Brain Injury Hike Caboolture to D’Aguilar National Park 47.5km

Fundraising and Awareness Hike: 450km total

16th of October to 21st of October 2019

I’d arranged with the STEPS coordinator Sue to pick me up from the showgrounds at Caboolture so I could go to the Chermside STEPS group. I always worry about recognising someone if they’re coming to meet me, but I kept telling myself that she would recognise me and that everything would be fine. See, I have prosopagnosia from my brain injury, which affects my ability to recognise people, even if I know them very well. Often pieces fall into place once I’ve had a chance to interact with a person, but not always. Sometimes the only approach I have is to say, “Have I met you before? I have facial blindness and sometimes I can’t recognise people.”

If you can, just for a moment, imagine what this is really like in the context of social situations. It makes even brief encounters stressful and I come away from a lot of interactions feeling stupid and self-conscious. Did they get what I meant about facial blindness or did they just think I was being an idiot? 

As I was waiting for Sue I watched some roadworks that were going on right in front of me. It was so interesting to watch up close. This machine came along and sliced off the edge of the road. It “sucked” it up and shot the chunks into the back of a moving truck. The whole thing had to be tightly controlled by a man on the ground indicating with hand movements if the truck should stop, move forward, speed up or slow down. After the road slicer had done his bit, a bob cat operator came in and cleaned up the scraps left behind. This is my calling, I thought as I watched it unfolding in front of me. I gave the dude on the road slicer thumbs up and he did the same in return. It was really hard not to ask the site supervisor if I could touch his long plaited beard as he explained to me what each piece of machinery did.

Sue brought me Doritos. She’d gone to the trouble of searching  through my website to find out what food I fantasised about while hiking! How cool is that.

The STEPS meeting was a bit difficult, but also really good. I met a lot of nice people, many of them in their twenties who had been struck down with brain injuries from various causes. One of them in particular had a big impact on me and for the rest of the hike I couldn’t stop thinking about her and her family. In fact, I will never forget her.

A lovely lady gave me a big donation and told me that she’d come along especially to see me. She looked like the actress Laura Linney and her daughter’s hairstyle made me think of Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby, one of my favourite movies.

The meeting was difficult because it’s hard to hear about how people came to be brain injured and the obstacles they’re still enduring as a result of that. Some people have made partial recoveries, but others won’t and it made me sad, angry and impatient for a world where people who aren’t brain injured could be imbued magically with understanding. If only people who aren’t brain injured could come to these meetings and see what it’s like for all of us living with this shit, I thought as I recalled what it was like to be all of a sudden treated as though I was dangerous, reckless and stupid by people who had previously respected me, trusted my judgement and valued my work before they found out I was brain injured.

That night I’d arranged to stay with my friend, Yvonne in Morayfied. I’d met Yvonne at the RBH in 2005. Her husband, Mick was in the same ward as me and had the same kind of brain tumour I did. Unfortunatley Mick passed away some years ago. Yvonne and I stayed in touch, but it had been a long time since I’d seen her. It was good to catch up with her and her granddaughter, Zoe, who had come to live with Yvonne, kindly gave up her bedroom so that I could have a “real” bed to sleep in.

The next day I went to another STEPS meeting with Sue. This time at Northlakes where I met more nice people. I felt that my experience of trying to get work and sustain employment once I attained it very strongly mirrored the experience of one of the ladies in the group and I spent a fair bit of time talking to her about what that was like. I’ve always felt like a bit of loser not being able to get a job after I struggled through a degree. I wasn’t happy that she’d had the same experience, but it was still good to learn that I wasn’t alone.

I got to thinking about my own brain injury and how it can’t possibly be called mild. Just because I don’t have a compromised gait or slurred speech doesn’t mean my brain injury isn’t severe. I mean, some of my brain got cut out for crying out loud, a big chunk in fact, and my entire brain was swollen for a long time (weeks and weeks). I even went temporarily blind from the intracranial pressure. Then there was the chemotherapy and radiation. All of it happened over an extended period, not just in an isolated event. When I hear other people talking about their brain injuries and the services they’ve been able to access it makes me  really pissed off that I never got to access any of those things and can’t access any of them because how would I? I look normal, I sound normal and I’ve got no way to prove that there’s anything wrong with me, besides the big scar on my head and my MRI pictures, but even then, it’s hard to make people understand because they just don’t get it, even professionals.

