Day Eleven (5 January)

According to the map, Day Eleven was a 43.3km walk, mainly along busy freeway. By the end it felt A LOT longer than that, I had to dig in pretty deep.

After packing up camp at Cypress Hill (insane in da membrane), I set off in my blue wet-weather uniform, with my military overcoat. I hadn’t yet gotten to wrapping my pack in the waterproof poncho, so when it rained, my backpack also got a bit wet & extra heavy. Thing is even the saturated clothing weighed me down. I just hadn’t become experienced enough to factor this stuff in, but worse, I wasn’t even focussing on it. I was working hard – not smart.

When I set out, my feet were already damaged, here’s some pictures taken throughout the day – you’ll note the blisters and peeling skin, and the big, firm blister forming on my heel. (Sorry it’s gross)

Sorry, I know these are kinda disgusting, but I wanted to show that I was pushing forward through a somewhat harsh ordeal.

In these early streams you can hear me talking naively about my plans to visit population centres like Coffs Harbour and “hang out” and try to “drum up some business” for the charity.

The weather was still pretty constant – rain, rain and then maybe a little more rain. But for the most part, although I was uncomfortable and it made the walking harder – I was also able to ignore my pain.

I was learning to accept that pain comes, whether we are ready for it or not. But it’s temporary and if we knuckle down we can get through it.

The highway was not really very pleasant, just trucks, trucks and more trucks, but it was a Quest, not a Holiday. Even so, I think on one level, a higher spiritual level, I was drinking that in – the trees and the rain, I was out in the world. I was healing.

I was enjoying the strange little discoveries I’d make on the side of the freeway. We already know about ‘trucker lettuce’, one of the less pleasant ones, but sometimes I’d find random and strange things that I’d enjoy puzzling over.

No mystery about this one – “Itsa Mario!”, I just hope the kid who lost it didnt miss it too much.

I think it was getting toward 7pm when I arrived at Maclean (we’ll get there later), but if that’s so, then it would mean I walked the 43km over a span of about 14 hours, as I’d had an early start. Now, I never was a mathamagician, but that tells me a pace of approximately 3km per hour (factoring in breaks – or if you allow for 2 hours of breaks and 12 hours walking, 3.5km per hour).

Not ideal, but with the pack and the occasional g’day, not terrible. I guess I’m trying to convince myself that I worked HARD that I made an effort worth respecting.

I’m not even sure why that matters.

I guess I’m invested in the idea that I did something hard, something righteous, that I earned my healing, and it was right to lean into the ordeal of it instead of enjoy the ride.

So a hodge podge mix of walking, resting and bad decisions 🙂

For example, in my pack I found some crumbed prawns I’d bought at the chinese shop in Tweed Heads (now .. what ? … five or six days ago ?) I was on protein bars and water, so I decided it was a smart idea to eat them.

(They were quite gross so I had to spit the mouthful out and give them to the birds)

I was having to carry extra water, because many of the amenity spots had water that was not safe for human consumption. That and the heavier pack meant increased labour just to keep moving. But as I was well into the second week, I started to feel myself .. getting stronger.

My goal in the days march was to get to (or beyond) a town called Maclean, then on to Grafton and Coffs Harbour in the days to follow.

Often I’d stop to answer texts, calls and messages, or to have (if there was good service) facetime calls with my wife and kids (those were both a joy and a torture).

Occasionally I’d come to bridges that really were a bit iffy – and have no choice but to scurry across in the bike lane. I did try to take a video (see left) to give an impression what it was like.

The roads in toward Maclean got MUCH worse. It was bridge after bridge, over low-set swampy farmland. Sometimes the side path was as narrow as a foot across, and there was heavy traffic with really big trucks. The gust of wind as they passed was fantastic.

I learned to stop when a truck was coming toward me, turn my back to the road, and hold onto the bridge railing or guard rails or whatever there was.

Not just for my own safety (to stop me wobbling or falling in the gust), but also to clearly show the oncoming trucker that I wasn’t volatile – they didn’t need to overreact or be concerned. I would be respectful and still until they had passed me.

When I was on that dangerous stretch of highway past Maclean, I got a call from Jo (from Ballina, playing Alfred to my Batman) saying she’d spoken to the owners of a caravan park in town who had said I could pitch my hammock up between a couple of trees on their property.

Honestly, I was bloody exhausted, but the promise of water and possibly power had me pushing through.

It was always the last 5km or so that were the hardest. Time would stretch out, pain would double, and I really treasure those difficulties, because they put me in a position of knuckling down.

You see, I’d given so much to cancer, including my self respect. But I was learning that I can be STRONG, that I can push through where you wouldn’t expect it. That I can do the right thing, the RIGHTEOUS thing. I was learning to respect myself again (which in time led to love)

The caravan park owners were simply lovely. The “Maclean Riverside Caravan Park”, and the best thing of all was the laundry amenities – even though it was late and the laundry was technically closing, they let me get a load of washing and drying done.

But the absolute kindness was when they came and found me later (hobbling around, chafed and sore, haha), and gave me keys to a cabin, saying that a nasty storm was coming, and they really would prefer me to be sleeping indoors.

It was marvelous hospitality, and the gratitude that I felt toward them and Jo was immensely spiritually nourishing.

That’s about it for Day 11, except to recognise that after cancer, I’d get maybe 2 to 3 hours of continuous sleep. After a week of my Quest, I was winning back a good nights’ sleep. I slept like a baby at the Maclean Riverside Caravan Park, and woke in the morning ready to hit the road for Grafton.