We’ve all heard the stories. Or have we? Read through some crazy bush camp tales and get a feel for what to expect.
You’ve gone camping, right? You like camping, right? There shouldn’t be much difference between a weekend camping trip and three months in a tent, right? Well, you can tell yourself whatever you want about the pros and cons of a summer in the bush. There is one simple truth: some things will be better than you expect, and some will be worse.
To understand the “for better or for worse” part, let’s look at a typical day in a bush camp. You’ll wake up at maybe 5:30 or 5:45am, depending on how tired you are and your level of motivation. You’ll put on some warm clothing, boots, and jacket. You will slowly shuffle down to the mess tent. You’ll probably stop to pee along the way. Another early riser will probably wander past while you are doing this, and neither of you will think of it as odd.
You get to the mess tent and debate: do I pour coffee or make my lunch? The smart bet is usually to make lunch. The early birds get the best choice of food. If you are up twenty minutes before breakfast officially begins, you should have a pretty wide selection. Grab that coffee as soon as your lunch is packed and in your day-bag. What about water? Hopefully, you filled your water jug the previous night. In early May, the water lines may all be frozen in the morning.
You line up for breakfast and get a large plate of bacon, sausage, eggs, and pancakes or half a dozen other common breakfast items. You probably don’t have a big appetite at this point, but you have to force it down. You’ll need that food energy later in the morning. Then, it is back to the mess tent to join the others. Unlike dinner, most people are pretty quiet, with heads hung low. It is hard to be excited when you know that you have to go out planting for the next nine or ten hours.
As soon as you finish breakfast, it is into the trucks for the drive to the blocks. Before you leave camp, make sure that your critical belongings are in the truck. Don’t assume that someone has loaded them for you. Don’t assume that they are still there because they were last night. Do a visual check.
Remember a short rhyme that makes sure you’ve got the essentials. Boots, bags, shovel, water, food. Say it out loud right now. That five-word phrase should be something you repeat, every morning, until the end of your career. You should also make sure you have your day-bag. It has things like insect repellent, sunscreen, rain gear, and toilet paper. We’ll skip over the details of the seemingly endless workday. The drive to the block is always too short, and you are bagging up before you are ready. The day seems to last forever for most people, but then it is done, and you are on your way home.
The mood in the camp is much happier at dinner. Except on the days when it is not. If the prices are poor or the weather is wet, then the mood is likely to be somber. However, a hot meal can take away a lot of the mental pain. If there’s one thing that everyone is looking forward to all day, it is dinner. You should be able to have ridiculous amounts of food for dinner. You’ll have burned off enough calories during the day to be physically able to accommodate a few heaping platefuls.
In addition, your company will almost certainly have a budget to make sure that nobody ever goes away hungry. Food is the fuel that powers the planting machine. If you are not getting enough food in camp, there’s a serious problem. You had better talk to the bosses right away. After camp, you might feel like relaxing for a couple hours. If you are not too exhausted, you can sit around and talk to people. You can also play chess in the mess tent, check your email on the impossibly slow satellite internet connection, or play guitar with some of the other musicians.
However, you might not have that much energy. You might just want to go to bed immediately. It is a bit of a dilemma. When working, you'll think to yourself that you need more sleep. You'll tell yourself that you will go to bed as soon as possible. Once dinner is over, however, you dread going to bed. The sooner you fall asleep, the sooner you have to wake up and go planting again.
Nights off in camp can be beautiful. It is pretty common for the crew to build a fire pit, so everyone can sit around and talk and play guitars. The mess tent might become the scene of a wild dance party, complete with a DJ blasting tunes on a cheap portable stereo. A few of the smarter planters will sneak off early and go to bed, knowing that the extra sleep they get will pay off during the upcoming shift.
Occasionally, unexpected things will happen in the camps. Maybe a bear will visit in the middle of the night and raid the kitchen (they are more likely to be attracted to the food storage areas than to a planter sleeping in a tent). Maybe a storm will pass overhead and many of the tents in “tent city” will be floating by morning. Soggy planters will take refuge in the trucks and mess tent (remember to set up your tent on high ground).
Maybe a lightning strike will hit in or near camp, lighting a tree on fire. Maybe there won’t be any rain in camp, but rain somewhere upstream will cause a creek running through the camp to rise and overflow its banks. This will flood more tents out. Maybe you’ll wake up in the middle of May with an odd sense of foreboding, and when you open the door of your tent, you’ll discover a foot of snow.
One thing is for sure. Living in a bush camp for the summer can be quite a challenging but entertaining experience. Here’s one last bit of advice before we end today’s story: make sure you have a flashlight with extra batteries. You may need it in an emergency, such as when you are trying to find the outhouse in the middle of the night.