Day Seventeen (11 January)

The day of rest at Coffs Harbour made a massive difference – when I left on Day 17 my nagging ankle injury was no longer troubling me. I felt pretty-much great.

(Thank you again, Andrew, Jordan, Scotty and the crew at the Chelsea Motor Inn, Coffs Harbour – for your kindness and hospitality, good on you, mates).

I still hadn’t decided between beach or highway for getting to Port Macquarie.

Because it’s a population centre, I tried to make sure to have the BIG WALK charity banner up when I left Coffs Harbour. Now that I’ve been home for a long time, that weird game of tetris with the banner has slipped from memory, but re-living it now, it was so fun and funny.

Sometimes a high wind – and I’m being buffetted left and right. Other time, shops and awnings, and I have to plan my route ahead, targeting spots where I can weave through with the banner.

Although we still carry the PTSD of it, my sense is we as a society are now trying to put COVID behind us, to recognise the interventions were unsustainable if not actually unsound — but at the time it was still the COVID Apocalypse, and it was an open question whether the Victorian border would be open when I got there.

But as with life – when in doubt: push forward anyway.

It was a pretty oppressively hot day, but I was starting to realise that the road was toughening me up. Even in the hottest parts of the day, I never really worried about the heat (and by the time I got into Victoria I’d become impervious even to the rain, pretty much).

Walking through the suburbs south of Coffs, there was the occasional beep, the occasional wave, but nothing like what happened later. People would still give me these sideways glances as I’d walk past, and I could read their minds plain as day “that guy’s a bloody nutcase”

All good though – they’re probably not far from wrong 🙂

But yeah, these first weeks of the walk, even though there was a groundswell of support and lovely people who reached out to help, it was still a pretty solitary thing.

Walk. Wave. Walk. Smile & Wave. Walk. Rest. Repeat.

There was a great moment leaving Coffs Harbour when I pass this bus stop where an older lady is sitting, and she only glances briefly at me, her radar classifying me as “normal person / safe to ignore”, but as I got within a few steps of her, she gave me a proper look, and let out a startled scream.

I smiled disarmingly, raised my hands, palms outward, “hey it’s OK ! I’m not crazy”

Pause. “Er. Well .. I mean .. not *dangerous*”

And when I said that she burst out laughing, and asked me to rest my pack and say hello, so I sat with her (cars occasionally beeping as they passed) and shared stories. She’d lost her husband (who had fought in the Vietnam conflict) to cancer a few years ago, and was just pegging time, waiting to join him.

(she was a bit shy for a photo, so this is one of me a bit later resting near some roadworks)

This lady, I seem to remember her name was Dot (that’s short for Dorothy, right, like in the Wizard of Oz?) was just living this cycle of days, withering. She’d dealt with her grief, but was scarred by it, and I could tell she was alone and lonely.

She would have been in her mid 80s, I reckon, but we sat there talking about Hope, sharing stories for a good twenty minutes until her bus arrived.

I think we both got something from the talk, more than just a random chat to pass the breeze. I think, at least a little, that we lifted each other up.

I think that’s in us – this capacity to be Fine. Righteous. Good. To Shine. But I do think the world tries to rub it out of us. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep as much of that light and decency in the remainder of my life.

Here’s a bunch of pictures from the days’ walk, then let me tell you about this magnificent specimen I met on the road: Kyah.

OK, now to the right you’ll see a car pulled over on the opposite side of 4 lanes of highway, and a person coming across like a game of Frogger. That’s Kyah.

At the time I was horrified. The idea of someone getting hurt because of my Quest was appalling to me, but I guess I should have a bit more faith in people, as she was smart, agile and cautious.

She clambered over the concrete barrier and came over to my side with a “Hi !!”

(It was instructive though – from that point if ever someone stopped on the other side of the road, I’d try and pre-empt and cross to them)

But yeah, Kyah came over, we had a chat, she showed such enthusiasm and appreciation for what I was doing – and gave me a frozen drink that she’d purchased just for me at Maccas up in Coffs (it was a bit melted, but that beverage tasted like KINDNESS .. well .. sugar .. and KINDNESS). Such a boost.

Thanks, Kyah, mate – good onya !

The day itself was really just a series of long marches under pretty heavy sun. A few hours in the morning, another few hours toward noon. A few hours in the arvo, a few in the evening.

(and in-between stops to rest, enjoy nature – in this case a lovely lush forest – and maybe do a bit of cloudgazing – in this video I think I saw a giant turtle and/or the Starship Enterprise)

When I eventually made it to a town called Macksville, I would soon need to decide whether to continue trying to power down the freeway, or turn for the coast and take a longer and more beautiful road.

The signs were telling me the beach path would add about 25km to my journey overall, but Jye and Julz had described the country so beautifully, I was leaning toward the coastal route (which was the right decision – it was an effing gorgeous part of the journey).

The freeway was … well, nasty.

Nappies wrapped in plastic like lettuce, dead animals, the constant barrage of sound. Sleeping by the freeway was an absolute worst case scenario as far as taking any rest was concerned.

Sure, occasionally there’d be an iffy bridge that you’d feel a bit unsafe crossing, but for the most part it was just the human footprint that made the roads so unpalatable. Garbage. Poo. Dead things.

What I truly hated was all the cans and garbage in pristine forest on remote roads. Still can’t wrap my head around that.

I’d carry my own garbage for 100km (WALKING, mind you) fretting about a place where I can ethically drop it off, when you’ve got people who think it’s OK to throw a few cans of redbull and some half eaten KFC onto the side of the road – or leave a pile of garbage in gorgeous, pristine remote beach rather than take it away in their 4WD. Bastards.

I think we, people I mean, are like the ying-yang symbol, filled with potential for light and shadow, and it’s the societies that we form which push us in either direction – and this happens naturally and organically.

But we do have the strength in us to mindfully make the RIGHT choices. Saying “the world is shit, so I can behave like a shit myself” is slippery thinking, because you’re just adding to the problem that creates your excuse.

Oops, sorry -ramble / rant.

On Day 17, I had no choice but to pitch my hammock by the freeway. I kept walking and walking as the sun was setting, hoping for somewhere better and more viable, but it was just road, road and then more road.

So I bit the bullet and clambered up an embankment, and set myself up for rest. Despite tiredness it was a pretty awful nights’ sleep – just trucks bursting past all night long.

But that’s OK – that which does not kill us ..

… gives us a headache ?