A lazy Saturday today strolling with a fully loaded Monkey (all my packs have been nicknamed Monkey plus a number — I think this one is Monkey VII, but I’m losing count) around Sandgate. With most of my kit for the Great Ocean Walk stuffed inside, including five days’ food and four litres of water — more than I hope to carry — the thing weighs in at about 14 kg/31 lb. Not too bad, I suppose.
Heading up the road, a neighbour asks about the pack and my perambulatory predilections. I tell him about the Sierra last year and he says, “Jesus, it looked bad enough flying over it. Telephone poles buried in snow.” I don’t know how he picked them out from the air. He’s limping on his brand-new titanium knee. I ask him a few questions about it, curious. “It’s great, doesn’t feel too bad at all.” I’m pleased. I hope I can get a two-for-one discount in a few years…
Today, after topping up my Keep Cup at Mug Shots in Sandgate, I cruise up and down some rare little local hills, three or four in all, sipping coffee, listening to the iPhone on shuffle. Lou Reed’s ‘Magic and Loss: The Summation’ comes on, like an old friend dropping by out of the blue. That song’s got me through some dark times over the years. I seem to walk taller while the Monkey creaks its approval and the cars shoot by.
As you pass through the fire, your right hand waving
There are things you have to throw out
That caustic dread inside your head
Will never help you out
You have to be very strong, ’cause you’ll start from zero
Over and over again
And as the smoke clears there’s an all consuming fire
Lying straight ahead
I’m on a ridge in Brighton, little glimpses of the Bay down beyond these expensive old Queenslander homes. Most of the bayside suburbs around here have British names — Sandgate, Shorncliffe, Brighton, Margate, Clontarf — from the Victorian era when this was a holiday strip, a seaside retreat. It’s held onto its quiet character and is charmingly free of high-rise and fast-food feedlots.
(Water attracts idiots, though. On a bike ride along here once I had a donut thrown at me from a car as I rode to a friend’s place — it missed, and bounced beautifully into the eucalypts — and a milkshake as I returned, which doused my pack and back with chocolatey goodness. I do hate to see good food wasted.)
I head towards the water and lean back on my pack under a tree a while with my latest op-shop (thrift store) find, David Thomson’s In the Shining Mountains. What a score, and only a few bucks. I knew nothing about this book, which comes with a rave from my hero, Ed Abbey, and less than nothing about its writer, (who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry).
Some googling later revealed little more other than that soon after its publication in 1979, Thomson disappeared — forever.
I’ve had a (purely platonic) thing for 19th-century mountain men for some time, a fantasy even a sometimes-nasty taste of the real thing in the Sierra hasn’t completely rinsed clean. Thomson acted on his quixotic ideals, and you have to love that. I’m only 20 pages in, but here’s an evocative taste:
Different schemes sailed through my thoughts as I rode north, rising into spectacular country; I started thinking more and more about long trips into the mountains. I dreamed of doing it myself for real — a light pack with a few essentials, a small-calibre rifle, a compass; travelling into the wildest country I could find. That was the closest I figured I could come to what they experienced — the feeling of being alone in all that wild country, the challenge of its size and sweep against a lone human, that strange thrill of exploring country I had never seen before…
Well, time to start the return leg of my lazy loop. The tide’s receding and I step out onto the wet sand flats with my “light pack with a few essentials”. Not exactly “spectacular country”, perhaps, but these endless acres of empty sand, the far-off pier, the spire of the Baptist church, the protective spine of distant Moreton Island — it’ll do.
Pretty soon I’m once more among whispering armies of retreating soldier crabs. And pretty soon another song that resonates, this one the Silver Jews’ ‘The Frontier Index’, in which another hero, the wry, deadpan, dead-flat David Berman, sets a couple of sweet jokes to music. Here’s an extract, and a few shots of today’s crustacean fellow-travellers.
Boy wants a car from his dad
Dad says, “First you gotta cut that hair,”
Boy says, “Hey, Dad, Jesus had long hair,”
And Dad says,
“That’s right son, but Jesus walked everywhere.”
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote