27th April 2014 Stretch

I took a few rest days (3) at Kingston SE. Partially because I was tired, partially because it’s pretty beautiful here, part because now I have to Coorong ahead of me, and quite a bit because I’m approaching the end of this journey and I want to make the most of the good bits. The Coorong is the 150km stretch of beach/saltwater ponds with nothing but a roadhouse along it that I’ve been dreading for weeks.

So I started that today. Signs saying 84km to Salt Creek (the roadhouse) and 148km to Meningie were daunting. It’s a long road that’s undulated and turns very slightly, so I just stare at distant tarmac for hours until I step on it staring at the next bit. I realised the recommended wild camp spot (with a rainwater tank) was on the wrong side of a massive lake. After 45km, tired and aching as per usual, I camped on the side of the road. Having seen shotgun shells littering the hard shoulder, I hid myself behind bushes as best I could. Made a few phone calls to home, cooked, spilt couscous all over the inside of my tent and am about to pass out…

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28th April 2014

Woke up in the bush and was actually comfy enough to oversleep. Got up to piss and saw an awesome sunrise. As soon as I set of at 8am my feet were on fire, but even worse was the stitch in my core which shot upwards with every step. I’m really starting to feel like I’m falling apart. I was slower, with more and longer breaks than yesterday, and as I got further into the Coorong, flies started to appear. When you’re hot, sweaty, tired and in pain, having flies crawling on you, and buzzing around your face whenever you slow, is brutally soul destroying.

It was a real struggle to finish the 41km to Salt Creek but I made it with an hour to spare before daylight disappeared. Salt Creek is literally a ‘servo’ in the middle of nowhere. Met a South African guy called Carlton who walked 320km across South Africa in 7 days. We related a lot, and everything he said about how he feels about it now gave me a new sense of motivation. He also bought me a 3 course meal at the roadhouse. Yet another overly generous person.

Me and Carlton set up a little bonfire and sat chatting with two girls who work here.

Adam, the guy who owns the ‘servo’ just came to my tent and gave me a bunch of pies that hadn’t sold that day. People are ridiculously nice.

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29th April 2014

Woke up to what I thought was an angry ex squatting over my tent- a continuation of last nights nightmare. It was actually the wettest April day in 5 years or something. I decided I wasn’t moving for a while, I had the servo and some books, maybe I’ll just stay indefinitely. I’d grown to love the place, it’s ‘middle-of-no-where street in the republic of arse-end-of-shit-else’ style. I hobbled (my preferred method of morning transport) to the shower and limped (as my feet became less tender) inside to breakfast.

After a huge meal, 3 coffees and a conversation with Carlton, I stayed put a bit longer. At midday 4 people came in. 3 of them cyclists, riding from Adelaide to Melbourne for the 4th person, a man suffering from Motor Neurone Disease. When they left the man’s wife, one of the cyclists, said to me “My husband’s gone to the ladies toilet” …already on edge here “he can take a while and we want to get going. If his car’s still here in 30 minutes can you check he hasn’t collapsed?” She asked this as though she were asking a neighbour to feed the cat while she was away for the weekend. He did reappear after 45 minutes, I did check after 30, much to the discomfort of the women now queuing to use the loo.

At 3.30pm, I finally left the roadhouse to go to Policeman’s Point to camp. The walk was brilliant thanks to a mixture of being full, the sun being out, finally getting a proper look at the Coorong in all its glory, and it only being 10km. (Although it does mean a massive 53km to Meningie tomorrow).

Life became exceedingly good at Policeman’s point, when instead of a wild camp spot with a rainwater tank, I found a new motel had been built. I don’t know why but I felt like pampering myself and had saved money so, with the tough day tomorrow in mind, I voted to stay at the motel. When I was shown to my room I actually laughed, I’d forgotten what a bed looked like.

