We have been on the road now for 8 and 1/2 weeks and while there has certainly been quite a lot we have had to get used to over these weeks, one thing I’m really struggling with is the physical toll that living out of a camper is taking on us. I think I’m doing a good job of getting used to the dirt and the constant packing and unpacking of the camper, living out of a suitcase, cooking in gale force winds, having to ‘climb’ out of bed just to go to the toilet, wearing ‘clean’ clothes that really don’t resemble cleanliness no matter how you define it, or having to apply sunscreen just to go and make breakfast. But the passage of time is doing nothing to help me get used to the physical toll that this trip is taking on my old and weary bones. I tell you, there is nothing like living out of a camper trailer to make me feel every one of my forty-five years. I have run half marathons but now, at the end of a long day, I struggle to climb the 3 steps into our camper.
Camping is a very physical activity. Every time we stop to set up, we need to lift heavy boxes, clamber through the camper to attach poles, heave this and ho that. There’s lot of bending, stretching, hunching, tugging, pushing, grabbing and just about any other ‘-ing’ activity you can think of that sounds tiring. And on a trip like ours, where you spend on average 3 nights at each place, possibly less, that’s a lot of setting things up and packing things up. At last count, we have stayed at 21 places – that means 42 opens and closes, 42 times we have tugged, pulled, hunched… anyway, you get the point. Just going to the toilet after you are in bed means having to climb over your partner in bed, lower yourself down off the bed, open the zipper to the fly, open the door clasp, climb down the camper stairs (and then remember as you are half way out the camper door that your child-bearing hips and plus size shape mean you are actually too wide for the camper door and scold yourself for not remembering to turn 45 degrees to walk down the stairs at an angle thus saving said plus-size hips from rubbing against the pointy bits of the door as you past), scrounge around in the dark for your headlight then slap the light against your face when you attempt to put the darned thing on, walk to the toilet (which always seems to be at the farthest end of the camp ground when we don’t have our ensuite tent set up*), then repeat everything in reverse to get back to bed. And then you are finally settled back in bed and get that horrid niggly feeling in your bladder that suggests maybe you didn’t get it all out after all so you tell yourself “quick, fall asleep so I don’t feel like I need to go to the toilet again!!” That never gets old.
*The indignity of walking through a camp ground with my Choose Life sleep shirt on never gets easier but is certainly better under the cover of darkness.
So not surprisingly, after 8 or so weeks, we (OK, mostly me) are/is starting to feel the side-effects, and it’s not pretty. First let’s talk feet. Some of you may or may not know that before we left I was slowly recovering from a wicked case of plantar fasciitis and a heel spur, with a dose of achilles tendinopathy thrown in. After a few months of different treatments and lots of exercise, I was finally starting to feel on top of things. Then I went on an around Australia trip in a camper trailer where the main footwear, if any, is thongs. To quote Vivian (from which movie, movie buffs?) “big mistake, huge”. Throw in a good dose of walking over rocks and dry river beds and spending LOTS of time on my feet and I am in a world of plantar fasciitis hell. I now need to strap my foot almost every day – but in these dirty camping conditions that strapping tape gets seedy pretty quickly. (Note – it also doesn’t help to spill unleaded petrol all over your foot with strapping tape on it – the tape melts and sticks to your foot and thong…) So my foot is suffering.
Then there’s the blisters. But not from what you might expect. I have blisters thanks to doing the washing. You may recall I bought a Scrubba bag to do our hand washing while we were on the road. I have tended to use camp ground washing machines where possible (although they are pretty gross and I’m not sure how clean the clothes are getting) but in between camp grounds or if something needs a solid scrub or overnight soaking, I use the Scrubba bag. But that means hand wringing the clothes after they have been washed and then rinsed. And while that might not seem like a big job, you should try hand wringing the equivalent of a full load of washing to a point where they stand a chance of drying in 24 hours. It’s bloody hell on your hands! And, as it turns out, gives you blisters.
Next up? Bugs and insects. While I seem to have suffered only one or two annoying bug bites and Brandon seems to have escaped their clutches altogether, poor Charlotte has had to endure an unending number of bites which she scratches at relentlessly no matter how much we warn her not to. Invariably these end up bleeding and scabbing over, which is further annoyance and pain for her. Charlotte’s skin tends to react quite badly to bites which I suspect is due to some form of eczema so the poor thing is usually left in welts if she’s around bitey bugs for too long. One place we visited she was attacked by midgies that left her feet and legs covered in angry red splotches. By chance a fellow camper recommended a natural product called Midgie Magic that we located in a chemist and it has really helped take the sting out of Charlotte’s bites. Great stuff that!
Brandon has also been suffering due to the long hours in a car and the physical work setting up the camper and packing things away again. The downside to having the boat loader on the camper is that all that heavy stuff up there has to come off every time we set up and then go back up there every time we pack up! (except the canoe and ladder – they tend to stay strapped to the boat loader). So it comes as no surprise that Brandon’s back and shoulder are in a world of hurt. He actually went to a physiotherapist when we were in Broome and then at the Broome markets had a massage for half an hour and it seems as though his aches and pains are starting to settle down a bit.
