My first mistake was to not go grocery shopping with my Outdoor Ed. camping group.
I'd been hiking up one of Lismore's mighty hills, when Matt, Kristi, Sarah, Tamara (the token Aussie) drove by on their way to the supermarket. They honked their horn, laughed at my exhaustion, and Matt yelled something like, "That's nothing compared to the workout I'm about to give you!"
I could only imagine what they'd said once they reached Cole's supermarket:
Matt - "Say, that kid's a big eater. Wouldn't it be funny if we got a bunch of food he hated?"
Kristi - "Ooh, he's told me he hates spaghetti. Let's get that!"
Sarah - "And couscous! Nobody likes couscous!"
Tamara - "I'll bring the VegaMite!"
This Saturday, our backpacks were packed, and we boarded the bus for our four-day excursion to Girraween Park, Queensland. Just after the doors on the bus had closed, Kristi gave me the horrifying news of our food choices. I grimaced and informed her I'd be protesting by not eating dinner the next three days. I watched Pizza Huts and ice cream stores pass by the window all the way to Queensland, sadly reflecting on how I probably was going to starve to death.
Once in Girraween, we drove on a dirt road surrounded by trees whose leaves began at their tops, like broccoli.
We came to some classmembers who had gone camping before us. They celebrated like crazy when they saw us, because it meant their busride out of there had come. That wasn't very encouraging. Some of them had really gone to hell in four days. Their hair was full of dirt, their clothes were ripped, and their eyes were wild and hungry, like they'd just as soon eat you as look at you. I was happy when they got their things on the bus and left.
Rob's co-instructor was Tony, a spry, tan, serious but fun-loving, outdoorsy-kind of guy who could do fifteen miles on the trail in the time you could do five. He had us partner up to practice some "sighting," for which I'll provide instructions because, after all, my parents were paying big money for me to study in Australia, and this was the closest I came to learning something.
"SIGHTING" WITH TONY
Step 1 - Take a compass reading. (wait, this gets tricky. I'd better provide directions)
"TAKING A COMPASS READING" WITH TONY
Step 1 - Read your compass
Step 2 - Subtract the magnetic variation from true north
Step 3 - Adjust for the mapped area having shifted places on the earth's surface, as it does every year somehow
Step 4 - Add the inclination of the sun and multiply by the cosine of the square root of pi, then divide by the number of Paul Hogan movies in which he said, "You call that a knife?"
Step 5 - You put your left foot in, you put your ... (wait, I'd better provide directions)
"DOING THE HOKEY POKEY" WITH TONY *
Step 1 - Put your left foot in.
Step 2 - Put your left foot out.
Step 3 - Put your left foot in.
Step 4 - Shake it all about.
Step 5 - or something. I don't know, I really never paid attention in any of my classes this semester. I needed to stop doing that. I mean, sure, it's okay to not pay attention in American classes like philosophy or history or english - classes that have no real-world consequences. But, if I didn't start paying attention in Outdoor Ed., I could get into some serious trouble and end up getting lost and mauled by a wombat (sounds horrible, doesn't it?)!
"SIGHTING" WITH TONY ** (cont.)
Step 2 - Now, fix your eyes on a landmark along your compass bearing, like a tree or a rock or a kangaroo.
Step 3 - Walk to the landmark and repeat ... unless the landmark you'd chosen was a kangaroo, in which case you've probably followed it right off your desired path, and now you're hopelessly lost, deep in the Australian bush. The good news is the Australian authorities (if they're not lost themselves from that stupid "mapped area switching places" thing) might find you before the wombats do. If you see a wombat, play dead.
Step 4 - All this takes a very long time. Thus, I would recommend simply throwing your compass at someone you're not partnered up with (for example, Kristi) and just running in the general direction you want to go. Because, let's face it, Tony's probably got some sort of a prize waiting for the fastest team, and there's no way you're going to beat Kristi there if you stop at every single tree and rock ...
Unfortunately, my partner, Sarah, and I were the last people to successfully navigate the bush. Tony had nearly considered us lost and come searching. So, we got none of the prize, but more importantly, we were enjoying ourselves. Sarah wore glasses, a big, consistent smile, and a UNH shirt. Her and I kept frolicking in the grassy bush, laughing at students in America and saying, "Just imagine what everybody at University of New Hamphire is doing now for class!"
Things got even more fun when Tony led us up Big Bald Rock. First, we had to hike up a very steep, rocky ridge. Then, we had quite a climb to the top of the 100-foot rock. We clung to the side of a very thin ledge, we shimmied up a tight crevasse, and we leapt over drops that would've definitely broken bones. It was great; all the things people are too scared to do in America. "No worries, mate!"
Atop the wide rock, we lazed around. In addition to my group (Matt, Kristi, Sarah, Tamara, Jeremy, and me), a Dutch group joined Tony and his teacher's aide on the mountain. Beneath the big, blue sky, miles of forest could be seen amid the flat rock, grassy glens, and other small mountains. Tony said he'd come here for days or weeks at a time.
We started talking, and I revealed how much I loved chasing animals. Everyone found this funny, so I explained how the Crocodile Hunter was my idol and the whole reason I'd come to Australia. Tony's blond teacher's aide, Vanessa, just laughed in my face and said, "Ha! He's a wanker!"
You can imagine my shock. That was not the response I expected from an Australian, regarding her country's greatest hero. She just kept mocking him, though, claiming he sedated the animals he wrestled. I kept defending him, while fighting back my tears.
After the sun set light-pink over the expansive Girraween rock and forest, we made th cautious climb down Big Bald Rock.
Everyone in my group ate his crappy spaghetti for dinner, so I slept. This left me wound up for when the time really came to sleep, so I stayed up late talking and bothering people.
Kristi layed next to me - all bundled up in a green sleeping bag, with only her face showing. I took advantage of this and kept pushing on her head to make her slide down the slope we rested on. Jeremy and I found it very amusing to watch her wiggle her way to her original spot, like a big green maggot. Her appearance, for some strange reason, gave me the strongest urge to kick her, similar to the urge I get from seeing a football or the Muppet Babies. I said, "If I took a photo of you right now and showed it to my friends back home, they'd just want to kick you!"
Jeremy and I found this funny, but Kristi took a deep, excited breath and retaliated. "Everybody, listen! You should see these guys go shopping. When Jeremy goes to the grocery store, he buys anything that says 'Homebrand' on it, just to save a few pennies, and then he complains the whole time 'cuz it tastes like pure a*s! And Justin just passes by anything at-all healthy for him to buy this enormous bucket of ice cream that he adds Snickers and cookies and gobs of toppings to and eats in one day flat!" The other campers laughed at us.
I said, "Speaking of shopping? Atleast when I go shopping for a camping trip, like ... I don't know, Kristi? ... I don't get spaghetti, which she knows I hate, and couscous, which no one likes, and leave some poor, sweet, loveable kid to starve to death!"
"I do believe he's got you there," said Jeremy.
The sky was country clear, so Kristi began pointing out the stars. "There's Orion ... hmm, there's Cassiopeia ..."
Matt rolled over from above, where he'd been trying to sleep for awhile. "Hey, Kristi."
"Have you ever heard of the constellation, 'Shut the Hell up!"
Matt buried his face in his shirt, and after that, we were all pretty much quiet, searching the sky for Matt's constellation, in vain.
* - I told you he was a fun-loving guy.
** - Tony in no way advocates the directions given here. This is just what I remember from the class. If you follow the directions, you will die.