MWW2019 – Day 1: Conjola to Milton (Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Agony…)

Today started really well – but ended in agony.

Margaret cooked us bacon and eggs for breakfast, and then drove us to Milton. Virginia joined us to make a party of four. We had a lovely drive in beautiful sunny weather. Passing through Bodalla, Sean asked to stop so that we could photograph the Catholic Church in daylight, as it was dark last year when we walked past. We were very lucky to find a tradie working on some repairs to the exterior of the sanctuary, so the Church was open. This historical wooden building – built by the same family who built the stone Anglican Church on the other side of town – is only used these days for mass on two Thursdays a month, and on the 5th Sundays, so it is rarely open. Neither Margaret or Virginia had ever been inside either. Take the time to look at the photographs – it is really very special. The altar was not dressed (crucifix and candles were over on the Lady Chapel altar). The Eucharist is not reserved there, but the tabernacle is very nice. The real oddity was the oil lamps for lighting!

As we passed the Bodalla Arms Hotel, where we stayed last year, we noticed that it had closed. This is very sad, as now there is only the rather expensive motel in Bodalla to stay in. Also sad, as it means that the family who were running it were unable to make a go of their attempt to start a new life running a country pub.

We stopped at a very popular but out of the way coffee shop in Moruya for coffee. Again, see the pictures. The locals obviously know about it and head there for their morning cups routinely.

Moving further on, we went through Batemans Bay where they are building a new bridge over the inlet. This will, I think, completely spoil the iconic appearance of the current bridge there, but I guess the almighty automobile has first priority. We would have liked to have called in on Eileen, with whom we stayed last year, but she had earlier informed us that she and her husband would be going on a long overdue and well earned holiday over the Easter break.

And so we finally came to Ulladulla and on through to Milton, where we stopped at the  bakery and had some of their famous pies for lunch. They were very nice – but the pie shop at Glengarry in Gippsland wins hands down, I think. For that matter, the Shell Roadhouse at Ballarat on the highway used to make some pretty special pies too, but sadly that has closed and been replaced by some over expensive health food place…

So finally we arrived at Milton, and back at St Mary’s Star of the Sea. Therese was in the office to welcome us and showed Margaret and Virginia around. I changed into my hiking gear and Margaret and Virginia said goodbye to Sean (he had decided not to walk this day due to his sore knee) and then drove me out to the Murray’s Road turn-off at Cunjola. There we said our farewells, and I promised that Cathy and I would return within the year to see our friends at Narooma once again.

I waved them off, and set off. I was travelling light, without my pack and only with my stocks, iPhone and a bottle of water. It was clearly going to be a tough walk, and I didn’t want to be encumbered. A little way down the road, I came to the Cunjola Cemetery, and  went in to pray for the faithful departed. There I saw the first of what I saw plenty of on the rest of the way: a very large spider had built its nest across my path. I found myself dodging them for the rest of the day.

Returning to the Highway, I was faced with the difficulty of an extremely busy road with a very small verge on the side on which to walk. This difficulty became immense when I came to the Myrtle Gully bridge. There was no room to walk on the bridge, and the drop down to the Gully was deep and overgrown. I saw on the other side (the Eastern side of the bridge) a track leading down into the Gully, and decided to take that. I waited for a ute to go past, and then stepped out onto the road. Immediately I felt something as if someone had struck me across the back of the left leg with a broom handle. I stumbled, but the middle of the Princes Highway is nowhere to stop, and I hobbled to the other side. Looking back, I could see nothing. At first, I wondered if I had been bitten by a snake, but pulling up my compression pants leg, I could only see a small bruise in the area – not cuts. I decided that the best answer is that I was hit by a stone thrown up by the passing ute. Sean later suggested that what I felt might just have been my muscle ”popping”, something he says he has felt at times. Consulting my myotherapist by text this evening, he says there is a possibility that I have a calf-strain, but we can only wait to see.

