I really think this is where the tone of the BIG WALK started to change. Ballina. And with Jo. Jo “Good Day”.
I woke at this little country school (sleeping on the ground had been pretty cold and uncomfortable, so I ended up raising my hammock hitched against two metal posts near the office building).
Although probably technically illegal, trespass or something, it was a great place to sleep and I was very respectful – didn’t leave any garbage or anything.
It was a cold, misty morning, my boots were still very soggy, so I set them on the back of this painted cow statue, and ate a protein bar.
My power bank was charged up to 100% (which equates to roughly 5-6 days of staying online and in-touch, maybe an extra day if I ration it out. The solar solution just wasn’t working – no sun, no solar power.
From where I was, it was about 20km to Ballina, I figured on trying to get there by lunch time or a bit after (4 hours at 5kmph or 5 hours at 4kmph was my optimistic outlook, and although that may have been my pace, the regular stoppages and chats added to the time).
The night before had gotten quite cold, even though the weather had been mostly hot and rainy so far in the walk. So even though my gear had been laid out to dry, it was still soggy.
This became a real problem in the days that were to come, causing some pretty painful damage to my feet.
The green “Military Santa” outfit was just too soggy to wear, so I changed into the blue wet-weather uniform.
I was enjoying the beauty around me, I was starting to zone into the Quest of it, but – my head was too far in the past and in the future. Thoughts too relentlessly turning to my family.
Missing them was like physical pain. A gnawing kind of itch in the back of my mind.
I suppose a bit like the ‘phantom limb’ sensation reported by amputees – an important part of them is gone, and they feel aches and itches in parts of their body that just aren’t there any more.
The weather had cleared up, it was an overcast and misty morning, so I set out, following the winding local roads south, headed for Ballina and the hopes of getting there in time to repair my phone. The screen had spiderweb cracks and it was glitching out a bit weirdly. I couldn’t (and still can’t, haha) afford to replace it, it’s a dodgy old iPhone 7 that I picked up secondhand online. I’ve always worked hard, tried to look after the people I love. I owned and operated a travel insurance company (www.simplytravelinsurance.au, only just now revived) but the COVID border closures had paralysed it. I’d been living off the mortgage for a couple of years, and the grand or so I spent on gear for the BIG WALK was more than I could afford, really. The damage to the phone was devastating, and preying on my mind. I was worried about staying in touch & recording the walk – no longer just for my family, now also for the people watching, the people who said it gave them a sense of hope, a window into a world that was somehow better and finer.
I’d made it into Ballina Shire, but it was still about 20km to town, and what do you know … pretty much as soon as I hit the road – it started raining.
I took shelter under an overpass, removed my massive pack and took the chance to stream a morning update. If you watch the video, you’ll note that in the middle of the stream I had this pretty intense and quite uncomfortable feeling of electricity coupled with a general tingly ache, in the sole of my feet. Blisters were forming all over, and this sensation, if you’ve never experienced it, is very hard to describe. It feels a bit like a mild, crampy, poisoned electric shock in the base of your feet.
Anyways, onward and upward. I slapped on my poncho and kept plodding down the road to Ballina.
In these hinterlands above Lennox Head, there’s lots of banana plantations, cane farms, macadamia orchards, it’s quite a lovely area.
My morning walk was uncomfortable, difficult, and I didn’t fully realise it at the time, but it was stripping me back, making me realise that suffering can be worth it. It can make us better.
I stopped and bought some delicious ripe bananas from a roadside stand, met a lovely family who had seen my stream online and drove out to find me and give me an apple fruitcake (normally I struggle with cake, I don’t make saliva after chemoradiation, but I relished every delicious bite – it tasted like kindness).
I plodded along the highway for a bit, and although I got well used to it by the time I was in Victoria, it felt unsafe, unwise, noisy and ugly. I started noticing all the detritus, the garbage, that people throw from their cars. I began seeing these strange balls wrapped in plastic, looking like weird surreal garbage lettuce. (Later, when I began to see more and more closely, I realised they were ‘trucker nappies’, wrapped and thrown once full of wee and poo. Yep. Adult nappies.
We need to give our truckers more time to get where they’re going or pay them more, so bathroom breaks are the norm. Screw Bezos and any person, entity or commercial force that thinks commerce should come at the expense of happiness, dignity and the environment.
Eventually I made it to Ballina, and jumped up on this stone wall at the way into town, and just sat there, drumming up the energy and courage to have a look at my feet.
The photo doesn’t really show you the damage, but rather large blisters had formed on the underside and the heel and the tips of the toes, due to all the friction from soggy socks.
I sat there, just quietly crying to myself (I know, sexy, right ?), thinking of my kids. I think it was about 1pm or so, and I still had a couple of hours to do the remaining 5km (ish) into town proper and hit up a mall that had a mobile phone repair business. I was going slow but pretty sure I could make it on time. Less sure that they could fix my phone before close (it was a Sunday and two days into the New Year).
If I couldn’t get the phone fixed in Ballina, I’d probably be looking at Coffs Harbour as my next opportunity. I was learning not to brood, to be philosophical, take things in my stride.
But I was also pretty sooky that day. Moping. Missing my wife and kids something fierce. So there I was, just sitting, feeling sorry for myself, weeping like I’m at a funeral – and I hear this cheerful, lovable voice say “G’day ! Want a Kombucha ?!”
That was when I met Jo. Jo Good Day. I call her that, even though I’m sure she told me her surname, because I owe her a Good Day.
We became fast friends. Immediate trust and understanding. We sat on that stoney wall in the sunshine, drinking Kombucha from cans and sharing stories, mostly focussed on mine, who I was and why I was dressed like a wannabe homebrand superhero. (To the occasional exclamations like “no shit ?” or “are you kidding me ?”
I’m still in touch with Jo. She’s a bloody wonderful human being.
She’s a bloody dynamo, and later, at points throughout the walk, kind of became “Alfred” to my “Batman”. She’d send me tips on where to walk (some ending in wonderful disaster, haha, more on that later).
When I told her my plan to repair the phone, she explained the shop shut at 3pm and offered to drive me there. When I explained my rules about cars, she offered to take the phone ahead and bully them into fixing it regardless what their schedule looked like. (Haha, she’s a force of nature).
I didn’t hesitate, thanked her, gave her the phone, and got the lay of the land, saying I’d report at the repair shop within the next hour and a half to collect the phone, and if they couldn’t repair it she was going to swing back and let me know. A weight off my mind, and my spirits were already lifting.
I got to the mall, the phone was fixed, and when I paid for it (about a hundred bucks, from memory) they explained that Jo had also bought a really sturdy case for it. What kindness ! The case is wonderful too, it has a clip base you can put it in, really handy. I took a video thanking the phone repair company, and along came Jo with another surprise.
You see, Jo had a work connection to a local motel, favours owed and whatnot, and unbeknownst to me, she had pulled some strings and organised a safe and dry room for me. It was only mid afternoon, but I had a period of rest, access to a laundromat to dry my clothes, and a safe warm haven.
When I told her how grateful I was, how I was touched by her tremendous kindness, she just said “mate, you looked like you needed a Good Day”
That kindness is out there in the world. And it’s also in you. Me. Us. It’s precious beyond anything else. These fools mindlessly chasing cash, power, the trivialities of the world. Willing to hurt, break and take – if there’s an underlying spiritual meaning to our lives, it’s wrapped in kindness.
It elevates us.
And Jo lifted me up. I owe her for that, and I won’t forget my debt. I definitely owe her a good day.
The video below is me streaming from the Motel, and in Day 9 I’ll tell you about the horrible overnight storms (bullet dodged!) and flooding.