Day Sixty Six (1 March)

On the morning of Day 66, I woke at the Cann River pub, in a partly-renovated house out back of the main building.

Everybody else was still asleep, so I quietly gathered my gear and was about to sneak out when I noticed Jodie start her morning work in the kitchen, and was able to give her a sincere thank you for the hospitality and kindness.

(Because I often got started well before 6am, I had often disappeared by dawn – like an old fart version of the tooth fairy).

I bought a hot breakfast (meat pie) from the servo across the road, and headed out of town, stopping by a fallen log near a caravan park on the outskirts to eat and do one of my live-stream updates.

Orbost was about 75km away, and that was my next major stop, with not much in the way of civilisation between me and there.

Since I was working backward from arriving at Fed Square on the 19th, the pressure was off, so my plan was to do about 30km x 30km x15km and arrive in Orbost at lunch-time of the third day.

Even though I was trying to keep to the adventurous spirit of it all, people kept asking me for timelines, so I was starting to have to look more than a few days in advance.

In fact, I was starting to get a little stressed by that.

It was a weird thing. I’d tried to rush and push forward through a lot of the walk, but as it was dwindling into it’s final days, I felt that imminent ending.

My walk was making me better.

It was healing me.

And it was coming to an end.

It wasn’t really happening yet, but in the coming days I got a bit mental about that – I became weirdly protective of the adventure of it, weirdly hermit-like, I got past it, but in coming days you’ll hear how I met Roseann and T-Kaz, two people who had been following the walk for a while and were eager to meet). I made the time, I was pleasant, but I think I slipped away from my centre in those final days, became a bit footsore and grumpy — and at least some of it was resentment that my Quest was in it’s final days.

Weird stuff, Simon.

I’ve thought a lot about that because I feel bad about not throwing myself into those encounters, truly celebrating the people. Anyway, we’ll get to that as the journal winds to a close.

For now, more remote Victorian forest roads, bushfire damage, rain and hills. (And I was loving it)

It was another solitary day with only a couple of encounters, but the ones that I had were just lovely.

This fella is Al, he’d ridden his bike up the Hume Highway, gone to Thredbo and Canberra and was looping around back to Melbourne.

(He was over all the lockdowns and was doing an escape-by-bicycle)

Lovely man, big hearted and friendly, on a Quest of his own.

The days were plagued by heavy rain, but the pictures only tell a fraction of it. Next time I’ll take a better camera.

The way the dodgy old iPhone7 uses light and focus means you’re never seeing the same thing in the photo as you do in the eye.

For example, I’m pointing at those clouds because they were thick and black and spoke of an intense storm to come.

But in the photo it looks like a slightly overcast day, you can even see a little patch of blue in there.

Anyway, it was a long day of winding hills and intermittent heavy showers.

I was DELIGHTED by my Coota Coat, it honestly felt like magic compared to my old military coat and poncho.

I went off-road a few times, following bush tracks and old fire trails. For the most part it was a day of toil. I can’t explain the physics of it, but somehow it felt like I was going UP a whole lot more than I was going DOWN.

But I could feel myself growing stronger in every way that strength matters. Mentally, emotionally, physically, these solitary and difficult stages of the walk were working a special kind of magic on me.

Or maybe I was just slipping further and further from sanity, and it was all in my head.

Certainly, walking alone down a remote road singing Waltzing Matilda at the top of your lungs is a bit wobbly looking.

Losing the plot ? Or being in a state of happy surrender and in the moment ? Dunno.

You can decide.

I’d given up on finding a dry place to rest, and was having a lay down in light rain to rest the old legs and back, when whaddayaknow, my old mates Andy and Mez turn up.

I really love these guys, they are wonderful. Big hearted, open, honest. We had a good old chat and a couple of giggles before they had to keep moving (they’d been down to Phillip Island but had to cut the break short – I think Andy started to get terrible headaches)

So they were off to Bateman’s Bay, probably making in a day what had taken me more than a couple of weeks to walk (it was 320km or so from where we were).

Later, when I rode a plane home and saw the sheer magnitude of the distance I had walked, I was amazed – but little moments like this had the scope of it sinking in too.

Another thing the camera didn’t really capture very well is all those bloody hills.

In a photo, some of these enormous hills look FLAT, but it really was some pretty serious toil. I was still carrying extra water, so the pack probably weighed in close to 30kg.

Lovely country, and I did get to go off-track a few times, once even having to backtrack a little when I came across a flooded creek.

Maybe I *am* a bit of an honourary bushman now .. I’ll certainly claim the title after I complete the BIG LAP.

I was never completely safe (especially where you see points in the road where there’s no real shoulder, and once or twice complete madmen driving), but I was always pretty smart and careful.

When it came time to start looking for a camp, I was following a fire-trail and came upon a dirt road leading down to the freeway, so figured it was a good spot to pack it in.

What bushcraft I have, I put on display, explaining how I would select a campsite, and set up my hammock and other gear. The largest hazard was the fire-damaged trees, which, when waterlogged with the heavy storms, could come tumbling down. (So I’d always select a somewhat open area with new growth).

The video is 48 minutes or so, but I also explain what I was doing, why and what had happened so far.

That night there was a tremendous storm, but the gear resisted it beautifully.

I got some messages of concern from people watching, but in all honesty, I felt snug as a bug in a (slightly stinky) rug.

I dozed off a little after dark, maybe about 9pm, but was startled awake by a riot of kookaburras giving me a giggling serenade.

They may have been dating, mating or nesting, but I’m also aware that sometimes birds get very vocal where there is a predator like a snake slinking around in the branches.

In any case, I’d put myself in the hands of Fate, a higher power, whatever was out there. I was in a state of surrender and focused on my Quest, whatever the obstacles.

As such, I slept soundly and well, unperturbed by any dangers (or the wild storm) around me.