Day Twelve (6 January)

Keith and Tracy from the Maclean Riverside Caravan Park had given me a couple of trees to hoist my hammock on last night, but when a storm struck they moved me to a cabin.

This lovely kindness allowed me another night out of the wet, and a chance to dry my clothes off in the laundry (the amenities are great!). If you’ve looked at DAY ELEVEN, you’ve seen the pictures of how nasty my feet were. Even walking in the open-air crocs wasn’t helping much. Having a supply of completely dry socks was a marvelous help.

I took a couple of streams leaving Maclean, broken by a bit of service-interruptus.

I was still pretty awful with the streams, no tripod, unreliable microphone, damaged / haunted phone.

Maclean is a pretty little town, but I didn’t linger, skipping breakfast. There was a gap in the weather, so I decided to press forward.

Foolish old man 🙂

Had done an interview with a lovely chap named Paul (Radio 2GF, Grafton) from the cabin that morning, so I felt righteous in that I’d done my bit to try and ‘bang the drum’, raising awareness for the charity and possible donors – so I wanted to hit the road. But a break in the weather .. silly man. The rain comes and goes, don’t let it drive your plans.

In leaving Maclean, I had a choice whether to take the freeway, the old highway, or secondary farm roads – and I chose the latter. It was a longer walk, but a much more beautiful one. As I think back on the BIG WALK overall, that’s probably my greatest regret – getting too caught up in the Quest, in pressing forward. Walking is slow – so I got to see plenty of natural beauty, but I should have lingered more in some of these lovely towns, been more sociable. And I should always have chosen the road less travelled.

Leaving Maclean, it was overcast and drizzly but not too bad. I had to cross a narrow bridge, with no pedestrian access – and there really was no other option.

I felt bad, and tried to be as respectful as possible, climbing up on the narrow wooden edge whenever there was an oncoming vehicle.

Thankfully, not a lot of traffic, so with a few bemused/grumpy stares I was able to get across.

Haha, and almost immediately upon getting to the other side, the skies opened and a veritable torrent hit me, I was soaked in seconds.

The videos and photos never really caught the intensity of the rain.

I think the way the camera focused in on me and adjusted light for that, it always made the sky look brighter and less threatening than it actually was. It was a day of moderately intense showers, but in the videos it doesn’t look anywhere near as severe as it actually was.

But I chose the right path, that farmland walk was just plain lovely.

It was a solid days’ walk, and I was pushing forward pretty relentlessly. My feet hurt, but I was insisting on pressing through it, marching to a cadence. Left. Left. Left-Right-Left. Kind of thing. And I made pretty decent time. Yesterday’s exhaustion was forgotten.

It didn’t hurt that this fantastic couple (who had been in Grafton for vaccination I think) heard me on the radio and diverted to bring the old fella a bag of lollies.

That kinda thing lifts not only the energy levels, but the spirits. Human kindness is so nourishing !

All of this was having a slow, almost hypnotic effect on me, allowing my mind to slip into a kind of background processing – dealing with all the higher spiritual wounds that I’d suffered, I guess.

As I kept marching away, I’d tell myself that I’d stop for a rest as soon as there were a clear bit of weather – but it never came, so I wound up walking for about three or four hours until I came upon a little roadside shed were I was able to sit down and rest the old feet & back.

The countryside was gorgeous, just a long, winding country road alongside a pretty river – it was all gorgeous trees and farms. Very picturesque.

Loved it.

Just absolutely bloody loved it.

Eventually, I came to a long stretch of road that was a bit more rain-foresty .. I briefly considered an early camp there, but I still had several hours of daylight and decided against it.

(It was very pretty though)

I pushed through and after a long and winding hill came across a bus shelter.

It was inhabited by a non-dangerous nest of spiders called “St Andrew Spiders” because they spin a web that apparently has been likened to the St Andrews’ Cross.

I hauled up there, rested for about 45 minutes, and did a live stream. The quality was appalling (mainly the audio). The driving rain, weirdly low speech volume. The problem is, I was always on the hop and not looking backward – or more than 1 day into the future. So I wasn’t noticing these problems in a way that I could meaningfully remedy them.

After a bit of a rest I continued onward, and the rainforest gave way to more farmland. As I was walking down a winding hill, this ute pulls up, and an older bloke waves me down and says “G’day Mate, I’m WOG!”

I say g’day, and he tells me again that his name is Wog (seemed proud of it ?) and asked me what I was up to. I did my best to explain myself — homebrand wannabe superhero walking away from cancer, and in the hopes of helping children suffering the same adversity.

All in all, it was a long but lovely day, marching through some scenic countryside. Hills on the horizon, forest, farms, and here’s me, plodding through it all in the rain with a goofy smile on my face most of the time.

I think, by this stage, I was enjoying any suffering that came my way – it was just a constant reminder that suffering isn’t forever, it can leave it’s footprint on us, but it’s in us to spontaneously and completely overcome that, if we can find the courage, strength and correct approach.

I was getting better. Stronger.

As I walked past a lot of lovely little farmhouses and came toward what was either a ferry or a bridge across to the main road into Grafton, I had a lovely encounter, and it wasn’t with a human being.

It was with a gorgeous horse I ended up naming “Beyonce”

She just had that kind of beauty and confident swagger about her.

I actually had never heard of therapy horses, but when she cantered over, seeking a hug – I was amazed. God-smacked. I caressed her, hugged her, and then had the presence of mind to whip out the camera.

The generosity of spirit in that hug, it I think it siphoned a few of those last little bits of grief and horror from my spirit. I felt so much lighter after meeting that horse.

I get that it probably sounds silly or over-dramatised, but the walk had plenty of encounters like that, which for me felt as though they had a special kind of spiritual gravity to them.

But I had to keep moving, so I gave my friend a farewell and continued on. (video below).

The afternoon became more of a slog – I crossed back to the old highway, and although there was plenty of farmland, it was low-lying and the road just kinda ploughed through it.

It was just trucks, trucks and more trucks, and little old me plodding down the road toward Grafton. I started to feel fatigue set in, and fought it off for a good couple of hours.

As I was coming toward a town called Ulmarra, I came upon a property with a little sign that said something like “WELCOME, CAMP OVER HERE”

I saw it as a sign .. well .. it was .. but I mean .. figuratively .. as a sign to take a rest. So I plodded down to this lovely spot by the river. (I met the owner later, well after dark – more on that in a bit).

The site was right next to the river, and was truly lovely. Not long after I was set up, along came John and Di, local SES leaders, and they brought me a lovely dinner ! (steak: shamefully I almost choked on it, as I struggle sometimes with solids since cancer).

We had a long and beautiful chat while I sat using a big pack of toilet paper as a table. John had also bought some slightly expired emergency rations, which I packed away.

We talked about hope, adversity, some strife they’d suffered through as a community (bushfires), and a new prison that had been built locally.

Later, as I was drifting off to sleep (full as a goog) the property owner (also John) came over. He was a bit cautious and hesitant, as his wife was housebound, suffering from cancer if I remember right. It was high season for COVID, so we kept our distance but had a very pleasant chat.

This sweet man was head of the local RFB (Rural Fire Brigade) and had served through some heavy bushfires a couple of years prior. It had marked him terribly, I think causing him some very undeserved PTSD and self doubt. The man was an absolute bloody hero, trying to do his best, help people, save property, but apparently had been torn to shreds .. not just by his own second guessing but by media and people who lived hundreds of kilometres away in big cities and criticised some of the property loss.

Lovely man. Hero. Champion. Broken.

We spoke for a long time. I hope he’s doing well. Good on you, John.