My ultimate camping trip … of disaster: Food poisoning was just part of the story
A flat tire, a twisted ankle and an unlikely rescue. Have you had a worse trip?
Stranded in the middle of nowhere on the worst camping trip ever, my family and I hoped for a rescue from the RCMP or Search and Rescue. What we got instead was even better.
It was 2007, and I had just made a horrible discovery: my cousin, visiting from British Columbia — a province that brags about its beauty on the licence plate — had never been camping.
So, in service to my own beautiful province, I took it upon myself to rectify this situation on the May 24 weekend.
We were excited. We were hopeful. We were fools.
Now I was a scout, so I prepared. I gathered up everything we'd need: sleeping bags, mess kits, small stoves, water containers. Snacks, hotdog sticks, sunscreen, toilet paper.
I brought along our air pump, in case we got a flat tire. I brought along our first aid kit, in case we got hurt.
I even did a test run of the family tent, to make sure all the parts were there and nothing had gone mouldy.
Goodbye sun, hello chill
With our small Corolla loaded down with gear and people — me, my cousin, my older sister, and my father, who was driving — we set out onto the highway.
We were excited. We were hopeful.
We were fools.
When we left St. John's, the temperature was warm and the sun was bright. By the time we arrived at the campground, there was a chill in the air, and dark clouds kept drifting across the sky.
At the gate, the cheerful attendant informed us that all the sites at that park were already taken. Long weekend, right?
He suggested another park not much further away. In the '60s, it had been a serviced provincial park; it was now unstaffed and "a bit rough."
Determined, we set off again, and ended up driving through what, to this day, I consider one of the most isolated places on the island. Every minute on that stretch of road felt unending.
There were no towns, no houses, no radio signals. No people picking berries on the side of the road, no anglers fishing over a bridge.
The turnoff for the park was a thin dirt path that followed a small pond before disappearing into the woods. And it was "rough."
The soundtrack for the trip became the scrape of rock on metal.
Finally, we were at the campground. The site was essentially a parking lot next to a wooded area that broke onto a beach; we could hear the waves when we got out of the car. The only signs that this had once been a serviced provincial park were a dry well, a barren flagpole, and a pair of outhouses.
And then we met the one other person nearby
To our amazement, there was actually one other person at the site. He and his dog seemed as surprised to see us; we learned from him that this campsite was famously isolated, and over his years of visiting he had rarely ever seen anyone else around.
It was also from him that we learned there was no fresh water available. Anywhere.
Not a creek, not a brook, not a stream, not a lake, not a pond, not a puddle.
The only source of water was the ocean. Which meant, to fill up the water containers I had so expertly packed, we had to go back over the dirt road again. Twice.
This is the point where we found out my sister had food poisoning.
She had been unusually quiet during the car ride, but now that we'd stopped and were out in the air, the nausea hit her, and she ran for the outhouses.
My dad and I left my cousin to set up camp while we went to get water. When we returned almost two hours later, she had done a decent job pitching the tent—except for the fly.
Turns out, when I had done my tent test earlier, I had forgotten to repack an important tent pole. But, as my father pointed out, the fly of a tent is really only important when it rains.
And so it started raining.
Eventually my sister crawled into the tent and, secure in the knowledge that she would not die of dysentery in an outhouse in the wastelands of Newfoundland, we went to sleep, passing out easily from exhaustion and despair.
This sun looks promising…
The morning was nice. The skies had cleared and the sun was out, and our fellow camper had left, so we had the park to ourselves. My sister was in good enough spirits to take a walk with me and my cousin down to the beach. It was rocky, as most Newfoundland beaches are, but the waves were lovely.
She came in handy when I twisted my ankle and needed help back to the campsite.
Utterly defeated, we decided to head home.
Oh wait, I'm sorry, I spoke too soon. I meant to say: then we realized our car had a flat tire.
Now we were utterly defeated.
That air pump I packed for just such an emergency?
It didn't work.
The pump used power from the car's lighter plug, and ours was, apparently, dead. We tried turning the car off and on. None of it worked, and with the other camper gone, there was no one around to help.
We were alone, in an abandoned park, in a radio dead zone, in the middle of nowhere. Our family in town thought we were at another campground. We had no working vehicle and no idea what we were going to do next.
The province's secret sport
And then, from down the dirt road, came our salvation: Newfoundlander surfers.
I have never expected anything less than I expected this.
There exists in Newfoundland a community of surfers who go surfing in the Atlantic Ocean. In our part of the Atlantic Ocean. On purpose.
And this campground was — and is — one of their best surfing sites.
We explained our situation to the surfers, and they immediately offered us their air pump, which operated on its own battery.
They gave us their home address — luckily, also in St. John's — and told us the door was unlocked and to leave the pump in the entranceway.
We were obviously grateful and wondered what we could do in exchange for this kindness, and they only requested one thing: That we never tell anyone where we saw them.
Apparently, the surfing community in Newfoundland is very guarded and the location of this surfing site was a secret between them — now, between us.
And we have kept that secret ever since.