Updated: Apr 20
The trip that almost never was
My car broke down the weekend before Easter. If you follow me on Facebook you'll have seen the whingeing. Man I was pissed off. On the way to the boys' first rugby games of the season and I ended up on the side of the road about a kilometre away from our home ground, stranded next to an Anglican church in Toowong - I figured it was karma for telling my kids God doesn't exist.
I really am lucky I have such amazing friends. My GF Pip picked up Oscar so he'd be on time for his games and beautiful Natalia (see Rugby Moms camping) picked up Max so he could be with Strak and Joshy. I also had other amazing mom/rugby friends offer rides and pickups because they're actually that awesome.
I had the Prado towed to my mechanic (yes, he's my mechanic because I've been there so many fucking times the past few months) and Natalia picked me up and drove me to meet the tow-truck dude there and drove me back to the rugby game in time for Max and Joshy's game.
Long story short, it was a shit morning. But after I'd picked up the car a couple of days later, I thought that was the end of it. I was wrong.
Same thing happened the day before our camping trip - and again I had to be rescued by my mechanic. He's a lovely local man and I have nothing bad to say about him; I don't believe any of this was his fault. I'd say its just bad luck, but I don't believe in luck. So I'm not sure why the fuck I had to put up with this shit. He took the car, called a few hours later with no answers, and said he needed it checked further but because it was the Easter long weekend, it wouldn't be until Tuesday.
There goes my oh-so-long awaited camping trip.
Until AGAIN my gorgeous friends stepped up. So many of them. Calling and texting and offering their vehicles. One friend who even had her husband put her boss on hold (not just any boss, a federal commissioner) to see if I could use his 4WD for the weekend. In the end, it was lucky Billy and Cara who got to lend me their car (ummm...."we're on our way with the car now, see you soon" before I could even say "yes") for the weekend so I could still go. I honestly can't even start to describe how much love I have for all these beyond-brilliant people in my life.
I do have to say, even before I got to whingeing about the Prado not being available, Carol had it all sorted with her sisters that I would use Claire's car and Will would take the camper trailer across the high clearance creek with their Land Cruiser and they'd take one kid and Vickie would take another and seriously these gorgeous women that I've only met once but have known for a lifetime were doing all and everything I could to make sure I made it. If you ever doubt that there are good people left in this world, let me know. I'll introduce you to Carol's sisters, mom, and brothers-in-law, and you won't think that any more.
So. After all that, we were still going camping. I was so sad for the two or three hours I thought I wasn't going. Max was heartbroken for me. Oscar kept hugging me. Alex, while she felt sad for me, was I think secretly stoked that she didn't have to go. Her friend Amelia (see Gordon Country and Flanagan's) was totes devo that it was cancelled, but in the end, we got there.
And thank non-existent Christ for that, because it was a fabulous weekend.
I have to preface this with an admission - no, this is not the first time I've camped here, and no, I have not written the blog for that camping trip. I've been ridiculously slack and struggling to find energy to do anything, and even when I have the utmost intent to start the blog, something gets in my way and prevents me from doing it. I will do it soon - it was a fabulous weekend away and deserves to be told - Brooke, Astrid, Simon - I apologise.
ONE PARENT CAMPING
Lots of space - heaps of room for bikes, footy, and dogs
Ponies in the field across
Big beautiful creek for swimming and kayaking - especially after all the rain we've had
Dog friendly - like so friendly Goose wasn't on a leash the whole weekend
Not too far for a weekend trip from Brisbane
Close to amenities - about 1/2hr drive to Warwick, 15 mins to Maryvale pub
Designated camp areas - very distant from each other which ensures a secluded and quiet camping experience, even on the busiest of weekends of the year
David (the property owner) is absolutely lovely and is the reason I'm proud to support local
For the particular site we stayed at "The Gully", you need a high clearance vehicle to cross the creek - so this can be problematic for those without 4WD or AWD
If it rains, it is MUDDY - to the point where Will's Land Cruiser had to hitch to my camper trailer to tow it (but I'm SURE the Prado would have been able to)
I had booked for Easter well and truly in advance - like 3 months in advance. I know what crazy-ass Australian campers are like on long weekends, and I didn't want to miss out on a stellar spot due to procrastination and indecisiveness. So I booked a spot that fit all my requirements (pets, swimming, toilet) and made sure there was room for any extras that ended up coming with us (namely Carol and family).
