Day Twenty Five (19 January)

Day 25 will stand out in my memory for the rest of my life. It was such a strange and surreal day. Characterised by the toil, grinding forward through weather – but smattered with eight different flavours of strange as well.

It started at Harrington, where I gathered my gear together and set out. It was actually a later than normal start, because I was meeting up with the Crowdy Harrington Marine Rescue team, and (fingers crossed) they were going to take me across the Manning River, saving me from a massive detour.

Luckily, the wonderful people watching had also been able to get NBN News onto it – they’d rang the night before and were going to send someone out for an interview.

I’ve always been shy and reserved, so that self promotion stuff (so crucial to the success of the charity component of the walk) really depended on this kindness.

I’ll be forever grateful to all you good people who got in and helped, ringing local news, drumming up support.

The commander greeted me at HQ, did a temperature scan for COVID safety and had me sign something, then it was off for the interview (story to the right).

I like to think the publicity helped the team there even in some little way, because they do tremendous work, helping ordinary people who run into trouble on the water.

I learned later that the region had been severely flood affected, so probably they got put to work then as well.

Walking the jetty with all those uniformed folk standing seriously was a very surreal feeling. I’m glad they didn’t salute or anything, if that happened, I’d probably have fallen into the drink.

I feel bloody awful though, and ashamed, because this was the first in a string of moments that became wonderful memories, and I only made a slap-shod effort at filming them.

As you can see by the video, I just strapped the phone camera to my chest and then just let myself live the moment.

My logic was that I’d rather live a moment than film it – but the shame comes from how innately selfish that is, given the supporters who were watching (and my own children who may one day view and read this).

Sorry I did such a crappy job taking videos :/

The ride was a wonder, I loved the crackle of the CB and the captain reporting to base, “Breaker breaker, unit 1 commencing crossing. Copy ? Four aboard, A Smith, B Smith, C Smith & Captain Australia”. Haha, ask me five years ago if I could have predicted that moment.

When I got to the other side, this lovely man Jock was waiting for me. He had some advice about an impassable inlet further down the beach (that from satellite photos, I had hoped would be traversable).

This guy is a flat-strap legend, and we corresponded for long after (and I still check in from time to time).

Stalwart in his local community, supporting charities, helping in times of fire and flood, he won an Australia Day award not long after I met him.

I’ve learned recently that haters have gotten on him, throwing around online abuse, of the tone “who are you to set yourself above us” (he never did, he’s just a great person doing good works who deserved recognition).

I met so many delightful people on my walk, and face to face, we are capable of forming genuine, honest connections.

But I think the online world distorts them, and our values, turning us into something new. I’m not really proud of how we behave in this lowest-common-denominator online mob, to be honest. I really feel for Jock.

(And reflect that I must be pretty lucky to either go below the radar, or have managed to avoid getting lambasted myself – given the many and manifold stupid things I say whenever I open my old fool mouth (ha!)

More on Jock later, for now I turned inland a bit, pausing to talk to a trio of brothers visiting the area, and two local kids riding their bikes.

I love it so much when a kid sees something righteous and true in what I did. There were a few examples later where a young person really got into the themes of the walk, and I’d get these notes from their parents with a tone of “what did you say to my son ?! He’s been so diligent and thoughtful and sweet, he’s like a different kid!”

(And all I would have said was that life is precious, and we are defined by our choices, that kindness is a circle we can create together, and it lifts us all up. That no matter how dark it is or how broken you feel, you can make meaningful change, you can stand up and move forward).

It rained for most of the day. There was a long stretch of beautiful country to walk through, and precious little shelter, so I walked the next seven hours or so without much rest.

I met some absolutely lovely people, like Hannah and these young teenagers (chatted about NWA) and this little man Alby.

The walk was long and tiring, but these encounters lifted me up, kept my spirits high.

I was wearing sandals for most of the day (as an alternative to soggy boots), and I really was a bit like a drowned rat. I passed a Rural Fire Brigade Building early afternoon hoping for shelter, but no luck.

It was a day of rain, narrow roads without much shoulder, and no real places to rest – until I eventually found a large bus shelter. It was filled with garbage (why, people?) but a tremendous relief to get out of the intensely driving rain (I had been shivering at this point).

Unbeknownst to me, my mate Jock had spoken to his network of family and friends and organised a little surprise.

A safe, warm place to sleep at Old Bar!

I might have the relationships all muddled, but I ended up meeting with Tammy, his daughter (maybe daughter-in-law)

She had driven out to say hi, have a chat, and also offered to take my bag ahead to the accommodation.

(The Old Bar FLow Bar Boogie Woogie Beach House. Yep, you heard me).

Walking without the pack was like walking on clouds, prompting me to muse about the nature of burdens – how they make us stronger (if we are wise enough to trust, take help, and learn to put them aside).

But yeah, a lovely afternoon walk and I kept meeting sweet, decent people filled with light and kindness.

At first this little man (Alby) was too shy to get a picture, but I was able to explain that my selfie stick gave me courage when I was afraid.

Holding that, he was good-to-go, and was really chuffed. After we parted ways he insisted to his Mum that I needed something to eat and drink, so they came back and found me with a bottle of gatorade and a chocolate bar.

Since chemoradiation, chocolate is really hard for me to eat, but I enjoyed every bite – it tasted like kindness and hope.

It was late afternoon by the time I got to Old Bar, something like 6pm – right on the edge of sunset.

On the way into town I bumped into ‘Cruisin Susan’, this awesome person who had been following online. A nurse working in mental health (high intensity stuff, people hospitalised for the safety of themselves and others), she had some great stories, so I lingered for a chat before ambling over to the Old Bar Flow Bar Boogie Woogie Beach House. (I really can’t say that too much, what a wonderful name).

The place, and the people who operate it are just so … old school cool, you know ? Relaxed, creative, intelligent. Loved the place and the people.

The rooms are themed for musical talents, and I was in the Dave Grohl room (perhaps because of the HERO bedspread, perhaps because I look pretty grungy).

Food. Shower. Rest. Bliss.

There was even night-time entertainment – the fire alarm went off at about 2am (I suspect this guy was quietly smoking a bit of the whacky weed), but aside from that, another deep and restful sleep.