A Rather Long Account of a Rather Long Walk

Last Wednesday afternoon, after traveling by train and bus to Apollo Bay on Victoria's glorious coast, Jason and I began our journey of through-hiking the Great Ocean Walk. Following the tradition of using trail names for hiking journeys, Jason and I shed our normal nomenclature and became "Kiba" and "Timber" respectively. Kiba is a Japanese word meaning fang which echoes two of Jason's favorite things in the world, Japanese culture and wolves. I chose the name Timber from the lyrics of Joe Pug's song, Hymn 101: "I've come to test the timber of my heart."

With high hopes and heavy packs we began our walk on a cool and grey day. During the course of the day's hike, we spotted sheep, cows, a flash of a wallaby darting through the trees and one human being. We camped peacefully that night surrounded by sweet smelling Eucalyptus trees and the sounds of possums fighting, or at least awful sounding threats of fights. The following morning, I woke early and had my first koala encounter as a cute and chubby koala made its way down a Eucalyptus tree no more than 5 feet away from me. We both stopped and stared at each other for a minute. I don't think I will ever forget that moment. We saw two more koalas that day, plus a snake and a lizard and some really beautiful, brilliantly colored birds as we made our way through the fern forest to the bay. We started to struggle a little physically that second day as soreness set in, and I did get ants in my pants (literally) but all in all, the first two days were quite tranquil.

But on the third day, the rain and cold, strong winds came, and it poured on us all day long. We had no choice but to put on our ponchos (thank you Jay and Barbra!) and brave the rain and cold. This was Kiba's most difficult day. Some days, you've got it, and some days you just don't. His pack was not fitting him properly and had rubbed his shoulder raw, an injury which plagued him the rest of the journey. This was actually one of my strongest days, so I forged ahead and occasionally turned around to encourage Kiba, saying things like, "You are a champion!" I was amazed and grateful for how naturally we took turns being the strong one. One day I was struggling so much and so tired of walking up a hill that seemed to never end, that I leaned down and picked up a rock and threw it down as hard as I could and screamed, "Agghhhhh!" Kiba just stood there patiently, waiting for my tantrum to end, with a slight smile of understanding on his face. We eventually made it to camp, but heard along the way that the rain was likely to continue for the next couple of days and thought about calling it quits. Kiba DID NOT like the idea of continuing to hike through the downpour. We decided to sleep on it, and the next morning we awoke to blue skies! It did rain almost every night after that, but it never did rain on us during the day again. We did however remain pretty damp and therefore cold the rest of the time because our stuff never did dry out. While the blue skies and koala we discovered in the tree above our tent that fourth morning felt like blessings, the holes a mouse had chewed through our tent and through our bag of cashews during the night did not so much feel like a blessing.

The fourth day's hike was pretty tough as we had to hike a large portion along the beach, which sounds nice, but when millions of grains of sand, carried by 100 bajillion mile an hour winds, are pelting you in the face and body, and the weight of your pack is making you sink into the deep sand at every step, it doesn't seem so nice. Oh, but once we got through that section and climbed back into the hills, we got some of our most spectacular views and also spotted some sort of wildcat on the trail ahead of us, which was really refreshing in its unexpectedness. That fourth night was to be our most dramatic. I awoke in the middle of the night to what I feared was a mouse running across my face. I sat up suddenly, but I still wasn't fully awake, so that when Kiba asked me what was wrong, I had trouble articulating what I thought had just happened. "Um, uh, I think a... I'm pretty sure that a..." While I was trying to spit it out, I heard Kiba, who had turned on the lantern while I was stammering, gasp and move suddenly. I assumed it was a mouse he had just seen, so I high-tailed it for the door of the tent, but Kiba wasn't saying anything, (which I soon found out was because he was trying to capture and squash the mouse that was in fact in our tent) so as I was trying to get my ass out of the tent, I was yelling to him, "Am I getting out?!! Am I getting out?!!" (If there was a mouse in our tent, I was definitely getting out, but if not, I didn't want to waste the energy.) Finally, as I'm halfway out the tent, Kiba informs me that he just saw the mouse jump out the tent below me. Sigh. Have you ever awoken to the feeling of a mouse running across your face? It isn't very much fun. It was at that moment, that I lost it a little bit and allowed myself to cry a little. I was so exhausted, hungry for something besides nuts and cold canned beans and thirsty for something besides dirty and disgusting tasting water, in pain from sore muscles and sores on my feet which looked like they were getting infected and which made every step painful, tired of sleeping with no pillow and tree roots stabbing me in the back, sick of being cold and wet... and we still had such a long way to go. But, I knew it was dangerous to feel sorry for myself for too long. There was little I could do about the physical aspects, but I knew I had to stay strong mentally and emotionally. I think this was one of those moments that I grew up a little. I meditated on the following words from Rabindranath Tagore's Sadhana which I took with me to reread:

