Racing the Train

Cathy Freeman? No, not quite, it’s just me, zooming along a local pathway, bearing a couple of the gifts that the current times have bestowed upon me.

I’m on the Djerring trail, known also as Sky Rail. It’s a pedestrian and cycling pathway that has been created from the space beneath the elevated Dandenong and Pakenham railway lines. It stretches 17 kilometres from Caulfield station to Yarraman station.

Yarraman? If you have never heard of this station before, I understand, because neither had I until the path opened up a couple of years ago. Yarraman is a modest metro station tucked away in the the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It has been quietly minding its own business since 1976 as it sits between its bigger, edgier brothers of Noble Park and Dandenong.

The Yarraman Creek meanders and trickles nearby. This pocket is a sanctuary of quietude amid the surrounding hustle of suburban life, clattering railway lines and rapid tollways that pass by.

Tonight though, I am not that far down the line. Instead, I am confined up closer to the city on a segment of the trail known as Racing the Train. The air has that warm balmy feel about it and the pathway is lined with leggy gum trees swaying with cheer, and reaching arms of wattle branches, in bloom.

Not that I can see the gums, or the wattle tonight. They exist only as long droopy shadows falling across the pavement. Light darks fall upon dark darks, overlaid with a criss cross of pattern cast by a high wire fence. In some of the murkier stretches, the only light that emanates is that from my phone, or that from the signal posts along the railway track, flashing bright red and viridian green.

But there’s no time for stopping. I have music on, 60 Hits of the 60’s.  An instrumental piece by The Shadows streams into my pods. It lifts my spirit and my feet.

I am halfway. I am now on the run home. The route takes me 5km from my front door to Oakleigh Station where I turn to return. It has sustained me for the last six weeks. 5k is the perfect distance for a destination goal and it is one that satisfies my inner sense of numerical equilibrium, but it’s one that has been impossible for me to accomplish within the sixty minutes of allocated daily exercise.

I confess, that for the last few weeks I have acted just beyond the boundary of the law. I increase the pace at which I move my legs to avoid making the transgression, again. I graduate from a fast walking speed to a faster than fast walking speed. I elevate my body, lifting both feet from the ground at the same time. This creates an impact on each foot when it lands again. It’s an impact that sends a shock of energy that shudders its way through my legs, my torso, my heart and lungs.

A shadow overtakes me, with footsteps moving quicker than mine. Bugger.

Who is that? I am focused, but sometimes my mind drifts. The shock of energy from my feet hitting the ground finally reaches my central nervous system. It convinces a tiny group of cells in my brain the into releasing some opiate like chemicals into my bloodstream. They dissolve and spread throughout my body. They ease the pain. They subdue the discomfort. I can think now, freely, with space and air and light-heartedness. The darkness brightens and the shadows lift.

I feel the warm arms of the wattle bloom wrap around me and the cheeriness of the gum trees standing by, cheering. I am moving quickly. I am breathing. I can see.

From behind, a distant toot sounds, and a shuddering rattle of raw metal on metal builds. A glow of amber light reveals the smooth shininess of tracks in the distance. For a few moments in time I feel like I am flying along the path, weightless, but insignificant beside the enormous heaviness and speed of the metallic mass whooshing past.

I feel like I’m in a Turner painting. I feel like I am running. I feel like Cathy Freeman. And then, in another moment I am confused. Sweat drips from my face.

Where am I? Am I in a drunken nightmare? Am I running home or am I running away; away from curfews and confinement, from the news and daily tallies. Am I running away from First things first and stay safe messages? From grief, sorrow and exhaustion? Am I running away from pivoting and isolation, zoom meetings and disease – am I running away from the disorder?

And then I realise, I am just running. I am just placing one foot in front of another upon the pathway ahead of me. Whatever happens on the pathway ahead will happen, but for now I have found a few modest moments and my own sanctuary of quietude and peace.

I am racing the train. I have found my Yarraman.

Image: Racing the Train; iPad drawing

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