When Carol asked if there was room for her and Will and the kids, AND both of her sisters' families, I checked with the campground I was booked at to see if the site I had could accommodate all of us. Long story short, the reply I got basically told me that all the other booked sites could have 10+ people, but we had to be content with just us. I was not content.
I had to make a quick decision - do I cancel and risk not finding a brilliant spot or just settle. Well, for those who do not know me, I do not settle. Ever.
Another long story short, I had a look online to see if the place we had camped last (but you've not yet read a blog for) was free and luckily it was. We loved it when we were there 6 weeks previously and knew that it would fit a whole heap of De Jongs. We booked, cancelled the other fuckers who wouldn't let us have everyone we wanted, and went off for a brilliant Easter long weekend.
Uneventful as usual, except I couldn't hitch the trailer to the Billy and Cara's car (from this point known as the Vitara) so once Will and Carol got to our house and Will used his incredible expertise (and a hammer) and all was good! We aimed to leave by 8am and got out around 10am, so again, nothing out of the ordinary.
Alex's super sweet and tolerant friend Amelia joined us for the weekend. This was her third camping trip with us and I still can't figure out why she keeps coming back. Her mom Emma (who I've been friends with for years) claims Amelia LOVES camping with us but still I'm baffled. Cranky ass mom with temperamental and argumentative kids - I don't see the appeal. But she enjoys it, and Alex has less to complain about when Amelia is with us, so I'm happy to have her there every time. That and she has the best manners and spooky around-the-fire-at-night stories.
Of course no one ate breakfast like I requested aka demanded (another consistent with camping weekends) so we pulled over to get a snack before getting to the campground. Got there around midday and Oscar for some reason was surprised that we were the first of the four families to get there. When I said "when are we ever not the first family to arrive?" he had no answer and agreed. For those of you who don't already know, I don't have OCD but I am obsessive with being on-time for everything, even if that means being ridiculously early for things.
We were halfway through setting up when Claire and Matt (and kids) (Carol's sister and brother in law) arrive and by the time the rest of them got there I was already a few drinks in. Who sets up a camper trailer without a drink in hand?
It rained all weekend. At one stage I asked Carol if there was a weekend we'd camped together that it hadn't rained, and we figured the weekend at Flanagan's was the only one. And ironically it was the least impressive of our camping weekends.
It didn't at all dampen anyone's spirits (my favourite pun). The kids swam, kayaked, rode bikes, visited the ponies, played with the dogs, anything you'd expect them to do in dry weather they did in wet weather.
What did the parents do? Well, in one site it was the Cutlers and the De Jong/Evans family. In the site about 100m away was the Packer family and the Gell family, along with Penny, the matriarch of the De Jongs. Penny on her own deserves her own blog, but she's been an incredible support of mine and the kids, and has deemed me worthy of Carol's friendship ever since I made Carol her birthday cake last year. I adore Penny, and even Alex who has nothing good to say about anyone or anything in her angst-ridden pre-pubescent years says "oh Penny is amazing, I love her".
We were well situated in the campsite next to the toilets, which meant the kids could go without needing an adult to tag along. It also meant that the Packers/Gells visited on their way to the toilets every time they had to go. This worked out perfectly for an introverted cranky ass mom who doesn't go out of her way for conversation but loves it when its with good people.
All the kids (across the four families there were 10 kids) biked/walked/ran/tracked mud back and forth between the two campsites and had a great time together. I will admit, however, it was not all harmony and perfection. There were near-teenage tears shed between friends who were figuring out how friendships worked, there were fights and arguments over noisy rubiks cubes and breathing too loudly and "don't touch me" and "that's my chair, get off" and "you go get Goose" and "chew with your mouth closed" and "he hit me first" and for fucks sake who knows what else but whatever it was, they were able to fight about it.
I do sell this whole camping thing well, don't I?
