Day Nine (3 January)

Let’s get this out of the way up-front and declare that Day 9 was an absolute cracker.

If it were a straight run down the freeway, I only traveled about 30km, but it would have been significantly longer than that, and over rough and winding ground, through paddock and swamp. It was a marvelous adventure and I have Jo (see meeting her on Day 8) to thank for it.

After my first night of hospitality (thanks again, Jo & Hi-Craft Motel Ballina), my plan had been to head to a ferry that operates from South Ballina and could get me across the inlet to continue down the coast.

However, there were tremendous thunderstorms overnight, and some mild to moderate flooding. I headed for the ferry, but I soon learned I’d need to change plans.

In the live streams, I was getting more relaxed, it was now becoming more of an honest conversation. The practice in talking about what mattered was invaluable though, because it prepared me for later media interest, and also it helped me to personally better understand the strange and creaky gears & levers inside me that drove my decision-making.

I felt that the people watching were riding on my shoulder, and the streams became a kind of therapeutic conversation (one that worked both ways, apparently! I loved it when people would tell me they were getting hope or healing or inspiration from the walk).

I made my way to the Burns Ferry road, but it was impassable on foot (well, not without galoshes, and it was almost certain the ferry was shut down).

So, okelly-dokelly-dee, I decided to divert inland, but I had reservations about more walking on the freeway. Sizing up my options, I made a mindful choice to take the ‘road less traveled’. This was the first moment when I finally got past that “gotta get home!” drive, that aching to hug my wife & kids, and realised I was completely invested in this Mad Quest, the reward being hope & healing.

I had songs like “Aint No Mountain High Enough” going relentlessly through my brain when walking (strangely a LOT of Motown), but despite the weather it was pleasant. I was getting into some genuinely rural land – swampy lowland west of Ballina, and finding a lot of natural beauty to enjoy.

Little did I know I was about to get a whole lot more of it, when the road up and disappeared 🙂

Incidentally, the top two pictures are of bridges I crossed en route – I’m 90% certain one of them is the bridge I slept under as a child (when I walked as a boy I woke up under a bridge west of Ballina and had a large carpet snake curled up in the crook of my back).

I think there was a touch of discovery in this stretch of walk. Faith. I was learning to have a little.

Faith in myself, faith in others, faith in the world at large.

You see, Jo was sending me these little texts that in NO WAY corresponded to what Google Maps was telling me. Turn left. Second right. Cross a bridge. Jump. Cough. And I surrendered and went with it, and I am so glad I did.

Because I ended up here.

Surrounded by farms, the road came to a dead end. The only way to continue was a small road, just dirt and puddles, that ran along the property line of one of the farms. It looked more like a driveway than a road.

“Are you sure, Jo ?!”, I asked.

“Yep mate, that road runs directly to so-and-so and if you turn left you’ll wind up on such-and-such”

“OK, Jo.”

Haha, so I turned down the dirt road, and it up and disappeared, becoming a grassy field, and eventually a fence. After that, a swamp. After that, a mountain .. well .. a hill.

I lost service and was completely incommunicado. Rather than backtrack, I decided to just keep going west and have an Adventure.

It was a lovely walk, at one point I came to a swampy bit and had to jump from patch to patch to get through, then there was a hill through a little patch of glorious rainforest.

I think my favourite part was when I came out to a cattle paddock, and a big herd of cows came galloping at (and then past) me. I don’t think they were used to strangers.

Also quite loved the way stumps were carved to look like Ned Kelly.

After a brief chat with my new bovine friends, I came to a more significant dirt road, which led me back out toward the freeway. I had to jump a gate to continue, and I need to say how great that felt. A year ago the idea of me jumping anything was absurd. I was utterly broken, radiation induced thyroid damage, age, crippling sorrow. I weighed 140kg ! And here I was jumping farm fences like Huck Finn.

This video captures the spirit of it – but be warned, there’s singing.

Also, you can’t see them very well, but this is the herd of cows that galloped at (and then past) me.

It was a bloody amazing moment – and yes, they were full throttle galloping at me. Something tells me they weren’t used to humans wandering through their domain, let alone boofhead superhero types.

I wish I’d caught it, I wish overall that I had been better at catching these moments. But either way it was a fantastic memory.

I really enjoyed that adventure. I was starting to relax and enjoy just being out in the green. It was a lovely experience and I’ll forever be grateful to my friend Jo for giving it to me (on purpose or by accident is an open question!)

And what do you know, as came to this little cattleyard, and was attacked by the herd of cows, I had reception again and was able to stream up (above). Wonderful thing, in the stream someone commented that their family owned a hotel/motel at Broadwater willing to offer me another safe place to rest.

First though let me drop in pictures of the friends I made during the day.

Broadwater was still 15km from where I was and it was getting late in the day, so I needed to get a leg on. It would be a few hours march, so I decided to get stuck in.

On the road I met a photographer, who I met up with the following day near Woodburn. Lovely bloke, but more on that tomorrow. I also bumped into the owner of Ballina Honey (Sheer Falls) and his son

They gave me a jar of honey, which – when mixed with my canteen water, made it really delicious. (And no doubt a little boost to energy as well)

Since chemoradiation, I’ve always struggled with dry mouth, so I have to drink water pretty much constantly. A dollop of honey turns it into a treat.

That march down the old highway was lovely, and my spirits were buoyed up from my forest/farm/swamp adventure. The sunset was glorious. I was realy ‘feeling it’. I was tired, so tired, and yet at the same time I was joyfully alive in a way that I had not been for a long time, if ever.

My pilgrimage was working. I didn’t know for sure that it would, but I kept my hope burning, and I was learning hope was EVERYTHING.

But amidst the beauty, ugliness. You’ll see the vandalism – always vandalism and refuse, even in places of great natural beauty. Please – don’t break, take, destroy. Don’t hurt, even if you were hurt yourself. I think to move forward as a species, we need to move past our personal pain, our individual limitations, and start to lift each other up. Create, don’t destroy. Purify, don’t contaminate.

I arrived at the Broadwater Hotel/Motel just on dark. The lady operating it was bloody phenomenal. She’d prepared a meal for me (prawns and rice) and was so kind and welcoming, and supportive of my Mad Quest. I think the motel may have gone under in the floods that came a couple of months later (I was in Victoria by then), I hope they’re doing OK.