When I walk, I know I am not alone. I can feel the pulse of support from all of you, the surprising gifts of food, water, shelter and donations from those who pass me on the road and nature cheering me on through a crow's song to sunset or a butterfly dying in the palm of my hand. It's still dark when I wake in my tent and as I breathe, I detect nuances in the air that are different from the place I slept the night before. I can feel life coming into expression. The stillness in the movement of my surroundings is something I've begun to feel in my body, as if there was a faucet being slowly turned on. I feel thoughts beginning to form. And then when my body asks for water the reality of a day full of non-stop walking hits me and is immediately depressing. And there's a half-second that I think I could just curl up and give up. The hunger for breakfast wins every time. Once I'm up and moving, a routine of packing up ignites excitement to move forward. And if I'm close to a gas station (or roadhouse as they call it here in Australia) the thought of a hot coffee has me salivating from the moment my eyes open.
Coffee, the initiator of the meltdown and the first thing to go missing. I bought two coffee's as I left Perth, knowing there wasn't another place to get food, filtered water or a coffee for at least six days walk. One in a regular paper cup and the other in my insulated Kanteen, which had it's own cup holder. In a hurry, I clipped the Kanteen carrier to the side of my cart. I sipped my paper cup coffee and not taking in the delight of the moment, I was thinking about how cold the coffee had gotten and how wonderful to have a Kanteen that will give me a warm afternoon-caffeine-high for the rest of my walk.
After a few more miles I was ready for a stretch and a sip of my piping hot latte. I unclipped my waist belt and I turned towards the side of the cart (pretty sure I had a child-like grin of anticipating satisfaction) to see an empty cup holder. No Kanteen bottle. No steaming liquid ready to massage my throat and fuel my tired bones. No brown-fluid-drug-of-choice smiling with equal pleasure and fulfillment to be consumed. I couldn't move. I stood there, with my legs crying for some space to breathe and rest, my mouth hung open and my eyebrows slowly moved into a furrow or sorrow. I was in absolute disbelief that I lost my Kanteen of coffee.
The phenomenon of this moment for me is that this is the moment that reality set in.
This is when I realized; I'm walking around THE world. What the F was I thinking?
It's been raining every day in Australia but the torrential water came from my eyes.
Still standing, I could feel the shake of my belly from my pelvis as it slithered, oh-so-slowly, upwards heading towards my chest and throat. My shoulders started gyrating as they attempted to keep my insides from bursting out and splatting onto the concrete (for a second a thought of recognition that my love for coffee will actually kill me!) and I gripped my fingers into my belly to support the efforts of my upper body.
As most of us know, trying to "hold something in" doesn't last long and usually has to come out at some point. This point took only another four seconds and I buckled to the ground. The convulsions went from my pinky toes out the strands of my hair. Every part of Angela was shaking and if it had tear ducts or a way to secrete fluids, it was weeping.
It was heavy. It was helpless, hopeless, defeat, despair, grief, loss, and heartache. It was loneliness, failure, unworthiness, ugliness and stupidity. It was everything I didn't want to feel but had been waiting for since the day I started walking.
I already had a few weeps under my belt. I had cried as Shireen sang Unchained Melody before saying goodbye to my friends in Oregon. And when I made love for the last time to the man I spent two magnificent years with. When my feet ached and I couldn't walk anymore. When I waved goodbye at the airport, when I boarded the plane, when the plane landed, when I slept my first night in Australia, when I was packing Athena, and, well, probably at least once every day since I've started. There is a routine of an emotional journey everyday that goes a bit like this: sadness then grief then humility then contentment then delirious laughter then dignity followed by determination and topped with wonder and joy. Then it starts all over.
