“We’re not going to use half this stuff” I yelled out to Dad, surveying the back of his 1970′s, pristine condition, Toyota four-wheel-drive Land Cruiser that we were taking on a road trip up to Tamworth. The back of the car was almost filled with two large containers of water, an empty petrol drum, rope, two large tents and enough camping gear that we could open a camping store, a cooler filled with water, beer, girlish drinks (as Dad called them, they were really premixed vodka and raspberries for me) and soft drinks. Dad came up beside me, taking my suitcase from my hands and placing it in the back of the car next to his own and Bridget’s.
“You never know what might happen so you’ve gotta be prepared for every situation” Dad, the former boy scout, explained. “From the weight of your suitcase I’m guessing you didn’t need half the stuff you packed either but you still threw it in.” Touché.
Dad had travelled around the country in his four-wheel-drive, long before Bridget and I were born, he would often tell us stories about when he travelled inland the countryside would stretch on for miles and miles with nothing around, so if you broke down there’d be no-one around to come help.
Bridget had already taken her spot in the passenger seat, her earphones on as she blasted music from her Disc-man and furiously pressed buttons on her Gameboy, most likely playing her new Donkey Kong game that she bought the week before.
Dad’s car didn’t have a CD player, or even a tape deck. It had a small stereo that only played AM radio, which suited Dad because he loved to listen to talk back but, for Bridget and I, it meant we had to always bring our own entertainment or else we’d be stuck listening to old biddies who loved to call up the radio station to complain about how ‘the youth of today have no damn respect’.
I took my seat behind Bridget, admiring how the two decade interior looked almost brand new, all credit to Dad and his meticulous upkeep of cleaning, putting my own car, which was littered with empty bottles and food wrappers, to shame.
Dad closed up the back of the car and then climbed into the drivers side, taking one look at Bridget, he shook his head and laughed, knowing she was now in full travel mode, there’d be no conversation out of her unless she needed to stop to use a bathroom or if she was hungry. He then looked back at me and smiled.
“Alright pumpkin, we’ll pick up Sam and then head out onto the highway.” Dad was excited, I could hear it in his tone, he loved camping but, being the father of two girls who hated the outdoors meant he usually had to go away with friends or find a solution that suited all three of us, usually settling for a cabin within a caravan park so that Bridget and I would have electricity, television, comfy beds and hot, running water and he would still have his great outdoors to walk around in every morning but this time we had decided that it was time we gave him what he truely wanted, sleeping in sleeping bags on blow up mattresses in tents, boiling water on a campfire stove, eating food cooked on a BBQ, using communal showers and toilets and spending a solid four days of pretending that everything in the woods doesn’t want to eat us.
Dad had been the one who suggested that Sam come with us, because, as he explained ‘listening to you two girls complain about everything is made more fun for me if I have someone to share it with’. He also knew that Sam’s Dad was working all long weekend and didn’t want Sam to be alone over Easter, or as Dad liked to call it ‘Chocolate Egg Day’.
Arriving at Sam’s I was surprised to see him waiting out front with an overnight bag, sleeping bag and another small bag in his hands. He threw his overnight and sleeping bags into the back of the car but kept the smaller bag with him, making me curious of its contents.
“Morning” He greeted all of us, Dad and I replied and Bridget just gave him a silent wave from the front seat.
“What’s in the bag?” I asked him, he had placed the bag between his legs, almost like he was trying to hide it from view.
“Surprises for Sunday my love but if you go snooping the Easter Bunny won’t bring you anything” He teases.
The drive to Tamworth was around 5 hours, made even longer with us stopping for lunch midway at a roadhouse as well as a few stops to fill the tank and use a bathroom. We were staying on a camping site, not far from where Amber’s Grandparents lived and Bridget was going to spend Saturday night with Amber there.
By the time we arrived at the camping grounds my legs were in need of a stretch and I was exhausted after the stuffy car ride. Dad’s car didn’t have the best air conditioner so the only other alternative was to wind down a window but when you’re travelling through vast countryside where bugs fly in frequently this becomes an issue.
Dad and Sam set about quickly to get the two tents up, another reason I suspected Dad wanted Sam on our trip, he knew Bridget and I would be as useless as seagulls trying to eat chips, we’d have the best of intentions but really have no idea where to start or how to get it done. Sam, on the other hand was an expert, he and Dad got the two tents together fast while Sam told us stories of how he and his friends would go camping back home, except it wasn’t on a camping ground and was more in his friend Jeremy’s backyard but still, they’d treat it like real camping, a group of 4 boys, setting up their own tents which they would sleep in over a long weekend during the Summer, only retreating back inside of the house to use the facilities.
By the time the two tents were up I could see Dad was labouring to breathe, he was trying his best to hide it as he pretended to get a campfire started but the more he tried to muffle his cough the worse it got.
“You have to go see a doctor” I knew why he was coughing but I couldn’t exactly just come out and tell him that he had asbestos poisoning but I was hoping if I pushed him, he would go see someone and get diagnosed so he would know to take it easy.
