Who loves a good walk?
It’s a great way to pad out a holiday and it can add some structure to what are, in essence, structureless days.
I was chatting to Tony over the fence the other day. He caught me heading out the back door of Coorabel, our rented beach cottage up on the northern N.S.W. coast. I was in my runners and, yes, my active wear.
He wanted to know to where I was headed.
“Off for a walk.. out to Angourie along the road. I’ll probably stop for a coffee at the general store and then head back along the beach, Tony,” I replied.
“That’s great, Kate, I’m a walker, too.”
Tony was my holiday neighbour for the week. His arms were draped over the tin fence in that unhurried rural town way, his chin neatly perched upon his crossed hands as he chatted.
His smile was ever present whilst his eyes darted about the place. I guessed that Tony always had room, and time, for one more to join a conversation.
He decided to tell me that walking was not just his way of keeping active, but his way to think through things. Walking has helped him through some of life’s sticky spots over his 70-plus years of living.
“It eases my mind and allows all of my problems to just, sort of wash away, you know… they just sort of roll over like waves, instead of eating me up…”
Tony, I thought, was dead right.
Our steps are like rolling waves, one after another, again and again, hitting the ground and loosening the gritty stuff that gets caught in the fabric of life.
To see the act of walking as a cleansing continuum, a physical prayer of sorts, is certainly apt.
Tony and I were on the same page.
A few days later, and still holidaying, the boys and I decided on a walk together up to the rainforested slopes of Mt. Warning.
The summit track is reached by a ten minute drive from Murwillumbah or, as we did, a two hour drive north from Yamba. It is nestled within the Woolumbin National Park.
I was surprised by the lushness of the forest and the fresh greenery in the surrounding pastures and crops of the Tweed Valley. Months of dry Melbourne weather, the recent fires and subsequent smokey air have muted my environmental palette.
The walk begins at the Breakfast Creek car park. It is a 9km return trip that steps continuously up to the summit and back. There are very few flat areas of path, however many of the steps are quite shallow, giving your thighs time to ease into the 2 hours or so required to reach the top.
Whilst I did have company, the boys suggested that I keep on at my own pace. I’m not great at walking and talking, especially when heading uphill, it slows me down and diverts my attention.
And so we decided to split.
The day was overcast. I knew not to expect the brilliant and wide sweeping views that the mountain affords on a clear day. Instead, I passed through patches of low lying cloud and a sprinkling of rain and, as I got closer to the top, a cold gusty wind hit with a surprising blast as I rounded a bend on the southern side.
There was not a lot of wildlife to be seen, just a few scrub turkeys scratching about, and some oversized blowflies. The vegetation was dense and a leafy canopy enveloped me.
The path was strewn with rocks, most easily stepped over and around. Others required a little more navigation and dexterity to clamber. With 4.4km done, the final 100 metre rise to the top begins with a thunderstorm warning sign. The mountain peak narrows considerably. It is essentially a rocky pinnacle with some scrubby bush and a lookout at the top.
I had agreed to wait and meet the boys here but, after calling them, it was agreed I would go on up alone. One of the boys was not feeling well.
This last bit was a vertical rock scramble. There was a chain to assist and, from what I could see, some strategically eroded footholds embedded within the rock face. I could only think of them as fossilised marks from an earlier age.
I finally reached the summit. There was no view of the hinterland or the Gold Coast in the distance. Just thick white cloud and a light, misty rain that I hoped held some promise of moisture for the dryer lands further afield.
I sat for a bit, got someone to take a snap of me, answered a text, rehydrated and treated myself to an apple. There was no point sitting for too long and cooling down.
The descent down the rock face was trickier than the climb up.
Rain made the rock surface extremely slippery and my runners, with worn tread on the soles, were not the best choice of footwear. Every foot step down needed to be firmly planted before transferring any weight on to it. And in some parts it was safer to bum shuffle. One slip here could result in a chopper ride off the mountain.
Once down from this section, you find yourself back on the path. From here the walking is relatively easy, but still takes a good or hour or more to return, depending on your pace.
Covered in mud, thirsty and hot, I returned to the car park and the boys. We jumped into the Landrover, hit the road and headed south towards Brunswick Heads for a cleansing beer, sore but satisfied.
This was probably not the walk for Tony’s type of contemplative reflection, rather one that insisted on complete focus and concentration to avoid injury.
Yes, I do quite like walking.