This weekend away isn't one that can be written chronologically. Most likely due to the impact excessive alcohol consumption has on three days blending into one. However, there were many noteworthy moments and experiences worth commenting on.
Clearly this being the Easter long weekend made it a special one. Our group of 10 kids created a bi-partisan divide - those who believed in the Easter Bunny, and those who didn't. Oscar asked me a few months ago, and made me promise to tell the truth, if the Easter Bunny existed. My answer prompted the reality of the tooth-fairy and Santa as well, which was disappointing but expected to happen eventually.
So when the kids asked me if I'd got them Easter eggs and gifts chocolate and all the things that come with believing in the Easter Bunny and thought "fuck no, I finally get a break" but answered "oh sorry, we're away and didn't think you'd want anything". Mom fail. Luckily the De Jong ladies are brilliant and sorted out an Easter egg hunt for all the kids at their site. Alex and Amelia helped hide the eggs and each got spoiled by Vickie with a big chocolate bunny that Alex inhaled within minutes.
The kids had heaps of fun (as did Goose who found a few eggs herself!) and I'm ever grateful to the Gells and Packers for having the foresight I clearly lacked.
I'm sure I've spoken at length about Sam in previous posts, but I'm going to again. Sam is Carol's son. He's smart, funny, kind, and doesn't know how to be anything but honest. He's a fucking cool kid and I feel flattered that he feels comfortable with me. I'm also flattered that he gets my sense of humour.
Sam is on the spectrum. More often than not, kids with ASD tend to have difficulty expressing emotion and/or empathy. Not Sam.
When Duncan was unwell, and after Duncan had passed, every time I saw Sam he gave me a big hug and looked at me with his big and beautiful sad eyes that wanted to know that I was OK. He made me origami flowers and vases and was heart-broken when Carol told him about Duncan. Sam is my little buddy and on many occasions has made me smile when I least felt like it.
My adoration for Sam hit new heights this weekend, when he very honestly answered a question in a way neither Carol nor I would have ever expected. Sam doesn't like when people swear (I know you THINK you know where this is going, but you're so wrong). Any time he hears someone swear, he yells and basically gives them shit for their poor choice of words. A few times in the past however, Carol and I have noticed that he doesn't say anything to me when he hears me swear. And in all honesty, while I do it a fucking lot, I'm usually pretty good at keeping it to myself when there are kids around (especially when they're not my kids).
Carol and I were chatting and having a drink one of the afternoons, and she accidentally said the word "shit". Sam got mad at her (how he heard her from where he was is beyond me) and she apologised. Then I cheekily mentioned that it was OK for me to swear, and Sam didn't get mad at me for it. Carol asked him why, and his reply brought us both to tears.
"Because Chantal has been through something as devastating as she has"
We were lost for words after that and just sat there with our drinks. Carol proud of her baby boy, and me, overflowing with love for this boy, that he got it, and got me.
It rained a lot on Saturday night/Sunday all day. Rainy to the point that property owner David (who's a legend, by the way) came around to all the campsites and campers with advice on what the creek/high clearance path to get out would be like the next day and suggested we leave if we were worried. As soon as he said "the squeamish campers" had decided to leave, it was pretty obvious that no one in my party was going to leave. We were all far too stubborn and proud to be grouped with the "squeamish" and decided we were all right to stay. Says the mom with a car that isn't hers and isn't 4WD. But sure, I'll be fine!
It rained most of Sunday night. Like a LOT OF RAIN. But it was great. The sound of rain on canvas above your head is second only to the sound of rain coming down on a tin roof. I was a little worried about flooding, mostly due to previous camping experiences, but I seem to be learning...we got through the weekend without a drop in the camper trailer. There's always a first for everything.
The creek we had to cross to get out of the property, however, received more than a drop. And the path on the banks on either side had become quite muddy. Like can't control your car and the camper trailer is sliding into a tree trunk can't control (I do note, I told Cara and Billy I was worried about fucking up their car when they offered it - they said that's what insurance was for) (no, I did not actually fuck it up). The car did start to slide though, and Carol, having experienced camper trailers and mud previously, suggested Will take the camper across with the Land Cruiser. I so wish I'd had the Prado that weekend - I'd have loved to see what it was capable of doing. Though apparently it wasn't capable of getting more than 5km without going into limp mode so probably a good thing it wasn't there.
