22 October 21
An “opinion” piece from Neil “Moonwalker” Armstrong:
There’s no phrase on earth that divides people quicker than "let’s go camping”. Whether it brings you instant visions of freedom and rapturous surf-filled road trips or angst-ridden memories of mud, rain and squatting in the bushes complete with onshore squalls – am guessing you’ve a strong opinion.
But now, with canvas being cool again and vans all over the world being furnished with everything from disused milk crates to high-end carbon fibre tap fittings (it saves 20 grams in weight - totally worth it to offset my future fuel bill) these former options for a quick escape are turning into a mainstream lifestyle.
Almost every lineup on the planet has at least one person banging on about their use of baby elephant-free wood or cutting-edge composites in their van conversions. But is it a case of swapping one problem for another? When it comes to costs, tents win. But whether you’re using the latest and greatest bit of tarpaulin suitable for an Everest ascent or some disused election banners, they can both be pierced with equal efficiency by a wayward tent pole. And it’s a well-known fact that a campfire prepped nuclear hot marshmallow-on-a-stick is able to melt a hole in any material on earth.
As for surf vans, the latest ones with eye-watering price tags, supermodel sleek lines and pull-out hot tubs aren’t really within the reach of most surfers. For most second-hand “pre-loved” vans, form follows function. And the function is to grow as much rust as possible.
Just because the van you covet was made in the ’70s doesn’t make it cool. It usually makes it near decrepit, bits are liable to fall off and it may fail catastrophically at any moment. Just ask anyone who lived the original era how they’re feeling after going through years of rain, salt, and mud along the roadways and bypasses of life.
Nothing will get people more excited than suggesting, “let’s build a fire and cook some great food”. And nothing disappoints more than the inevitable burnt offerings and singed digits. And hitting the road or trail with a full larder of food can be tricky, the contents get bounced around and scattered through every crevice of your vehicle.
Some suitable ingredient suggestions for all itinerant travellers:
Tomato sauce is a vegetable, so is Tabasco, and possibly mustard. If you mix them all together you have soup. Noodles also weigh little and can be used to stick everything else together that’s too watery or too burnt to otherwise fit on a fork. Vegetables are for children - a shot of lemon juice will be sufficient. But real fruits are ideal, especially when forgotten and they ferment into wine.
Canned goods are great, they’ll survive nuclear Armageddon and maybe even a couple of weeks broiling in a van through summer. But in the most desperate of scenarios just mix everything you have in a frying pan, or give yourself an excuse to go to the nearest pub.
And if all this sounds unappealing and unappetising, that’s because in reality it is. The ratio of creating delicious meals over a tiny gas cooker to burning everything you own to the ground sways largely towards the cinders.
Mechanics love vans. It’s a fact that a simple “hello” from a mechanic while you’re on the road means “we accept Visa, Mastercard, or your eternal soul”.
Vans are powered by a donk that connects to the crankshaft which makes something-I-don’t-know-the-name-of turn the wheels at the right speed and cool something-or-other down. Yes?
But tents are just as complex these days. Carbon fibre poles connect the latex-lined helium filled airbed floor with the walls and the fly-sheet lined with the material NASA uses to keep rocket fuel from seeping into the astronaut's latrine. And they often smell just as rich and are equally flammable.
Where to Stay
The local campsite where you’re headed may well offer some security but if it’s school holidays or any national celebration say goodbye to sanity. And even though it’s free to pull up and overnight at the local 18-wheeler stop, you don’t want truckie Bruce or his mates peering through your windows - or possibly you do? Maybe they’d appreciate your carbon fibre tap fittings.
Alternatively you can pitch or park at the end of a road overlooking a secluded paradise, but you first have to find that spot and then dodge the crap left by everyone else who was there before. Then you have to work out where to position your domicile - grassy areas are nice but there’s a fine line between verdant pasture and a swamp.
Spots with shrubbery are ok as they provide a bit of cover, but shrubbery mostly just seems to be made up of thorns. So this leaves trees which do provide plenty of shade but are loved by animals of many shapes and sizes who produce all manner of riotous nocturnal noises.
Is it all Worth It?
In our multi millennia quest of striving to protect ourselves from the elements we have evolved from seeking shelter in caves, to creating earth mounds, to fabricating wood and stone huts, to raising incredible pyramids and cathedrals, to erecting countless cozy houses and modern high-rise buildings. So why now, after all our time on this revolving rock seeking shelter from floods, winds, and vicious drizzle, do we suddenly feel the need to devolve and sleep outside with a layer of nylon sheeting or a thin aluminium wall between us and the volatile natural world? Nature is nice, but when you’re sleeping you don’t still want to invite into your bed. Who knows what it’ll look like when you wake up next to it in the morning.
- Author: Neil “Moonwalker” Armstrong - @surftaiwan