"Man's freedom is never in being saved from troubles, but it is the freedom to take trouble for his own good, to make the trouble an element in his joy. It can be made so only when we realize that our individual self is not the highest meaning of our being, that in us we have the world-man who is immortal, who is not afraid of death or sufferings, and who looks upon pain as only the other side of joy."

In those moments of pain, when I thought I couldn't take another step, as is often the case in my life it was the little things that kept me going. Grace would come in the form of a butterfly floating by, disappearing down the trail in front of us, or a heart-shaped leaf at my feet, in the thought of loved ones cheering us on ... But then sometimes, grace would not come, sometimes I would try to listen for your voices and instead of hearing you say, "Go, Tracy, Go!" I would just hear you snoring and see you lying in your bed all cozy and warm, and in those moments life seemed to be saying, "Hey! Make your own grace, why don't ya? What do you think that well of strength in your heart is for, silly?!"

If you do not get it from yourself,
where will you go for it?
-The Zenrin

And in those moments of digging deep, of believing in myself, I found a part of myself I had not known before, or at least had not spoken to in a long, long time.

Days 5, 6, and 7 were the longest and the most physically demanding. Up, down, up, down, up, down. That's pretty much how they went. My knees and back and feet were screaming! Kiba's ankles and shoulders were screaming! BUT! we saw gorgeous green rolling hills, breathtaking views of the ocean from way up high, a couple more wallabies, kangaroos, more sheep and cows, horses, a very scary snake, and even got to feast on fresh blackberries which were prominent in the hills! What a treat! On night 7, our last night, with only one medium day hike left, we could hardly contain our excitement! We fantasized about all the delicious food we were going to eat the next day when we returned home and about sleeping in a real bed (well, actually it's just a futon mattress on the floor, but, still!) We finished the Sci-fi novel, Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke, which I had been reading to Kiba each night in the tent. I was skeptical about it as I haven't read any sci-fi since like 5th grade, but since Jason seems hellbent on turning me into a big nerd, I figured I would humor him a little and give it a go, and it turns out I really liked it.

The bus ride home felt like the most luxurious ride of my life. The seats were so soft and it was so warm in there! The distance it took us 8 days to cover, the bus covered in about an hour. I listened to some pretty music on our iPod on the ride home and it was then, as I reflected on our journey, that my heart soared! (You were right, Ruth!) It soared right alongside every other heart that has ever soared, and in that moment, I felt the All in me. And suddenly, every step and pain and elation made perfect sense and were a part of this completeness I felt in my heart. What can I say, but that I felt pretty darn grateful to be sitting there in that peace, pretty darn grateful to be alive. I reflected again on the words that came to me one night in the tent as I lay half asleep which I kept repeating incessantly in a half-conscious state, the lyrics to M. Ward's song, To Go Home, in which he sings,

"God, it's great to be alive,
takes the skin right off my hide,
to think I'll have to give it all up someday."

Generally, I feel like I kind of sucked it up as photographer. It was overcast much of the time, so the conditions were not optimal for good pictures, and I didn't always take a lot of time and care with the shots, and in the case of the wildlife shots didn't have the zooming capabilities to properly capture. Furthermore it is very awkward to hike with the camera out, so I often kept it tucked away and therefore missed out on some kodak moments. Anyway, those are my excuses. But, I think I got a few good ones. Here is a little slideshow I made:


Sky Wheel of Terror!