“I’m fine pumpkin, it’s just a little cough that I’m trying to shake” He doesn’t want Bridget or I to worry or fuss over him, he never did. I look over to Sam, concerned look on his face as he watches me help Dad with the fire, he’s the only other person who knows what’s coming for Dad and I guess, now that they know each other better, now that they’ve become friends, Sam’s realising that my Dad won’t be here in a few more years.
“Ed, come sit down, you’ve been driving all day, let me take care of the fire, you just relax and take a load off” Sam suggests, unfolding a camping chair for Dad and handing him a beer. Dad crashes down into the chair and cracks open his can of beer, savouring that first sip after such a long drive. Sam then helps me collect some sticks to throw onto the now roaring fire.
“So who sleeps where exactly?” Bridget asks, looking at the two large tents, “Either way I’m sure I’ll be kept awake by Dad’s freight train snoring all night”
It was true, my Dad was an extremely loud snorer, but Bridget wasn’t too far behind him in how loud she could be. I don’t know if I snore, I assume I don’t because no-one had ever told me otherwise but they could just be being polite to spare my feelings.
“Well I was thinking you would bunk in with me Bridgy and we’d let Veronica and Sam have a tent to themselves” Dad proposes and Bridget looks between Sam and I as a giant smile crosses her face.
“Well I guess Dad’s snoring won’t be the only noise keeping me awake tonight” She laughs loudly to herself as a hot, red flush creeps its way up onto my face. What’s worse than thinking about your parents having sex? Knowing that they’re now thinking of you having sex, with your boyfriend. Kill me now!
“Bridget!” Dad and I say together while Sam tries and fails to muffle his laughter at the awkwardness of this conversation. It’s alright for him, he talks to his Dad about everything, even when I talked to Nick about going on the pill, Sam was there, as much as I had tried to get him not to be, he stayed put and was very open with his Father about our sex life, which Dr Lions took all in his stride and gave no judgement.
“Luckily I thought to pack ear plugs” Bridget says, her attention back on her Gameboy, ending the conversation completely. I was hoping she had forgotten about what she most likely heard the morning of my birthday because she never brought it up and I was too embarrassed to approach the subject but no, she clearly heard us and was waiting for the perfect moment to bring it up.
Shaking it off I grab a chair and unfold it next to Dad’s. Sam places his chair between Bridget and I before grabbing us drinks from the cooler. I sit there in silence, happily listening to the fire crackling as I breathe in the strong, woodsy, fresh air, I guess this camping business isn’t all bad like I thought it would be.
The camping ground is packed with families who, like us, have taken the opportunity of the Easter long weekend to get out of the city. There’s two families camping together not far from where we are, the kids are playing tag while the two Mother’s sip on their wine coolers and gossip about the other mothers from the school their kids attend while the fathers are setting up the BBQ just behind them, I can’t hear their conversation but one of the men is holding up a large piece of steak while the other looks impressed.
“Dad, did you pack meat for the BBQ?” I ask my Father, my own stomach now grumbling at the sight of the big, juicy steak.
“Of course I did but there’s only enough for tonight, I was thinking the three of us could go out for dinner tomorrow night, after we drop Bridget off with Amber” as if on cue, Dad’s stomach growls at the mention of food.
I get up and search for the meat, that has been wrapped up in bags and placed into the bottom of the cooler, grabbing the BBQ kit from the back of the car, I make my way over to the BBQ that is next to our tents.
“Bridget and I will cook dinner” I announce, Bridget looks up from her game and gives me a look of disappointment, “It’s only fair, the men did work hard to set up the tents.” She begrudgingly makes her way over to BBQ and begins helping me clean it off.
“Do you even know how to cook a BBQ?” She questions me, assuming that because she’s never witness me do it then I mustn’t be able to, little does she know that, as a single woman for as many years, I picked up a skill for cooking the perfect, juicy steak from all those times I turned up at friends BBQs without a partner in tow to cook for me. I’m quite the independent woman really.
“I’m sure it can’t be too hard to figure out, it’s just like cooking a steak in a pan” I laugh, she has very little faith in me. “I need you to chop up some onions though” I get her started, showing her how small they need to be sliced. “And then after that you can butter the rolls”
“I have to do everything” She complains, typical teenage Bridget, you give her the bare minimum to do and she’ll find a way to make you feel guilty over the workload. Adult Bridget lost this trait long ago and became a very selfless woman, she’s always the first person to offer help when needed and to step aside and let others shine. She has a true heart of gold which is just hidden right now under teenage angst.
After we cooked the meat and onions and placed them onto bread rolls, we took our fine dinning, which we served up on the best paper plates, over to eat with the men in front of the fire as the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon and the lights that surrounded the camping grounds buzzed to life. The air had shifted, where it had been moderately warm, making for a nice Autumn day, there was now a very cool breeze blowing through, Sam grabbed two blankets from the back of the car and wrapped one each around Bridget and I.
After dinner was eaten and we’d cleaned up the area, Sam, Bridget and I set about getting air mattress blown up before we lost the last fragments of light from the sun while Dad was beginning to fall asleep by the warmth of the fire.
