Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Seawah Sortie (sort of)

Things don’t always go according to plan. Some days I’m well enough to get up a small mountain, some days I can’t get out of bed. So this post is actually about a trip where I didn’t get to climb a mountain, well, only a metaphoric one. And they’re much harder.

It was my birthday and I’d arranged to take a four day weekend. I was desperate for some real trail time, my big plan was to hit the 45km Cooloola Wilderness Trail. I should have known I was kidding myself. I won't bore you with details but let's just say I wasn't ready to walk until the third day.

I decided an in-and-out walk to Mt Seawah on the Cooloola Great Walk might be do-able instead. It involved a longish approach of about 12 kilometres, but was almost entirely flat, and the “mountain” itself was a mere sandhill, 120m above sea level. And I had two whole days to do it. I could lie down and nap along the way any time I felt like it…

I had that wonderfully familiar wild and free, backpack-on-and-ready-for-adventure feeling when I hit the trail. The first stage of the walk is through eucalypt, melaleuca and callitris forest, with smatterings of bloodwoods, a few cabbage palms and wildflowers to boot. Old man’s beard hangs eerily from the old cypress pines in places, and the rusty hue of peeling angophoras punctuates the scene of creamy paperbark trunks beautifully.

I was still sulking a bit from having to change my plans, and I dawdled along hardly even bothering much with photos. Until I reached the open wallum section. Vast open fields of boronias, grass trees, goodenias, sprengelias, acacias and other low heath species in all directions. My attention was suddenly drawn back to my surrounds by a ground parrot fluttering up from the ground (funnily enough) amongst the heath right beside the trail. This species is endangered and rarely sighted, and I watched in utter delight as it flew 20 metres or so then ducked back down into the vegetation. That little green bird had just made my day, and saved me from myself.

Shortly after the wallum the trail reaches the long sand crescent that is Noosa north shore, followed by several kilometres of trail that runs roughly parallel to the shoreline. How very pleasant; beautiful dappled-shade single track, fringed by midyim berry shrubs that were all just about to burst into flower. Several goannas along the way were my company, and one obligingly posed for me and my camera.

After quite a while on this section, I was starting to get tired and achy, and was hoping the beginning of the ascent, and therefore camp, was close. For some reason I had in my head that the mountain was ten k’s in. So when I arrived at a small sign that said Seawah 3km, my bottom lip quivered. That meant I had only walked seven k. Seven k!! I must be completely weak and sick if it took that long to walk only seven k!!! God, ten k was nothing in the old days, NOTHING. Why couldn’t I be normal? Not tired and broken and slow.

Oh dear. I sat down and cried. And cried. Loudly, and for a long time, like a baby. No one could hear me. I didn’t care. I sobbed for my old life that I desperately missed, for my health, my old racing days, for past lovers I had shared trails with, for all the things I would have achieved in the last four years. I was desperate to walk, to run, to ride. To be free of the restrictions that CFS had placed over my life. The tears came from deep down and only when it felt like I had squeezed out every drop of moisture in my entire body out through my tear ducts did I stop.

When I was finally still again, I began to listen to the sounds of the forest around me, soft rustlings, occasional birdsong, and further away, the ocean. I breathed. I regrouped. I let go. I reminded myself how lucky I was to live in a free country, to have two arms and legs, to always have food on my table, and to be right there in the wilderness, where I wanted to be. I pondered this interesting practice I had developed over the last several years of being able to suddenly wail as if the world was ending, to cry like there was no meaning to be found in anything ever again; and then bounce back, serene and smiling once again. With more calm, more determination, more resilience, and more sense of self each time.
Have I mentioned that chronic illness can really mess with you?

It would have been hard to walk that last 3 k to Seawah. And it probably wouldn’t have been sensible either. But it was much, much harder to stop and go no further, to admit defeat, to let the illness win again (violins please). In actual fact, I had walked at least ten k, more actually, and I had to laugh when I pulled the map out later and realised that fact. One thing I’ve definitely learned in recent years, is that if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re fu*ked. If you can, you’ll make it through just about anything.

I backtracked a little and found a perfectly cute campsite under a pandanus atop a hill overlooking the ocean. It was a pretty sweet little spot. My disappointment and self pity faded with the afternoon light. All was well in my world.

After a chat with an interesting local Teewah resident who wandered past on his regular rounds, I settled in for the night. I hadn’t bothered putting the fly on the tent, so awoke next morn to the sight of pandanus above and all around me. After a suitable amount of time spent lying there gazing up at the fronds, I emerged and began bouncing around with the camera. The morning light was perfect, but hmmmm, I couldn’t really see much to the west. No matter, I found a climbable banksia, scooted up and enjoyed the view across the wallum landscape to the hinterland and Mt Cooroora in the distance. The day was rapidly warming up but I was too relaxed and happy to rush off. When I was good and ready – it was my birthday after all - I packed up and set off, barefoot this time (I had just watched that film Ten Canoes so was feeling like being more authentically in touch with the earth, if you know what I mean).

I was trying to reflect on turning 35 but my thoughts kept returning to the flora and fauna around me, trying to memory-bank the birds I’d seen so I could jot them down later. So I reflected on what a nature geek I’ve become instead. I could name most of the birds I’d seen, and much of the flora too; but am still only scratching the surface when it comes to the biodiversity here on the Coast. Delightful shining bronze cuckoos, showy rufous fantails, circling white bellied sea eagles, courting eastern whipbirds, squealing yellow tailed black cockatoos, and many more I didn’t remember later (CFS affects your brain too);my feathered friends engaged my senses and inspired me once again to learn much more.

But I will climb Mt Seawah.
Apparently the views are magnificent, even though it is not a high mountain (actually it’s a hillock). Next time, I could paddle across Lake Cootharaba and walk from there. Or who knows, maybe I’ll start at Rainbow Beach and do the whole Great Walk.