Picture me, crashed out on my campervan bed at 2pm, having a little driving break at a rest stop somewhere along the way. It’s SO GOOD to be on the road and to feel that this whole project has really been FOR something specific. It is. It has been. It’s about this, being here, right here and now.
It was an… eventful (a most diplomatic term) first camping night and morning. First off, there were big electrical storms and a ton of rain, and the still-unlined roof sounded a lot like being inside a tin drum. It eased a bit in the night but mmm, it was pretty loud. As soon as the poptop is in (next week), I’ll line the roof.
The roof is also leaking very slightly, where there had been a bodgy roof rack fitted. I’d patched it with silicone but obviously missed a bit. It hasn’t leaked much: maybe about half a teacup of water in total overnight. I’ve got a towel on the end of the bed to absorb it. But still, I’ll chat to the guys doing the poptop, and hopefully they can figure out a solution.
But in terms of the freedom to get to national parks again, wheeee, its amazing. The cicadas and frogs and trees and sunset and everything – all the reasons I go camping at all – they were unrivalled. I am consciously grateful to be out here. It’s wild and I feel free.
So I slept ok-ish. Kept waking up when the storm got heavier but also when it eased, as it was suddenly quiet again. Awake and asleep. Asleep and awake. But basically ok. I slept diagonally across my bed and was able to lie out flat, turn over, curl up, spread out: all the shapes I make in my bed at home. In other words: I was very comfortable.
Then, next morning, today. I was up and breakfasting early, 7am or so because i wanted to get on the road. I drove out of the campsite thinking the road carried on and was a loop (looking at the map, it IS, but the lower part of it is much better maintained than the higher part). But it quickly got boggy and gnarly thanks to the downpour. It’s only a dirt road anyway, but there are good dirt roads and bad ones, and this one quickly became more a 4WD track. There wasn’t really room to turn, so after a kilometre or two I thought, ‘na-hah, not happening’ and came back. But with no room to turn, so, i came back to the junction in reverse. Luckily I have a reversing camera. Upshot: it works.
I came back to the campsite because there was a good map on the info board there and I wanted to double check to make sure I was not gonna get stuck/lost. Usually when I hike I have very detailed OS maps of the park I’m in, but obviously you can’t have all the world’s maps and I only had google for this one. And, mmm, my phone wasn’t charging (so google maps was about to die on me). Weird. So I got out the van and checked (even sketched out) the map on the wall.
As I got out the van it beeped at me, because I left it running. ‘Mmm, you don’t like that eh?’ I thought. So I turned the engine off. I checked the map and got back in and – nothing, the engine wouldn’t start. Fuck.
I turned the key again. Again, nothing. I popped the bonnet/hood and looked uncomprehendingly at the engine. Mmm. It could be completely fucked or it could be completely fine in any of a dozen ways, and I would be none the wiser. I closed the lid and tried the key again. Nada. Zip. Rien.
So I called the NRMA. Yep, they’ll get a mechanic out to me (I’m so glad I have NRMA membership, honestly.) Also very glad to have one bar of Vodafone reception, although it was dropping in and out – though remarkable, really, in a national park, to have signal at all, considering I don’t always get reception in my kitchen. As I was talking to the NRMA, my iPhone made that sick, uh-oh sound indicating 10% battery left. But I got the message through to them and they said to sit tight.
I thought: I’ve been running the fridge and everything all night. And not only is the van not starting, but also my phone won’t charge. So mmm there must be something up with the battery. Or the batterIES. Then I thought, god, the NRMA won’t have a clue about the whole red arc/2nd battery setup and I have no real way of explaining it to them.
So I tried to call and then texted Andrew, wonderful Andrew (who I’m CONVINCED is my freakin guardian angel, honestly) and asked…
Because, with neither the phone nor the van doing what they’re meant to do I naturally just went to that as the explanation. Andrew replied:
But I didn’t get that text til much later, because just then my phone died. I plugged it in anyway, and sat tight. I read a bit. I did some crochet. I moved the fire extinguisher to behind the bed leg so that I had a better sitting spot for reading my book and doing my crochet. I installed the divider between kitchen and bedroom. I fitted stuff from the kitchen into the upstand behind the kitchen bench. And I waited.
… and after about an hour, my phone suddenly sprang back to life. There it was, that cheery little apple welcome sound.
So I tried to start the van again and still nada. But I then thought, ‘mmm, if the phone is back up and running, on 5% charge after an hour of being plugged in, maybe the problem isn’t the battery or the phone but the CHARGE CABLE?!?!’
So I switched it over and wham, my phone started charging just fine. The cable was the problem all along. (The phone too, of course: it’s an older iPhone and doesn’t hold its charge all that well anymore but it was back to its usual standard-issue crappiness. On a side note: I hate planned obsolescence; it’s immoral.)
The Vodafone signal was still dropping in and out but I managed to get this message from Andrew, and to reply to him. And you can deduce what happened in between these messages…
That’s right. I am, as Moss in the IT Crowd puts it, a giddy goat. I checked and, sure enough, I’d turned the engine off still in first gear (it’s a hybrid auto/manual in which this is possible and, as it turns out, all too likely). As soon as I put it into neutral it started fine.
Rather embarrassed, I rang the local NRMA guy, Chris from Forster NSW (he had tried to call me so I had a voicemail and his number), and explained. And he was a total sweetheart, saying he was glad because he had had a bunch of call outs and would have been three more hours anyway, because he was flat out, and no worries, it happens, good onya for solving the problem yourself etc.
And so I got underway about 11.30. It was hardly the bright and early start I’d hoped for, but the rain had pretty much cleared, I’d got a couple of little tasks done, and I’d learned something important about the van, WHILE I HAD PHONE SIGNAL. So, all good.
And maybe tonight, day 2, there’ll be the paradise of easy camping and party good times that you think of when you imagine this kind of trip. I’m hoping this is like that theatrical superstition about a bad dress rehearsal leading to a successful run of shows. Because as maiden voyages go, mmm, this one was let’s say, emotionally challenging. I wasn’t freaking out exactly but I was feeling pretty ordinary after a bit of a broken night’s sleep, what I thought was gadget failure, and then the sense of having been an idiot.
And now? Now I feel fine. As I drove along I blasted the song containing the line: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Because it’s true. It does.