OK, we aren’t on a dingy in the middle of the sea, but it sort of has felt like it. We have been contending with endless rain for five days. Rain is generally welcomed in this part of the country (and in much of the country), but to a family of new camping travelers, it left a little to be desired. But like the good natured folk that we are, we smiled (with an edge behind it) and tried to embrace our new life for the first three days.
Our tent is supposed to be waterproof. I know you noticed that I used the phrase “supposed to be”. It turns out that this lovely Australian canvas needs to be seasoned. Seasoning canvas is the process of soaking and drying it several times to get the canvas to swell and seal up the little holes in the canvas that were created in the sewing process. Most people choose to do this in their driveways. I picture this process as described by the camper trailer company as one that happens on a gorgeous, sunny, Sunday afternoon with the sun shining and the water glistening on the top of the canvas roof as it magically seals the tent into a waterproof vessel. Since we lacked both the driveway and the glorious Sunday afternoon, we have been conditioning our tent in the middle of the night, under pouring skies and blowing winds. This process that involves a cycle of soaking and drying canvas includes an intervening stage with lots of puddles inside the tent unfortunately proximate to our beds. We spent Saturday night waking up every two hours to push the pooling water off the top of the awning to avoid collapse.
So this was the scene for a few nights and we were getting through it, grateful that we had gotten solid sides for the tent and that the kids were sleeping fine through the deluge.
On Monday we had to run an errand. We got drenched in the process of loading up Cave Lion, our trusty Toyota Land Cruiser with our gear. We struggled with the tarp, but got our bags loaded on the roof and headed off on our quick errand.
It was a brief trip, but it was pouring so Jay suggested that we dash back to the caravan park briefly to check on Siberian tiger to push the water off the awning before heading off our on next errand. And we returned to find big drama at the caravan park. We looked around and saw a series of tents in disrepair and a couple of people struggling to tie things down. The wind was whipping and we both got quiet as we approached our section of the park. This is what we found:
The picture fails to capture that many of our belongings were strewn all over the lawn and the wind was blowing intensely (although this is partially apparent when you look closely at Jay’s face in this picture.) We moved quickly to take the poles out of the awning, remove the remaining (clearly inadequate) stakes from the ground and gather our distributed kitchen wares. The scene was a bit dramatic. Each time we tried to duck under the canvas to free a pole from the awning, we would become sucked into a canvas vortex that enveloped us, interrupted only by the fast moving flying tent poles. It was a scene! A much more capable looking (and acting) Australian took pity on our scene and came and helped hold the tent as I began undoing the poles. As I unclipped the poles, I found my mind trying fiercely to remind me that there is a version of life in which I am a capable, knowledge person who can handles lots of unforeseen situations… It just turns out this version of life requires a set of skills that I have not yet acquired 🙂
So we battened down the hatches, tied down the awning as best we could and abandoned ship!
It turned out that the storm worsened over the course of the day. We went to check out our site later that afternoon. All the tents were gone or flattened, awnings flapped in tatters around a few caravans and we made the decision that we should spend the night indoors as gale force winds were predicted overnight. We rented a cabin on the property, jacked up the heat, took long hot showers and basked in the glory of the indoors for the night.
Siberian Tiger had to go in for repairs, so we ended up with a second night indoors while the awning was mended and other various bits were fixed. We are going to pick it up in a few minutes and continue on with our “adventure”.
Go with the flow… the mantra that we have been trying to embrace. It’s probably a good attitude to have in general, but we are learning it is even more particularly important when you have decided to live in a canvas mobile house!
Off we go!
Friendly Salesman: “Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a Cub Supamatic camper trailer! Welcome to your new home away from home. Here are the keys…Err, have you ever towed anything before?”
Me: “Umm. No.”
Friendly Salesman cautiously looking around: “Great. Look. How about you let me back it off our property and then she’s all yours.”
And so began our experience towing our camper trailer dubbed Siberian Tiger by Finn.
For me, towing a camper trailer touches on several distinct yet intermingled points of driving anxiety. First, I don’t particularly like to parallel park, or really anything that involves reversing. Second, I’ve never really enjoyed changing lanes either. Even when I drove Honda Accord. My preference is to wait for what some may describe as 60 car lengths of open space before changing lanes. When I’m in a parking lot, I’m the kind of driver that doesn’t mind walking and heads down to the far end of the lot to avoid having to worry about negotiating my way into a smaller space.
