Day Nineteen (13 January)

When I woke and started packing, I realised right away that the wound and the handful of blood the night before had been due to a leech.

Take a look at that creepy little bugger. Alien-like. Questing. Just out to stretch-squeeze-stretch-squeeze until it finds some blood to drink … grrrbrrrrr !

So yeah, the pain in the back, the handful of blood, last night’s bite had definitely been a leech. On waking in the morning, they were all over the place. So quick (very quick!) methodical pack-up and get the hell out of there, cowboy !

(Ok, I’m not a cowboy .. but sometimes .. in that hat … ohh yeah did I feel like saying “howdy ma’am”

I was getting much better and quicker at packing and unpacking the gear, and today it was a bit lighter because (once more) I was running a little low on water.

7 litres was about my limit to carry, as that adds an extra 7kg to ole packeroo.

The area itself doesn’t look that bad, right ?

It’s not far from a river, but on a hill – I think my mistake was that the ground was covered with fallen bark, a layer that would retain moisture underneath, I’m guessing the leeches had a little colony under there.

In any case, back on the road, old fella !

In the back of my mind, I had some concerns about wound infection – not just the bite itself, but my grubby fingers as I’d probed around trying to figure out what was happening – concerns that were shared by my lovely new mates Jye and Julz back at Woolgoolga.

Julz had rang a friend of hers, a nurse who lives in Gladstone, and unbeknownst to me, there were organising a ‘mobile medical clinic’ (meaning her driving out in a 4WD and having a look at my back, maybe cleaning/dressing the wound).

More on that in a bit.

I had a beautiful day in front of me. There might have been a couple of brief showers, but for the most part it was clear blue skies. It was high summer, so pretty hot and dry – but I resisted the heat very well, and could march all day, no worries (I just needed to make sure I was carrying enough water).

Here’s some photos from the morning march.

I feel as though I’m downplaying these long, pretty marches in my rush to finish this job of re-telling, and also to get into some of the moments yet to come – dancing across the Sydney harbour bridge – meeting my mate Einstein and so many others – the parade in Orbost.

But these early walks through road, beach and forest – they were essential. Sometimes lonely, but that loneliness, the physical ordeal, the natural beauty around me – everything was combining to weave this healing spell around me.

Part of this re-telling is in the hopes that it creates some kind of half-arsed roadmap for someone else who is as broken and lost as I was – so I want to make sure I get that across.

But yeah, mid-morning I had glugged the last of my water, and came to a rest-stop, not too far from the Clybucca / Gladstone turnoff.

And I stopped to honour a DAILY DONOR DARE OF DOOOoooOOooM

T Kaz, this absolutely wonderful lady from Melbourne (who became an absolute evil minded genius with some of these DARES) had dared me to wear ribbons in my hair and beard, for 4 hours.

Thing is, I could easily go 4 hours just marching down the road and seeing nobody. It was always my goal to be fair and righteous, especially with the dares, so I went with “indefinitely”

(I think I had a ribbon in my beard on the final day of the walk, months later)

Here’s a picture.

I expect one of two possible responses:

“Holy sweet weepin’ what the f**ck, oh my god, my eyes hurt, stop stop it hurts ! That belongs in a HORROR MOVIE!!!”


“He looks very very pretty”

(In which case YOU probably belong in a horror movie)


But yeah, commitment to the cause and so forth, no superpowers, can’t save the day, but I *can* do silly stuff if it helps get people to drop a few bucks on the charity.

(The Kids’ Cancer Project, by the way – all about paediatric cancer research, softer and more successful treatments for the 950 aussie kids diagnosed every year)

If you want to see that creature actually speak and update on what was going on, you can look at the video to the right. (But viewer discretion advised).

So “Paddy’s Rest Stop” had some amenities, but no drinking water, and I was running dry. No worries, worst case I could go the rest of the day without feeling ill effects, so I’d be able to top up in Gladstone.

