Brain Injury Hike Tewantin to Caloundra 80km (but probably more)

Fundraising and Awareness Hike: 450km total

8th of October – 11th of October

Right before I got to the Sunshine Coast I had to make up the distance I had missed out on by not being able to walk the Cooloola Great Walk (it was closed by QPWS). I did that at home by walking to my mum’s place along the Buxton Road (22km), and walking around Burrum Coast National Park and out along the road that connects Walkers Point to Woodgate. It’s pretty cool living right next to a national park:

The melaleuca circuit is 12km. One time, at the bird hide, a snake slithered over my hand. Another time, I saw a musk duck. That was pretty cool. Better than the snake.

Echidna all scrunched up. I tried to sneak up on him/her to get a good photo, but they must feel the vibrations of anything that is approaching and go straight into scrunch mode.

The wetlands on part of the Melaleuca Circuit.

Note on Sunshine Coast Section of hike: The hike jumped around a lot here. I expected to be able to walk straight from Tewantin to Caloundra, but wasn’t able to garner the interest of any caravan parks in helping me out with a free tent site, which meant I had to trek over, across, back, forwards and sideways to cover the distance, while being accommodated very kindly for free by some people I’d known for a long time, but mostly by people I’d never met before.

The first day on the Sunshine Coast was really hard. It was soooo freakin’ hot and the concrete paths really hurt my feet. It was good to learn this though. For the rest of the hike I stayed off the concrete and walked on the grass/dirt next to it.

The cool guy I’m married to dropped me near the Tewantin primary school and I walked from there.

I walked past a cafe, where some cyclists were having coffee. One of them was super-friendly. He was really excited about what I was doing and he gave me donation. I thought it was a good sign and that everyone I came across would be friendly, but it didn’t really work out like that. I tried smiling at everyone I went past, but pretty much everyone wouldn’t even look at me and the ones that did looked away really quickly. For most of the day no one smiled back at me and the main reaction I got was the stupid-weird look that people seem to give me no matter where I am. After a while I stopped smiling at people and just looked down when I had to walk past someone.  It’s really hard to get past this because I can’t understand it. Some of my friends reckon that people ignore me because they’re city people, One of them said it’s because people are jealous of me (why anyone would be jealous of someone carting a 20kg pack is anyone’s guess!) and someone very close to me said that it’s because while I’m doing this I am a “proper weirdo”. I think I agree with that the most. I mean, not every single person looks at me like I’m the biggest weirdo of all time, but I’d have to say at least 95% of them do. It’s no big deal in areas with a very small population, but in a place like the Sunshine Coast and in Brisbane, it’s constant and it kind of got to me a little bit. The scenery was pretty good though:

Looking across the Noosa River

I did have some nice people speak to me in Noosa. The first one was a lovely lady from a shop called Poke on Hastings. Her name was Deanne and she came over to me and offered me to have anything I wanted to eat from her shop. I said I couldn’t eat anything at that point, so she gave me a nice drink instead:

Down the road a bit another lady came out of a coffee shop and was really interested in what I was doing. Her name was Jodie and she was really beautiful. She gave me a donation. I couldn’t remember what the name of her cafe was, so I googled “Jodie cafe Noosa” and got the right result: Puncheur

After that I didn’t talk to anyone until Sunrise or Sunshine Beach (I can’t remember which one). There was a dude there standing on seat looking out at the ocean.

Me: Are you going surfing?

Him: It’s low tide (said with derision).

Me: Does that matter? (the waves looked perfectly fine to me).

Him: You should have a different hat (didn’t answer about it being low tide).

Me: Yes, thankyou, but it’s hard to hear traffic and bikes approaching from behind with a broad brimmed hat.

Him: Humph (I could tell he wanted to argue with me about it. I didn’t bother pointing out that he should probably be wearing a shirt for his own sun protection considering he was so concerned about mine).

Me: How far is Coolum? (I didn’t actually care, I just wanted to redirect away from the hat topic).

Him: All the way up there (while pointing and smiling as though I should be afraid of how far away it was and that it would be impossible to actually walk all that way).

I had to get away from this guy as quickly as I could, so I made up some excuse about having to meet someone and started walking again. He was the biggest knob of all time!! He reminded me of the people I knew back in the nineties when I lived in Mooloolaba; the ones who all thought their shit didn’t stink.

Coolum waaay off in the distance. It’s actually so far that you can’t even see it.