“Dad, go shower, we will have your bed ready when you get out” I encouraged him, he stood up from his chair, shaking off his sleepiness and grabbed his suitcase from the car, returning to where we were with his PJs and travel bag in hand.
“I love that we’re doing this, getting back to nature, making memories that will stay with us forever. You mark my words girls, one day, when I’m long gone, you’ll back on this camping trip that you took with your old man and I hope you tell your own kids how much of a good time we had” It seems the outdoors makes Dad sentimental bringing a tear to my eye.
“I just wish nature came with mobile reception” Bridget complained, his words completely lost on her. He ruffled her hair and made his way over to the shower blocks. Sam grabbed the air mattresses and the air pump and began pumping up the beds, once done I placed them in the tents and with pillows and sleeping bags while Bridget walked around, holding her phone in the air, trying to get a signal but having no luck.
Once all beds were set up, I decided it was my turn to take a shower. I grabbed my clothes, towel and toiletries bag and headed over to the shower block with Bridget and Sam. Stepping inside the women’s shower block the smell of stale water hit my nostrils hard.
“We’re going to come out dirtier that when we went in” Bridget joked, flinging her towel over the door of one of the vacant stalls. I did the same with the one next to hers, taking in the sight of the black mould that was growing on the tiles along the back wall, there’s a reason why it’s always recommended to wear sandals in shower when camping, luckily I had thought ahead and worn mine and encouraged Bridget to do the same.
I started my shower, trying to find the right mixture between scorching hot and freezing cold, which seemed to be the two temperatures that the water would go to, depending on the slight turn of the cold tap. Once I’d settled on rather having my flesh burnt off than catching pneumonia I then undressed in the small, dry area provided at the front of the shower stall and then stepped under the drizzle that was coming out of the shower head.
“Veronica, do you think the spider up there is looking at us while we shower?” Bridget asked, panic shooting through me, I hate spiders and she knew it, I would have much preferred not knowing there was an eight legged, multi eyed killing demon sharing our shower block but now that I was made aware I had to see it, to make sure it wasn’t anywhere near me, incase I needed to run away from it fast.
“Where?” I called out, my voice shaky as I looked around.
“Up in the far right corner” Bridget voice showing no fear whatsoever. I looked up to where she said and sure enough, there, crouching in the corner, was a Danny Longlegs spider, I let of a breath of relief. Sure, it was one of the worlds most deadliest spiders, sharing a space that was smaller than our living room, looking down on us but I knew they’re considered harmless because they can’t extract their fangs enough to bite through our flesh.
“Are you two alright? Need me to come kill the spider?” Sam’s voice travelled over the thick concrete partial wall that separated the Mens and Women’s block. I had completely forgot that he would be able to hear us in here.
“Dream on pervert, you just wanna come in and see Veronica in the nude” Bridget called back.
“I was going to save you from the spider Bridget but now I’m going to capture it and release it in your tent tonight to teach you to be nicer to me” Sam teases her and I laugh.
“She’s fearless, I’m the one afraid of spiders but this one seems harmless. Thank you for being my hero though, I love you” I duck under the water to wash off the remaining suds from my soap and then shut off the water, I’m not sticking around to find out that there’s worse creepy crawlies hiding in the dark corners of the block. I dry myself off quickly and throw my fresh PJs on as well as some sneakers for the walk back, grab my dressing gown and wrap it around me snuggly. “I’ll be waiting out front” I tell the other two.
I knew Bridget would be a while, the girl loved taking long, hot showers at home and with no-one banging on the door, reminding her of how expensive the water bill was last quarter (Dad), she would take her sweet time. I was surprised though when I stepped out of the block and Sam was waiting for me, leaning against the concrete under the florescent light that was treating to die at any moment. He was dressed in black sweat pants and a singlet that showed off his muscles, making me what to see him without the singlet on.
“Look at you, my cute, little, fuzzy bunny” He says, pulling me into his arms and kissing me under the light. An older lady clears her throat as she shuffles past us and into the Women’s block, muttering to herself about the disrespect of young people all because we were kissing making us laugh.
No more than 2 minutes later Bridget comes racing out of the shower block, disgusted look on her face.
“Someone is doing a shit in the toilet and it smells like something died” She’s gagging, “Who does that? That’s so unbelievably disrespectful, to drop a douce while someone is trying to enjoy their shower”
“How disrespectful” Sam shouts around the door as Bridget and I start walking back to our campsite in a fit of hysterics, I look back to see the old lady come waddling out of the block, shaking her head at us, making me laugh harder.
It was close to midnight when I crawled into my not so comfortable, double, air bed that I was sharing with Sam. The fire had been dying for the last hour but the conversation around the campfire with Bridget and Sam was enough to keep me out there until my eyes started to feel heavy.
We had unzipped out sleeping bags to create just one blanket so that we could snuggle and I placed my dressing gown on top of us to create extra warmth as the temperature had now dropped to a single digit.
Through the thin materials of our tents I could hear Dad’s snoring, actually I’m sure the whole entire campsite could hear the freight train as it roared through with no end in sight.
It was going to be a long, sleepless night.