Day Sixty Seven (2 March)

Day 67 was a long and solitary day on the winding road to Orbost. I met Peter (a wonderful local man who was instrumental in arranging the reception I received) in the morning, and Julie and Aunty Margaret in the evening.

I learned that Aunty passed on a couple of months ago, the cancer claimed her life, so let me start with a little tribute I made to her, in thanks for her kindness and sharing when we met on the road on Day 67.

As you can see in the video to the right, I was woken quite early (5:30am) by a riot of kookaburras (yep, I checked, collective noun is ‘riot’).

On average, I was usually up at first light, on the road sometime around 6am, but on a few occasions I needed to pack up in the dark.

I didn’t like doing it though – if you can’t see what you’re doing it’s just unnecessary risk – so I just spent a half hour or so laying there, giggling along with the birds.

Once the sun was up, I packed everything up (I was pretty quick and skillful by this point) and was soon on the road.

I had my little stash of protein bars (I’d been carrying them for ages, but hadn’t really needed to touch them because people kept giving me food), it was nice to finally gobble one down, reducing the weight carried by a little.

Funny thing is, a half hour I met Peter, and he brought me some breakfast. In retrospect I probably could have made it a rule to only eat what I’m given or can scavenge.

As I got out onto the road, I heard a tree come down, a big one, with a massive crash, like the crack of dynamite. This happened again a few times throughout the day, where fire-damaged trees that were either long dead or mostly dead got waterlogged, and the rot from excessive rain caused the trunks to implode and collapse.

Just another hazard for the old boofhead to be watchful of, no major worries. Really just an issue when off-roading or pitching camp.

Peter from Orbost was waiting for me at a rest area. What a lovely lovely man. He’d prepared for me an essay with a lot of local history, and brought me a little bit of breakfast. We had a friendly (and often funny) chat, and he hinted that he was trying to pull together some kind of reception for when I got to Orbost.

He cautioned me not to get there too early, to aim for about 3pm the following day, which actually fitted my pace and distance quite well.

Except for Peter (and Julie & Aunty Margaret in the evening) it was a mostly solitary day.

I had no idea what was waiting for me in Orbost, but it was an absolute high point of the walk.

I wish I did a better job filming it (but we’ll get to that tomorrow).

Day 67 was just another day of intense physical toil, and I really appreciated and (in a masochistic way) enjoyed it.

As I trudged up hills, carrying my heavy burden, walking through rain one minute, striking hot sun the next, I was getting stronger minute by minute.

I’d let go of all the grief and sorrow (or most of it), this phase of the walk was tempering what was left, building respect, making me stronger and more resilient.

Now, my eldest son, he likes his memes. He really enjoys them (I dislike it, most of them are too damned American, and kinda vapid .. but I leave the kid room to love what he loves)

One of these memes relates to the number “420”, I’m not sure he even understands it’s significance (I think it’s about a proposition in America to legalise marijuana).

So I took the photo to the left for him.

But I later realised, as I saw these orange markers every so often (pretty much every kilometre, actually), that they were marking the distance to Melbourne.

I was exactly 420 kilometres from Melbourne.

From home.

From the people I loved most in the world.

With the plan to arrive on the 19th, I only had to make about 25km per day.

Now, I can’t tell you what’s going on in this photo – it looks like I’m using my powers in the MATRIX to stop a car, and smirking while I do it. I really can’t remember.

But like with the escalation in the story about Barry (the unpaid sound intern) who had a breakup causing a breakdown, and was ‘on hiatus’, this kind of stuff probably should just be taken with a grain of salt, and as a possible sign of continued mental decline.

I really enjoyed the open question mark around whether Barry was real, or just for giggles. I imagine some people are still confused.

In the four hours or so after meeting Peter, there wasn’t a single safe, dry place where I could rest. Every time I tried, rain would start pouring down roughly 3 seconds after I sat or lay down.

At about 10:30am, I came to the Bellbird Pub, an isolated pub kinda in the middle of nowhere.

I wish it were open, it looked lovely, but even closed, I was able to take shelter in it’s little ‘smoko shed’, and eat some tuna and baked beans.