In any case, my calf muscles were suddenly very taught and painful, so that I had difficulty stepping out of a back-step on my left foot. I still had at least 11km to go, and I thought that the best thing was just to push on. Not far along, I found an old rag on the side of the road, which I tore into strips and used to strap my calf muscles. This was the right thing to do, according to my myotherapist’s later advice. (Tomorrow I will buy tubing straps to wear for a few days).

The track I was on became a back road that led around the gully – I think it was part of the old Highway before the bridge was built – as it was sealed, but didn’t really lead anywhere. I came across other sections of this old road along the way too, and they were the only parts of the entire journey that was easy walking. Otherwise, I was constantly forced to chose between bashing through bush (and spiders) on the side of the road or edging my way along the highway itself. It was actually easier on my injured calf when I was clambering through uneven ground, and hardest when I was walking on the flat bitumen. At Currowar Creek, I had to go under a bridge through a cow paddock. It was muddy and shitty, but the creek did not flow right through, and I found a solid path across. Climbing over the barbed-wire fence on the other side my injured leg totally seized up and I just about fell backwards into a nest of spiders webs. To quote Ron Weasley, “Why spiders? Why couldn’t it be butterflies?”

When I came out into the valley, which earlier had looked so beautiful, I could see the Church on the hill outside Milton in the distance. The Valley had looked so beautiful and inviting when I set out today – now it looked like 9kms of agony to endure. Inspired by this thought, I began to pray the Rosary (on my fingers as I had left my beads at the church) – the Sorrowful Mysteries, starting with the Agony in the Garden. This at least channeled my pain, as I “offered it up” in union with our Lord’s own suffering on the way of the Cross. The last section of the road coming up the hill into Milton had no verge on it at all, and I had to scramble on the precipitous rock edge the other side of the traffic barrier. To my delight (a little ray of sunshine in the fast gathering gloom) I found a $10 note among the debris on the side of the road! The Camino provides!

Sean was up on the embankment on the other side of the road as I approached Corks Lane, photographing my arrival. In the end, it took me 3hrs and 40 minutes to walk the 12.4km back to the Church. Between 3 and 4 km/hr, which is not too bad.

I cleaned up and showered, took one of Sean’s codeine tablets, and used a proper bandage to strap my leg. We discussed what to do for dinner, and decided to make our way into town and buy food for dinner, breakfast and lunch tomorrow from the local IGA (which was open until 8pm). We walked the 2km round trip (not doing too bad at this point with the leg), and came back with sausages, bread and salad for dinner, yoghurt and milk and cereal for breakfast, and fruit, a tin of dolmades and kranskys for lunch, all for about $40. I also bought Panadol, not having brought any with me. Back at the house, I fried up the sausages and Sean made the salad, and we had a very nice dinner. No alcohol tonight due to the medication, as I took some anti-inflammatories with the meal. A cup of tea had to suffice.

Then to call Cathy to let her know what had happened, and my mother to find out how my father is doing (the answer is that he was awake and eating all his meals todays, so that’s good). Then called Josh, who is currently in Sydney and will be travelling down tomorrow and meeting us at Sussex Inlet.

We will have to see how things go from here. I need to accept that I am human, and if I cannot walk, I will just have to get alternative transport. I will keep up with the itinerary and walk when I can. To this point, I have walked every step of the way from Fitzroy, so it will be very annoying to now have to miss sections. But maybe this is a lesson in humility.

At this point, Sean and I have decided that the section of highway from Milton to Conjola is impassible (despite me actually “passing” it – just). Any future pilgrims will simply have to hitch a ride over this section if they want to arrive in one piece. At least until a “St John of the Nettle” (San Juan de la Ortega) or St Dominic de le Calzada comes along and builds a proper path and bridges etc for future MWW pilgrims. One could view it the same way we view Sussex Inlet or Botany Bay – since they are authentic barriers to walking, taking alternative transport is not cheating!

Please pray for us, dear Reader, as we will for you.

In the meantime, today’s photos are all here!

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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