Sue dropped me back off at Caboolture to start walking again after the meeting. She took this photo at the trail head of the Caboolture to Wamuran Rail Trail.

The walk along the rail trail was pretty good, but it was so farking hot. I drank nearly all the water in both my bottles. It probably didn’t help that I was scarfing down salty Dorito chips at every opportunity I got.

At one spot in the middle of nowhere I saw this guy just sitting there on the side of the trail. He looked a bit weird and he was staring right at me, so I said hello to him. He started to get up and was trying to talk to me, but I said, “sorry, I’ve got to keep going.” I really didn’t, but he kind of freaked me out a bit.

I did worry about going the wrong way because the trail had no signs and I had to cross over a road and go through what looked like someone’s front yard. I could see a pink flagging tape fluttering around across the paddock, so I thought that could be where I was meant to go. It seemed like it, but I couldn’t be totally sure because just like the trail before it, there were no signs after it. I felt a bit better when I saw this garden at the back of a big sawmill. I thought it was pretty cool that people would do this at their workplace:

On the other side of the blue thing was a whole section of pumpkins. The space between the front of the garden beds and the top of the trail was full of seedlings. The garden beds are old truck tyres.

I’d gotten permission to stay on the patch of ground between the hall and the Wamuran Men’s Shed. People had been texting me telling me to watch out for a storm that was brewing, so I thought I’d wait a bit to set up my tent. I also didn’t want people to see what I was doing and there were people in the hall having a meeting. I thought I might have to camp on the hall verandah if the storm got really bad. There were a couple of thunder claps and some rain, but it came to nothing really.

I camped at the back of the hall in the end, but I waited until dark to put my tent up. The next morning as I was packing up I could see some feet marching in my direction. I knew they belonged to someone who was coming to see what I was doing because there was no other reason to come down to where I was camped. Here we go, I thought. It was lucky that I’d recorded the names of the men I’d spoken to from the men’s shed when I was asking about camping there because old mate was not impressed that I’d camped there overnight. He didn’t turn out to be all bad though because he went and told the lady in the coffee van out the front that I was there and she brought me a free coffee, which was really nice. I had to tip it out after she’d gone because it had milk in it and I couldn’t drink it. I didn’t tell her that though.

Wamuran campsite at back of the hall.

As I was leaving I went to the coffee van to say hi. Some ladies were getting coffee before going to Yoga and they were really interested in what I was doing. One of them gave me a donation and the coffee van owner (Tanya) gave me her phone number in case I needed help along the road. I was planning on walking along the unfinished rail trail to D’Aguilar, but the yoga ladies said it would be easy to get lost, so I just stuck to the highway.

This was the worst bridge I encountered on the entire hike. I ran across this one because the road was really busy with trucks coming from both directions. There was only a very narrow shoulder on one side of the bridge because the other side had barriers taking up the shoulder. I made it across just as two trucks came thundering along in opposite directions.

I thought it would take around 3 – 4 hours to walk the distance to D’Aguilar, but I did it in just over 2 hours. It sounds ridiculous, but it seemed too easy. I was worried the pub would forget that they’d said I could stay there for free, so I scoped out potential campsites as I got closer to town. When I arrived the manager did remember me and she let me go to my room even though it was too early for check-in. I had a shower and tried to go to sleep, but I was too lazy to get up and turn the air conditioning off, which meant I was too cold to sleep. I don’t know why I do this kind of thing. I’m sure other people do it too. It’s like needing to pee in the middle of the night; I always lay there pretending that the need to pee will just magically disappear, but of course that never happens and I waste three hours of sleeping time trying to ignore the need to go. In the end I get up and stomp to the toilet as though my body has manufactured a full bladder just to annoy me.

D’Aguilar Pub. I had a great time here.

My room at the pub. It was really awesome!