Actually, I think that was given to me by the person in the red MATRIX car, I seem to remember a very kind (and giggly) lady named Twila, who gave me some canned food.

(And since that stuff was heavy, my goal was to eat it as quickly as possible, which I did thanks to the smoko area at the Bellbird pub)

It felt as if the rain was constantly hinting that it was going on holidays and we’d see some sun, but it was a tease, it would give me ten or twenty minutes reprieve, then come back for another cuddle as I was toiling my way up some narrow hilly road.

In time, I made it to a little town (more of a corner of the road) called Cabbage Creek.

I was getting pretty soggy, and sadly the general store was closed – but I’d received a message from a local property owner saying that a home they were renovating was available to rest in, if I wanted to.

I went looking for them, wanting to say Hello, but couldnt find them, so following their directions made it into this pleasant little house having a lot of work done.

Pleasant .. except for the menacing skeleton (which I named “Gary”) who kept moving around and creepily watching me sleep.

I’d doze off, and he’d be in an ever-so-slightly different position to where he was before.

(Or that may have been my imagination, another “Barry is a real person” mind trick)

You decide 😉

After Cabbage Creek, the rain DID back off for a few hours, and I got some glorious views from the local high country.

Grazing farmland and long swathes of forest, I loved it – as spiritually nourishing to me as the ocean had been. It stirred me, those sweeping Aussie landscapes.

Sadly, the phone never quite picked up on the magnificence of things like that. To the naked eye, I might see a long and sweeping landscape with looming storm-clouds, majestic and stirring, but the phone saw some paddocks on an overcast day.

It was mid afternoon when I started to have these funny little messages with a lady called Julie.

“I want to bring you dinner!”, she says “what would you like to eat ?”

Don’t put yourself out, I insist, I’ll be completely fine, but it eventually sunk in that she really WANTED to, it wasn’t just kindness, she was excited, eager, she wanted to meet.

I said the fantasy food after a long soggy day would be a nice warm lasagne.

It was still 25km to Orbost, but we agreed to meet at the Murrangower Picnic Ground, which was about 10km from where I was.

With fatigue, sogginess, heavy pack and the long long inclines (the photos don’t capture the constant severity of the hills), it took me almost 3 hours to get there, and when I finally made it, I sure was ready to collapse, drop that pack and not pick it up again for a while.

Julie wasn’t there yet, so I had a little time to duck into the local traveller toilets (icky places – no phone booth for this superman), and change into dry (and less stinky) clothes.

When Julie and Aunty Margaret arrived, it was like being struck in the face with a wave of joy.

I was almost instantly re-energised, I love how that works, we are like batteries of blazing light, if we approach each other with love and authenticity.

She’d brought cold drinks and hot lasagne, and I scarfed it down, while the ladies watched and laughed (I think also pleased by me soft moaning and groans at how delicious it was).

It also tasted like pure kindness.

I had a long talk to Aunty Margaret about my fight with stage 4 cancer, and discovered that she herself had beaten breast cancer, but “I’m fine” she said.

I could tell she wasn’t. I could see naked fear in her eyes (and I don’t think it was plain and obvious for others, I think I had a special kind of gravity when it came to this stuff .. a special empathy and understanding)

She acknowledged she was afraid of it coming back, and I think we lifted each other up, mostly with words of love and hope – how we have to defy cancer (and other darknesses in the world).

We must not allow these things to steal away our hope.

As you’ve seen from the tribute at the start of this journal, sadly Aunty Margaret passed away a few months later, the cancer came back, aggressive, and took her away from us.

But I like to think we shared something, there on the side of the road, something that may have helped her squeeze extra love from her last days with us on Earth.

I like to think that.

After we said our farewells, I just gathered my pack and delved into some heavy nearby scrub. Didn’t think of trying to make more ground (tired, plus waking to amenities was pretty handy)

I did a little (if you can call 20 minutes little) live stream, updating everybody, then answered a bunch of messages (some with more hints of something big waiting in August, I was really getting quite excited)

Then, as darkness set in, a deep and restful sleep.