Enter Siberian Tiger. Now my already over-sized vehicle takes up twice as much space, and the last thing I hear at Cub is to be careful – the trailer has a bad habit of “jack knifing” when you back it up (thus they didn’t want me backing it up on their property… eek!)….and parking this thing in a lot – forget about it! It’s fortunate, I think to myself, that I’ve already had three days to negotiate the congested and unfamiliar streets of Sydney driving on the opposite side of the road, navigating the manual shift with my left hand. Without those all important driving days under my belt, my first few hours towing a 1.5 ton trailer through rush hour traffic might have been stressful. 🙂
What’s that – I’m drifting left? Well now the giant steel box behind my car is too….
As I tried not to jack knife the camper, and tried not to drift left, I kept thinking to myself: If something goes awry and I am face to face with law enforcement, I will just carefully explain that I am en route to driver training, where I will learn to park this puppy, drive it though water, and into the bush….but unfortunately I know nothing about driving on concrete at the moment…
“Yes, Officer, I know. Look, I am very terribly sorry, but I am right now on my way to driver training to learn how to tow this thing…I do feel badly about what I did to that little red Prius, but he was trying to pass me on the right….”
Speaking of driver training, we just spent the weekend learning as many ins and outs about 4wding through Australia – including towing the trailer through bogs and down steep hills. Thanks again to Ian, Robert and Dave for all their helpful hint! Here’s a pic of Cave Lion and the trailer navigating a ditch
Miranda covered the course in detail her post, but what caught my attention was that backing trailers down a hill is risky business. Campers “can have a mind of their own” I was told, and that a slip in grip at the wrong moment can result in broken thumbs if you aren’t careful..
So naturally as soon as our instructor Dave went off to fight brush fires … (yes, seriously this happened – he was beeped (the fire squad beeper), called in, came back and said “I’m terribly sorry but I need to go help put out a fire – I’ll be right back. And he was!).. as soon as Dave left us alone to fight fires, we set off trying to tow our camper up steep hills (to see if we could do it on our own). Now, so far going uphill was not much of a problem for Cave Lion, so after we did about five steep ones ourselves, our confidence got up, and we tried an even steeper one. I’m not sure what happened, but we found ourselves 3/4 up the hill, vertical, and out of horsepower. The car stalled, and we now had to practice our reverse key start solo with the trailer hitch and steer backwards down the hill (engaging the clutch at all on this surface at this angle would have caused us to lose traction and steering ability, still sending us down but with no control)…Yikes! We made it and decided to return to flatter terrain and make camp until Dave returned!
Land Cruiser down!
Land Cruiser. These were my first words announced over our UHF radio as part of our 4WD training at the Great Divide Tours training center this weekend — and I must admit, it felt kind of cool. Our course was both scary and exhilarating and the balance thankfully shifted towards exhilarating over the course of the weekend.
We began with a tire placement exercise that has us driving down the “yellow brick road” trying to get both front and back tires to track directly over particular rocks. It was more difficult than it seemed like it would be at first glance. The instructors reinforced that when traveling over precarious ground knowing where you tires land is a reasonably important skill.
In the morning, I stepped into the drivers seat – taking the wheel of Cave Lion for the first time. (In urban settings, I am the designated navigator.) I completed the first task acceptably and avoiding stalling the car in front of the rest of the group, which was my primary goal (At that time I didn’t know that regardless of my driving, it is essentially impossible to stall our vehicle.)
The next adventure of the day was key starts. The innocuous name belies the stress of the activity. I should note that I enthusiastically jumped into the car for my turn on the wrong side of the car in front of the group – better to lower expectations. The activity involved getting onto a very steep track, stalling the car (Cave Lion is a manual), releasing the brake (apparently the engine holds the car after lurching) and then restarting without the clutch or the brake… All while staring down the steepest slope I’ve ever driven on. And that of course was the easy one. The more heart stopping challenge was doing the same thing except backwards in reverse! I might add our modifications to Cave Lion have rendered the rear view mirror useful so it was all done with side mirrors – eek!