I noticed a deep breath, mainly because the sobs were so violent that I wasn't breathing. In the midst of being on all fours, on the side of a road with a neon orange cart, hopefully adding some sense of cover from the oncoming traffic, I continued to let me entire body vibrate and purge all that I hadn't felt or allowed myself to feel. The body memory was as if I was regurgitating from a stomach flu. As I consciously let the emotions stream through my exhausted muscles I could feel a moment of rightness. How right it felt to be there, somewhere between Perth and Woodridge on Route 60, sobbing through the enormity of this challenging calling. The bigness of this walk, the bigness that is inspiring and expanding within me. The inability to hide as I openly walk pass cars, cyclists, homes with humans enjoying a sunset on their porch, birds searching above me for food, the news station asking questions, and a website to upkeep. It feels like I bought pair of fire-engine-red shoes and I don't intend on going unnoticed. As if when I'm walking there's a scream accompanying me. It feels loud.
But through the bright neon of my cart, Athena, and the grandeur of a global walk, I can feel the stillness and quietness that is my true motivation.
The breaths became deeper and longer. The snot from my nose had run it's course and the tension had slipped off like a silky nightgown. The rain started. A light drizzle, which before was a nuisance. I sat back and let my face revel in the sprinkles from the heavens and a smile grew from one dimple to the other.
I nodded, as if to tell Spirit that "I got it. I hear you. I'm on board. I know you're with me and I allow you to guide my steps. Thank you. I love you."
I stood up. I had a sip of clear and cool water (yet still consciously wishing it were the brown good stuff), stood up, inserted my headphones and walked towards an Australian afternoon downpour.
An hour later, Margaret-Ann pulled her car in front me, after quickly viewing my website to ensure I wasn't a drug addict, and offered me a hot shower and a place to stay for the night.
Hours after my coffee-initiated meltdown to breakthrough and some of the windiest rain I have yet to walk through, I was sipping Champagne in a hot bubbly bath.
Each day is so vastly different. Each day has some kind of gift. And it's not that it took me walking to receive these gifts but it took me following this enormous, this challenging, this beautiful, this adventurous calling for me to never miss appreciating the tiniest gifts and miracles that are given every day.
Oh, and Margaret-Ann gave me a new insulated coffee mug filled with piping hot coffee.
A NORTH STAR IN A PARKING LOT
It was a National Park Overlook and camping and caravanning was prohibited. I thought I would be the last (tourist). The sun was setting within fifteen minutes and I had nowhere else to set up camp for the night.
I had spotted a picnic table that was nestled off to the side. I had always wanted to sleep under the stars without a tent between my gaze and the sky. I decided that I would stay there and sleep under the stars.
I was brushing my teeth while I walked over to the bin to throw away some built-up trash when I saw his SUV approach the parking lot. Quickly after arrived a car of two young girls looking to see the sunset over the “Turquoise Coast”. They left as quickly as they came. He wandered about as if looking at the local flora and fauna while engrossed with his phone. And he walked about then stood close to my chosen sleeping quarters, looking at his phone. So, I took a walk to the overlook so I would pass him and acknowledge his presence and get a feel for his intention. He never looked up at me but I passed on a “hello”. As the sun was setting he got into his car. And sat there. And sat there. And sat there. I was not willing to set up my bed for the night until I saw him drive away. I remembered from my defense class being taught to “let them see you see them”. I had staff in hand as I moved, somewhat shyly at first, into view of his SUV. Where I could see him under the light of his console. A face I had practiced while walking was going to come in handy at this moment. It was “don’t even think of fucking with me” face. Which in reality might look like a completely relaxed gaze. When I try squinting my eyes to add a tinge of intimidation I can’t help but start laughing, it feels like I just need to pucker my lips to look like a Charlton Heston pose.
I stood and stared for a good ten minutes before I heard his ignition start and he drove off. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath to I felt my shoulders descend and inhaled enough air I probably took in a few bugs.
I knew there was a chance he could return but I had nowhere else to sleep and I was determined to nestle close to the moon and fall asleep to a nebulous lullaby.
I set up my air mattress and sleeping bag, placed the staff on the bench and held the knife in my hand.