So yeah. Keep movin’ old fella. I did have a bit of an adventure a little further down the freeway, and I think I was kinda heroic. Well .. not really. But .. confident. I mean. I had a problem, and I solved it, and I tackled it in a physical way. Hrm. Let me explain, but I actually kind of impressed myself (over something very mundane mind you – but it’s all about context, it was showing me how far I’ve come back after my struggles with cancer and it’s side effects).

You see, I’d been messaging Julz back-and-forth who was organising this friend of hers (a nurse but shy who asked to be kept private) to meet with me on the road to Clybucca.

But, goofy old fella – got distracted and missed the turnoff.

Haha. Miss a turnoff in a car ? Easy.

Miss a turnoff walking ? What the eff is wrong with you, mate ?!

I found myself at an overpass that would join up with the intended road.

The thing is, I had to climb that embankment, and there was a chest high chain fence at the top.

In the pictures, it doesn’t look like much, but I decided to back myself. I chucked the bag over the fence (committing), and clambered over.

This old fella, ravaged by cancer, tired from weeks and days of walking, but I backed myself, and climbed the fence like a teenager.

I didn’t do a good job of recording the moment, but … I suppose it was another of these moments. Teaching me ‘it’s not over yet, Simon’

The road to Clybucca and Gladstone was the old freeway, and there wasn’t really much traffic, so for the most part it was a lovely and peaceful walk.

I was out of water, but not really panicked.

About an hour in, this wonderful nurse pulls up (her teenage L-plate daughter driving) takes a look at the wound on my back, and totally replenishes my water supply (along with some sandwiches,fruit and antiseptic cream for cuts & scrapes).

Such magnificent kindness.

I also met this absolute true blue champion “Chunk” and his son and shared a g’day and a chat over some watermelon, and a couple of very friendly families pulled over for a “what-are-you-up-to?” and a chat.

So I was all stocked up, all healed up, and on my way to the beach, and mentally toughening myself to the fact that I was a couple of months at least from seeing my loved ones.

I really regret not getting more video of some of these characters – especially Chunk.

I should have done little ‘interviews’ asked them about the meaning of life, looked for nuggets of wisdom, funny stories, all that.

I guess I was too wrapped up in my own journey, in that daily process of pushing forward, finding a place to rest, enjoying the sun, the storm, the ordeal, the joys.

The road was, for the most part, gorgeous – like this photo to the right .. just .. it screams “Australia” to me, you know ?

I’ve filled my heart and spirit with those places and people, and I think that nourishment has played a massive part in helping me process my pain and grief and sorrow.

It was kind of like rebirth.

But like all the world, there’s darkness alongside the light.

Clybucca was the scene of Australia’s worst road disaster back in 1989 where two coaches collided and 35 people lost their lives (I passed a sad memorial)

Also throughout the walk, I’d pass businesses that were shut down and boarded over – I think casualties of the COVID countermeasures enacted by our health systems & government. I suppose there was an element of PTSD in a lot of the people I met too, especially those concerned about the vaccines.

As a nation, I think we were still pretty caught up in all of that, right on the cusp of being “over it”. For my part, I firmly put it to one side – it was only a concern for me insofar as whether the Victorian border would still be open when I got there. I refused to worry about the little “c” when I’d survived the big “C”.

A bit north of Gladstone, I found this long country road in-between a couple of farmsteads.

It was highly visible, but it was getting late in the afternoon.

I decided to follow it (as there was a sturdy treeline alongside it, good hammock options), and about a kilometre down the road, I decided not to worry about the visibility and set up there. (Right next to a field of curious cows)

When resting, I had the criteria of:

  • discreet, not visible
  • safe from falling trees and pests
  • behind a barrier or up a hill (safe from car crash if near freeway)
  • away from water source (mozzies and leeches)
  • away from freeway & vehicle noise
  • not exposed to wind-chill

But there were plenty of times where I had to relax one or more of those criteria 🙂