Day Thirteen (7 January)

One thing cancer stole from me was my sleep. Not just .. you know, the way stress interferes with your sleep, although that’s part of it.

Grief, sorrow, fear – of course those things weave into your conscious and unconscious mind, robbing you of your balance & your sleep. But something physical, to do with aging, to do with the treatments, I never quite pinned it down, but there was a combination of things interfering with my sleep. I really couldn’t go more than 2 hours without having to get up and do a wee or at a minimum stare at the ceiling for a bit.

Thing is, with the BIG WALK, I was winning back my sleep. I was fighting back against the ravaging side effects and consequential problems relating to cancer, and I was winning.

Haha, but even winners shit the bed sometimes.

(Sorry for swearing)

I woke up to a misty friday morning, quite early, and set about packing my gear.

The chance to do a bit of laundry in Maclean meant my clothes weren’t too bad (later in the walk, I laughed off this kind of discomfort), but I had slept quite poorly – weather had hit overnight and there was a cold breeze along the river – but worse, the tarp had a few little micro-leaks, and I was unlucky with position, a cold trickle of water dribbling down my back. (And in the driving rain you just have to tolerate it.

Here’s the thing – uncomfortable, in a thin hammock, in a storm, with water trickling down my back – I was still leagues ahead of laying restless in my cancer bed of pain.

I think somehow, when we lean into our own healing, choose our solutions not our problems, everything becomes more bearable – we still have our limitations, but we’re better placed to manage them.

So I had a horrible sleep, but was cheerful and happy, because my sleep was significantly better than the average from even just a couple of weeks before.

So I gathered my gear (getting better and more efficient at it) and hit the Frog & Toad (road).

Almost immediately, got hit with more on-again-off-again rain. I was only a few kilometres out of Ulmarra, so my plan was to walk into town, get a bite of food, and do a bit of a stock-take, figure out how far to Grafton, a rough plan on the day’s end-goal and where I’d look to camp.

My loose plan was to head into Grafton (it was about 20km from my start-point) have some lunch there and then continue south.

(Although my plan changed, and I was starting to learn to ‘go with the flow’, like when Jo led me into a swampy forest west of Ballina, just surrendering to the adventure brought these lovely rewards, moments that I could carry with me for the rest of my life.

As it turns out, skipping Grafton led to one of these, but more on that later.

If I ever had the means (financially, I mean) I’d do the BIG WALK again, but completely circumnavigate Australia.

There’d be some rough bits, some survival bits, especially up north and along the west coast, and there’d also be the lovely country and beach towns like Ulmarra.

It’s just another example of a place where I wish I’d spent a bit more time. Had the mindset of a ‘wander’ instead of a ‘march’.

You know what I mean ? Immerse in the NOW.

But I can’t downplay the important part the ordeal and toil, especially of these early weeks, played in my overall healing.

I was learning that there’s strength in me, and that even suffering can be joyful, as we can be defined by our choices, rather than the things that happen to us. We can act instead of react. Win/lose/draw, good/bad/indifferent, we can stand up and choose which direction we march in.

The BIG WALK was becoming a metaphor for my life, and looking back my biggest regret was rushing through the good bits.

Livestream from Ulmarra

I stopped in Ulmarra when the rain became particularly bad, and took shelter in a roofed carport area outside the local SES (State Emergency Services) office. Just across the road was the RFB (Rural Fire Brigade)

For me, these places exemplify the great Australian values, especially bush/country values. It’s about helping out, community.

This raised for me another little ethical moment, one I still struggle with.

You see, the BIG WALK was about rebuilding myself. A pilgrimage where I unplugged everything in my life, stripped it all back to the raw basics, and processed all the congealed stuff (grief, sorrow, anger, confusion, pain, guilt, remorse). In doing this, I had this opportunity to mindfully rebuild – to CHOOSE who I wanted to be, going forward.

