Day Fifty Six (19 February)

I woke up at 5am on the morning of Day 56. I’d slept deeply, and had vivid, almost apocalyptic dreams. I think I was in Hawaii or some other mountainous island, and desperately fleeing from rising floodwaters. People were panicked and fighting for access to cars to escape as the water relentlessly rose. It felt like an End of World level event. I normally forget my dreams upon waking, but this one was intense and so vivid.

But when you’re asleep at 9pm, 5am really isn’t that early – I woke refreshed, if a bit shaken by the dream. Packed up my gear (at this point with speed and expertise) and got on the road.

But as they say, every army marches on it’s stomach – and thanks to my dear mates ‘The Cobargo Ferals’, I was well set with fruit from the day before.

Gobbled that down, then had to climb a tremendous, long & winding hill, through an area that just two years before had been completely devastated by fire.

A lot of the country I was about to pass through was like that, and I found the skeletal trees quite haunting, especially in morning mist.

My broad goal was to set myself up to arrive in Bega on Sunday (the following day) as some wonderful people from the local radio stations (2EC and Power FM) had asked me to come and visit, do a live interview, and pop in at the Bega Fair. I’d promised to be there no later than lunchtime Sunday, so the old fella needed to get a leg on.

(In retrospect, I regret this half-arsed planning and rush mentality, I missed so much of the country and people – I wish I’d spent more time in every town and place I passed through, arranged things better).

Cobargo is a great example of that regret.

I spent maybe an hour there, stopping in for breakfast, chatting with some locals. I’d had an invitation to come stay at the pub, and I did pop over for a chat, but it was little more than a quick G’day, How-you-doing-gotta-run.

I should have spent at least a half day there, if not longer. Ravaged by bushfire, the town had a strange feel to it, a kind of battle-scarred hopefulness.

There were stories there for me to listen to, and i caught some of them – but I didn’t linger long enough, just had that urgency, that need to move on (too soon).

But I did stop at the “Shake Up Cafe” for breakfast, and I’m glad I did – the family who run it are just plain lovely, I’m very grateful for their hospitality.

(And the brekky roll was pretty bloody yummy, I tell you!)

I can’t remember the little girl’s name, but I think it was her birthday, and I had an unopened bag of lollies just given to me on the road which I was able to pass along to it’s rightful home.

(That’s them to the right)

What a bloody lovely family, a bloody lovely town. As with many other places I visited, my main regret is not spending more time there.

Cobargo had a unique flavour to it.

Ravaged by fire, feeling somewhat unsupported by government, and yet at the same time, there was a feeling of renewal and regrowth.

It felt .. deliberate, somehow. Purposeful.

It’s hard to put your finger on something so ‘vibey’ and intangible, but it felt like there was some unspoken agreement in the town to ‘get on with it’ to move forward.

I felt a parallel with my own suffering and current Quest.

But I powered through with just a few quick g’days. I had to get to Eden on time, I’d promised.

But I’d also promised to visit a little town called Quaama. A Mum there had written to me saying her kids would just love to met me.

It was a slight detour off the main road, but of course I legged it there, looking forward to meeting this family and saying a quick hello to the children.

On the way there, I passed this ‘Bredbatoura Rd”

Old fool that I am, I immediately read that as ‘bread butterer’, as in a road dedicated to people who butter their bread.

(I thought that was marvelous wit at the time, although I’m less impressed now)

It was a nice, hot day, and I saw two more redbelly black snakes slithering dozily along in the roadside grass, but we steered clear of each other.

(I felt protected since my ceremonial welcome)

On the road, I had the pleasure of bumping into Mandy, Ben & Ella from Tuross Head. They were off for a weekend of camping and fishing at some beautiful beach spot somewhere.

I couldn’t wrap my head around it, honestly – they live in such an utterly beautiful place, so to take a break they’ll go and do the same kind of fun things like swimming and fishing at some other utterly beautiful place.

(But I think I might just be a little bit jealous. It was a pleasure to bump into them again)

Eventually .. the Quaama turn off.

I live-streamed my arrival, the video is below. I also tried to explain that feeling of security and watchfulness I had, like the land was protecting me.

As I was streaming away, I see two kids charging down the middle of the street at me, yelling and waving.

First impulse .. double take .. “who me ?”

Then I scooted toward them and we collided – and I had the joy of meeting Adam and Josh.

They led me to a lovely picnic the towns-folk had organised. It really was gorgeous. The pictures and video should give you a solid idea of what it was like.

Quaama though .. it had a different feel to Cobargo, you could see something in people’s eyes, almost like PTSD.

The feeling was confirmed when I got to chat with the brave heroes from the local rural fire brigade.

They’d lost at least two people in the bushfires, and some subsequent – to health issues, and in one sad case .. suicide.

The community felt .. battered.

In my life, I’ve known people who suffered from domestic violence, I’ve had dogs that were rescued from bad situations too – and there’s that same .. flinching, that slightly doomed resolve. It’s like the visible symptom of hope withering away.

Quaama was lovely, and when we met Lily and the other kids, it was bubbling with mirth, but when I had the chance to speak to some of the locals, it left me with a sense that the fires had left a profound mark on them.

My heart goes out to them.

I also got to see Letitia again, and a brighter and more sunshiney person you’ll never find.

So it certainly isn’t all doom and gloom.

Leaving Quaama, I still had about 30km to get to Bega (I’d promised to be there for the fair on Sunday), so I set out very much with a ‘hoof it, old fella’ mentality.

Later in the afternoon, in the shadow of Mumbulla Mountain (son of Gulaga and a cultural place of transition and healing), I met this absolutely wonderful family.

They had put up a sign. They invited me to stay.

And you know what ? I almost said no.

In fact, I did, but their disappointed “are you sure?” really got to me.

They’re a private family, it doesn’t feel right to go into detail on that long evening of fellowship, but as soon as I stepped into that place, I knew I was there for a reason.

Knowing their preference for privacy, I’ll just say that I pretty much fell in love with that family.

How can that be ?

I can’t explain it. You see, the father – he had some life lessons for me, and they were given with such earnestness, sincerity and wisdom – I just had to open myself up and let the lessons wash over me.

In indigenous culture, Mumbulla is a place of healing, and also a place where young boys transition into manhood.

I think when I was there I just attuned to that. In absorbing the lessons this lovely, great man (let’s call him Sensei) had for me, I guess I just lowered all defenses and opened myself up completely.

Maybe even for the first time in my life ?

I think I left those last little unwanted pieces back at Mumbulla.

The unprocessed grief, the resentful greed, the feelings of isolation and estrangement (from myself).

I think some of those last bits of pus from old and unhealed wounds did leak out from me.

Genuinely a place of healing. I’ll carry love for those people and that place for the rest of my days.

I know I haven’t written that very well and it probably comes across a little bonkers – but after 50 years of living, the absolute gift, the reward for my Quest, was that I was meeting people who were helping me to fall in love with myself.

Slept like an absolute baby, and rose early for a nice 20km hike with Sensei 🙂