I met some locals at the pub. They were all hilarious, especially Goomba:

Me and Goomba (not sure how he earned that nickname.). He seemed to be the local larrikin. He kept asking everyone in the bar to give me donations and I got around $200 through him pestering everyone about it. I had a really awesome time, except for when Goomba went and kindly got me a coffee after I told him I didn’t drink alcohol. The coffee was the worst kind for me: a latte. Ugh! I couldn’t tip this one out, so I had to force my way through it without pulling faces about how disgusting it was. It was hard, but I made it to the end of the seemingly bottomless mug. The pub was really pumping and was full of people. I wish the pub at Woodgate could be more like that!

This was another local. I can’t recall exactly his name, but it went something like this: Sir Edward Smithsonian Belladonna Moore. His t-shirt really sums the whole thing up:

Everyone I ended up sitting with seemed to be pretty drunk and it made me so glad that I don’t drink.I made up a bullshit story at the pub about how I’m not allowed to drink for medical reasons due to my brain injury. This story stops people from asking why I don’t drink and trying to convince me to drink with them when they invariably don’t understand my reasons for not drinking whenever I elaborate.

I left at 8.30pm. I was worried about the next day and Mt Mee. It had been on my mind since I first started the hike.

In the morning as I was getting ready to go, I got called a man again. There were two hotel employees sitting at a table near my room and one of them said to the other, “there’s that guy doing the walk along the road.” I looked around and the other one said, “that’s a chic!” I asked the first one why he thought I was a man, but like the dude in Glasshouse he was really embarrassed. I told him I wasn’t offended, just interested in what made him think I was a man. He was kind of squirming with embarrassment, but he eventually said, “Well, you’ve got short hair and you just don’t expect a woman to be doing something like what you’re doing. Sorry, luv, sorry.”

Like I said earlier though, it can’t be because of the pack. I’ve been called a man when I’m not hiking. Just the other night, at a dinner party, a drunk moron told me that I looked like a lavatory door. “You know, you’ve got no womanly shape. Your hair is too short. You should flirt more.” What the actual fuck? He told me in the end that I looked like an alien, to which I quipped without skipping a beat, “I won’t bother telling you what you look like.” What I really wanted to say was, you look like a fuckhead. I didn’t say that though because I was at someone else’s house and he was their friend. Emphasis on the their in that sentence.

The walk to Mt Mee wasn’t too bad in the end. I was worried about the windiness of the road, not the steep climb:

This sign made me smile:

I found I really enjoyed walking up the mountain. The harder it should have been (but wasn’t), the more I felt invincible. I even started laughing a couple of times because I simply felt like the most amazing person who had ever existed. This feeling must have something to do with the VO2 max.

The view was pretty good walking up the mountain:

The rain chased me the whole way. I just made it to the lookout and under a tiny shelter shed before it started pouring. Eventually it stopped and I made it to where I’d planned to camp that night. I collected my food cache that I’d hidden weeks beforehand and went over to the cafe/restaurant to have a coffee. I sat there for ages and then it started storming, so I went and got another drink. “I thought I’d get another coffee if it’s going to storm,” I said smiling. It wasn’t busy (I was the only one in the place), so I didn’t think they’d mind if I hung around a bit. They knew what I was a charity walker because I’d told them ages ago that I’d be coming through when I was mapping the hike (plus,I had my pack with me while I was there [obviously] and it has a big sign on it). “We do close at 4pm,” said the lady behind the counter.

Just before 4pm I went up to pay for my coffee. I thought that they’d offer for me to stay seeing it was still storming. Maybe they’ll just let me sit on the little verandah. No, they didn’t and I had to leave. They did give me one coffee for free, which is something I guess. I really wanted to tell someone how great I was for walking up the mountain in under 3 hours, but I didn’t because no one asked how the hike was going and I suppose I got a bit disappointed about that. It’s hard to remember that just because I care about something, it doesn’t mean other people care about it too.