There were moments at the bottom of the tracks when it appeared through the windshield that the nose of the car would land squarely in the dirt below. Then suddenly the car would be on flat ground again. Cheers for high clearance vehicles!
The rest of the weekend was filled with water crossings, mud work, side slopes, rocky crossings, navigating over deep ruts, logs and the final heart stopper – the log bridge. This exercise involved slowly guiding Jay across a log bridge. You’re thinking big deal – it’s a bridge. Nope, this one was two logs, set narrower than the wheels such that the outer portion of each wheel was overhanging as I directed Jay across. Slow, deliberate hand signals were the order of the day.
I’m going to go ahead and say I am uninterested in trying a similar exercise on our own!
All in all it was a great weekend learning all that our vehicle is capable of doing and all the practice we need to get more confident on our own!
Tonight will be our last night indoors before we head out in our tiny house on wheels!
Tomorrow morning we will wake up early to say goodbye to our lovely apartment in Manly and headlong into our adventure. We will (magically) pack our car such that all of our bags fit and we can make it to the camper trailer facility. I am thinking we might have a family member or two displaced by this project, but alas, we said it was an adventure….
Once at Cub Campers, we will hook up Cave Lion (our Toyota Land Cruiser) to Siberian Tiger (our camper trailer) for the first time. We had some last minute work done to Cave Lion today so that Siberian Tiger’s battery system can be charged while we are driving*. This was an essential change as it is the easiest way to recharge the batteries, and we don’t want to be tied to powered camp sites.
Now all these steps will actually be the easy part… And I actually feel nauseous when I type that, because it will not be easy… Once hooked up, we will head south trailing our new home behind us as we head to the 4wd training facility for lessons this weekend. We have never towed a trailer, so combine that with the in progress adjustment to driving manual on the wrong side of the road and urban congestion proximate to our giant rig. Sounds like a recipe for matrimonial bliss!
And when all that fun concludes, we will try our hand at setting up camp for the first time in 30 deg F! Remind me why we didn’t just take a break at he beach instead of this craziness? 🙂
We will be off the grid during this whole extravaganza, but we promise to return with a description of the chaos and all we did to triumph over it!
* Is it confusing to read Cave Lion and Siberian Tiger? Would Land Cruiser and Camper Trailer be easier to follow?
Due to popular demand, we are releasing photos of our whole crew with Outback Vic! Thanks again for your help with our car and camper Vic!
For the last few days we have been very focused on getting our recently acquired 2005 Land Cruiser and Cub Camper Supamatic registered, souped up, insured and prepared for action in the Australian outback. This is the culmination of weeks of preparation by Miranda, time and advice from our extremely generous outback guru Vic Widman, and of course the skills and the mechanical know how of Eddy at Artarmon Automotive. Me, I contributed a hipster beard and occasional witty banter…
OK, just the basic logistics of getting the car are almost unbelievable to me, despite my having driven it *home*….
First, we were incredibly fortunate to have befriended Vic, owner of Great Divide Tours, who was extremely giving with his time and insight. Vic is a prominent 4WD expert and tour operator in Australia who not only helped us identify the car we needed for our adventure while we were still in the US, but also actually flew to Adelaide to purchase it, made sure the paperwork went through, and then drove it back to his favorite mechanic in NSW (Eddy), with a list of modifications required to keep a family of New York city slickers miles away from Brooklyn safe in the Outback.
Then, the day after we arrived in Oz, Vic drove to our hotel to pick us up and took us to the RTA, the Australian equivalent of the DMV, where he walked me through all the nuances of Australian auto registration, multiple insurance options, and finally getting Australian driver’s licenses. Yes, we now have sweet NSW driver’s licenses….Thank you again Vic, for all of your help!!!
Today, papers, green slips, and plates in hand, we picked up our Cruiser from Eddy at Artarmon Automotive. Eddy outfitted the cruiser – dubbed “Cave Lion” by our son Lake — with an incredible array of features agreed upon by Vic, Miranda and him. The features range from a CB radio to talk to road train drivers, an emergency recovery kit to get us out of sticky situations, and enhancements to our battery system for long-term camping. I would list these features in full but I think Miranda has plans to do so in detail after we pick up our camper trailer from Cub Camper later this week. Eddy was very patient with us, answering our questions until late in the afternoon – thanks Eddy!