I heard another motor approaching and was happy to see a Caravan in the lot about 200 feet from me. Although it wasn’t an overnight park, being Western Australia Day weekend and migrators heading North for the winter, I was hoping they would crash for the night.
With a little tremor still in my belly, I recited Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” three times aloud to give me courage to fall asleep.
Thumping of bass, loud voices, and a bottle being thrashed on the concrete woke me abruptly. Two cars full of young kids out and about on the eve of the biggest holiday for Western Australia. I looked and couldn’t see the Caravan in the practically non-existent light of the new moon. I clenched my knife, jumped on all fours like a feral cat ready to pounce. I flipped the blade open and watched the cars, which were still about 500 feet away. In that moment I felt fear but I wasn’t afraid to act.
Then a bright light came on in the parking lot. The Caravan owners were still there and were now awake and perturbed as well. My body relaxed when I knew I wasn’t alone but kept the knife ready just in case.
A few minutes later the two cars full of holiday-crazed kids drove off but not without defiantly honking and performing a few wheelies.
The Caravan left their light on all night. It was like my North Star. As I tossed and turned through the night I could see the light, which felt like my protector and could ease back into my dream space.
I woke the next morning feeling strong and ready for anything. Like somehow in the night I had grown more courage and response-ability. Which was a good thing because the next night my reactive skills would be tested.
ICOGNITO OUT THE WINDOW
When I began my walk I had no intention of racing time. Not interested in breaking a record, which usually means receiving a certificate of recognition to hang on my wall for some great athletic feat, I still inquired with Guinness World Records just to see what their criteria was for foot traversing the planet. They responded by telling me that Fastest Circumnavigation on Foot was up for grabs and the parameters for qualification. My response was “Do you have one for the Slowest?”
Although I never want to feel in a hurry I am always in a tango dance with the sunset. Walking at night isn’t difficult and I would prefer it to the scorching sun that cunningly seems to find it’s way around my wide-brimmed hat. It’s more of a safety concern. I recently heard that some drivers make sport of hitting adolescent Kangaroo’s at night. With my rapidly neon pink lights at the rear of Athena, on the front of my waist and a red strobe light on my headlamp, I don’t fear being hit accidentally by a car but intentionally. I vowed to walk as little at night as possible when on a well-used road. Route 60 is one of two roads connecting the Southwest to the Northwest Territory. And it was a major holiday.
I could feel a bit of anxiety setting in as there were no side roads or Parking lots, as it was getting increasingly dark. I knew it would soon be difficult to secretly set up my tent even if I did find a hidden spot. As the worry started to build, I began repeating a mantra, “I am guided and guarded by YOU.” Over and over and over. The sun was now asleep and it was me and my blinking lights ambling along. A car passed and honked. I couldn’t tell if they were the usual by-passers sharing encouragement as I often get through the day. Some thumbs-up, waves, honks and a few hang-loose signs. I’ve even seen a few trying to snap a photo while driving.
Or they could known it would be frightening to be in the silence of dark night with an approaching car blasting it’s horn right next to me.
I understand why they call their landscape the bush. From a distance it looks like rolling hills full of grass and occasional trees. But up close it’s waist-high bushes full of thorns and prickles. Finding a camp spot is not easy in this terrain. It’s not full desert yet where I can just find a sandy spot and pitch my tent. The roadside is elevated and the rocky shoulder is usually slanting into the bush.
I saw a tiny flat spot just fifteen feet from the roadway. This was it. I quickly rolled Athena as close to the bush as possible and covered her with my camouflage tarp.
Then began pitching my tent. It was not so sandy, in fact it was almost pure rock. My sand and snow pegs barely went in an inch. But determined to make it work I placed larger rocks on top of the pegs hoping it would be enough to last the night.
I remember being advised when camping to be fully incognito that people couldn’t find you even if they were looking for you or to be as visible as possible to everyone. Tonight I would be visible to every person passing along Highway 60.
Their headlights lit up the inside of my tent that initially made me question my decision of roadside encampment. And when I slithered into my sleeping bag the shadows brought back soothing memories of little stars being projected on my bedroom wall as a little girl.