Will unhitched us and hitched up to him - "poor Will" was more prevalent this weekend than all other weekends combined - and got it across the creek for us.
Now is my chance to talk about my gorgeous Max.
While Will was towing the camper trailer, I drove the Vitara across. Max experienced the "sliding' with the camper on, and his anxious, risk-adverse mind deemed it a dangerous venture to drive the muddy path and across the creek. It didn't matter that Will had the camper trailer, it didn't matter that I've driven in snow storms that left me unable to see more than a foot in front of my car, and it didn't matter that I could control a car swerving on black ice. His brain had decided that what I was going to do was dangerous. He could not cope.
I admit, I didn't deal with this the way I should have. I told him I'd be fine - Will had the camper, and I'd be back soon, just wait with Carol. What I didn't think about and should have was how he's already lost one parent, the idea of losing another was more than he could cope with. There was no way anything bad would happen to me but that less than perfect conditions was a threat made it more than he could bear. Yet another mom fail on my part. The poor kid. I lost my husband, which is shit, but he's lost his dad, his mentor, his everything, and that is beyond shit, to the point that I could never understand.
The drive home
The drive home was no less risk-adverse.
Max wasn't overly confident with my ratchet-strapping of kayaks and gazebos and all the other shit strapped to the top of the camper trailer. Rightfully so too, as it seemed as though each time we started driving again, something was a bit loose or shifted from its position. That was on top of the fact that the Jesus effing fricken zipper on my trailer cover broke again, so once all the bits and pieces on top of the trailer worked their way down to the end, the canvas sheets and walls started flapping in the 100km/hour speed limit. We stopped a couple of times to occy-strap and tighten ratchets.
One of the times we stopped (I think the second or third of what seemed like too many) we pulled to the side of the road and started fussing about. Again. And after about what seemed like half an hour but was only about 3 minutes of me trying to strap everything down more efficiently and effectively with all of Queensland driving past on the Cunningham Hwy, Max said to me:
"If it makes you feel any better, Dad's watching" and he pointed to a big, beautiful wedge-tail eagle soaring above us.
Any other time we've seen one, or two, its been from a distance. We've seen them, known they were Duncan, and felt loved and safe. This one though, just hovered above us, so close, and made sure we knew he was there.
I just stopped and watched. And after a bit Max said to me, "don't start crying Mom" but it was too late. I was so happy to know he was there with us but so sad that he wasn't there with us in the way I wanted. Life is cruel like that. It makes you thankful for something that has only happened because the worst possible thing has happened to you.
I stopped crying for Max. Finished the job. Got ready to get back into the car. Looked up again, this time there were two wedge-tailed eagles. Last time we saw two together, we decided it was Duncan's dad with him and figured it must have been him again this time.
We got through the rest of the drive with only one more stop. This time it was to start from the beginning and re-strap ALL of it. Max's idea. And such a Duncan thing to want to do.
Another success story
In all, despite all the shit life threw at us this weekend, it was perfect. Carol's mom, sisters and their partners and kids were beyond gorgeous - for those who know me, I don't do small talk and I don't do assholes - I didn't have to do any of this over the weekend. It just felt like family and I'm oh so grateful that they've welcomed me into theirs.
This already too long blog hasn't given me the opportunity to talk about so many other things: the scorpion on Sam's chair, Claire's dog Muffin, the campfires, the kangaroos, wallabies, and ponies, the budgies that came camping. There's just always so much!
Poor Will stopped by the house to help me unhitch from an unfamiliar vehicle at the end of the day, and again I send big hugs and gratitude to him. He's been a driving force behind all of this and doesn't get the recognition he deserves.
And, to top it all off, when Amelia's mom Emma came to pick her up, she swapped her kid for dinner - she made us baked ziti, and brought garlic bread and a bottle of rose. Seriously, I couldn't pick better friends if I tried.
I do promise to get the first "Gully" camping trip up asap but keeping in mind we're off again next weekend before school holidays end. Leyburn, with your rocking population of 500, you have no idea what's coming your way!