 

30th April 2014

The bed was simultaneously the best and the worst thing I could have done. Getting out of it at 5am, knowing I wouldn’t see one for another 5 days, with many hours of pain between me and there, is not easy at all.  But I did. I showered, packed and ate and was on the road by 6. It was going to be a long day. I got 2 hours before my first break and then 20 minutes later, my second. I was in agony and still had 35km left. 10km later I had lunch and luckily just after I was caught up by a cyclist, Tanja, who walked with me for about 10km. She said she’d heard stories of me and had been looking out for me. I think if she hadn’t been there I would’ve camped on the side of the road or hitch-hiked. She managed to take my mind off the razor blades growing into the soles of my feet.  Only when she left, with just over 10km left to Meningie, did I realise how close to breaking point I was.

I got stopped coming into Meningie by an old couple who’d driven past me. The woman commented on my solar panel while the man stroked it. When he explained he was blind it made a lot more sense. Apparently they were building a kayak and were going to paddle down the Murray River… I praise their ambition and how much he trusts her.

I then got stopped by someone else who had… you guessed it…driven past me before. He offered me a lift to Adelaide.

When I finally made it to the campsite he was there, and after looking at my swollen, blistered and purplish feet, I suggested he gave me a lift 45km to Wellington. I called mum and dad, who, upon receiving photos of my feet, advised me (as doctors) to finish the walk there and take the lift to Adelaide. I then phoned my grandma for alternate advice. She of course told me to push through to Adelaide.

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1st May 2014

I woke up deciding to solicit one of my ‘fans’ from yesterday for a lift to Wellington. For this I had to be on the roadside at noon. Easy. Another ‘fan’ came over and gave me $20 for the cause. Basically because the Coorong is so long between towns, and so close to Adelaide, people often commute along it, so would have driven past me repeatedly for the past 4 days. I walked into town and found another guy who said “You’re that guy walking.” I mean he could just be commenting on what a passer by was doing at that moment. Then, as I sat down for breakfast, he told me “You’ve walked a long way, I was in the ute that honked” -oh of course, like there aren’t 10 of those a day!-. As I walked out of the town towards the meeting point, I heard one more “Hey, I’ve  seen you walking!” This guy wanted photos, and not one to let down my followers, I obliged. Apparently he was a teacher at the local school and was going to now give an assembly on me…

Got my lift and experienced Australian driving on the other side of the bonnet. My buddy -whose job is to measure the distance between trees and telephone lines around the country which takes him to the most incredible places- was showing me photos on his phone as he swerved between the hard shoulder and the wrong side of the road.

He dropped me a few km short of Wellington. I had to walk to a ferry port and cross the mouth of the Murray. On the other side I got chatting to a lady called SJ who was driving round in a camper. We sat and had coffee in the tiny cafe which felt very familiar. As SJ left, Tanja (the cyclist from the day before) turned up looking thoroughly pissed off that I’d beaten her here. She warmed when I explained I’d driven. I then met her ‘support crew’, a grey nomad called Rob. The two are a pretty funny pairing, but are both lovely and work well. She bosses, he does.

Tanja was German, and migrated to Australia. She’s been made unemployed and homeless and so is riding her bike places (right now from Sydney to Adelaide). She’s is in her forties and her face is home to the most comic expressions, ranging from inquisitive, (watching heavy goods vehicles trying to get onto the tiny ferry) to determined (stomping towards a museum closed on a Tuesday afternoon).

Rob, like I said, is a grey nomad (his words not mine), recently widowed, who has a self-built motorhome and is severely relaxed, living on his pension, likes a good conversation. He’s a smart guy of the old-school class that has a mouthful of curses but only when Tanja isn’t in earshot.

“We hear you got kicked out of an all you can eat Chinese in Warrnambool…” Tanja said. My infamous eating habits have proceeded me apparently. It’s quite cool how we all run into the same people when we stop in towns. We all sat together in our camp chatting, Tanja knitting a pair of disproportionate socks, me and Rob sharing a few beers, until bed.

