It's that time again. Pretty much my favourite time of the year. We are going off grid.
I've realised more and more that these few days a year where the boys and I go and do something weird and hard and awesome are absolutely worth the energy they take.
This year we have hired a houseboat that is permanently moared on a river about 2 hours away from home. It looks basic but there is a river to swim in, a fire pit, an outdoor chill area, horses, and it's big enough for Sherri to come which sounded like a great idea already and was an even better idea after I got sick because I'm not sure I would feel ok getting this far out of town with the kids without another adult around. This has been a freaking insane month or so and I can't wait to spend some time just getting dirt under my fingernail, smoke in my hair, cooking weird food in weird ways and generally being in a space about as far from city life as you can for a quick get away.
So the plan was to finish work early, have the car already packed and seeing as check in is 3pm, be there by 4pm latest. 530pm in the new 4pm anyway I guess.
We've arrived and in true Leigh style it's a little more roughing it than it looked, and I planned for roughing it. Of course it's always also a bit wet and raining. It's low tide and the river does not look inviting at all, our 'private beach' is all mud and mangroves. The houseboat is smaller than it looked, about 2 meters wide, the walls are peeling and everything looks a little horror movie like. All of the photos have either been taken with precision or at a time when there wasn't us much random weird shit everywhere. I'm having to stop myself from reorganising all of the outdoor spaces. Seriously there are old buckets and massive crockpots full of mosquito lavae, bits of materials and leftovers everywhere. The whole place has the feel that someone loved it once but that was years ago and no one loves it at all anymore.
I'm sure it's actually going to be perfect ... I love how we manage to embrace hard stuff and somehow always decide that that is exactly want we wanted anyway.
After unpacking the first thing we needed to do was sort dinner. But of course the first thing we actually did was set up the fire. So instead of burger done in the fry pan on the stove top in the boat. We had burger patties cooked in a bbq fish griller thingy. They turn out 1/2 burnt 1/2 raw but with a decent bun and a lot of sauce they were super tasty. It's an early night though. Shez and I are in a small bed underneath Hamish in a much smaller bed and Jack is sleeping on the floor. We all smell like smoke already. I can't wait for my stove top coffee in the morning. I think I'll need it.
Ok believe it or not the tiny beds were all super comfortable. All of us slept like logs, maybe we need to change our beds at home to being thin pieces of foam on top of wood? It rained overnight so everything is a bit wet. But we know it's meant to get sunny by the afternoon so decide to spend the morning going for a drive around the area and grabbing the bits we've realised we've forgotten. Mostly some more torches as it was incredibly dark last night.
That is of course after the kids traipse through the mud that is our private beach and jump into the canoes. I'm so glad they are able to embrace chaos.
Jack slips on his butt into the mud and I laugh so hard I can't breathe and then he decides to flip the canoe with Hamish in it. I make him wait until I can grab the camera.
We drive to Spencer, the main shop is closed and the little newer one doesn't look big enough to have what we want so we go through to wisemans ferry and grab the bits. I decide in my infinite wisdom that we should go further on to St Albans for what I assume is going to be an amazing lunch at the settlers arms. What was meant to be an hour or two turns into a hike as we get a little lost, take the car ferry 4 times, lunch was just chips and gravy and everyone is ready to be back at the boat about 1 1/2 hours before we actually get home. Just as I loose signal I get a message from work, I didn't realise that was the last place I would get signal so I drop Sherri and Hamish home and Jack and I race back 15 minutes up the road to send the reply. To make the extra trip worth its while Jack drives home on the private road.... He thinks it's awesome, I don't loose my cool ... I'm calling it a win.
Once we are back I start preening, the sun is out, the boys swim and collect firewood and start fishing with Sherri. No one gets a bite but I'm starting to feel like that's not the point.
We've decided to have dinner early while there is light and then settle in front of the fire with marshmallows smashed between digestive biscuits after the sun goes down. I'm so glad we have another day and night. I'm just starting to relax.
I peed at 2am off the side of the boat. Seemed easier than putting shoes on to go up to the 'loo with a view' which is a bucket with saw dust in a shed. It does have a lovely view of the river though.
We woke up at the crazy time 6am, I tried to stay asleep but the need to pee again was strong and once I was up I wanted my cup of stove top coffee, funny how I wouldn't drink it at home but love it here.