But after my experience the night before with drunk-happy youths out on the road, I needed a plan. I positioned my zippers on the tent door so they were easily accessible and touched them with my eyes closed to memorize their location. My staff laid in the Vestibule with the round wooden knob facing the door and my knife to the left of my bed. I practiced three times my routine so that if anyone approached I would know what to do without thinking about it.
I knew getting out of the tent as quickly as possible would give me a better chance at meeting an offense than being inside the tent.
I felt as prepared as I could be and hoped, as I drifted into sleep, that I wouldn’t freeze up like I had done the first time I heard a rodent outside my tent. It was fascinating to me to discover that I was a “freezer”, clamming up and hoping whatever is happening might just pass or go away. I experienced this in my self-defense class. For two days I was taught a simple three-step process for getting out of a choking situation. In slow motion, with no emotional stimulation, I had it down pat. I was feeling confident and ready to take on an attacker. My trainer was keenly aware of this, not just in me, but in most women, as our emotional bodies can be far more surprising than the attack itself.
He grabbed me from behind during a break and I squirmed for a bit before I remembered to head-butt him and kick my heel on the top of his foot. He let go but as soon as I faced him, he pinned me to the ground and started choking me. I flailed about as my mind went blank and the frustration and fear bubbled out in screams and grunts. I couldn’t remember a thing: not the elbow jab to the throat, the knee into the belly or the face scraping he had taught me just hours earlier. I felt like a beached whale flapping around for water and feeling death approach. Now granted, this was practice, a drill, but it felt real particularly because he had surprised me. He was a skilled teacher and knew that the only way I could learn what it feels like to be attacked was to attack me.
He saw me crying from inside his heavily cushioned armor suit. He yelled something at me that took three repeats before I could make it out. “EYES.”
Aaahh, Yes! Go for the eyes. I curled my fingers into position and began scraping down the front of his plexi-glass face cover. He released and sat back. “If you remember nothing else from this class, remember to always go for the eyes.”
I excused myself to the bathroom where I purged the rest of my tears of frustration.
I walked back onto the mat and said “Round 2!”
All the preparations I had done before falling asleep on the roadside made me feel better to meet anything that came. I offered a prayer of protection thanking Itus (the name I gave my tent after the Greek God of protection) and let the rustling from the wind on my tent lull me into a light sleep.
I woke to a sound I feared most; a vehicle pulling up to the tent and the sound of men’s voices chattering. To my own surprise, and an inner script of “OH SHIT”, I unzipped my bag, grabbed my knife and staff and hobbled out to meet the four brilliantly bright lights set upon Itus and me. I couldn’t see anyone but perhaps they could see me shaking as I leaned on my staff.
“What are you doing?” a male voice in an English accent asked me.
“Camping. Can I help you?” I may have stuttered a bit.
One man climbed out of the truck and as he approached I gripped harder on my staff, steadied my bare feet on the rocky terrain and had images of my “one-two” punches run through my mind.
As he got closer I saw a neon green vest, similar to mine, which ensured he wasn’t riff-raff.
“My name’s Officer Gill. Strange to see a woman camping on the roadside.”
Because I quite a wild child this may have been the first time that seeing a Police Officer brought me a sigh of relief.
I told him and his partner what I was up to and Officer Gill pointed his flash light up the road, squinted his eyes and smiled as he informed me there was a parking lot just a Kilometer up the road. I was going to stay the night, it would take way too long for me to pack up and set up in the dark again.
They offered to check on me in the morning and bring me a cup of coffee.
I could have made it to the Camping area but I didn’t. Instead I had the experience of testing my reaction skills with two Police Officers that gave me coffee and guided me to a Christian camp in Jurien Bay for two free nights stay. I am truly guided with every single decision, every single step.
