BULLDUst Master stroke

HOW CAMP­ING THE RED CEN­TRE OFFPEAK AL­MOST SENT COOKIE OVER THE EDGE.

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND PICS DAVID COOK

I’m sit­ting here in lovely, sunny Syd­ney writ­ing this in 40°C heat. It seems like it’s been over 40 for weeks. Any­one who wants to ar­gue about global warm­ing can come to my place and have the dis­cus­sion.

Forty de­grees! You’ve got to be kid­ding! And it was nearly 46°C a cou­ple of days ago. That’s more than 115° in the old mea­sure. I sat down all day: all the elas­tic in my un­der­wear went saggy and it was most dis­tress­ing. I was on a chair, but on days like this I would have pre­ferred to be sit­ting in the fridge. From the ve­randa, I watched two birds us­ing a pot holder to pull a worm out of the ground.

There can be ad­van­tages to camp­ing in this sort of weather, though. A few weeks back, we were north of Syd­ney on the bank of a river. The tem­per­a­ture hov­ered in the high 30s but when­ever the heat got the bet­ter of us, we just wan­dered over to the river and sort of fell into the wa­ter and sat there till our skin went wrinkly. At least we were out of the heat. We even saved on gas by cook­ing eggs with ba­con on fry­ing pan out in the sun.

But I wouldn’t want to be camped any­where away from wa­ter. This sort of heat can be dan­ger­ous – not least if you step into a caravan with the air-con­di­tion­ing full bore. Let me tell you, it can be se­vere. Step out of near-40°C heat into a (rel­a­tively) small box cooled to less than 20°C and your heart can stop. Although re­fresh­ing at first, it soon be­comes un­com­fort­able, and then step­ping back out into re­al­ity can re­sult in your whole me­tab­o­lism shut­ting down.

Many years ago, we were talked into post­pon­ing a planned trip to the Red Cen­tre with friends. I should have known bet­ter – well, I do now – but we were in­no­cents then and were happy to go along with the re­quest, set­ting off in late Oc­to­ber. It was cool enough when we left home, south to Vic­to­ria and then west to Ade­laide to pick up with our trav­el­ling com­pan­ions, but it got very, very hot very quickly as we headed north from there.

By the time we reached the Flin­ders Ranges it was so hot. We hadn’t had a shower or a wash for about three days – which only com­pounded things – so we braved kilo­me­tres in the back break­ing con­di­tions for the giv­ing waters at Nar­rina Springs, where took off all our clothes and just lay in that lovely, cool wa­ter for an hour or two. Aaaaaaah!

That was ab­so­lutely re­fresh­ing – phys­i­o­log­i­cally as well as from an an­tibac­te­rial stand

point –but the north still beck­oned, and as the weeks passed, we got hot­ter (and dirt­ier) and soon re­turned to the nox­ious fly at­trac­tants we had been be­fore. By the time we got to Ten­nant Creek in the Ter­ri­tory ,it was mid-Novem­ber and scorch­ing. This was be­fore we owned a camper trailer, and we were sleep­ing each night in a tent.

We waited with cold beers un­til af­ter sun­set to pitch the tent, and then went for a swim in the camp­ground’s pool – leav­ing an un­pleas­ant murky ring around the tiling – be­fore head­ing to the lo­cal RSL for din­ner. It, at least, was air-con­di­tioned. Af­ter hang­ing about at the club for as long as pos­si­ble we headed out into what seemed like step­ping back into an oven, or out of an over-air­con­di­tioned caravan. We drove back to the camp­ground and had an­other swim then some time af­ter mid­night headed for the tent. You didn’t have to towel off. Sim­ply the 40m walk to the tent dried you off.

On the way there my ever-ob­ser­vant wife com­mented that all of the tents in the camp­ground did not have a fly on top, which we thought was odd. There was no way we were even go­ing to think about dig­ging out the sleep­ing bags, so we just lay on the air beds and tried to get to sleep. This proved ut­terly im­pos­si­ble, and we just lay there ooz­ing sweat and feel­ing im­pos­si­bly un­com­fort­able.

Af­ter half an hour of this we de­cided that it might be bet­ter if we lay on wet tow­els to cool our­selves off. This at least dis­guised the

layer of sweat be­tween us and the airbeds but did not re­solve our in­abil­ity to sleep. It was then that we re­alised why all the other tents we’d seen had no flies – they had the min­i­mal num­ber of lay­ers be­tween the oc­cu­pants and the out­side world and, as with most small tents, an open mesh peak to let the heat out. Not that there could pos­si­bly be any more heat in­side than out.

How­ever, if ev­ery­one else was do­ing it, we had to give it a shot, so we clam­bered out and re­moved the fly and shoved it into the car. It made no dif­fer­ence that we could see other than giv­ing us a clear view of the stars above our tent.

Desperate to get to sleep and avoid turn­ing into an ooz­ing pool of goop, we let the air out of our mat­tress and re­in­flated it to cool it down, rea­son­ing that the ex­ter­nal air at sun­set had to have been hot­ter than it was at 2am.

That, not sur­pris­ingly, didn’t work ei­ther, but we were at the stage of clutch­ing at straws and were will­ing to try any­thing. Af­ter what seemed like ages, we went out, found a tap, soaked two large swim­ming tow­els, went back to bed, and just laid the drip­ping tow­els on top of us.

I don’t think it made any real dif­fer­ence and it was prob­a­bly ex­haus­tion that got to us in the end. We had driven up from Alice Springs the day be­fore and been on the go from just af­ter dawn and were com­pletely tuck­ered out. Some­where af­ter this fi­nal tac­ti­cal move, we both fell asleep and awoke, feel­ing dumb and still tired, with the sun beat­ing down on the thin layer of ny­lon and mesh over our heads – but we only had a few hun­dred kilo­me­tres to go that day, on to Banka Banka sta­tion on the high­way north of town so we wearily packed up and bid good­bye to Ten­nant Creek.

We didn’t bid good­bye to the heat, though. At Banka Banka, we were far enough north to see reg­u­lar falls of pre-mon­soonal rain, and while the hu­mid­ity was high enough to sprout hy­dro­ponic veg­eta­bles on any ab­sorbent sur­face, we could at least get to sleep, though that was prob­a­bly due more to ex­haus­tion than any­thing else.

I ex­pected but did not see any signs of heat rash, beriberi, tsetse flies, West Nile virus, ebola or malaria. The car started each day, only small patches of the asphalt had melted and we ar­rived at home safely, if a few ki­los lighter. Mad dogs and English­men? Crazy campers and sum­mer is more like it. Take my ad­vice and stay away from the trop­ics and heat waves when camp­ing. Your san­ity could de­pend on it.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wa­ter pro­vided the Cooks’ only respite from the heat; Be­fore the fly was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously torn from the tent in des­per­a­tion; Noth­ing like a cool bath!

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