At Peregian I spoke to a really nice lady called Rachel. She had a big scar on her shoulder and I asked her how it happened. “I was living in Brisbane. I was absorbed in my life there and just like everyone else, I was in a hurry all the time. I tried to beat a car at a pedestrian crossing and slipped on the white marks because it was raining and I was in such a rush. I fell down and smashed my shoulder against a high curb. It was a bad thing to happen, but it changed my life. I’m so much happier now. I moved away from the city after that and slowed the pace of my life. I should never have moved away from Coolum. I love it here.” I got the feeling that she could no longer see what she had found so attractive in the fast-paced city life.

I couldn’t work out how to get back onto the bike path. Rachel wasn’t sure, so after I left her I asked a man in a car, who was fairly useless at polite interactions, so I asked a lady in a shop, who pointed out that the path was only about 20m away on the other side of the carpark. Not long after I got back onto the path I walked through the area that had been burnt by a deliberately lit bushfire several weeks previously. One of the houses had lost its back fence and the shed was warped and twisted. There were melted surf boards and body boards inside it. The fire had licked up against the sides of homes that I walked past and many of the fences had been destroyed, not to mention the gardens and big trees. Some homes were totally destroyed in the fire, but I didn’t see any of these, thankfully. It must have been horrible to see the fire approaching through the bushland that was just across from the homes I walked past.

It seemed to take forever to get to Coolum. In fact, it took me over seven hours. WTF! It was only meant to be 20km but someone said later that it was probably closer to 40km because of how I walked by the longest route possible rather than the direct route I put in on Google Maps. That seemed plausible. I started whinging out loud towards the end: “How much further is it for fuck’s sake? Whyyyyyy is it so far? I can’t believe how long this is taking! Come on, am I there yet?” Lucky I was on my own. I saw a sign in the distance that I thought said CBH. That’s got to stand for Coolum Beach Hotel, I thought and it did.

I’d set up a Facebook event to start at 4.30pm, but no one came. I tagged the Coolum Beach Hotel in as co-hosts, but they mustn’t monitor their social media because they never got back to me (in fact, none of the venues did for any of the events I tagged them in on). There were big comfy lounges in the beer garden and as I sat there I watched a huge water dragon slide out from underneath one of the couches:

I got some donations from a few people in the beer garden. One of them was a lovely young girl who shyly handed over her money. Another was a strange man who came over to my pack and traced his finger across the words on the sign as though it was helping him to read it. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to put up with shit.

Him (in a gruff voice): Are you a good one or a bad one?

Me (in a no-bullshit voice): What do you think?

Him: I just wanna know if you’re one them good ones or bad ones.

Me: Well, what do you reckon? I’ve walked a long way to get here, I’m not getting paid, I’m raising money for a good cause, so you work it out for yourself.

He must’ve been happy with that because he gave me a $4 and off he went.

I had a few people like this on the last long hike I did in 2016. I’m not sure what their caper is, but I found last time that I had to speak to them the same way they spoke to me otherwise I had to put up with a mountain of bullshit. Sometimes it’s ok to put up with bullshit, but after hiking almost 40km I really wasn’t in the mood for it.

That night I stayed with some people from the Maroochydore STEPS group who were very kind to come and pick me up and take me back to their nice home in Buderim. It was quite a drive.

The next day we all went to the STEPS meeting together and I met some lovely people, one of them a man named Wayne who had come to be brain injured when he was run over by a car. His story was very similar to mine in that he didn’t know he was brain injured for a long time and thought he was going crazy, which is exactly the way I felt in the five years I lived with brain injury before I knew what was going on.

After the meeting I went to Sunshine Plaza and walked around a bit. I had to wait until the afternoon to meet Olivia who had offered for me to stay at her place via a request I’d put on Facebook. I’d never met Olivia before and I told myself that she’d be similar to a really awesome friend I had when I was younger; Erin, and it turned out that she actually was a lot like Erin! I had a great time staying with Olivia and her family. The house was full of people and her two boys Remi and Marli were both really cool dudes. I talked a lot with Olivia’s father, Serge and he had a lot of really wonderful things to say about his wife and his family. He was obviously very proud of them all. Olivia very kindly gave up her own bedroom for me and I had an excellent night’s sleep.

