted tent than you will spend enjoying the company of your family or your see-through polyester abode. And if you have kids, that ratio goes off the scale. Plus, don’t forget that if you, like me, decide to pack up your tent in the middle of a lightning and rain storm then you need to factor in an extra day or two to unpack, dry, clean out and re-pack all of your belongings once you come home. ‘Un-making camp’, you could say.
Now, if you’re one of those childless, van-owning free spirits who just grabs a book and a tray of sausages and sets off into the sunset at a minute’s notice, I don’t want to know about it. (Just send me a quick text when you’re leaving so you can pick me up on the way).
Seriously, what makes people pack their entire human world of shelter, food and loved ones into their cars, along with an extra jumper, but alas, never an extra airbed in case yours goes down in the night? Because it will go down.
This time we even packed our airbed already armed with the knowledge that it had A HOLE IN IT, with no plan as to how we would prevent it from deflating underneath us overnight, leaving us lying on small pockets of air and hard plastic-edged stretchers.
Of course, anyone who goes camping thinking they will actually sleep more than 2 hours a night is deluded in the first place. What with keeping one ear open for torrential downpours, one eye open for intruders trying to sneak under the tarp and nick your bodyboard, one arm out the side because no grown person can fit their whole body comfortably in a sleeping bag, and one hand on the torch for when junior wakes you at 2.23am and needs to go to the toilet.
Why would anyone agree to go on a “holiday” if you can call it that, where you probably won’t have a shower for days, despite the fact that you are covered in more grit and sweat than at any other time? It’s not as if you have a good excuse for that level of squalor. You’re not climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
No, if you have children you will probably just reason that it’s more efficient to call a beach dip a shower, to have an extra rinse off after the pool, to not bother wetting another towel or attempting to dry yourself with that heavy, salt-encrusted thing you have hung on the nearest tree.
The only redeeming quality that springs to mind in such circumstances is the thought of ample opportunities to do nothing but relax and unwind, since you won’t be wasting time showering or brushing your teeth. In defence of this most recent adventure, I did get to drink one cup of tea while sitting in a chair. Can’t say that happened last time.
Why do we inflict ourselves with the torture of camping? Are we drawn to the idea of it like a moth to a flame, knowing there’s not much chance we’ll survive but we still decide to do it anyway? If there are kids and work timetables involved, it’s hardly a split second decision. There’s plenty of time to back out, renege, change our minds.
Several weeks of calendar perusing, several days of stuffing ropes into bags and canvas sleeping apparatus into cases they never fit into, several hours of meal planning and spooning condiments into tiny plastic containers.
You could call it off at any time. Actually, if you’re up to the condiments phase you’ve probably already passed the point of no return.
I have such fond memories of going camping as a kid, when I wasn’t in charge of making sure the gas bottle was full or the guy ropes were strong enough to bear the weight of a waterlogged tarp in a summer storm. But I remember one year, when we had grown a little older and my parents thought we knew enough about the whole process to go it alone next time, my mother issued a declaration loud and clear. “That’s it, I’m done with camping, I’m never coming again!” Us kids thought she had lost her mind, who would say such a thing?
As I swept the sand off my scorching hot tarp in the backyard this week, I finally started to see the sense in her statement. Making camp is dirty, exhausting, stressful and time consuming. It can be risky, thanks to the weather and your own equipment.
But despite this, sometimes we feel the need to set ourselves little challenges and put obstacles in our own path where they could just as easily not exist. Even if these challenges are only in the form of folding-table-to-car-boot-size puzzles. Or figuring out how to batten down the hatches so your tent doesn’t leak while still ensuring there’s enough air circulation so you don’t all suffocate to death overnight.
It’s about seeing if you can meet those challenges, and also about letting your kids watch you do it. It’s about loving the fact that you hardly see a mirror for days, and playing more cards in a weekend than you do the entire rest of the year.
But hey, if these reasons aren’t enough to make you want to go crazy at a disposal store, there is one other added bonus. Owning a camp stove, having an esky full of ice and a few rechargeable lights comes in handy when you get home to find your entire village is in a blackout, after being hit by the very same lightning storm which just forced your early exit from the campground half an hour down the road.