Day Thirty Four (28 January)

I woke, well-rested on Day 34, keen to meet my new friends, Andy, Gayle, Grant & Maree.

We had agreed to meet for coffee and a muffin at the local Maccas. I was running a little late, because the hotel had a policy that I couldn’t run the laundry in the evening, so I’d had to wait until 8am to dry my uniform off.

My new friends were tolerant of my lateness 🙂

It was a glorious day, and great fun (although I saw a lot less of it than normal in those tiny flamingo glasses – but a dare once given must be honoured, old fella)

The morning news had warned of more bad weather to come, but Day 34 was gorgeous, bright blue skies.

Some of the others complained about feeling the heat, but I think I was pretty much immune to it by now.

So my companions were Andy, a retired policeman, and a very diligent, thoughtful, reflective person. If I had to choose a word for Andy, it would probably be .. INTEGRITY. I really enjoyed our talks.

Gayle (superwoman), she’s been a steadfast supporter of the walk, such a lovely person. Always a kind comment to boost you up. I think she does things for all the right reasons (funny too), for her, I’d probably pick a word like NURTURING. (Hard to reduce a person to a word, but its an interesting exercise).

Grant and Maree are partners, and Grant and I lagged behind and had some pretty serious talks throughout the day. I’m not trying to reduce these wonderful people down to a word, but more choose the word that most fits how I saw them that day (for Grant, I’d choose RESILIENT, I think he graduated from the school of hard knocks, but is still fair dinkum, big hearted and honest).

And then my mate Maree, and for her I’d choose the word LARRIKIN, because I think she faces life with a consistent good natured humour. You can’t talk to her and not find yourself grinning. She’s a big-hearted, heart-on-sleeve, funny-as-hell person.

And they were all so strong.

A great balance of personalities, so if the Zombie Apocalypse did strike, it would have been a good long while before the bickering and problems started to tear our group apart.

For my part, I was feeling extremely self-conscious.

Those flamingo glasses were part of a DAILY DONOR DARE OF DOooOOoooOOoooM, and the funny part is – throughout the day, even though I was dressed like a spectacular boofhead lost on his way to homebrand Comic-Con, in my mind every time I saw someone looking at me was, “Yeah mate ! Pink glasses ! So what ?! Take a picture, it will last longer !”

Haha.

So I’d completely adapted to being Captain Australia, and saw that as ‘normal’.

But throw a pair of pink little-girl glasses into the mix and I start to get embarrassed that I look like a less snazzy Dame Edna.

We made our way through Newcastle suburbs and arrived at the Fernleigh Track (old train-tracks now converted to a walking & bike path).

From where we started, it was a solid 20km hike, and I think we all did realy well. At one point Gayle was obviously struggling to carry some lovely food she had kindly brought along to share, and I had this great chance to ‘superhero up’.

“Clip it onto the back of my pack, love, I won’t even feel it”, I lied. 🙂

The Fernleigh Track really is beautiful, and I’m truly grateful to Andy for his help and suggestions leading up to (and after) Newcastle.

I think my favourite part of the track is the old train-tunnel. You can see it in the picture to the left.

The way it’s lit up, the vaulted ceiling, it feels like you’re walking into some kind of Vampire Cathedral.

I’m sure even for people cycling through it to work every day, it never gets old.

We had some giggles as we walked through, just joking around and goofing off (as you’ll see from the photos).

I tried to stream at one point, not realising there was zero reception. A smarter person would have learned by then “take videos” and “hold the camera straight”.

Even by the end of the walk, I was still stuffing that stuff up !

So there we were, playing with the echoes, I think at one point I started to sing “The Sound of Silence” (Simon & Garfunkel).

Why, why must you always insist on singing, you old weirdo ?!

I love rediscovering these great little memories, I just wish I’d done a better job of capturing some of the moments.

I suppose I took the view that I could either have these little snow globe perfect recordings of moments that I was only half paying attention to as I filmed them, or throw myself into the here & now, and make filming secondary.

I’m still not sure I made the right choice, maybe I should have found a better balance – all I can say for sure is that being there… I had a wonderful time.

Anyway, I’ve also learned not to regret too much. Learn, sure – but stop obsessing over the past, keep moving forward.

