I have this thing that I do every now and again when I’m feeling the need to reconnect with God/be a bit more outdoorsy/prove my own masculinity to myself.
Growing up as an only child, I developed quite the love for my own company. So every now and then I go away, climb a mountain and sit on top of it with God. I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty cool. I’ve done it 4 or 5 times, most notably on Fuji-san in 2005, where I got up to the top of the mountain at dawn and got to watch the new day break over Japan. Breathtaking.
All this has (arguably) improved my skills as a mountaineer and given me a cool way to spiritually reconnect. How unbearably hip. What this doesn’t mean, however, is that I have any improved skills at camping.
Yesterday I decided to go camping. It’s like using my man-skills in mountain-climbing, only with the addition of spending time overnight with only your wits!
They were terrible company.
Let’s look at my mountain-climbing running diary, kicking it off at 2:30pm yesterday.
2:30pm I finish my paint job of our garden fence, lazily change clothes and pack some things for my camping trip.
2:35pm I walk back inside and collect an extra 5 or so things I’d forgotten. But I successfully answer ‘yes’ to every
worried-and-patronizing question my wife (justifiably) asks, so I feel confident in my own abilities. Tsk tsk.
2:36pm I leave on my camping trip!
2:45pm I drop into Bunnings to pick up some batteries. I discover they are the correct batteries! But my torch is broken.
Nature 1, Mike 0. That was fast.
3:25pm Drop into my friend Dean’s place to pick up his tent, which he kindly is letting me use. He gives it to me with a half-amused, half-fearful look on his face, the kind of look that says, “I may never see this man alive again…and I like this tent a lot.”
“Do you have a hammer to knock in the pegs?” He asks. “Hammer? Mmm. Yes. Absolutely.” I nod.
Note to self: acquire hammer.
3:30pm Triple J is playing on the radio and they talk about items people have collected at the end of festivals. “I picked up an air mattress at Splendour in the Grass!” a girl exclaims. I turn around and head for home to retrieve my air mattress. And pump. And a hammer.
4:20pm Coffee freshly brewed, items retrieved, I’m off on my camping trip! Again!
5:00pm I arrive at Mt Crawford Forest. I drive absent-mindedly down the winding dirt roads, trying to avoid the blinding glare of the setting sun and the dozens of kangaroos hopping around in the dark. Enough to make you hopping mad! No? Sorry.
5:20pm Not seeing any camping sites, or anything remotely looking like a camp site. I pull over. Turns out Mt Crawford Forest (near Lenswood) is NOT the same as Mt Crawford Forest Reserve (near Birdwood). Similar names. Lots of trees. Different locations. Nature 2, Mike 0.
5:22pm Even in Lenswood on a dirt road in a forest, I can get Google Maps and find out how to get to the Reserve. Suck it Nature! One back for the guys with office hands! Nature 2, Mike 1!
6:10pm I arrive at Mt Crawford Forest Reserve after a lengthy drive. But the gate to the forest is locked. Less good. Hmm. I drive further down the road and using my Google Maps again, find another entrance. I go in, immediately get confused by the lack of signage, panic and leave again, this time down a one-way narrow dirt road filled with holes and puddles that I am forced to reverse back down to get out of. Nature 3, Mike 1.
6:25pm Significantly twilighty by this point. I find what I decide will be my Custer’s Last Stand and try heading down yet another Forest road. This one is open and – eventually – I find my way to Chalks campsite. Hooray! Hardly got spooked by any kangaroos. It is ON, Nature! Nature 3, Mike 2. Persistence pays off.
6:35pm Chalks campsite is bigger than I thought and confusing in the dark. I am literally the only person in the Reserve. This immediately makes me think I am more likely to be brutally murdered. I note to myself that watching Dexter before coming was perhaps not the best idea. Eventually, I pull over and find a place to set up camp. While I don’t find the promised camp toilets, this is not a huge problem for a male. I am careful not to pee where I’m about to set up my tent, then wisely multi-task by blowing up my air mattress, listening to more Triple J and using my high beams to see what I’m doing with my tent. Boo-yeah! Mike draws even with Nature at 3 apiece. Gen Y takes one back!
7:15pm Air mattress blown up and tent assembled – which takes a very long time for one uber-white boy in the dark – I can’t help but notice my radio going in and out. And my lights dimming. And my car battery dying. It fails to turn over. White boy is cold and dark and realises he perhaps should have not had the air conditioner, headlights, interior light, cigarette lighter and radio all going together with the motor off. Nature hits back in a big way. Nature 4, Mike 3.
