Camping and Covid-19

Sally Quon

© Copyright 2021 by Sally Quon

Photo property of the author.
              Photo property of the author.

How’s that?” My son asked. “Does it have enough air?”

Even though I could feel the cement pad below the tent brushing my spine, I was quick to acquiesce. The mattress was firm enough. The problem was that I weighed too much. If we added any more air, the plug would just plop out the first time I rolled over in the night. I’d rather deal with a slightly less than perfect mattress now than deal with sleeping on the ground later. Besides, my mattress at home was firm. It wouldn’t be that different.

This was only the second time in my adult life that I had tried to take a vacation, and nothing about this vacation was going according to plan. This wasn’t plan A, or plan B. This was plan C and even that was starting to look a little sketchy. Our first two plans had to be changed because of Covid-19. One involved interprovincial travel and the other, travel to a remote village. This third and final plan involved travel to the next region where, by all accounts, we would be welcome. Days before we were scheduled to leave, we started receiving cancellations on attractions we had scheduled, adventures we had reserved, and accommodations we had booked.

Don’t worry,” my son said. “We’ll be fine.”

We headed out for our vacation with a map, a tent, and no clear plan.

My weight is not my only health problem. I have congestive heart failure, hypertension, and vascular disease. The most devastating problem of all is my mobility. Due to disc degeneration in my spine, I can only walk a few meters before I start getting “spaghetti legs.” I am fifty-four years old, and I move like a person thirty or forty years older. Even before Covid-19 I was having my groceries delivered. I use a walker to get from my apartment to my car. There are some things I have conceded to in order to live comfortably. There are some things I’m just not ready to give up. Like camping.

The campsite I had booked on-line just an hour earlier was right next to the washroom. By the time we arrived, that site had been given away, and we were upgraded to a “better” site. The site was larger, more secluded and had a cement pad instead of dirt. I didn’t care. I almost cried looking at the path I would have to take to the washroom. I might be able to make the trip once, but normally I rise three or four times during the night to use the washroom. I had no idea how to make that work.

Premature aging is like trying to navigate the new normal in the era of Covid-19. There are sacrifices that must be made, things that must be given up. We are faced with finding new ways of being, and there’s a lot of road to navigate. We are forced to examine our priorities and determine what it is that really matters. There are questions and workarounds, sadness, and pain. There is a great deal of resignation.

I made my way into the tent. The air was hot and stuffy. The material of my pants stuck to the material of the air mattress. I squiggled and squirmed, trying to break free. My panic was rising, and my breath was coming in shorter and shorter. I tried to flip over onto my knees, pressing them painfully into the cement pad and ended up falling forward, onto my face. Claustrophobia joined the cornucopia of emotions. I tried to figure out how to roll over and sit up, sweating profusely and gasping for air. Who was I trying to fool? I shouldn’t be doing this at all.

We don’t always want to face the truth, whether it involves a worldwide pandemic or our own limitations. Sometimes, there are different versions of the truth.

After spending two nights in the tent, we packed it up and moved on. At our next destination, we rented a cabin for two days. In fact, we didn’t bring the tent out again for the rest of the trip. We stayed in cabins, motels, hotels, and a hostel. Our room in the hostel was also challenging, being located on the second floor. We had to skip destinations altogether because they were shut down. There were places we should have skipped because there were so many restrictions. But most of the places we went, we discovered people finding ways to adapt to their new reality. I suppose it was time I adapted to my new reality, too.

Our final destination before heading home was an add on. I’d been trying to book a rafting trip for my son and I; it had fallen into place mere days before.

I questioned the tour operator.

Are you sure?” I asked again. “I am overweight. I can barely walk. I won’t be able to paddle much. Are you sure I can go white-water rafting?”

Yes, we’re all set. We’ve got a group and a guide. You’re going to love it.”

We arrived at the raft shack a half an hour before the trip was scheduled to start. We signed our waivers and got on our lifejackets and helmets. I brought my own lifejacket, knowing none of theirs would fit. Once properly equipped we just had to scurry across the busy highway, through the parking lot, down the embankment to the river.

I can’t really blame the girl who booked the trip. When you’re twenty and fit, you don’t understand words like limited mobility. Had I known what lay ahead, I never would have booked the trip. But I had, so now I had to make it work. With my son holding me steady, we began the trek to the river. The temperature was in the high 30’s. My legs had given their all before we reached the other side of the highway. I forced myself to go on, swinging my hips to make my legs work. I was sobbing with the effort. The guide, after having deposited the raft into the river, came back to help get me there. Still, I was forced to lie down in the dirt, ripping off my lifejacket to breathe.

I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I almost quit. The only thing that kept me moving forward at that point was the distance to the river was less than the distance back to the raft shack. If I could just get there, I’d have at least two hours to recover before having to face whatever came next. What choice did I have? I pushed on.

It wasn’t pretty, but I made it to the river. I got on the raft and went white-water rafting. I even used my paddle. For the first time in years, I found myself laughing with pure joy.

I almost missed it. I almost gave up. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m not ready to embrace a new normal. Maybe I’m not ready to call it a day. Maybe there is still room to push back - just a little.

Sally Quon is a back-country blogger, dirt-road diva, and teller of tales honored to live, love and laugh on the traditional territories of the Syilx people in the Okanagan Valley. She has been shortlisted for Vallum Magazine’s Chapbook Prize for two consecutive years and is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. Her personal blog, is where she posts her back-country adventures, photos and stories.

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