So from time to time I’d have these little ethical moments where I’d genuinely have to stop and consider something – in many cases a simple thing, something you may have learned as a child, and either accept, modify or reject/discard.

My encounter with the Johns & Di from the night before raised a couple of these with me, mostly themed around intolerance.

We spoke about this new prison, geared toward rehabilitation, and I was realising there’s not much forgiveness in me .. at least I apply that standard to myself as well as others. Not that I specifically judge or concoct horrible punishments in my mind – I think I’m a compassionate person. But if you’ve committed a violent crime, your rehabilitation is my least concern. Protecting innocent people, making sure you are not a threat to society with your stealing, breaking, hurting and taking – that matters more. It’s just my view, an old man who should be kinder, I guess.

The other is how one of the Johns, who heads the RFB, really struck me as having self-doubt and PTSD after going through the bushfires. He’d suffered abuse and criticism from keyboard warriors, I think because the focus was on saving lives as a priority over property – so there was this “you could have done better!” reproach. I guess I had that percolating in the back of my mind too – that we should honour people who do (or even try to do) the right thing. As individuals we can shine, we are gorgeous – but as groups we really can misbehave, it’s almost like in a group we allow our individual ethics and compassion to drop to the lowest common denominator. I guess I felt a fuming kind of intolerance for that mistreatment as well – the way we can treat each other sometimes .. the idea of bullying.

Oh crap. Incoherent old man ramble.


Let’s chuck up some pictures of the walk to Grafton, before I get started again 🙂

Actually first, a quick anecdote from Ulmarra – after the livestream I popped into the local petrol station to buy a sausage roll for breakfast, and the woman serving stared at me like I’d just landed from Mars (haha). It’s a sensation I’ve become quite used to, even in my post-walk life. For winter my wife brought me this bright pink scarf (as a joke) which I now insist on wearing around, along with a bracelet this lovely little girl (Phoebe) in Traralgon made for me (it’s very girly). The other day in Coles this old dude outright stared at me, with an expression of mild disgust on his face. If I could get a photo of him and the Ulmarra service station lady and overlap them, I’m sure the expressions are identical, haha.

My personal take-away: save your outrage for the injustices of the world, let the little stuff go. If somebody isn’t hurting you or anyone else, leave them the eff alone and give them the space to be who they want to be.

Now, to Grafton !

As I was getting toward Grafton, the rain died off a bit, and I decided to take a bit of a late lunchtime rest.

I found this big old barn (no doubt a haven for snakes underneath the floorboards, but I was careful), with some broken down farm gear next to it. As soon as I decided to rest, the sky started to drizzle again, so I took shelter under the rusty farm gear and had a protein bar.

This was another moment that led eventually to the Bop-Bop-A-Diddleys from the (non-existent?!) sound intern, Barry 🙂

I was starting to relax and enjoy the conversations with the public. Always try and remember to talk about the charity, spruik the cause – but that was now becoming second nature, and if anything it wasn’t just about the charity, but rather about righteousness.

I think I was trying to show that we, all of us, should try and make more righteous choices. To do things in our lives that are of service.

It’s easy to dismiss a lot of righteous acts, good deeds, because they seem contrived or self serving.

Like, for example, celebrities who support charities because there’s an element of personal contact. (Example “my auntie has diabetes, so I’m passionate about diabetes research”). So we (me included) judge that and say “c’mon, selfish obsessed narcissistic so and so”

Or then you have the theatrical stuff, I guess like what I did. “I’m going to walk here, do this, do that, fart the national anthem”. Is it to serve a charity, or glorify self ?

I think the important thing to keep sight of is: that doesn’t really matter.

Yes, the underlying motivation is significant, but at the end of the day, a good deed is constructive and worthwhile even if it’s somehow selfish underneath. It’s still positive. Damn better than stealing, breaking and taking !

Uh oh. Old man ramble.

