Tag Archives: river

Skinny Dipping is Good for the Soul

15 Oct

Our two-week house sitting stint in Coffs Harbour was up and we were on the road. We counted on having berry picking work by now but all the farms we called said it would be another few weeks. The bills were piling up and our spirits were sinking so I couldn’t wait to put our computers away for a few days and disconnect.

We told a family friend that we were heading to the Dorrigo National Park for the weekend and she, looking at my boyfriend’s long hair and bushy unkempt beard, told us about a free camping/commune spot near the national park entrance where we’d find lots of other hippies. She joked that Matt would fit right in the way he looked but that they might try to convert me. I almost showed her the ‘let it be’ and peace/heart sign tattoos I have on either wrist but smiled along instead.

After stopping at the Raleigh Winery for a free tasting and having an amazing cup of tea in the artsy and somewhat retro town of Bellingen, we drove inland on the windy roads past dairy and macadamia farms, looking for this communal haven. The main road forked and a dirt track disappeared into the national park. That had to be it.

At the bottom of the hill a middle-aged man wearing loose hippie pants stood in the road in front of his rusting shack, driving a remote control car with his toddler son (who was only wearing a shirt and who, with his doe-eyes and long curly hair, I assumed was a girl until I saw his little manhood). We rolled down the window and asked what was up the road.

“The meaning of life,” he replied with a smirk, and we chatted for a bit and told him our story. He kindly offered to let us park in front of his home and use his shower and washer machine. He introduced himself as Alek and when I told him mine was Alex he said, “far out…,” in a drawn-out, contemplative way.

We hadn’t found our community but we didn’t need to anymore.

Alek told us about a watering hole and my boyfriend’s eyes lit up. We said our goodbyes, parked near the water and set out to find it. We trekked along the river bank on uneven slippery rocks and through thick, spider-web-laden bush. My boyfriend trekked along like it was nothing while my heart pounded as I tried to keep up with him, my eyes glued to the ground. I asked him to slow down and told him he was stressing me out. I wanted to take in the experience, not panic about keeping up. He slowed down (for him) but again I kept my eyes on my feet, nervous every time a rock wobbled under me as we crossed the river. I felt completely out of my element, like my suburban Orange-County roots were showing, like my love of nature was just an affectation I’d used to impress my farm-raised Australian boyfriend.

But carried on until we hit a dead-end and needed to cross the waist-deep water. I didn’t want to get my running shoes wet and was happy to turn around since it was already getting late, but Matt urged me to jump into his arms so he could carry me across the water. I thought he was kidding until he jumped in and held out his arms. I was a little embarrassed that he’d gone to such lengths but made jokes about him being a super hero carrying me to safety. The whole situation was pretty ridiculous and just minutes later we reached a deeper part of the river crossing where the stones were unreliable and I had no choice but to walk through the water, drenching my socks and joggers though I’d tried my best to avoid it.

When we finally found our watering hole we gaily stripped down to ours joggers and jumped in. We heard animals moving around in the bushes and Matt dove in the water and pretended to be eaten by a crocodile. We laughed about what we’d do if hikers found us there, prancing around a national park with only our shoes on, and joked about how this would make this perfect postcard.

How we’d needed this!

I got out early while Matt swam and took in our picturesque surroundings, breathing in the stillness. The sun started setting so we hurriedly dressed because the prospect of trekking back along the unpredictable river banks in the dark set fire to our feet. Luckily the sky darkened just as we made it back to the road, the van barely in sight. We took our soppy shoes and socks off and settled in for the night. The frogs and crickets sang in the background, the occasional firefly zipped past and all the stresses of our reality: the dwindling funds, the lack of work prospects, the mounting bills, the urge to bite each others’ heads off – slipped away.

Mother Earth has such a profoundly soothing effect on my psyche that I sometimes wonder why I even bother with this modern age at all. But then, everything is better in contrast. You can’t have the yin without the yang.

Water and Bathing On the Road

17 Sep

 

No matter what kind of hygienic ritual we’ve become accustomed to most of us can forego hot showers, proper toilets, sinks and washer machines for a week or so when we’re “roughing” it outdoors or backpacking on a budget. But when it becomes a way of life, as it has for my boyfriend and I, you start looking at things a little differently.

When you’re camping, it’s easy to take cold showers for a week and let your leg hair grow out longer than usual because you know it’s only temporary and you’ve got that hot shower waiting for you back home. But when the road is your home, any shower or clean bathroom you come across feels like a trip to the spa and running water is viewed as an invaluable resource for washing dishes and clothes, brushing your teeth, bathing, and even drinking – if you’re so daring.

I come from a world of designer water bottles and giant wholesale markets where people can buy their fancy water in bulk. Now, I drink from whichever faucet is available as long as it passes the clarity and taste test. (And I’m basically living off tea because once the water boils I no longer worry about it.) Blame it on the three months I spent backpacking Asia or my trips to Mexico but now I look at water differently. If I’m in a first world country and there’s no sign that tells me not to drink it, it’s fair game.

The same goes for bathing water. If we stumble across a lake or find an outdoor shower by the beach and haven’t had a proper shower in days, we thank the heavens and muster up the courage to face the cold water. It’s not so bad in the summer months but in the winter it’s a whole different animal. That’s when we heat some water in a pot over our portable stove, squeeze in our minty shower gel and use a tea cloth to give ourselves a sponge bath. If it’s cold outside or if we’ve got neighbors, we’ll bring the pot inside the van, shut all the doors, lay a towel down and be careful to drip as little water as possible as we take turns wiping each other down. We’ll even drape a blanket over the two front seats to block the windows and give us some semblance of privacy.

Other times, like mostly recently when we camped by the Clarence River in Grafton, NSW (which you can read about here), we’ll own the fact that we’re dirty hippies in need of a scrub. One early morning, after my leg hairs had gone particularly feral, I set up our bathing station on the public picnic table under the gazebo we’d camped next to and shaved my legs. When I was mid-shin boaters towing water skiers drove past and I shamelessly waved right back with a giant smile on my face.

Once finished, I put on a new pot to wash our clothes and hung the freshly laundered garments on the rack on the front of the car and on our camping chairs. Then Matt proceeded to give the van a scrub down and we both felt accomplished and grateful to have found “free” running water. It was certainly a step up from our campsite on the beach where the only water came from the ocean.

Later that day, Matt and I decided three days of salty beach hair was enough and we jumped off the jetty and into the cold, murky river water to wash our hair. When I was alone in the water I stayed as close to the surface as possible because I was terrified a croc would swim up at any moment and take me down with him. I could hardly see a foot in front of me and my mind kept playing scenes from really bad horror films where unsuspecting lovers were suddenly attacked by piranhas, sharks or some other unknown mythical creature. But then I’d see children fly past us in their inner tubes, towed behind the family boat and I’d relax and be thankful I was finally washing my hair.

When you’re on the road for a year and every penny counts, you find yourself becoming a bit of a schemer. You scope out locations based on proximity to free public amenities over beauty and you’re always thinking about your survival or how to stretch that dollar. While sometimes I wish we didn’t have to resort to drinking water from a dodgy faucet (we’re working on installing a water filtration/shower system so don’t worry too much!) living this simple life makes me appreciate the little things more and that makes every cold shower worth it.

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