I decided I didn’t want to camp behind the church. After I had to leave the restaurant I felt that the restaurant people weren’t particularly friendly and they would have been able to see that I’d gone behind the church and because I hadn’t been able to ask for permission to camp there, I didn’t want to get in trouble for it, so I went looking for somewhere else. I ended up camping underneath the hall. I’d tried to contact the people in charge of it previously, but no one got back to me about it. I was worried about getting into trouble, so I tucked my tent out of view and waited until after dark to set it up:

It was impossible to sleep here because of the possum olympics. Several competing teams of possums ran riot all night long. There were crashing sounds in the gardens and I imagined that a rogue possum was throwing his counterparts from the balcony into the foliage. The peacock was the referee, who policed proceedings with a stupid honk that went on all night long. Peacocks aren’t nocturnal! Why was he up all night? I really could have strangled all of them. I also got really cold, which didn’t help matters. I guess you might have said that I had the shits!

This was one of the reasons:

I kind of felt like Mt Mee didn’t like me. I had to go over to the school to get water out of the bubblers, which wasn’t easy. I wasn’t expecting that. I’ve never seen taps padlocked before.

The next morning a lady came while I was packing up. I’d put my tent away really early so I couldn’t get into trouble for camping. I told her that I was just reconfiguring my pack and I asked her if she was going to get up me for camping there. When she said no, I told her what I was really doing. She started talking about how dangerous the world is. “When I go into a shopping centre carpark I always make sure there’s more than one or two other people there so I don’t get mugged. It’s happening all the time,” she said. I asked her where she saw it happening. Her answer of course was, on the news. “How many times have you seen on the news about how someone made a successful journey through a shopping centre carpark? The world is not a dangerous place. No one likes to hear this, but it’s actually true. We see violence on the news, hear it on the radio and it’s fed to us non stop online. People talk about it on social media and keep bringing it up over and over again. This causes us to believe that the world is something it’s not. Did you know that the most dangerous place for a woman is in her own home with a man she knows?” She didn’t really have a response for anything of these things, but I did get the feeling that she actually heard what I was saying, which was promising. It’s challenging for people to meet someone who says stuff that totally conflicts with their view of reality and is a living example of the conflict.

That night I was meant to be camping, but the cool guy I’m married to wanted to come and pick me up because he’d been called away for work in PNG. If I didn’t take the opportunity to see him then I wouldn’t have been able to see him until well into December. We arranged to meet at D’Aguilar National Park, which wasn’t far from where I’d camped, so I got walking. He was going to drop me back the next day.

Down the road I started talking to some nice people who were embarrassed about the stench of the fertiliser they were spreading in the garden. I told them I’d camped at the hall. The lady said, “that’s ok, I’m on the committee.” I wish I had known that, then I could have just come to see her when I was planning the hike. They had a beautiful view from their house.

A bit further down the road I met Myles and Holly who stopped to give me a donation. They had dogs with them: two staffies called Mash and Teabag. I wanted to pat them because I really missed my own dogs and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Biggie’s fluffy tail that sticks almost straight up. He’s our red cattle dog. I got whinging to Myles about the Metallica concert being cancelled on the 29th of October. Holly was wearing a Pennywise jumper and it reminded me of the original reason behind my idea for walking to Brisbane: going to the Metallica concert. I really liked both Holly and Myles. I saw Myles again a few days later on the road outside Samford. It was really nice to see him again, but Holly was at work this time.

Biggie and the tail

It was a hard walk up to the national park. It was because I was so damn tired from the possum olympics. The view was really amazing though. There was a house that had a view that never ended. “You’d never get tired of looking at that,” I said to no one in particular. I saw this cool truck at one spot:

I took this photo as I got into the national park. I had to run to retrieve the camera because as soon as I set the timer two motorbikes started coming down the track and would have run right over it:

I stayed awake for the 3.5 hour trip home, but as soon as we arrived I laid down and went straight to sleep for an hour. That night I went to sleep immediately and didn’t wake up at all until the morning. It would’ve been one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and the Mountain

Yesterday I climbed a mountain. I almost didn’t do it because I looked it up online and saw that it was only 5km and thought, bah! that’s a waste of time!  It was much harder than I thought it was going to be. It also took much longer than I expected it to and afterwards I felt kind of dumb for thinking that it would be easy and I was glad I hadn’t expressed any of this to anyone before I went and did the climb.