Sherri and the boys are fishing by 630. Still no bites, still not the point. I'm noticing I can't relax yet. I keep cleaning. The camp ground and general living spaces are going to be so much tidier once we have left. I actually asked if anyone had seen a rake. I keep finding bits of rubbish and bagging them up to take into town. I also know this is just my way of settling .... I wish we had another day so I could stop trying to settle and actually be settled.
We make bacon sandwiches for breakfast and I light the fire again. We don't even really need it, but all of us agree that there is something about being able to make a fire that means you just should.
Jack bought his Swiss Army knife and is whittiling a knife with his knife. Sherri uses the finished product to cook with. Hamish then makes me a 'Mr Pointy' I'll keep it forever.
We need to pop into Spencer, I was going to say we needed to pop into to town but Spencer is two shops, one little boat hire place with a tiny not yet stocked general store. When we stopped there yesterday I thought it was awesome. But I wanted to see the other shop, plus we needed milk, bait, ice etc. I fall in love. The owner is gregarious and the shop has exactly what he says 'everything you need, this side of the river and nothing you don't'. I'm so in love I buy a straw hat just because suddenly I feel local. I joke that I'm going to leave him my number so that when he is ready to retire he can call me. He tells me that it's already on the market. Timing. Maybe in another 9 years.
We come home and the tide is super high. I want to go in the canoe again by myself this time but I've noticed I can't breathe well. My lack of physical strength is making this trip so much harder than previous trips. I have to take myself off and have a little cry but then Jack offers to come with me to make sure I can get back home. We don't go far but I'm happy. The tide is still super high and the river looks as inviting as it has yet. I want to swim and this is my chance. Our private beach is finally looking like a beach and so I go in. It's perfect and cold and I'm doing the one thing I really wanted to do. My bush girl is sated and I'm in the bloody river. I come out and I'm finally relaxed.
The rest of the day is swimming and card games, damper making and more fishing. The boys take turns driving around the property as we gather more wood for tonight's fire. Any time the horses are up near the camp ground I'm bothering them with pats and getting burrs out of their manes. I really should have organised a ride. But just hanging with them is fun. I was washing my face this morning on the car bonnet with them standing less than a meter away checking what I was doing. For me this is adding an extra special something to the trip.
I decide it's last swim time for me as the tide is changing and jump in off the side of the boat into the muddy but crisp water. The current isn't that strong but it makes me tired trying to get back. I catch a fright, get back to shore fine but out of breath. Hamish comes and cuddles me and I tell him it's weird to feel not strong. He gives me another cuddle and tells me I'm still strong, I'm the strongest person he knows, my arms are strong and my will is so very strong and my lungs will heal in time. Of course this makes me cry but they are happy tears.
We are all a bit sun drenched I'm loving it but it's making everyone's energies a bit low. Everyone feels like they have done all the things in their trip bucket list. I'd still like another day. I'm liking watching us all be a bit bored and connected in our disconnection. But I guess this is where my love of hard stuff is higher than the norm. We've all decided we wouldn't come back ... well they all have. I would but I always want to go back when we have these trips. This bush part of me calls loudly when the city life is hectic. I wouldn't change the balance but if I could find a way I'd make these kinds of time more often In our lives.
We finally meet the owners. They are nice enough people with big plans for the space. I wonder how they don't see that at first glance this place feels a lot like something out of a horror movie and then I realise that we have come right before the beginning of peak season for them. They mention they get a load of sand delivered soon so that the 'beach' is actually more beachy and I'm guessing they usually do a bit of a tidy up then as well. I feel like asking for a discount.
It's fire making time, we are going to use all the last of the wood we've been collecting and have one last hurrah for the trip. And then dinner and an early night for all will follow I'm sure. Also I love my hat ...
We wake early again, it's definitely fishing and swimming morning. I've put a ban on anyone starting to pack up until 11am so we get what feels like most of a day before we have to leave. It's a good plan. Sherri catches two fish, I sit on top of the boat with a reel in my hands and the smell of bait on my hands while I catch the sun and the boys canoe and swim and relax again. It's a great few hours.
Once we have packed the car we are all ready to leave. Even me, I really want a shower.
We decide to head back to Spencer and grab lunch before we drive home and just like that our adventure is over.
I'd still go back, but only if I couldn't find anything like it when the bush calls next time. I already miss the water and the fire, I miss the way the kids and I are when we are away, and the joy I feel as I watch us embrace the massive differences between the ease of our lives and the difficulties of spaces like this. I miss being away from clocks and phones and the expectations that real life give you. But even with all of that I'm so happy to be home, I am such a lucky woman.