7:20pm Time for dinner. As a man, it is essential I can make a fire anywhere. Even with the wet, pathetic kindling I have at my command in MCFR. While I didn’t kill my dinner to eat it, someone else DID, then processed it into sausages. However, my fire does not light for me. Not even close. Some of the leaves smoulder down the bottom, but the twigs laugh at me with their angry, skinny little faces. Nature takes another one. Nature 5, Mike 3.
7:45pm I briefly enjoy looking at the stars, before noises of crickets and other living creatures freak me out and I retreat to the sanctity of my tent. I get into my arctic-level sleeping bag . How does THAT taste nature?! HUH?!
7:55pm It tastes bad. Nature delivers swift revenge with some post-arctic cold that permeates my supposedly unpermeable sleeping bag and I tearily climb out of my sleeping bag to put on trackies, a hoodie and a beanie, before returning swiftly to the bag with my son’s duck rug for company. My dignity is in tatters. My dinner is salt and vinegar chips. Nature 6, Mike 3.
8:45pm I quietly enjoy a Stella, some salt and vinnies and John Stott’s classic The Cross Of Christ from the relative comfort of my sleeping bag. But I am tired, a beaten man and I quickly turn to Angry Birds for entertainment more on par with my current intellectual level.
9:05pm I contemplate my circumstances and text my wife with my exact location. In case my body never gets found.
9:35pm I wonder how long a person could live like this before they go totally mad. Only 150 minutes in and I’m already contemplating this.
9:50pm Sleep time. I drift off, alarmed by how close the car noises seem to be.
4:30am Nature calls, and I step outside to reply. Why can I hear human voices? Is that Dexter? But I’m a good guy! I cower in fear for 30 minutes before I drift off again.
7:15am I wake up, for realsies. That was actually a pretty long sleep! I ring the RAA about my vehicle. I warn the kind soul on the other end “I might cut out, I’m in a national par-BEEEEEEEP”. Nature 7, Mike 3.
7:25am I become aware that I left my driver’s side window down last night. After briefly entertaining thoughts a team of rogue sugar gliders broke in and did it as an elaborate animal prank, I concede that I probably did it myself. The interior of my car – intended to =be my RAA-waiting-safe haven – is approximately negative eleventy zillion degrees. I weep, and the tears freeze on my face. Nature 8, Mike 3.
7:55am Tent, air mattress, etc are packed relatively neatly away in my freezing cold car. I wander down the path in the now not-at-all-intimidating MCFR. I discover I drove so far down the road in Chalk campsite that I am mere metres from the original gate I tried to get in. Hence why I heard loud traffic and human voices all night. I practically parked on the side of the road. Nature is phoning it in at this point. I plead for the mercy ruling. No contest. Nature 9, Mike 3.
8:00am A large group of kangaroos is braving the cold to try out some breakfast. I briefly pity them, before realising that at least they HAVE a breakfast. I check my rations. I had two eggs. One has broken. And so have I.
8:15am The RAA guy comes. He left me a message, because my phone cut out again. Luckily, he has patiently waited at the gate. Which is locked. Technically, Nature didn’t win this one. But the guy who locked it works on Nature’s behalf. Call it a draw. RAA guy drives several kilometres down to the gate I entered.
8:25am RAA guy arrives at Chalk campsite. As he enters the camping ground, his back end slides wildly on the mud and he drifts around the corner. I grin at him, thinking he did it on purpose. “That looked like fun.” He looks sheepish. “Er, there’s lots of batteries back there, makes it…makes it hard to…” He just kind of drifts off. We avoid eye contact.
8:35am Jumpstarted car, battery cleaned, advice given and RAA guy departs with minimal shame. I finally depart too, to the Cudlee Cafe (via Williamstown) for their all-day breakfast which is the BOMB. With maximal shame.
9:20am Long drive, but at least the battery is working. I attack my breakfast and a ridiculously large cappucino, sitting in front of the fire as the lone cafe guest. I am viciously attacked by a local cat who threatens my life and my breakfast. “She’s just playing!” smiles the attendant. I stare grim death at the cat, who leaps for my face. Cat 1, Mike 0.
10:15am Great quiet time, great breakfast and I finally return home. Dirty, smelly, manly and reeking of failure. But I survived.
Bear Grylls ain’t got nothing on that.
NATURE 9, Mike 3