For the record, I’ve looked long and hard, and I think my goals were fairly pure. Captain Australia has never been about somehow glorifying me (haha, although there are people who read it as me thinking I’m Batman). It’s been my way of saying that we can and should all lift ourselves up. Try and be heroes. Hold ourselves to higher ethical standards. I’m innately shy by nature, I don’t want the attention, and there have been times walking around as Cap that I’ve felt intensely uncomfortable (especially when doing some of the daily donor dares of doom). But I knew it could help the charity, help me, help us. So I did it.

I suppose also, just a little bit, it’s my way of thumbing my nose at society. To say “no, I won’t play those crazy games that the world asks of us” (I like my own crazy games better).

“Simon, you’re going keyboard crazy. Stop typing. More pictures”

Jeez. OK. Sorry !

So yeah, I decided to bypass Grafton and press toward Coffs Harbour down a road called Centenary Drive, which led me past this lovely big school where I was able to stop, have a sheltered rest, and fill up my water.

I didn’t know at the time, but I missed a chance to meet Jye and Julz here (more from them Day 14)

They’d seen my live stream and had taken a drive hoping to meet me and invite me to Woolgoolga (where they lived), but apparently drove past when I was resting at the school.

(lovely cold water in the bubblers by the way, it was Ambrosial after walking all day)

So this stretch was just more country roads, but the side-forest was lovely, I thought I’d find a comfortable camp at nightfall with a couple of good sturdy trees and some concealing scrub.

I figured on getting to within striking distance (60km or less) of Coffs Harbour and doing a hardcore march … I mean full-on effort, not sexy .. well .. I mean .. I *AM* pretty sexy .. I mean .. not objectively, and not to .. like .. 999 in 1000 people .. but …

Ah crap. Mental decline moment there.

What the hell, let’s leave it in 🙂

But yeah, it was a decent march and through some lovely country.

At about 5 o’clock, I was walking down the road (Big River Way, I think), and was passing by this fellow mowing the stretch of grass out-front of a lovely little farmstead.

He stopped, jumped off his tractor, and pointed at me with a “Hoy!”

“You look like you’re in serious need of a fucking cup of tea !”

Haha, that afternoon comes flooding back to me now.

I had no phone service, so couldn’t livestream, basically dropped off the air. But Quentin invited me to their porch and introduced me to his partner, Taki.

We drank tea and water and chatted about what I was doing and why, and Quentin’s troubles with local council and their approval process (he wanted to build some sheds).

I loved these guys, they had such generosity, honesty, kindness. Lovely lovely people.

And I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled with how to describe them here. First and foremost this is for my kids, so I’m driven to tell it as straight and true as I can ..but I don’t want to run the risk of making these decent, lovely people come across kooky. These days, if we don’t share the same opinions on certain topics, we feel entitled to crucify or parody the opposition, instead of finding ways for our opinions to co-exist.

You see, Q&T fed me, chatted to me, entertained me, showed me great hospitality. We were up talking until past midnight, when I went to sleep in a room Taki had set up for her daughter (pink bedding, hah, pretty little Captain).

But in the chat, they had some incredibly strong opinions on a range of topics, including government, vaccination, religion – some of the viewpoints incredibly stark and vigorously held.

I’m well able to love them and contrast their views with my own without condemning them if there are differences — objective reality may not exist, we may be living a dream, who knows ? I dislike this tendency to argue the right and wrong of opinions (theirs touching on conspiracy stuff, the apocalypse). Part of me wants to share the detail of it, because I found (and still find) it fascinating, and I think we, you/me/we finding ways to let competing viewpoints co-exist is absolutely KEY to our success as a neo-society.

But as type this, I think I’ll just paraphrase and say we had a long (hours and hours) talk, and I was engrossed and fascinated. I snuck out early the following morning (about 6am) not wanting to wake them – but I will be forever grateful for their kindness and hospitality.

Oh and check out the diminished gut in the bottom photo. 🙂

This is Quentin and Taki on the porch of their lovely farmhouse

click on the green thingamabob to go to Day 14