George had few teeth left in his mouth but he had the brightest smile and disposition. When I entered the kitchen to make my dinner he offered me half his soup, a recipe his mother made of Rice, egg and lemons. HE was 86 years old, born in Greece and had traveled the world settling in the Apex Campground in Jurien Bay. I shared a meal with him as he told me his stories of adventure and wound up alone with no family or children, which is why he lived in Margaret’s Backpackers accommodations.
As I was heading back to my room he asked if I was hitching or riding my bike up North. I marched my feet as a reply. His jaw dropped so that I could see the mashed porridge on his tongue and he said, “You’re phenomenal!”
With my hand over my heart, I giggled and said, “Well, I might feel like that later but right now I’m just sore.” I had mastered the art of deflecting compliments. He stood up out of his chair, pointed his finger at me, and with a mouth still full of his mother’s porridge sternly said “No! Not tomorrow, not some day, not when you’ve finished walking, RIGHT NOW YOU’RE PHENOMENAL!”
I stood with recognition that he spoke from a place within myself. After walking through snow, mountain passes, torrential rains and under an unforgiving desert sun I still had a difficult time at understanding how people could be inspired or call me phenomenal. Even after all I thought I knew about receiving compliments and allowing others to recognize my light, my commitment to humility was being compromised by feeling less than my potential; to be phenomenal! I was just hoping for strong, brave, committed, even crazy would do. I never thought of the possibility of phenomenal.
I stood smiling at George, with the porridge seeping out from the gaps between his teeth onto the outer edges of his mouth as he smiled and waved me off to bed.
I nodded and said “You’re right, George. WE’RE PHENOMENAL.”
I DON’T KNOW WHY I SWALLOWED A FLY
Margaret-Ann, originally from the Isle of Skye in Scotland, had offered me a place to stay for the night in WoodRidge, just north of Yanchep. Her husband was Australian and they had just moved there from Scotland four years ago. She loved learning the local wildlife and native plants. She took me around her garden and gave me the official and slang names for all her plants. She had several chickens, which loved to be cuddled, and two resident Kangaroos named Jack and Jill. Jack had grown up with Margaret-Ann and would often feed from her hand.
As we sipped coffee and looked into her garden she would also tell me the types of birds that frequented around her house. I only remember one and that’s because it has kept me company on my walk.
The Willy Wagtail, a smallish bird, with hints of blue and a white belly that is constantly wagging its tail. It’s quite sexy and sassy. They have a pleasant little chirp that I listen for daily. A Willy will usually join me for about a Kilometer each day somewhere on my walk. I’ve gotten to the point that I actively keep an eye out for their visits. In a flirtatious manner, one will wait for me to meet up with it while resting on a bush, chirp at me, then fly several feet ahead and wait till I meet up with it before flying ahead again. I imagine it’s saying, “Come on, you’ve got this, keep it up.”
Sometimes I’ll sing a little ditty of my own to them. Not sure if they like my voice as most of the time they don’t linger much longer after I’ve opened my mouth.
I was belting out a tune. With no one around and few cars passing, I felt free to really let it loose. With my jaw opened wide, leading into my crescendo… a fly goes straight into the back of my throat. These are not tiny house flies, these are the size of bees. It was like it was waiting in the wind for a perfectly timed suicide. I leaned over and attempted to cough it out. IT was too late. It was down the esophagaus and heading for digestion.
I peered over at Willy and had a feeling he had offered me dinner, his style.
“Thanks Willy, but next time you might want to ask if I like Fly.”
PUNCHING CANCER IN THE FACE
I've had a few women respond to hearing about my walking mission with "You're so brave."
I'm still pondering real bravado and will write more about it soon.
But in the meantime, I wanted to share a friend of mine with you. One who expressed her bravery by shaving her head after a cancer diagnosis rather than waiting for all her hair to fall out.
I dedicated my walk from Bend to Portland in her name. Praying, singing and dancing with her in my heart the whole way.
She is lovingly, fiercely, brutally and compassionately punching cancer in the face.
You can read her very vulnerable and inspiring blog here.