I should not be astonished at how tired and exhausted I feel tonight, after completing the second day of our pilgrimage – somewhere between 29.0km (Google Maps) and 33.26km (my GPS tracker). Call it a round 32km, and it feels about right. Normally, I would not think that a very taxing walk, but it is an entirely different matter when a) carrying 12kgs on one’s back, b) going up and down between 170m above sea level and 380m (the highpoint just before we came to Menzies Creek along Black Hill Road – from which we could see not only Port Phillip Bay, but also Western Port Bay, not only Dromana, but also French Island in the distance and beyond that Phillip Island).
We are camping out tonight at St Joseph’s Church in Emerald, thanks to the kindness of the parish priest, Fr Simon, and two local parish leaders, Pauline and Henk, who had everything ready for us when we arrived. We have made up beds for ourselves from the pew cushions, and have tea and coffee and toilets and all amenities – except for showers. Beggars – or at least pilgrims – can’t be choosers.
We left St Paul’s Missionary College in Norton’s Lane, Wantirna South, this morning at about 8am, in time to get to St Jude’s Catholic Church in Scoresby for mass at 9am. Fr John Hannon said mass for us and his congregation of 20 or so locals – a very no-nonsense priest who preached a short and scripturally based sermon. We bailed him up after mass to explain what we were doing and to ask him to stamp our pilgrim passports. He got the idea immediately – “Like an Australian Camino?” – and was very obliging.
From the Church, we headed down to the Scoresby shopping centre, crossed the crossways of Stud Road and Ferntree Gully. Sean pointed out that this would be the last major crossroads we would see until Warragul at least. We went down Stud Road until we came to the Ferny Creek Trail, which led for about 8kms to Upper Ferntree Gully, where we had lunch at a cafe “Brewers”. A very nice elderly gentleman came up to us as we were eating, and introduced himself as an ex-bush walker. He had seen our packs and recognised kindred spirits. Actually, it turned out that he was more kindred than he knew, because when we explained that we were Catholics on a Mary MacKillop pilgrimage, he said that he was a “returning Catholic”, and used to be the librarian at Mannix College.
It is very wonderful to meet people all along the way and to see their reaction when we tell them what we are doing. The waitress in the restaurant asked us what we were doing for the rest of the day, and the look on her face was priceless when we said “Walking to Bairnsdale”! We met a Catholic couple as we were walking into Ferntree Gully, and again, just as we were walking into Emerald this evening we met a man who said he was educated by the Josephites. All along the way, people get what we are doing.
After lunch, we began our ascent into the hills along the Ringwood-Belgrave Rail Trail. It was a great delight, when we arrived in Belgrave, to meet none other than the Belgrave Wizard himself. For those who do not know, the Wizard is something of a living landmark in Belgrave and the other hill towns. He is conspicuous by his bizarre dress, his owl-topped staff, and his habit of traversing the roads between Upwey and Selby (his most recent habit being setting himself up opposite the Tecoma McDonald’s and pronouncing imprecations in their general direction). It turns out that Sean knew the Wizard from years back, and introduced me to “Dan”. While the others were taking a toilet break, I chatted to Dan and learned that his years of walking the streets may well be numbered – he is suffering (like my father and another of our dear elderly friends) from fluid swollen legs. There is no hope for it, I told him, you have to go home and put your legs up and rest. Nothing else works. Sean thinks the Wizard may well be 85 years old, and perhaps even 90. Anyway, it was an honour to meet him. When my daughter rang tonight, I asked her “Who do you think I met in Belgrave?” “The Wizard?” Absolutely.
So from there we went on, past Mater Christi College (my girls school), on back roads around the Selby Railway bridge towards Menzies Creek. For most of the afternoon we could hear the Puffing Billy train tooting away, but it remained out of sight until we got to Menzies Creek station. When I heard it, I raced up the hill from the main road to the station (oblivious of the weight on my shoulders) and made it just in time to snap a couple of pictures. Looking behind me, I saw that Josh had followed me up the steep path at an equal pace, the very hill that a moment earlier he had looked at and said, let’s not go that way. Amazing what the romance and thrill of a steam engine can inspire even in the most exhausted legs.
Along the way, we saw horses and donkeys and ducks and sheep and a goat – the latter of which had gotten his chain all tangled in blackberries, so I spent a little bit of time setting him free. It really is a very picturesque landscape for most of the way up here, but we were really taxed by the sheer exertion of climbing up and down hills. Today is probably the hardest of our journey. By the time we got to Clematis, the pub on the roundabout (The Paradise Valley Hotel?) proved too much of a temptation, and went in for a welcome pint of ale. After that, I felt a definite spring return to my steps for the final 4 km or so to Emerald, arriving at about 6:00pm.
Dinner tonight was two pizzas from Big Al’s around the corner washed down by a bottle of Shiraz Merlot from the local IGA. It is now after 10pm and time for bed.