After a horrible night of non-rest right beside the freeway, I was up at 4:30am, and packing my gear in the earliest pre-dawn light.
Goal for the day was to get past a town called Macksville, which would have me turning off shortly after and heading inland toward Gladstone, Crested Head and some lovely beach and beach-side national park as I pressed down to Port Macquarie.
I was getting plenty of time to think and reflect, and as people were becoming aware of my Quest, I was getting into little roadside conversations that I’d progress whenever I stopped to take a break.
Folks like this lovely bloke Chunk Wade, who wrote to me asking if there was any gear that I needed, any supplies. He was a proud member of the RFB (Rural Fire Brigade) and was eager to meet as I passed through the area (we’ll see him on Day 19).
So up in the morning, bag on my back and bags under my eyes. Took my medicine (magnesium for muscle cramps, multivitamin for general wellbeing, thyroid medicine for the radiation damage).
As you’ll see in the video, I was reflecting very heavily on HOPE and how essential it is in a human life. The fuel that allows us to move forward.
I didn’t know or realise, but in these sermons, I was giving hope to others. At first when people would say that .. I struggled to believe it. Me ? I’m not special ? I thought they were just being polite, being kind.
But the thing is, I don’t need to be special, that’s the gorgeous thing about hope and the higher and finer side of humanity – we can inspire each other and lift each other up.
I left the stormy weather behind me, and although people would show shock and concern when they saw me walking through the heat in all the gear, I actually tolerated it really well.
It was high summer, but the superhero costume protected me from sunburn (except for lips and lower face and these weird little bits around the eyes and on my fingertips).
I was carrying a solid 5 litres of water per day (and drinking heavily), so it was adding a good 5kg or so to my pack weight, although getting lighter as I continued.
If I could do it again, I’d stop and visit every little town along the way, be less focused on the road.
But I certainly did have some strange discoveries and encounters by the side of the freeway !
Check this out:
A crab ! A crab ?!
Big old snake – no surprises there – but a fully formed roo skeleton ! Morbid, sure, but I loved finding that. It was just so fascinating to me, I felt like a paleontologist discovering a new species of dinosaur 🙂
By late morning, I was plodding along the motorway when I saw a familiar sign poking up through the trees.
Timing was good too, I’d drunk most of my water, was down to less than a litre (carried in the canteen on my belt).
I went in and bought an iced coffee and a muffin, and purposefully sat eating slowly (because I was right beside a power outlet and leeching some battery).
That said, I eat like an old bird at the best of times.
Thanks to the chemoradiation damage, I no longer make saliva, so I have to pick at my food and over-chew mouthfuls, washing down with water as much as possible.
But ahh, after a hot morning – that iced coffee was a taste of heaven.
After my stop, I pressed on down the highway until about 2pm where the sun did become a bit much and I decided on another rest.
There was nowhere pleasant to stop, no bridges, so I pulled out the hammock and strung it up on a slight hill to the side of the road and stretched out in the hammock using the tarp as a bit of portable man-made shade.
For the most part, mood was solid, and I was starting to enjoy being out in the wide world.
Today though, I had this song relentlessly pushing into my mind. “My Happiness”, by Powderfinger. I’d be walking along singing it softly to myself, but my throat would get caught on one particular lyric “How can I do this to you right now ? Youre over there when I need you here”, and I’d start crying to myself, thinking of my kids.
On the road, I heard from my friend Geoff, who had organised for his workplace (Lizard Island Resort) to donate an all expenses stay for the charity to auction off.
So I’ve been fielding stuff like that as I walk, in-between bursting into sobs as I sing about my kids.
Haha, I can only imagine the thoughts of people driving past at precisely those moments. Sobbing, laughing, crying, singing, talking to someone in my earbuds (making it look to drivers-by that I was animatedly talking to MYSELF).
Even now that makes me smile.
The afternoon was spent in one long, hot march, through some lovely farm country, past Macksville, and ultimately into a more heavily wooded area where I decided to pitch camp.
Sitting comfortably at home, it’s really hard to try and describe those long marches through heat and storm.
I find myself either being reductive – not capturing the ordeal of it, or the beauty, or missing the profundity – the sheer spiritual magnitude of the experience.
I just have to hope that at least some of it comes across in the videos, if nothing else I certainly did go on a few ‘old man rambles’
The funny expression in this photo is because the sign on the bridge reads “COCKBURN”.
Old fool 🙂
Throughout the afternoon, that song “My Happiness” was pretty relentlessly going through my mind.
I was preserving battery, so I never actually played it – but it was going over and over and over in my head.
It was a kind of torment, poking at the wound (being apart from my wife & children)
Be warned this video to the left has crying AND singing – I was under a bridge and in one of those moments and I realised I had an obligation to try and capture it – to share it – even if it was for my future sons to see, they might be looking at the walk twenty years from now.
I wanted them to see that I ached for them, that Dad missed them and loved them with all that was in him.
My campsite for the night was in a wooded area just across a beautiful river, the natural beauty was very pleasant, and I was able to go down a little side road and get a bit away from the freeway.
I didn’t check carefully enough for leeches though. One got into the back of my overcoat, and was relentlessly feeding off me while I did this live stream (where I explain EVERYTHING, the whole story from beginning to end).
At the end of the stream, I was looking at a daily donor dare of doom, when I felt a sharp sting, and reached behind my back (crushing the leech, unknowingly).
The palm of my hand was full of blood !
I didnt know what had happened, had I been bitten by a snake ?! I was able to take some photos (mind you I was balanced in a hammock, photographing my own back)
It was actually a pretty grave concern, what if it were a poisonous spider or I had some kind of adverse reaction to whatever it was.
I decided on a course of action.
I really didn’t want to panic my wife, so I chose Chunk Wade, this lovely man from the local RFB. I messaged him, explained that I had been bitten by something but was feeling OK.
However I would message him again in 30, 60 & 90 minutes. If he didn’t receive those messages, then I may be in medical distress and require help (and I sent specifics on where I was).
I thought it was the smartest way to deal with the situation – and in any case all was OK – the following day I found the ground around the campsite littered with leeches.
I couldnt tell you why – it was high ground and not too moist.
But yeah, ‘storm in a teacup’.
All the blood was just the accumulation from a half hour or so of sucking away – and the pain was when I accidentally ripped it off my skin. (And then crushing it spraying blood everywhere).
It was an important lesson though, and from that point had me more vigilantly checking for pests and hazards prior to setting up for rest. (And avoiding setting up after dark if at all possible).