Just over 24 hours after we’d left our friends in Japan, I wake up in a sleeping bag somewhere in Australia in the middle of the night. I remember that we’re sharing a tent with another couple but I can’t for the life of me remember what the woman next to me looks like. If she wakes up she’s really going to be freaked out if she sees me staring at her…
We decided to try couch surfing for the first time in Sydney. We had our doubts about how this would work for us, mostly because there are two of us and we’re old. It’s one thing to be a 24-year old crashing on strangers’ couches. It’s another to be a married couple both in our 30s doing the same. But we lucked out running into Art and the rest of the Sydney crew. Before he had met us in person, Art invited us to come on a two-day camping trip to Stockton Beach.
Stockton Beach is a place you can only get to if you have a 4×4 (or really don’t care about your car), two and a half hours north of Sydney. There are spots you can drive to where you are surrounded by towering sand dunes in every direction.
There were three cars that made it out to Stockton Beach that weekend. Nellu and I traveled up with our host Art and Ryohei, a fellow traveler from the New York City area who had come to Sydney for work and spent a few days getting to know the place. We were the first of three cars but we were still running behind schedule. We got up to Stockton Beach around dusk. We were carting a ton a gear so it was decided that Ryohei would stay behind at the entrance of the beach with the flat bed of wood so we didn’t risk getting stuck in the sand. He would also wait for the other two cars coming out so Art could direct them to our spot. With the sand dunes as high as they are it would be easy for someone to drive around all night looking for their party.
Art, Nellu and I drove into the darkening night looking for a camp spot. When we found a good site sheltered off the main drag of the beach by a towering dune, we unloaded all the gear from the jeep and and the roof. Art then hopped back in the driver’s seat with a few parting words.
“You guys could probably start setting up your tent,” he said, “It’s not brain surgery.” And he drove off into the night leaving Nellu and I with all the gear (and beer!).
Confession time: while Nellu and I have been camping in the last year, we haven’t set up a tent on our own in decades. On the Inca Trail, our porters would faithfully run ahead of us up the mountain side and have not only our tents pitched but a fully cooked meal waiting for us when we finally emerged hours later.
The tent Art let us borrow was a monster. It was made for six people and when we stretched it out, the top layer was roughly the size of our old apartment bedroom. So we stood there in the dark with Nellu’s head lamp and my failing small torch (torch – Australian for flashlight), with the wind whipping around, trying to make sense of the complex geometric shape in front of us.
By no means could we fail. We may be city kids but we couldn’t let our new friends know that we couldn’t even set up a tent.
The base was fairly self-evident or at least it was rectangular. We chose our spot and drove the stakes into the ground. We put it at a slight incline up the sand dune figuring our heads would go at the top and not realizing that even a slight incline will leave you sleeping at the foot of the tent by the end of the night.
But when it came to the top rain layer, we were clueless. We would stare at the diagram directions sewn inside the tent bag and then stare at the rain sheet in front of us. “That’s not helping,” Nellu would say.
We were rescued though. Art came back for Nellu to help with the flat bed of wood that had gotten stuck in the sand. So for about a half and hour it was just me and Art’s German Shepard Rani sitting in the dark with all the beer and Art’s cellphone just in case they had trouble finding me. A few trips back and forth and they recovered all the wood and the two other cars arrived as well.
No one gave us any trouble about not having the tent completely set up. I got help from our new friend Sheridan with the rain layer as Nellu was already busy working to get the fire started. We did get a little flack for setting the tent up on an incline but not from the Heather and Dave who ended up sharing it with us that weekend. But everyone was mostly interested in dinner and digging our heals into the sand with one of those cold beers in hand.