27 November, 2016

Our unexpected camping adventure

We're back from our camping trip. It turned into a bigger adventure than we'd planned for and for a little while I wondered if we'd finally bitten off more than we could chew. If you thought we were crazy for going camping at this time of year when temperatures regularly dip below zero, then this story will convince you we really are.
What our journey out of Tokyo looked like.

On Thursday school finished at midday and we planned as usual to leave as soon after that as possible. The unexpected was snow. It snowed all morning!

Digging out our tent site with a borrowed spade. The boys were great,
they just wished that we had more than one spade.

Because we lived in snowy Sapporo for four years (with its average yearly fall of five meters) we aren't usually impressed with Tokyo snow. It's often a small amount and very short-lived. November snow is almost unheard of here. The last time it snowed this early in the season was more than 50 years ago! The snowfall on Thursday was bigger than we expected. We even got stuck behind snowplows on the highway.

We were prepared for cold but not snow. We had to borrow a spade to shovel our tent site. It was covered with several inches of loose snow when we arrived.

There were doubts we would make it but when the boys managed to dig out a rectangle that was the perfect size (without measuring) we cheered. At that moment we realised how experienced we were at camping and from that point doubts drained away.

We arrived only thirty minutes before the sun disappeared, however, so we did much of the extraneous setting up in the dark, including bed-making and fire-starting. Thankfully it was a powered site so we used our one light to advantage as well as the light inside the backdoor of the van. Thankfully, too, I'd spent that morning making dinner (Japanese Curry Rice) so all we had to do was warm it up.
Dessert on our first night: foil packets with bananas, chocolate, and
 marshmallows, or some combination of those. We accidentally left
a left-over banana out of the cooler overnight and it froze!

After dinner we washed up and raced to the ofuro (Japanese bath) then raced back and jumped into our beds still warm.
The next morning we were greeted with an amazing winter wonderland. Indeed it was a gorgeous blue-sky day.
Walking back from the toilet block at 7am.
Lake Sai.
Autumn caught snoozing.

-5.9˚C is a record for us!
But it was exceptionally cold. I wore many layers and my core was okay but my feet suffered. As the day wore on it didn't warm up past about 5C but it was enough for the places that got sun to become mush and we were sloshing around by early afternoon. My outside ugg boots got soaked and kept my feet cold.

We walked down the road to see some local lava caves, formed during Mt Fuji's explosion in the 800s. A bit sobering as we realised we were camping at the foot of the giant mountain (though we couldn't see it due to a small mountain between us and it). The caves were pretty cool, however. Just the thing even big boys could enjoy.
Lava cave.
Though most of us weren't prepared for wet
snow, our youngest was, with all his plastic
snow gear and he had fun building snow creations.

As we began to lose light at 4.30 we started dinner (simple hot dogs) with the goal of getting to the bath then bed (and getting our feet into dry socks) as soon as possible.

I think late afternoon as the temperature dipped again was the worst I felt, almost nauseous at times. However, despite what you may suspect we had happy campers 95% of the time. One of the keys was lots of food and frequently!

Our second morning wasn't as cold but neither was it as pretty. The sky was mostly grey and much of the pretty snow had melted or turned into grey mush.

Everything outside was covered in frost and inside the
tent everything that hadn't been touched by the water
seeping up through the holes in the floor was covered in
We took our time packing up and it was a little complex as almost everything was wet, inside and out. We had huge puddles inside the tent but amazingly our bedding was protected by an aerobics mat and thin silver-coated foam that we'd put down for insulation from the ground.

Our trip home was all autumn again. Like the clock had been wound back! 
Autumn leaves on the way home.

People may think we're crazy but we weren't out there alone. There were several other campers, including several who arrived well into the evening on Friday and set up completely in the dark. There were people fishing, even water skiing. As we packed up on Saturday a guy came with his two large parrots and set them up with a playground then put up his tiny tent beside them! If we're crazy, we've got plenty of company in Japan!

These two older guys set up in the dark after we went to bed on Friday night.

We have created some great memories. We'll be talking for a long time about "that time we went camping in the snow"! On our way driving down we introduced the boys to "TheFour Yorkshireman" skit by Monty Python. Our guys now have their very own "you're lucky . . . . remember the time Mum and Dad took us camping in the snow". I personally will treasure conversations had while we washed up (one adult paired with one kid makes for great conversation) and while huddled around the campfire trying to warm our hands and feet.

On Thursday evening when we were nearly set up I realised that everyone was in high spirits. After living with guys for the last 19 years I've gradually realised that guys love to be challenged, especially a physical challenge. Even if you have to boot them into the challenge, they love pitting themselves against the odds and coming out a winner. That is what we've done this time. We pitted ourselves against extreme weather with less than ideal equipment—our tent is not a winter tent and all our sleeping bags are second-hand, not what you'd take to trekking in Nepal. And we survived, not just survived, but came out the better for it as a family, I believe! 

But just so as we're clear, we never planned to camp in the snow and don't plan on doing it again. But we will camp again at this time of year. Anyone know of a warm place we can camp at within two hours of Tokyo at the end of November?

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