Type 2 Happiness
905 km walked.
1,281,772 steps taken.
36 days walking.
These numbers describe my walk from Federation Square in Melbourne to the Sydney Opera House.
All I needed to measure distance, steps and time was my smartphone. But as sociologist W.B. Cameron wrote:
“Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted”.
The distance was counted, but that doesn’t count. What counts were the experiences and insights while walking: the pilgrimage.
What is more, while the walk can be described in a progressive, linear way from A to B, the pilgrimage can’t.
Sharing the pilgrimage will take time. Meanwhile, I have put together short reflections fresh off the road.
The top two FAQs: “Why?” and “For which charity?”
To put it mildly, people were 'puzzled' as to why someone would walk from Melbourne to Sydney.
“The Galapagos iguanas, and the frequency of flights between Melbourne and Sydney PLUS the myth of Sisyphus as a mechanism to increase the diversity of ideas and find purpose in a post-cognitive era…” were received with varying levels of confusion and skepticism.
But this answer didn’t add up for most I met.
The invariable follow-up question "for which charity?" only lead to more disappointment. I didn’t have one.
Robust conversations followed with those convinced that any funds I might have been able to raise would have helped to find a cure for cancer, treat depression or a solution to homelessness.
Pilgrimages, however, are journeys undertaken because of one's own purpose and motivation. And as it happened, the fact that this journey was not externally validated by a higher, more worthy, purpose lead to important insights.
Most popular farewell: “Have fun!”
It was also common for chats about the walk to end with “have fun”.
Apparently, ultra marathoners don’t have fun, per se, but they do have something called 'Type 2 Fun'. The pain and sense of despair prevent them to have fun at the moment. They do, however, experience fun retrospectively, perhaps after a shower and good rest. That is Type 2 Fun.
I thought I was experiencing a modest version of Type 2 Fun on my walk. While only one walk reached a few meters over a marathon (42.3 Km), I did experience the cold, back pain(s), thirst, hunger and tiredness on shorter walks – thus preventing the experience of instant fun.
But fun never arrived. At least not as "enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure”.
An unexpected side effect of the pilgrimage was to experience states in ways which are different from conventional dictionary definitions. A pilgrim’s version of fun, hunger, happiness, loneliness and boredom.
A nice souvenir of this journey was a new 'personal experience dictionary'.
By far and large getting run-over was the highest risk. While I built some tolerance to seeing trucks travelling impossibly fast towards me, I never got used to it.
And they were noisy too.
Indeed, this was the reason I decided to take a bus between Orbost and Eden. Through the bus window, I could see the narrow sections with no shoulder to walk on. I was only too pleased to have avoided them. Although the disappointment remains, there was some sort of comforting validation that I made the right decision.
Then I got to experience how walking for hours on end on an open road with severe weather warnings for damaging winds feels like. The wind was a close second risk, which amongst other things, prevented me from camping more often. But, I do feel fortunate to had been able to be exposed to such winds - it was a humbling experience.
Thankfully, one of my biggest pre-walk worries was actually not a concern at all. The only live snake I saw was a good two metres away and it slithered away faster than I could decide whether to take a picture of it or run away.
Although at times I did run uncomfortably low on food and water, that too was never a serious concern.
However, there were some unexpected risks, like having to walk through a swarm of very awake bees. Tip: rain clothes and a hat make a good improvised beekeeper suit.
But a risk that I didn't anticipate and came close to end the journey was: me. I walked myself to worryingly low blood pressure and body weight.
The beauty of boredom
I walked through beautiful walks like the East Gippsland Rail Trail, Kiama Coastal Walk and the Royal National Park. But most of the walk was done on roads. And that was a good thing.
The stunning landscapes of treks left little room for thoughts other than OMG! and Wow! On the other hand, walking at 4.8 km/hr on uniquely repetitive bitumen roads is unbelievably boring. Which together with ‘rules’ from my pilgrimage, like doing it alone, disconnected and without music, ensured that I was bored beyond belief. For kilometres. For hours, for days, for weeks.
And that was a great thing. It gave me a clarity of thought and the very much promoted, but equally elusive, mindfulness. I haven't been able to achieve that before -and I have downloaded almost all of the available apps.
Boredness became a key ingredient, if not enabler, of my pilgrimage.
Roadside rubbish and Rubbish Snakes
It was heartbreaking seeing the amount of roadside rubbish. But it provided a lot of food for thought.
I spent more time that I would admit looking at patterns of smashed glass on the side of the road. There was a very good reason for that, but too long for this blog. I also liked to estimate the smoking habits of the population at the town I was about to arrive by the amount of discarded cigarette packages or their population growth based on the results of the pregnancy tests on the road.
But my favourite was spotting rubbish, usually belts, tape or cables, that looked like snakes. Apparently, it is an evolutionary trait to spot this pattern, and stood out it did. I have a compilation of Rubbish Snakes, which sadly (but luckily) outnumbered hundreds to one real snake.
Ignorance is bliss
Walking is not cheap. The cost of equipment, food (a lot of it!), accommodation (camping restrictions and wind limited the number of times I could pitch my tent) and loss of income added to a luxury holiday to the Maldives. And while I finished in the targeted 42 days, it was only because I saved at least 5 days by taking the bus.
I chose to start at Federation Square and finish at the Opera House because they are projects that not only took longer and cost more than anticipated, but their design also had to be changed for them to be built. Perhaps, these projects might not have been built if the actual cost, time and compromises were known in advance. Yet, it would be hard to imagine Sydney without the Opera House. And while significant at the time, the overruns are now negligible when compared to its importance in shaping the city’s identity.
If I had known the actual cost of a walk that I will not be able to walk in its entirety I might not have started it. Yet, this pilgrimage has become an identity-shaping experience.
I am very Type 2 Happy I did it.