The other day Jason and I finally experienced the Giant Sky Wheel that lives across the street from us.

Have I mentioned before how terrified I am of heights? I am terrified of heights. I would really rather not be up there when I could be down here. Down here is so nice. BUT! for some unknown reason, I decided I wanted to ride the Sky Wheel, and for some reason I wasn't nervous about being up high, or maybe I just didn't think it through? This is quite possible, kind of like the time I thought I would give up cheese...we all know I did NOT think that one through. Perhaps I temporarily forgot about my severe case of acrophobia? Or maybe I didn't make the connection that ferris wheel = up high? With me, you never can tell. (And neither can I.) All I know is I was all, "Yeah, this is gonna be fun!" before we got on and then BAM! we got on, and it started going up, and I was literally frozen with fear. I would not/could not move. Jason was laughing and taking pictures of me.

(This is what fear looks like.)

And I was shushing him as if his words might make the whole thing collapse and holding onto him like a big fat baby. The ride paused when we were at the very top and the man in the cage in front of us could tell I was freakin' out and turned around to say in disbelief, "Are you scared?" As in, "are you actually scared of this stupid little ferris wheel ride that a small child would not be afraid of?" I managed a teeny tiny "yes." I was practically crying, guys, over a stupid ferris wheel ride! Seriously, it isn't even that high. But I just knew it was going to break any second and that it was going to be the end of me. I was examining the ride, asking Jason, "Why is it making that awful sound? Do you see how rusty those bolts are! Do you think if we fall this cage will protect us?" It wasn't until the very end of the ride that I finally started to relax, but then it was over. I was still alive! But I felt like an idiot for freaking out so much. I said to Jason, "And I was just learning to enjoy it! And now it's over." And he said, "Yeah, and isn't it a lot like life. We finally learn to stop being scared and enjoy ourselves, and then it's over. So, we might as well stop being scared now." He's pretty wise, that one.

(This is what Jason was enjoying while my eyes were closed.)

So, this got me to thinking about fear and its over represented place in my life, and I was going to try to expound on what el profesor said, to say something wise or useful or something! about fear, but honestly, I haven't figured out how to not be scared, (if you have, please fill me in!) so, this is not a story about me overcoming something or learning anything. Really, it's just me laughing at myself and hoping that you laugh at me, too, because really, if we can't laugh at ourselves or allow other people to laugh at us, then we are taking ourselves way too seriously. I recently finished reading Paul Auster's The Invention of Solitude in which he writes: "The world was turned inside out, swept away, and then immediately reborn as a kind of metaphysical jest. There was no room in that world for a man who did not have a sense of his own ridiculousness." If that is the world we live in, then I think there is a place for me because I'm starting to get a pretty good sense of my own ridiculousness.

Have a ridiculous day!


Bricks for Bears

Jason and I were watching the tube last night and then this ad came on, which you can see part of below or all of on youtube. Our mouths were agape and my eyes filled with tears. Why oh why do people do things like this? I had no idea such a thing existed. If you are also alarmed by this and have $10 or more to spare, please go to http://www.bricksforbears.org.au/ and make a donation. And please spread the word! Let's encourage respect for all living things!!


The Great Ocean Walk

In a couple of weeks or so, the Professor and I will embark on a journey within a journey within a journey within a journey. That is to say we will journey the Great Ocean Walk within the journey of being here in Australia within the journey of being together within the journey of being our individual selves. Whoa, that's a lot of journeying. As Lao Tzu said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." In this case though, it is only 104 kilometers. Here is a trailer for a new documentary about the The Great Ocean Walk and walking in general:

It should take us a week to complete it. We are a bit nervous about it because we know it will be challenging, both physically and mentally, but we are also very excited because we know it will be rewarding and full of beauty. I will be sure to take lots of pictures to share with you when we get back. And hopefully I will learn a thing or two. And maybe I will lose a couple LBs (or KGs, rather) from my thunder thighs. To learn more about the Great Ocean Walk, you can go here.

In honor of April Fool's Day, here are some GIFs for you:

gif maker
Gif maker