Today was “hump day” – we passed our half way mark in both time and distance on the Aussie Camino. We also crossed the Victorian/South Australian border. And left the sea shore for the last time. And I took a detour that I probably shouldn’t have…
A number of pilgrims left us this morning to return home. The reasons were many and they were their own. A rule on pilgrimage: you don’t judge another person’s camino. Most who left did so for reasons that they could not avoid – committments at home or physical inability to go on etc. They will return and complete the camino one day. One of those who had to leave was Fr Greg, who needed to be back in Melbourne. So we didn’t have mass this morning, nor will we on the rest of the pilgrimage.
So a smaller group left Nelson by the main highway. We passed a sign saying “32kms to Mount Gambier” – well, not by our route. We couldn’t get off the highway quick enough, what with the huge timber trucks charging past us every couple of minutes. Unfortunately, there was no other way to enter South Australia from Nelson. The Great South West Walk is a Victorian trail – it doesn’t cross over into South Australia. After about 7kms we turned south, and headed past the Piccaninnie Ponds down to the beach. After that it was mainly beach walking until we reached the Eight Mile Creek Road, and then we walked along that into Port MacDonnell – about 33kms in all.
My knee has been playing up something dreadful. I can walk well enough, but any climbing up or down hills puts a strain on it. Thankfully, there was little of either today, and is unlikely to be much more along the Way. Our support team went ahead and bought a knee brace in Port MacDonnell for me, and hopefully this will get me through to Penola in three days time.
At one point I found the going in the sand on the beach too tough on my knee, and so I detoured off inland to find an alternative track. I rang Luke, who was about a km ahead, to say I was doing this, and he counselled strongly against it. “It’s all private land, and the sand firms up after about 500 metres.” But I had already committed myself and decided to press on. I walked along a boundary fence, with bush one side and cow paddocks the other. I soon realised my mistake when I came across a small tiger snake. Much more carefully, I pressed on, only to find a sleeping red-bellied black snake curled up on the track in front of me. I moved further out into the cow paddock, and was glad to get to the main road, where I found our support vehicle heading along. I declined offers of a ride – I don’t want to “cheat” at this pilgrimage and am determined not to accept any rides until I arrive in Penola. When I rejoined the rest of the group, I had to admit to Luke that he had been right.
While I am being very disciplined about walking the entire camino, my discipline did not extend to my alcohol free day, which I have been trying to keep during Lent on Wednesdays and Fridays. The bottle waiting for me at the Port MacDonnell Tourist Park (where we have good self-contained bunk room accommodation) was just too tempting. I will make Holy Week an alcohol free week instead! We had dinner at the Victoria Hotel where the other half of the group is staying – a very good bistro dining room. I walked the 2kms back this evening to the park in the cool breeze, with my knee in its new brace, singing hymns with all the joy of a happy pilgrim.
Today I have been contemplating something one of the other pilgrims said this morning, to the effect that the real camino is the people you are travelling with. We really are a mottly crew. Over the last four days, I have heard many personal stories, and told my own a few times too. Together we have shared the things going on in our lives which, if not the reason for our doing this pilgrimage, certainly colour the whole experience. Not everyone is easy to get along with – I doubt very much whether I am sometimes! It is funny how we walk along, sometimes forming small groups and entering into conversation, but then just as easily breaking away or falling back for some reason or other, leaving the conversation to be continued at another point. Or not.