The last two injury and illness prizes belong to me. I have a condition in my knees called Chondromalacia Patellae where the cartilage behind my knee cap has slowly worn away. It makes for very painful kneeling and bending but for the most part, I’ve learned to live with it. In one knee however a side-effect of this disease is the ligaments that run behind my knee and hold my knee cap in place are also very worn and tired (I know how they feel!) and, if I squat down at the same time as turning my knee slightly, I can actually twist the ligaments around themselves and slightly pop my knee cap over to one side. A semi-dislocation, as it were. As you can imagine, this is rather painful so over the years I have learned to avoid putting myself in positions where this problem can occur. I probably got a little complacent on this trip because I was more concerned about my foot than my knee, and I haven’t actually had many problems with my knees since I’ve taken up running. But unfortunately that all changed in Broome as we were packing up and getting ready to hit the Dampier Peninsula. I squatted down to attach the camper’s Andersen plug into the back of the car and I felt that familiar pain in the back of my knee. It was too late to correct my stance and before I knew it I was on the ground moaning in pain and swearing at all manner of spiritual beings. I ‘popped’ it back in place fairly easily – lucky. It doesn’t always go back as easily and once I remember writhing on the floor in pain in my bedroom and calling to my father in law who was 20 metres away at the other end of our house to get him to come up and pop my knee back in for me. Not pleasant. Anyway, this wasn’t quite that bad but it certainly wasn’t pretty and the end result was that I really couldn’t walk 😦 So I was bundled into the car while Brandon finished connecting things up and we started our trip to the Dampier with me feeling rather sorry for myself. We couldn’t walk the many gorges of the Gibb because of my foot and now who knew what we wouldn’t be able to do because of my knee. Upon arriving at our first destination on the peninsula I felt a little better and was able to walk. I went back through the memory banks for how my orthopedic specialist used to strap my knee in times like this and ended up strapping the knee so that I could at least help set up a little more. I couldn’t bend my knee though so I was still limited but at least I was pain free and mobile.
The last incident is less of an incident and more of a growing discomfort. For a few months now I have felt a niggly pain deep in my lower right abdomen. It hasn’t really bothered me before now, it comes and goes, but I should have expected that even the mildest of discomfort is likely to be amplified while living in a camper trailer for three and a half months. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when my pain became worse while we were staying at 80 Mile Beach on the northern coast of WA and out in the middle of nowhere. I was in a world of hurt, nauseous, clammy, unable to eat or concentrate on anything except my own discomfort. It wasn’t gastro (being the parent to a 6 year old I’m intimately familiar with those symptoms!) but I had no idea what it was. And in true hypochondriac fashion, being stuck in the middle of nowhere, I was convinced that there was something really horribly wrong with me and I was about to die. So then my anxieties took over and amplified all of my pain and symptoms to the point where I really couldn’t do anything except groan, cry and lay around the camper feeling sorry for myself. We were due to arrive in Port Hedland the next day so we made a doctor’s appointment for me and I just toughed it out until then. To be fair, Brandon had to be more tough than me – he had to look after Charlotte all by himself while I was useless in the camper knocked out on codeine, he also had to pack up the camper and our gear all by himself when we left the next day with me groaning and feeling exceptionally sick in the front seat of the car all the way to Port. Thank god we were staying with friends in Port so that I actually had a bed and a lounge and carpet under my feet and some sense of normality about me. I could have a nice hot shower (without wearing thongs!) and relax a little bit. If it weren’t for that, the next 24 hours after that point would have been hell – again, more for Brandon probably than me! The doctor sent me off for scans at the local hospital, Hedland Health Campus.
This is just a small place and is the only place you can get imaging done in town, and I was told that people typically wait 3 weeks for an appointment. As my doctor didn’t think I had appendicitis, I wasn’t considered critical enough to get an emergency appointment (travelling isn’t considered enough of a reason to get ahead of people, and that’s fair enough I guess). But I rang and harassed them and said I was in huge amounts of pain (and threw in some genuine tears) and thankfully I was given an appointment at 10am the next day. I was honest with my doctor and admitted that my pain was probably more psychological because I had felt so isolated and unable to soothe myself with the comforts of home, thus making my physical pain a lot greater and more significant in my mind. I knew as soon as I had that scan I’d start to feel better, regardless of what they found. And thankfully they found nothing.
The diagnosis now is a combination of things – ovulation pain (gotta love being a woman), combined with the possibility of pulling or straining myself a little too much over the weeks, potentially aggravating an injury that might have happened before we left. The nausea was probably because of (a) my anxiety and (b) taking codeine on an empty stomach. All of which was amplified in my mind into something far more serious thanks to isolation and lack of creature comforts. Boy, am I glad those 72 hours are over! I’m off the pain meds now and the pain is receding as I’ve spent the last two days laying around on a proper couch in a proper lounge room, relaxing and catching up with friends which has clearly had medicinal powers.
So prepare yourself physically if you decide to undertake a trip like this. Definitely buy some Midgie Magic, bring lots of strapping tape, and make sure you have all niggly pains etc checked out before you leave. Murphy’s Law says you will feel that pain again when stuck in the middle of nowhere and it’s really quite amazing what our brain can do to amplify our discomfort and convince us that there is something truly horrific happening to us when really we’ve probably just pulled a muscle.
Time to Netflix and chill… 😉