I’d climbed Mt Walsh when I was in grade 10 back in 1992 and I can’t recall it being as hard as it was yesterday. I’m not sure the school would have had us scurrying up sheer rock faces and lowering ourselves into short ravines, only to climb back up the other side across obstacles and slippery rock faces, all without any kind of climbing or safety equipment or really any discernible skill. But hey, it was the nineties and everyone was still clambering their way back to sanity after suffering through the eighties and those horrendous hair-dos. Who knows and who cares, I certainly don’t.  It was really the only useful thing I did at high school (apart from learning how to type). Mr Goodall taught us how to rock climb and abseil and I’ve never forgotten that. Those climbing lessons have come in handy so many times. “Three points of contact Jenny! he shouted at me. “Don’t let go until you know where you’re going to contact next and pay attention to where you’re going. Make sure the path you’ve picked up the rock face isn’t impassable. Geoff! Don’t grab vegetation. Katrina, what are you doing, you’re dangling in mid-air. What’s Chris doing over there? Ohhhh, come on! Don’t climb trees, Chris! What just happened? Ohhhh,quick, get the stretcher. Keith’s broken his leg!” Keith really did break his leg, but I don’t think he fell off the mountain. I think he just tripped over his own feet walking to the toilet.

As I started to ascend the mountain, gunfire from the nearby rifle range (where we’d camped in year 10) echoed off the bluffs. The higher I went the more I began to imagine that the sound would loose an avalanche of ancient rock that would crush and cover me and that my car would sit alone, abandoned and dusty in a carpark in the middle of nowhere. Rusty it would become throughout the years until it would be hauled away by the big flood of 2035. All of this brought on by my recent reading of The Outsider by Stephen King. This kind of thing is the reason why I had to tone down my reading of books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. My imagination has a “slight” tendency to run away with me. It’s been doing this since I was a little kid.

The mountain was awesome! I got a bit scared when I got to the rope because I wasn’t sure if I could get up that section of the rock face, let alone get back down it and I almost turned around and went back. I said outloud, “No, that’s just being a pussy.” And I made myself do it. It really wasn’t that scary and neither was coming down.

There were a couple of worse sections up the mountain a bit further and I was ever so thankful for my extra, extra long legs and arms. See, the thing is: I’m actually quite afraid of heights and I knew it would be a bit scary doing this climb by myself because I only had myself to rely on. I’ve just finished reading Write Way Home by Hedley Derenzie, and on the mountain I thought of what she said about no one coming for me, because nobody would be coming for me if I got stuck, so I simply had to make it work. I don’t know if I would have pushed myself so hard if I knew that the cool guy I’m married to could come and rescue me if I got into trouble.

Climbing this mountain also made me recognise how important the effort I put into training is. I don’t like weight training that much, because mostly I think, what’s the point of even bothering with this? and it’s a massive effort to force myself to do it every second day. I particularly hate shoulder presses, but it’s the strength I’ve built by doing shoulder presses that allowed me to hoist myself easily up sections of the mountain that maybe once I wouldn’t have been able to climb. It’s the squats and hundreds of ab exercises I do every week that gave me the stability to get down the mountain in one piece (even though I fell over once) and it’s the general tenacity with which I approach my sometimes extreme training regime that allows me to do things like climb mountains on my own and force myself through fears that at some point in the past would have most definitely held me back.

I love it when I can see how all the the little things I do come together in a way that I never actually thought of, creating synergies where none previously existed. I’ll never be someone who is the best at one thing (certainly not shoulder press), but that’s ok because I’m not seeking perfection or the calibre of excellence in anything I do. Rather, I’m active in the pursuit of living a life that matters; a life spent adventuring and climbing mountains both real and figurative. A life where nobody is coming for me, so it’s up to me to embrace fear, discomfort and adversity and get on with being the person I set out to be; someone who never gives in, albeit someone who might have the tendency to underestimate mountains.

“In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ― Jack Kerouac