Day Five (30 December)

Having crossed into New South Wales, and already processed large chunks of grief and sorrow, I was pretty light spirited as I started out on Day 5.

I woke at 4:30 and packed up camp. I had camped in a little patch of scrub by the side of the road, and I woke to find beer bottles scattered around – so it was possibly a spot for teen drinking. That said, in the days and weeks that followed, I saw so many roadside bottles, so much garbage tossed from a car – and into pristine wilderness, mind you. The road was coming off a freeway, so maybe people were pegging bottles into the scrub before or after a drive.

I’m disgusted by that. I’d carry my own garbage for a hundred kilometres (walking, mind you), rather than show such contempt for myself, the people around me, and this beautiful country we live in.

My goal was to spend the night at or after a town called Pottsville, sleep near the beach and strike for Byron Bay in the morning.

I began to see that distance was pretty deceptive. A straight run down the freeway in the car, and it was 28km to Pottsville, but even following the freeway but on-foot, you have to take winding diversions to get to access points, making it more like 30+.

But I didn’t want to walk down the freeway, I wanted more of the ocean, so the actual distance looping out to the sea and following down through Cabarita Beach and Kingscliff comes in closer to 38km as I retrace it in google maps. So it probably wasn’t just interruptions slowing me down, I was walking longer than I thought.

But I was also beginning to accept that none of it really mattered. I was becoming resolute. I’d get there, no matter how long it took.

My problem wasn’t the physical distance, the ordeal of the pack – it was the psychological impact of being away from my wife and sons. It was starting to do my head in a bit, I was thinking of them constantly, relentlessly.

I needed to cross the Tweed River, and found a little access path up to the freeway bridge, which thankfully had a pedestrian path.

The sunrise was gorgeous, I was streaming and trying to explain what I was doing, and why, what was happening to me.

I didn’t realise until later that when setting up camp, I’d lost a bracelet my wife gave to me before we married. She made it by hand and it’s precious to me. I was too far ahead to turn back (but I did find it again about 90 days later)

Crossing the Tweed River, the sunrise was just plain gorgeous. Sights like this were waking me up spiritually, reminding me that I was alive, viable, and that the world contained beauty. Even if it contained suffering and sorrow, it was beautiful too. I was alive, and I wasn’t supposed to be. This was a gift, and I had to celebrate it and be mindful what I did with it.

I was also starting to respect and appreciate that people were watching. My audience was no longer my children and I was no longer speaking to them from beyond the grave – it was sinking in that people saw merit, real merit in what I was trying to do.

This made me more mindful when I’d try to articulate my goals – which was good. It meant that later, when I had to explain myself on camera, I had clarity and poise. I knew what I wanted to say and why. Thanks for that 🙂

After crossing the bridge, I stopped at Chinderah service station, and bought a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I’d lost in the overnight camp (along with my bracelet! I was still quite gutted about that).

I also purchased an iced coffee which I ate with leftover chow mein purchased in Tweed Heads the night before. Every morsel tasted a wee bit like BUSHMANS (the insect repellent I used to keep mozzies from tormenting me when it was wet).

People came and went, and it was high covid paranoia time, so I was getting more than the usual amount of stares, but was becoming oblivious to it. My main objective was to be respectful to all wherever I went.

It was a pleasant morning, albeit a bit rainy. In the weeks and months that followed, the rain became a minor inconvenience – even walking through horrible storms was something I took in my stride (especially after I was gifted my Magic Malacoota Coat).

But this was my first taste of walking through a day of on-again-off-again rain, and I laugh now, at my concerns about managing my gear and my health. I didn’t know it, but I was walking into horrible, driving foul weather, fueled by an offshore cyclone. From Byron Bay through until Coffs Harbour was pretty much a constant switch between grueling heat and driving rain. (I loved it)

Mid-morning, I arrived in Kingscliff, and decided to fix up my flag, which was torn in two places. It was a delicate operation, and since chemotherapy my eyesight and hearing have deteriorated, so you can imagine the amused glances from people as this chubby, aged boofhead dressed as a superhero is sitting outside public toilets staring with intense concentration as he tries to thread a needle.

Yep, a funny/tragic moment, one of many to come.

Once the flag was all fixed up, I set it up skyward and continued down the road to Cabarita Beach, Hastings Point and on to Pottsville.

Throughout the long day of walking, people kept approaching, most of whom had already seen it on the news. Originally I had no intention of handling cash – I figured all donations would be online, but some of these people pressed money onto me.

Old boofhead that I am, when I came to process cash donations, almost every time I’d forget to untick the box on the charity website that asks you to cover the merchant/credit card fees. Say for example throughout the day I received $80 in cash, I’d go onto the website and process them as roadside cash donations, pay the $80 onto our family credit card, but forget to untick the box and get hit with an extra $8 or so in merchant fees. Haha, so I think I made a bunch of extra involuntary donations myself, just from being an old scatterbrain.

But the cash donations were lovely, and soon taught me an ethic that resonated throughout the big walk: never discourage kindness.

Just find ways to pay it forward.

I met a lovely lady at Hastings Point. I can’t remember her name, but she had just suffered a horrible family loss – she was there on holiday to see her sister, but her brother in law had died the night prior. In our strange, surreal situation, we sat together, and I was able to give her some comfort. Somewhere along this part of the walk I dropped my phone, cracked the screen, and the sound never quite worked right after that.

