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I wrote about going alone a few weeks ago so here’s its counterpart: on going not alone. On new year’s day I set out in the campervan blanc with Jo and, in their own car, Toby and Jess.

Jo and I have known each other about ten years and we’ve travelled together before. We did a Russia trip in 2015 and we get along well, travelling in similar ways. Here we were on that Russia trip, three years ago…

Meanwhile, Toby and Jess are a Melbourne-French couple that I met in Vanuatu six months ago. I don’t know them well, but we got along well when we hung out on Tanna Island and then, briefly, in Port Vila. Here’s that trip:

So these are travel friends, which is appropriate for a camping road trip as there’s then a reasonable chance we’ll have similar ways of going (because as I wrote a while ago, camping is not BY ANY MEANS an agreed-upon thing, hell no). And as it turns out, it worked really well*.

Toby and Jess had texted a few weeks ago to say they were heading north from Melbourne and would be in Sydney around New Years. And so on new years day we set out, the four of us, from Sydney heading west, aiming for Wollemi National Park, off the Lithgow-Mudgee road, near Capertee. (We also stopped off at Andrew’s AMAZING barbecue along the way and ate SO MUCH FOOD, but that’s another story.)

We’d looked at maps and the weather report the night before and as it was going to be dry, some of the ‘4WD-advised’ campsites were possible — NSW national parks office is SUPER cautious about such things but it’s actually not all that helpful, as you then don’t know where is simply tricky but possible (4WD “advised”) and where is actually impossible with a 2WD vehicle (4WD “essential”). Reading between the lines it’s sometimes possible to tell when they’re being cautious and when it’s actually just not do-able, but they really do need a better system. As it was, in my 2WD van, the site we picked was perfectly easily accessible.

We went to Coorongooba, in Wollemi NP. There was a bit of off-road driving on gravel and through farmland but nothing harder than e.g. Wallingat NP (which says much less about 4WD access but which is, in fact, muddier and harder).

And Dios mío, it was magnificent. Take a look…

The campsite itself, which is free, is surrounded on three sides by the towering Wolgan Valley, and there’s plenty of shade from trees either along the creek (which was buggy and also noisy with the chaos of school-holiday children) or further back towards the forest, which is where we camped.

Then, about a kilometre up the creek, there’s this picture perfect swimming hole easily accessible from a sandy bank. It’s got quite a bit of leaf litter and tannins in it, but it was deep and cool and perfect nonetheless.

Jo and I swam here while Toby and Jess hiked further into the forest along a management trail – I’m still nursing my plantar fasciitis/heel injuries and really can’t walk far at the moment, so it was grand to have the option of swimming instead of hiking.

And apart from this, we camped. We lit fires (Toby is such an expert in this), and cooked and ate and drank wine, and hung out and chatted and read and slept in hammocks and generally enjoyed the fact of being somewhere beautiful far from the city. Well, OK: 3h30m, but far enough not to have phone reception so it feels like far.

Toby’s top fire tip: make the logs even in length and lay them out in a square shape – they call it the log cabin in this video – burning the fire between them. To do this, he and Jess cut them up with a wood saw (see pic above) and, sure enough, we had two nights of lovely fire gazing (plus star gazing, almost-full-moon-gazing etc too).

It was a lovely few days. As I’ve written elsewhere, going alone isn’t always a choice: it’s hard to find the right camping buddy who is available precisely when you’d like to go. But even where, as in this case, I had a great group of buddies keen to camp at precisely the same time and spot as I wanted to, I’m still not saying I’ll always prefer to camp with others. I mean: I’ll still choose to go alone sometimes. Camping with others, as in this case, can be fantastic. Sociable, convivial, cooperative.

But in general I travel with my angst: I have low-level anxiety about most things social, and do although I know and like and trust these folks, I still wouldn’t always choose to go with others. Sometimes I still want to go alone.

Alone, there’s no sense of having failed (or having struggled, or having wussed out) if someone else does a hike and you simply have a swim. Intellectually I know: heel pain. But still I carry that anxiety of being a fat, female-bodied person trying to do ‘outdoorsy’ stuff and feeling judged for stepping out of the (low, limited, caricatured) assumptions made about fat women by those with normative thin privilege. Nothing was said on this trip, of course. But when you’re both fat and (for the moment) cannot hike, certain judgements are made (or so you imagine?) and they sting.

Also: alone, there’s also no figuring out what ‘we’ want to do right this second. And alone there’s no one to notice, or care, if you fall asleep in a hammock and snore (!)

But of course, alone there’s also no one to laugh with about nonsense, and no one with whom to justify building a fire to sit around. There’s no one to cook for, or with, and no one to join you for a whisky. There’s no one to share the ‘wow’ moments (or, conversely, then ‘oh fuck’ moments).

As it was, Jo slept in the van, I slept in my hammock (with underquilt, bug net & rain tarp), and Toby and Jess had their tent. And we all gathered around the two camping tables to cook, make coffee, hang out, eat cheese, drink wine, and generally have fun. And so going with friends was really lovely.

But I’ll still aim to balance it with trips alone, too.

*Going with friends has the added advantage that they can photograph your van in action!

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