I called my wife Cathy when I got settled into the Macalister Hotel at Maffra this afternoon. She said that she had been following my blog, but that she was disappointed: “There’s nothing of what’s going on inside – this is supposed to be a pilgrimage, and it just reads like a travelogue!”
Fair cop. The fact is that I often write up my day’s journal late in the evening, eg. after dinner with our hosts, and am so tired that I am falling asleep writing. I am determined to record details of the walk in case anyone should wish to follow in our footsteps (?), and I often don’t have the time for the deeper reflections.
On the other hand, if you ask “What is going on inside?”, the answer is “Very little.” And for me, that says a lot. Usually I have a constant stream of thoughts and concerns and anxieties jumbling about in my head, but out on the road this past week and half, there is nothing: just the business of walking. Eg. How far to the next town, how high is that next hill, what would be the best road to take, get-off-the-road-there’s-a-car-coming – and today – it’s bloody wet, wet, wet. I have also cut out aimless things that usually fill my head when nothing else is happening: listening to podcasts, learning German on Duolingo, playing Words With Friends, etc.
Sure, I am praying. I have a number of people in need for whom I am making this pilgrimage, and from time to time their names spring to mind and I say a quick prayer for them. I say or listen to the divine office when I can, pray the Regina Caeli and the commemoration of St Mary MacKillop when I remember, go to mass when we can. I’ve said the rosary once, and I sing hymns as I walk. I have a natty little Bluetooth speaker that I link to the music collection on my phone, and set a play list going to provide a sound track to my walking for the day. For instance, Maddy Prior’s “Sing Lustily and with Good Courage” is one favourite album, and the ABC’s “For the God who sings” and a number of tracks from Glenstal Abbey. But I also listen to secular music such as Iron & Wine, Lenka, Lisa Mitchell, and – today – Bill Douglas.
The latter suited today very well as it called to mind England: green, misty and wet. As I commented above, it has been raining. The first really wet day of the pilgrimage, and I expect the last. If Cathy will excuse me, I will give some travel details and then come back to the “inner” stuff.
We left really early from Cowwarr – about 7am – with the aim of heading off the rain that we knew was coming. 8-15mm was forecast, mostly falling from noon onwards. As I sang the Regina Caeli by the grotto of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, I felt the first drops. We had to take a detour onto the public road from the old railway route just before the Thompson River, as there is no bridge there. This added a little to our planned distance, but we rejoined the trail at a lovation called “Dawson”.
A light rain fell for a few hours, and then became more consistent as we entered Heyfield and had coffee at Cafe 3858. It was a fairly trendy joint, and very popular with the locals. The owner said he had been in Heyfield for 6 years, having come from the city originally. We were making good time, but about 5km out of the next township – Tinamba – the wind whipped up and the rain began bucketing down. My plastic poncho was doing a good job of keeping me dry up till then, but now the wind and rain was getting in on the sides.
Tinamba is a really tiny place. As with most of the towns in this area, there is a general store which doubles as a post office and that is just about it. But just as Glengarry has the bakery, and Cowwar has their pub, Tinamba has the Tinamba Hotel, which serves up some pretty fancy dishes. If you are coming past this way, check that they are open, because like the pub in Cowwar, I think it is only Wednesday to Sunday. It was a very welcome stay for a couple of wet and bedraggled walkers – but I think we might have been a bit of an embarrassment for the establishment. We were asked if we had a reservation when we arrived, ano luckily they were able to fit us in. It was quite busy for a Wednesday lunchtime. The couple next to us had come up from South Gippsland for the day to have lunch here. They had a set menu of about three or four choices of entree, main and dessert, and you could have a two course meal for $30 or a three course for $40, with a glass of beer or some other drink thrown in.
With a hot meal and a schooner of ale inside us, we headed off onto the trail again. Before leaving, I found a small length of handmade string in my pack (which Anna and Anthony Krohn had been used to tie up my 50th Birthday gift of a copy of Belloc’s Path to Rome), and used it to tie in the sides of my flapping poncho. This made me look utterly ridiculous, but also kept me drier than before. The rain was still coming down but the wind had fallen off. It was 8km to Maffra, and I wasn’t mucking about. I got there in under one and half hours.
I took few pictures along the wa, despite some very gorgeous scenery, because I didn’t want my iPhone to get waterlogged. The only drawback of this section of the trail is that it runs alongside the main road. You wouldn’t have wanted to be walking on the road today. It was extraordinarily busy and the cars and trucks were throwing up water spray. The noise was constant.
Thankfully the Macalister Hotel is the first place you come to as you enter Maffra via the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail. I paid for our rooms ($40 each for a single room, with share bathroom and lounge facilities and DIY breakfast), and waited for Sean to catch up. We set the heaters going and set our clothes drying. Then I made a big pot of tea, and sat down in the lounge to call home and do this write-up.
So, back to inner stuff. A pilgrimage isn’t a holiday, and it isn’t a tourist trip either. You don’t have a lot of time or energy left over from your walking day (8 to 10 hours in general for us) to do anything else than concentrate on getting to your next destination, making sure you have enough food and water and money etc. At least we don’t have to worry about bandits along the way as pilgrims of old did. There is much conversation with your pilgrim partners, and there are times when you just walk alone. There are a lot of practical decisions to make – but they are all little things. No “big issues” cloud the horizon. You pay attention to your body and (especially) your feet. You pay attention to the weather and the ground you are walking on. You might say hullo to the cows and curse the trucks. You might stop at a cemetery and pray for the departed souls.
Is there spirituality in this? Yes, I think so. One of my blog readers seat me an email at one point saying:
All you are doing mate, is going for a long walk, nothing more, nothing less.
To which I replied:
Well, that is what a pilgrimage is – but it is more in that it is aimed at a destination. In this case, the destination is the Shrine of St Mary MacKillop in Sydney. That is an indulgenced “long walk”, so then it is something “more” than just going for a walk. The spirituality of pilgrimage is an ill-defined thing, and so it is open to the definition of those who do it. We have the blessing of the Archbishop of Melbourne, so that is something.
And he replied:
Well, I have to admit, that is an excellent response.