The next day Olivia took me to the Sunshine Coast University Hospital to look at the radiation oncology unit. She said we could go behind the scenes and see the planning section. This was interesting to me because I’ve had radiation therapy for brain cancer and while I knew planning had been done for my treatment, I didn’t realise how involved that actually was. I had no idea that physicists had input and that there were teams of people working behind the scene to make sure that the treatment was delivered effectively. I got a bit upset at one point and started pissing out tears. It was because the lady giving me the tour was explaining to me about why they have a photo wall. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that people wanted a photo to remember having radiation. I couldn’t wait to forget it.

Olivia very kindly drove me all the way back into Mooloolaba, which is where I’d scheduled a Facebook event at a cafe. I sat there like a twat for over 30 minutes. The dude behind the counter didn’t even say hello, which I thought was weird considering I’d called him to let him know I’d be coming and also seeing that my pack took up about one third of the entire floorspace in the tiny cafe. I wrote a story about being invisible and having an invisible disability in one of the adult colouring books he had on the table, then I left. I wonder if he read it.

It was impossible to work out where to walk today! I had printed maps (I don’t have an iphone), but the detail wasn’t good enough or maybe my spatial reasoning deficit wasn’t really helping, but man oh man, I walked in the wrong direction, back again, then back yet again, all the while being on the wrong side of the canal. I got the shits really badly and almost started crying a couple of times. The more I looked at the map, the less it seemed to make sense. I had to ask a lot of people where to go and in the end I found my way to the right road. As a result of all the to and fro, it took ages to get to my destination and I was really tired.

I stopped in a Maccas and a friendly lady there offered to give me a lift. I said no, but she gave me a donation anyway, which was nice. I had a thickshake and I felt better after that.

I was walking to Harmony Estate, which is on the other side of Sippy Downs to stay with Peter, who I’d never met before. Just like Olivia, I’d come across Peter on Facebook when he very kindly offered for me to stay at his place. I had a great time with Peter and his very cool dog, Bessy. I felt like Peter was the male version of me and I imagined we could easily be best friends in the non-hiking world. We talked about music and watched a DVD of Midnight Oil’s tour in 2017. We’d both gone to their gigs on that tour. I wish I had taken a photos of Bessy. She looked like a nice dog I used to know called Manoo, who was a big Irish Wolfhound.

I was looking forward to the next day because I was walking through the Mooloolah River National Park:

When I got in there it was great and I thought, I wish it was all like this.

Then I got to this sign:

What, does the Aemula fire trail go straight down into the centre of the earth? And which way does the Boronia fire trail go? Is it left or right? This wasn’t on a straight stretch of trail, it was on a corner. Luckily I came across some people not long after I saw this sign and was able to ask them where to go. I had a map, but couldn’t make sense of it. I followed the people I met, even though the lady was walking stupid-fast (around 7km/hr by my estimate). I wondered if she thought that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her and that she’d show me up. It wasn’t me that couldn’t keep up, it was the poor man she was with, who I think was her husband!  They went out of the park and back into civilsation and I somehow managed to find the right road.

I had lunch at a fish and chip shop and a guy (Terry) came and sat down with me and started telling me about his brain injury from a car accident. He showed me his arm that had this horrendous scar on it and said that it had nearly been cut off, and that his hand had undergone 24 surgeries. He said he had to relearn everything again. He was a really nice guy and I really liked talking to him. He beeped at me later when he drove past me.

Not long after that, a car driven by an adult, but full of kids (about 15 -16 years old) drove past and they all hung out of the car yelling about me being a legend and giving me the Shaka sign, which was pretty cool because I could tell they were all surfers. It made me feel really good.

It took over five hours, but I finally made it to Caloundra:

After that it started pouring rain and I caught a bus back to Mooloolaba where some awesome friends had rented a fancy unit for two nights. The bus driver was the nicest man of all time. He was so helpful to everyone and really tolerant towards a loud mouth yobbo up the back. The yobbo kept swearing and the bus driver kept apologising to everyone on the bus for it. The guy was obviously a dickhead, but the driver didn’t lose his cool and just kept being really nice to everyone who got on and off the bus as though the yobbo up the back wasn’t even there. I wish I could be more like that! (The bus driver, not the yobbo).

The more I seek, the more I get free, and the more I get free, the more I seek

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and the Food

Today I spent eight hours getting the food packed up and organised for my brain injury hike. 