 

2nd March 2014

Definite rest day. Raining this morning, heavily as per. I went into Rob’s camper to find a cuppa waiting for me. Rob cooked us all breakfast… there seems to be a correlation between people’s morality and the amount of food they give away… Tanja headed off while Rob and I showered and sat chatting over coffee about all sorts. When he finally left he gave me one of the best compliments I could receive “I told Tanja last night ‘remember that name, Doug Turner, because we’ll hear about him one day’ and I mean that in the best way possible.” I assumed that didn’t mean I’d be world news for drug smuggling. It really means a lot to me that people believe in me, so close to the end.  He then made a ‘Doug donation’ which is some cash to go and get a cake or some such treat.

I’m really close to finishing and going home now… shit.

 

3rd May 2014 Abrupt

Okay, so… I’m finished? It feels weird but I think I’m done. I’m technically in Adelaide but about 80km outside of it.

I started today feeling good, three more days and I’ll be done. I was taking longer route, over the central Adelaide Hills to see as much as I could. I made it about 5km out of Wellington when I realised I was pushing harder than usual, I stopped and found not one but two of the wheels of my cart were flat, the only two I actually used. Swearing, of course I didn’t think to get spare tubes, I turned round and headed for Wellington where hopefully I’d find a repair kit at the service station. I found some weird spray that fills up the tubes and repairs it apparently. Did this to both tyres and set off again. Quite literally at the exact same spot as before, the tyres went flat again. After trying a third time to inflate them and this not working at all, I trudged back again. Once back at Wellington I sat in the cafe and thought. If I headed straight north it was 20km to Tailem Bend, where I could find maybe a bike shop or someone who could take me to one, because Wellington, with its population of 75, couldn’t help.

So off I headed at about a third of my usual pace, pushing the cart over sandy backroads for 20km, passing farms of cattle ready for slaughter, and a donkey tied to the side of the road – a possible alternate to the cart? When I crossed the ferry and pushed into Tailem Bend everything seemed fine. I found the tourist information point and got online to find bike shops, went food shopping and looked around for somewhere to wild camp. Then… just as I pushed my cart up a curb there was a snap and it tipped. “Shit” I thought, “I’ve broken the curb”, not thinking of the more obvious answer to the snap. The axel connecting the two back wheels of the cart had broken, sheer in half. When I saw it there was no “How can I mend this?” or “How can I work around this?” My feet hurt, my legs hurt, my back hurt, I was tired, exhausted, frankly bored, I’d travelled 920km to get to here, and seen loads, I scrapped the cart round the back of a supermarket, emptied everything out of it into bags, and chucked it in the skip. Then I went to the nearest pub/hotel, paid for a room, had a shower and had a beer. I’m done, I feel done, I feel finished. I don’t feel really like I’ve achieved it, but I don’t feel like I’ve failed. I just feel ready to stop, content to stop. I’m done.

 

Fin

The next two days were spent lying on a bed watching TV and going for hobbles during the day, trying and failing to catch a bus to Adelaide. On the third day I decided to hitchhike the rest of the way. Ironically, now that I wanted a lift, no one stopped for an hour. Finally, an Indian man who worked in the city stopped and gave me a lift. He didn’t seem at all impressed with what I’d done, merely happy to have someone in the car with him. When I finally got to Adelaide I was still looking for the massive sense of achievement, but it never came. I have hundreds of stories to tell, and I tell them all the time, but it’s not a defining point of my life. 

For a long time afterwards it ate away at me. The amount of buses and lifts I took, the handouts and the easy ways. In actual fact I walked 700km and the other 300 were buses and lifts. I told people I’d walked 920km and only counted the lift into Adelaide. Now, two years on and a 900km trek across the Pyrenees with two other people, and the start of LeftRight Repeat all under my belt, I’m comfortable being honest with how I got to Adelaide. Because the whole point of this was to do my own journey, and this was my own journey. 

I will be eternally grateful to all of the people, in Australia and back home, who helped, supported, and donated to me/the cause. I don’t feel like I could have held it together without such people. My expectations of peoples generosity have been completely blown apart, and that’s what I hold above from this trip more than the sights and the achievement. 

I hope rather than seeing this as a story about me, anyone reading will take it as an example of the ability everyone has to have an adventure, to get off the beaten track (cliche I know), and go out and find something no one else has found before. 

Peace out, 

Doug Turner