Day Sixty Eight (3 March)

Day 68 of the BIG WALK is one of those surreal moments that I’ll pull down from the shelf of memory every so often and grin to myself, struggling to believe it actually happened.

It was the day that I arrived in Orbost, and thanks to Julie, Peter and Aunty Margaret (RIP), the whole town showed up and gave me a phenomenal reception, it was incredible and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.

But don’t let me jump ahead.

I’d slept in scrub not far from the rest area where I’d had dinner with Julie and Aunty the evening before. There had been *more* rain overnight, but I was able to do a bit of a stocktake in the shelter – although I bit stinky from the days of toil and sleeping rough, I still had more-or-less dry clothing to wear, and enough water and food to get me to Orbost.

It was about 5:30am when I got up, used the amenities, had a quick bite, and gathered my gear together.

I needn’t have started so early – I’d agreed to arrive at Orbost around 3pm, so had a lot of time to go only a little way.

But cancer may have stolen my sleep, but the BIG WALK had won it back, and I was usually deep asleep by 9 or 10pm, and slept solidly through until first sun, and once I was up, I was up – none of my typical groggy spend-an-hour-getting-my-act-together (before I’m actually awake).

The forested area broke into long stretches of un-sheltered farmland, and my main goal was to find a nice spot to rest for a few hours, so I didn’t arrive at Orbost too early and muddle up their hastily laid plans.

I found a little old farm shed just a few kilometres out of town that was perfect, and settled in for a long wait (and an atypical nice long rest).

Resting, musing to myself, in that time I had five separate sets of visitors come up to me, four of whom had brought me lunch, haha.

It’s little wonder, with my chemoradiation thyroid problem, I was gaining weight, even after walking 10-12 hours in a day.

It was also quite wonderful, an outward sign of all the nourishment and kindness I was receiving on the road.

Had some lovely chats, with the property owner, some neighbours, Peter and Julie, all who popped in to check on me, the three hours or so that I needed to wait just breezed on by, if I’m honest.

It felt like a blink of an eye before I had to gather my gear back together and head for town (I was maybe 2 kilometres out of Orbost, so left around 2:30pm, trying to follow instructions to the letter and arrive at 3pm on the dot.

At the outskirts, I was stopped by a lovely local journo (Sam) and gave a lengthy interview, after which the chaos began.

You’ll see from the videos (sorry for the terrible quality, the one to the left is the whole thing, and all the discussion is clear, including the questions with the kids at the end)

I was too much in the moment to do a good job of recording it .. but live and learn.

Peter was ranging ahead, into town, and he kept blowing this magnificent horn like some Mad Viking and yelling “Captain Australia is Here ! Captain Australia is here !”

It was so strange and surreal.

Vehicle escorts from local fire, SES and police, a large group of school children following with me, giggling and waving Australian flags, people coming out of their homes, approaching from the sidewalk, putting donations for the charity into a bucket that Peter and Julie had kindly made up, with all the charity info taped onto the outside.

I’m not sure I remember right, but I think we raised something like $500 in that bucket, by the end of the night.

Walking through town, my big old flag up, not a single bit of fatigue or weariness in me, I felt .. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe.

I felt completely present, in the moment in ways that I seldom was in my everyday day-to-day life. My Quest had awakened me to experience, and that was one of the greatest gifts – and being awake, when things like the Orbost Parade happened, I was alive and open to them and thoroughly relaxed and enjoying.

I’m still not sure whether I deserved the kindness I got, but I’m forever grateful for it. They weren’t exactly celebrating me, I don’t think – but the idea of an Aussie battler, doing something big and brave, the idea of community and rallying together, that idea of Team Straya.

I think with all that covid stuff that everyone had endured, and straight after horrible bushfires, it was great to have a reason to wave some flags and cheer, and people seemed to really be into it.

That’s the message of the walk, I guess. Reasons.

We can give each other reasons.

To hope, to care, to trust, to share.

The Q&A with the smaller schoolchildren at the end was such a delight. They had wonderful questions, like how do I take care of my teeth, have I ever fallen over, did I get bitten by any snakes, did I like going to school.

After we were done, I headed to the local pub (who were kindly putting me up for the night), and cleaned up.

Julie (wonderful person) took some of my filthy clothing to get laundered before the morning, so I just had a relaxing afternoon to socialise – met some wonderful, colourful locals and had some good chats.

Local Bikies were preparing for their annual “Poker Run” a long ride for charity (I think it was the Ronald McDonald House) so the pub was pretty full.

The only dark moment was finding a swastika painted on the back of one of the toilet stalls.

I’m all for forgiveness, for finding light, trust, healing. For being brave, for lifting each other up. I’m all for consensus, finding common ground.

But if you buy into hateful ideology, sorry mate – from Captain Australia to you: pull your head in, don’t be a fuckwit.

There’s no consensus to be built there, it’s a clear case of right and wrong. Stop what you’re doing. Heal yourself and others.

Anyway, had a lovely evening with Peter, Julie and the locals, so many giggles.

At one point I was talking to these young women, and one mentioned her friends who dress up as Avengers, but one calls himself “Captain Australia” and wears a fake afro and an aussie-flag cape.

As a favour to her, I did a full on rant video, expletives (some vile) every third word, which she sent him later, I hope they still giggle over it some times (and that it never shows up online without context, heh).

“You effing imposter you effing C son of a B, youre not effing Captain effing Australia you effing C, thats Me you fake arsed mother effing piece of S … etc etc” It got pretty colourful 🙂

Took an evening drive to an overlook with Julie and Peter, had lovely individual chats with some big hearted locals.

Played some pool. Talked some trash. Had plenty of giggles (and a few beers)

It was a really great evening, the kind that stands out in your memory as an island of warmth and friendship.

Thank you, Orbost.

Thank you, Julie.

Thank you, Peter.

Thank you, Aunty Margaret.

Thank you, everybody.