This is a typical ration for one day:

Some of the meals have dried vegetables in them and then there’s the dried fruit. The fruit and veggies went from this:

To this:

Then it all ended up looking like this:

Packing up the food isn’t my favourite thing. I get quite anxious over it. I’m not running around with my arms flailing about, knocking into walls while crying and screaming or anything, but I do worry about getting it exactly right (I can’t handle the thought of having to go without my dinner!) That’s not at all helped by the high fire danger in just about all the areas I’ve planned to walk in. I’ve had to remap the route twice due to national parks getting closed to walkers due to the high fire danger. It was kind of annoying, well, a lot annoying, but at least I had enough time to plan alternatives and I haven’t lost my shit at all yet, which is pretty damn awesome! I did almost start crying the other day when three people in a row, who were your basic big ol’ meanies, were really mean to me when I asked for their help about camping, but then I met someone nice, who was happy to help me, so I got over being upset about the three big ol’ meanies. My idea of a big ol’ meanie is probably not your idea of a big ol’ meanie, but if you read this post, you might get where I’m coming from.

From adventure it begins

 

 

450km and Brain Injury Awareness Week

 

This week it’s Brain Injury Awareness Week. Yay for my brain, yay for yours and yay for the collective brain. Insert fist bump or maybe brain bump here.

If you saw me you’d never think I had a disability. That’s what it’s like to live with what is known as the Invisible Disability: the prosopagnosia, the dyschronometria, which still impact me and the aphasia and dysphasia of the early days are buried behind the “normality” of my appearance. So is the severe spatial reasoning deficit, the compromised working memory, emotional hyperactivity and the grand old executive functioning deficit. I’m not providing any definitions for these things because I was given none when I was discharged from hospital and I had to work out from scratch what the hell was wrong with me.

See, no one told me I had a brain injury. They just packed me off home with instructions to sort out my things and prepare for imminent death. They literally said that to me. One doctor patted me on the back of the hand, nodding and smiling as she said, “now, you just go home and sort out your things. I won’t need to see you anymore.” Then she turned on her heel and walked off into the waiting room full of people, all of them looking up to her with hope in their faces as she floated by. I looked at the big window in front of me and wondered if anyone would notice or care if I just smashed my way through and fell four stories to the concrete below.

I did smash my way through, not the window, but life instead. I refused to believe that I would die and I nearly lost the fight several times, but I’m still here, stronger and better than I ever was before. What happened to me changed me, my life and the lives of those who chose to stick around when things got really hard. There’s no going back to the way things were before and that was so difficult to accept. I lost a lot and sometimes I still lose, but that’s ok because that’s what life is, not just because I’m brain injured, but because that’s what happens when you’re a member of the human race.

I never really understood disability before I became brain injured. I certainly had no idea what being brain injured meant for a person’s life and the wide-reaching impact that it could have on their families, friends and communities in general. There are over 700 000 Australians living with brain injury and I’m one of them. So are my friends in my local STEPS support group. I see what my friends struggle with and that’s why I’m reaching out to everyone I know and everyone I don’t know to help me raise $40 000 to support what The PA Research Foundation does through STEPS:

https://www.teamparf.org.au/users/jennifer-parry

I’m walking 450km on my own from my home in Woodgate to the Brisbane CBD to kick off my fundraising. This map involved physical cutting and pasting (like we all did in primary school), photography and drawing. This is what happens when you’re not a cartographer and don’t want to spend a week trying to get Google Maps to do what you want it to do. As a result, this map sucks, but for the itinerary click here.

An adventure I will make

 

Something Brand New

It’s good doing stuff that makes you feel nice. This is why trying new stuff can be hard; it makes you feel uncomfortable and your poor little brain goes, “No! I don’t wannaaaaa!” while figurativley throwing itself on the floor, crying and flailing about.

I like tricking my brain into action. See, this is what it does: I tell it that it would be great to try this or that and it gets excited, but then it goes back to its comfortable little life because it believes that nothing will change. Take for example this:

Me: I want to drive a truck.

Brain: Yeah, that sounds awesome, but as if you’ll ever do that.

Me: Yeah, but I reckon I could.

Brain: You are full of shit.

Me: Yeah, well watch this!

So before my brain could get in the way, I rang the Semi School and made an appointment for a driving lesson in an MR truck and did it.

I’d been wanting to drive a truck for years. Just because. I was uncomfortable with trying something brand new, but once I got going I was surprised that it wasn’t really that hard. The instructor told me not to bother with anymore MR lesson and that next time I should just go straight to HR.

I wrote a while back about how we can hold ourselves back from doing new things because we believe we aren’t “that kind of person”. I never thought I was someone who could drive a truck, but guess what? I am.