Such a good question and one that felt a bit perplexing when Jay said we needed to do a blog post on this topic. I will take a crack at explaining it here with the disclaimer that I find myself saying several times a day (often aloud) “What a
In 2007, Jay and I left our jobs and went on a round the world trip. We spent a couple of months in Australia on that journey and fell in love with the country, particularly the red dirt. We spent the second month of our Australia travel camping in Western Australia, completing a 2,000km journey up the coast. We were stunned each day with all that we saw (stunning landscape) and all that we didn’t see (people and buildings).
At the end of the six month journey, we returned to our lives and careers in Brooklyn. Over the years, we would joke about trying to get a job to move us to Australia, but it was always a fantasy. Fast forward several years, two kids and some interesting times and we decided we were actually going to make it happen. After working through several scenarios (ranging from reasonable to harebrained), we settled on the idea of buying a camper trailer and traveling around Australia. I’ll let you decide which end of the spectrum we settled on….
What is a camper trailer, you may ask? (You may also ask “Why would one want to live in a camper trailer?,” but I am going to let the next few weeks unfold before I determine whether I should be selling you on this idea…) A camper trailer is either a wholly Aussie or largely Aussie product. It folds up like a box trailer, but rather than popping up like the ones in the US, these unfold when set-up. This design provides more internal floor space, making them more livable for extended periods on the road and more durable for off road adventures, which are plentiful in this part of the world.
They look like this when traveling:
And this is what they look like unfolded:
We are going to see one of these in person for the first time tomorrow and funnily enough, we will also start calling it home on the same day. Here’s to adventure!
Over the next few days, we will go from our cozy rental apartment in Manly to the open road. We are going to pick up a used 4WD later today that has been in the shop for the last few weeks getting fully outfitted for our adventure. Tomorrow, we will do a full walkthrough of our own Supamatic Cub Camper. At the end of the week, we will be heading south to do a 4WD training course through Great Divide Tours. Vic Widman of Great Divide Tours has helped us immeasurably in preparing for this trip and we are so lucky that the timing worked out to join one of his courses immediately after picking up our vehicle and camper trailer.
Have I mentioned that we haven’t driven on the opposite side of the road in several years and we will start by driving a souped up Land Cruiser towing our home?! Should be an interested few days!
We made it to our interim lodgings in Manly, a suburb of Sydney known for its beaches and surfing, by 7:30AM Sydney time, with very little trouble – despite our mountain of bags!
Rather than napping, we decided to take the town by storm. I rushed out to finalize our Australian bank account and figure out how to get health care. Meanwhile, Miranda and the boys explored our new accommodations. While waiting in lines completing these tasks – it turns out that Australia also has lines, though they are masquerading as queues – I had time to reflect on what I learned from my hours of catching up on super hero movies on the airplane. My key finding was this: While increased agility, spidey sense, and web slinging make perfect sense, it never occurred to me that a side effect of being bitten by a radioactive spider would be unrivaled stone skipping skills – well done Peter Parker….
Next I met up with Miranda and the boys. We all hit the Manly beach for a lovely afternoon, until about 5PM, when the entire Albany Stamps family bit the dust and fell into a deep, deep sleep that would take us until 1AM the next morning! Ahh, moving to the other side of the world! In case your’e wondering what “bit the dust” looked like, please refer to this shot from our dinner – a delicious pasta made by Miranda:
38 minutes until landing! If I successfully posted this note, it means we have arrived!
23 hours and 30 minutes after leaving New York we are about to touch down in Sydney. So far the travel has been flawless. The boys did beautifully. They slept on both flights and have put in some serious iPad time. Meanwhile, on the advice of his friend Mike, Jay took the time to catch up on all of the superhero and action movies he’s missed over the last four years. We really lucked out getting upgraded to business class seats on the San Francisco to Sydney leg. We all had flat beds which led to much more sleep than we would have otherwise gotten on this flight.
Now for the real fun! Trying to move our tired boys and our 19 pieces of luggage all at once. Many of you know that I have worried extensively about the next 60 minutes of complexity trying to move everything after so much travel. I will let you know how it goes!