I think Gayle, Maree and I were the jokers of the group, so you can see in the photos that we would stop and goof around, impersonating vampires in a crypt, that kind of thing.

Hmm, that’s weird, because I see myself as incredibly serious-minded, and yet I’m also quite constantly a joker.

I think it’s great that even in our 50s, we can keep learning about ourselves.

Before too long, we came to ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’, a good metaphor as any for facing up to adversity, I suppose.

Whether fighting your way through cancer – or any struggle, really – we should always try and keep our hope alive. The idea that better, brighter days may still lie in front of us.

I suppose, in a way, the BIG WALK is a similar metaphor. Find ways to move forward, live in hopes that you’ll get to the destination (re-discovered hope, joy ?).

Oh hush, Simon, we’ve heard this before.

That’s Andy in the photo, by the way, ranging ahead. He was the pace-setter. Hugely diligent, resolute, calm.

So impressed by that guy.

Simon, stop with the bromance, it’s getting WEIRD

Haha, and lecturing yourself in the third person is also pretty weird, dude.

Ahem. You know when you have to constantly remind yourself to try and be as ‘normal’ as possible, it’s really just a question of time before you wind up in some kind of care. (Probably with bars on the windows and big muscly samoan guys in white uniforms guarding the doors). Haha.

I’ll tell the rest of the Fernleigh Track with pictures, I think, as the old saying goes – they’re worth a thousand words.

It was a lovely morning and afternoon, a bright sunshiney day, and great fellowship and fun.

I don’t think the superhero stuff was too weird for anybody, although we did get stared at by cyclists. We were all united in our understanding of what we were doing and why.

Now, I’m usually more self-effacing than self-promoting, but I would like to insist on at least one “Oh Captain ! My Captain !” for wearing those bloody flamingo glasses all day long.

They were bloody hard to see in, and I could have gotten away with five minutes, as the original dare was just ‘wear a flamingo’ (?!)

But I take matters of honour with the utmost seriousity.

😉

I did have a low moment (Guilt and Shame) when my wife called while we were taking a break, asking me to talk to my youngest.

She had lost her shit with him (understandably, he was being infuriating). I was able to massage both of their egos and pacify things a little (they were completely fine and had made peace an hour later), but I felt pretty awful being out in the sun, healing, having a great time, while they were at home without my support.

Still, I guess it was worth it, I’m a better dad and person now, I think. Hope. Maybe.

At the end of the track, we met Gayle’s friend (I’m sorry if I’m misremembering, I think her name might have been Penny), and she had brought along a lovely gift for Jen (my wife), as she creates handmade jewellery.

I carried it for about a week before I got the chance to post it home, and Jenny absolutely loved it.

I completely adore and appreciate that kind thoughtfulness, and it helped assuage my guilt from not being there, to have such a lovely present to tell her about.

Gayle and ?Penny? said their farewells after a nice little group selfie, and the rest of us continued down to Lake Macquarie.

On the way there, I tripped on a manhole cover and went down like a sack of wheat (muahaha), it was so graceless, like an old drunk toddling home from the pub at 3am.

It was those bloody glasses.

I just couldn’t see the obstacle, caught my foot on it, and went down face first.

Caught myself on my hands, and once more those tough gloves did their job, I only had minor scrapes.

But *so* embarrassing.

My big flag was up at the time too, I think.

So we arrived at the Lake, had a lovely little chat, saw a family of ducks, and said fond goodbyes to Grant & Maree.

My mate Andy (bloody calm-as-shit Zen warrior that he is) continued along with me to Swansea (another 10km, so about 2 hours), where his wife picked him up.

I really enjoyed (and benefited from) that afternoon walk.

It’s not exactly mentorship, but it’s absolutely wonderful (and invaluable) to find someone with shared values but dramatically different life experience.

I was reforging myself ethically, and bouncing ideas and beliefs off the good people I met was so helpful.

Also met a lovely bloke, a photographer, who took this shot.

Swansea is a gorgeous town.

Bumped into these young fellas outside Maccas, who were at first a bit “what the eff are you ?!”, but after some friendly questions were completely on-board (and a bit amazed that after a long walk I was still moving forward and would sleep somewhere in the bush southward)

Which is exactly what I did. Continuing on for another 8-10km or so, I got out of town into a nice patch of push, set up camp, and slept the sleep of the righteous 🙂