So it was a pleasant day, the first real day of my Quest, when I started to allow myself to just drift into the daily task of walking, let go of past toxic feelings like grief, fear and sorrow, and start to properly share with you, beginning a conversation that for me became incredibly real and important. I started to get great waves of personal fulfillment from the feedback that what I was doing was helping other people come to terms with their own darkness.

After Hastings Point, I pulled off the road and hit the beach, and that very moment an intense storm struck. I tried to share it in a livestream (video to the right).

I am talking about a scene in Forrest Gump, where Lieutenant Dan makes his peace with God, and my mouth muddles it up and I say “Forrest Bump” joking that it’s a funny name for a bad porno starring a sexy simpleton 🙂

The storm was intense but didn’t last long – I was able to pack up my gear and follow this long and gorgeous path the rest of the way to Pottsville.

The most annoying thing about the weather was it’s “shit or get off the pot” vibe. It felt like it wanted to intensely storm, and it kinda did here and there, but then would back off to a drizzle again for an hour.

I took the opportunity when there was a break in the weather to take photos and video.

The weather was still pretty grim when I got to Pottsville, and I was like a soaked rat. I met this lovely young family on holiday, who gave me the lay of the land, explaining that there was a park with a large shelter that had …. TA DA! … electricity !.

My concern was that with all the grim weather, my solar solution was dead in the water – and I needed battery to stay in touch and document the walk, so I headed there right away.

This was when I met a lovely homeless couple, which was strange because I’d just been talking about homelessness and my hopes of not getting fined by coastal rangers when sleeping rough.

The couple (Heath & Lisa) greeted me. Heath with enthusiasm, Lisa reserved.

I could tell almost immediately that she had a victim mentality, and expected only bad from people and the world. Her past experiences had taught her that, and it made me sad for her. I like to think I won her over, because she lost her reservations about me sleeping there, by the end. They also had a lovely dog, a border collie called Justice.

Here’s a couple of videos taken in livestream. I like live streams because it’s not a cynical, manipulative thing – it’s a snatch of life .. I suppose you could rehearse them and do it schmick, but for me the only way to do it was to service my over-riding goal – stop thinking and talk true.

So I honoured a DAILY DONOR DARE OF DOOM (to scull a beer – the burp at the end completely unplanned), and then settled in, chatting with Heath and Lisa, sharing stories, and listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival on their radio (after that Foo Fighters).

At first Lisa was standoffish, but she warmed to me. Never quite lost her watchfulness, but I think that (and am touched by) she saw that I wasn’t a predator, even though she generally expected that – especially from men.

I didn’t really take photos or video – although I should have, and they would have allowed it I think.

The thing is, life had taken so much from this couple already. Heath was a labourer who had suffered injuries and become addicted to pain killers. Lisa was clearly a victim of some kind of domestic abuse, and found Heath on the road. They were sweet, kind and slightly broken people, and I loved sharing with them, but it was for US .. nobody else. I didn’t want to betray them or invade their privacy.

One thing I wish I did photograph or video was my cold river-side shower. I was manky and gross and needed to wash, and there were these showers near a small riverside pier. I stripped naked and showered (SO BLOODY COLD!) only to glance up toward the end and notice a bunch of blokes watching from the other side of the river, drinking beer. (Haha)

As fate would have it, I didn’t sleep there, nor did I do a great job of capturing the subsequent adventure.

This new guy came along. Lanky, twitchy. Seemed nice enough, but Lisa became really volatile and agitated again, expecting her man (Heath) to deal with the situation.

I could tell what was happening, but didnt know how to fix it.

So I started saying “It’s time for me to move on, as Heath and Lisa were here first” (something that clearly Lisa wanted), but this newcomer didn’t take the hint. That created a dilemma for me .. stay and try and help the volatile situation, or leave in case it helps even if just a bit.

Heath approached me (lovely man, but he was getting twitchy now too), and said “You don’t have to leave, anyone fucks with us, I cut their throat and stab ’em six times”. He was saying this intently to me, but I think it was intended for this other guy.

I wasn’t scared or intimidated, just sad. This is the other side of it. Homelessness, I mean. Feeling unsafe. Untrusted and untrusting. When I was hanging out with Heath and Lisa, I left my gear with them, and they also asked me to watch theirs (while showering) .. this mutual trust was lovely, and I’d honestly rather give trust and be wrong than deprive someone deserving (or live in a world where we are all unworthy).

So all I have is this one picture of the road out of town. It was dark – pitch black even, but there was a big full moon hanging low in the sky.

Walking, it started to rain again, and I felt utterly alone.

But this little part of me, this small part inside me .. unfurled it’s wings, shook off the dust and the sorrow, and sang YOURE ALIVE AND YOU ARE RIGHTEOUS.

Dark. Cold. Raining. But I’d rather stride off into that unknown than make that poor woman afraid. I think it was decisions like that which started to give me back my self respect, after a long and hollow period of kowtowing to cancer. In time, I would fall in love with myself.

Thank you Lisa.

The night ended in pure, absolute stupidity. I knew it was stupid, but I did it anyway. The rain got heavier and I became too eager to camp. So I clambered up a roadside embankment and started looking for viable trees.

Thing is, there was thick, waist-high grass, and a non-viable scrubby trees, roots and viney bits. I lit my torch, but yeah, I had a fall. Full on headlong. Haha. And I was laughing before, during and after.

Because even if fate had it in for me – if I was doomed to die a horrible death, I was taking the steering wheel and leaning into it joyfully.

I eventually found a good tree, set up the hammock and was asleep about 45 seconds after clambering inside. It was maybe 1am.