Everything was wet.
Some things less than others, but my gear was all just damp. My poor shoes, my poor feet! I had basically camped in a puddle last night — talk about getting a soggy bottom!
But at least it wasn’t raining again, at least not right now.
I left the highway for the relative peace of the side road, heading to find a campsite in Murray Valley. Around a bend I noticed an entry into an apparent campground, and a sign that said “Poet’s Paradise.”
This gave me pause.
Earlier, in the midst of misery, when it was raining and hailing and then raining some more, I had fantasized briefly about buying a warm, dry motel room. But then the rain had stopped, and the sun came out a bit, and, escaping oppression, my spirit felt strong enough to ditch camp again. I could dry things by the fire.
So I gave it a miss, and pedaled into the gathering dusk.
But only for about 100 meters.
First I heard a spoke pop. Damn! Well, that’s nothing I can’t fix. Onward!
Crunch. My chain caught on the gears. The crank froze.
I literally couldn’t pedal.
Not exactly something I can’t fix, but with night coming on…. I could read the writing on the wall. I’m in tune enough with my heart’s messages to realize: if that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. I turned and coasted back to the Poet’s Paradise.
Maurie is a 69 year old divorcee, call him a carpenter turned bush poet, trying to build a place of beauty and peace for future generations. He took one look at me, reading his poem hanging in the camp kitchen, and decided right away I was trustworthy, I think. He invited me to stay indoors, sleep in a bed and dry things by the wood stove. For the usual camping fee, of course. Oofda!
But it was great! Maurie was very kind and engaging. I added an onion to his stew and he fed me, and we talked of our lives, stories and plans.
I asked many questions about poetry and writing and recital. I inquired whether he had a copy I could read of this famous “Man From Snowy River” poem, an iconic Aussie piece written by Banjo Patterson long ago, about a drover from the Australian Alps region here, who single-handedly mustered a herd of wild horses.
“You know I recite that poem…” he replied. And he did, right there off the top of his head, with Pitch, Pace, Pause, and Intonation. It was a great first way to hear a great poem!
Everything was good. My belly was full, my clothes were toasting by the fire. We talked of the Men’s Shed which he is a part of in Corryong, a men’s health & activity group with chapters all over the world. I was looking forward to a nice cozy sleep under that duvet.
Then Maurie made a phone call, about an unrelated matter. Whoever he talked to had just driven over the Dead Horse Gap, the alpine mountain pass where I planned to cycle, and apparently, did not suggest it.
The report was “I wouldn’t be tryin’ that on a push bike in these conditions!”
Whoever this guy was, Maurie believed him, and trusted his opinion I guess. He seemed to grow more and more worried, more and more convinced that I should not go that way. No more impromptu poetry recitation.
He kept saying, “I really really have to recommend that you don’t go that way.”
At the beginning, I told him, straight up, that when someone tells me not to do something, or that I can’t do something, usually that makes me want to do it even more.
I told him, he must’ve known. He knew.
So maybe that was why he became incessant, taking every opportunity to discourage me from going, dominating our conversation with it — maybe he was testing my determination.
More likely he was just genuinely concerned for my safety.
At first I was simply annoyed. There’s only so many times I can say, “I’ll take that under consideration. Thank you.”
After awhile it was just uncomfortable. He was discouraging me with every potential hazard he could imagine. It was fear-mongering on a level of intensity that was difficult to handle gracefully.
“Sometimes they get over two meters of snow up there, and the snowplows can’t get to it right away, and the plowed section is only wide enough for one car, with hard snow bank walls. I just checked the weather, they got another fifteen centimeters last night. Oh and it’s gonna be cold, so cold, even Canberra farther North is a cold place. And wet — when you’re going into the mountains, you know you’re going to get wet. All the firewood is going to be wet, you won’t be able to light a fire. And there are whiteouts up there where you can’t see anything. Once you get to Tom Groggin, you’ll be in for a hard, hard trek. A really hard trek.”
I could only reply with a blank stare. What could I say I hadn’t already said?
“How much respect do you have for the sea?” he asked from his cunning little soapbox. “You should have the same respect for the mountain! I really — really, recommend you don’t go that way. You could go back the Northern way…” He described a backtrack that left a bad taste in my brain. Take the Hume Highway? Not a chance.
When he implored me to “Really, really, seriously consider the situation,” I did just that. Out loud. I broke it down the way I saw it. Funny, the things I considered the highest risk — slippery descents on icy slopes, and getting enough traction going up them — hadn’t appeared on his frightening litany of hazards.
But that didn’t stop him from coming up with more creative ways to discourage me. Though I was very annoyed (and frustrated at being a captive audience, as a guest in his home!) I told myself, “The wise man would listen to this advice, torrent of pressure that it may be, and factor all available information into his final decision. The wise man would listen.”
And I was reminded of something my sister Johanna taught me once: When you feel strongly about something, when you notice an emotional force arise within, it’s about you. Your own ego. It’s not about whoever brought rise to the emotion, no matter how antagonistic they are. It always boils down to something inside you.
Armor down Charlie, armor down.
So without so much as a “Please don’t discourage me so much,” only that deadpan, somewhat helpless stare, I let him ramble on. And wondered, “What is it, that is getting under my skin so much here?”
What was it, indeed.
I needed, or at least wanted — preferred — encouragement. Like the Chinese fella who later, out on that mountain hard trek, leaned out of his minivan to simply yell “GO ON COME ON!”
I laughed out loud! That’s what I want, not “DON’T EVEN ATTEMPT IT!” Not to be talked down to, like some immature grandchild.
Perhaps it was my silence that spurred him on. Did he think that because I refrained from defending myself at every challenge he posed, that I’m about to crack? Or worse, that I don’t really understand what I’m about to get into? Perhaps I should have talked more, explained my understanding. Perhaps I could have activated my power more, promoted my own confidence so he didn’t worry so much.
Perhaps being wise isn’t only about listening, but about saying wise things as well. We humans are forced to interact within the limits of the code of language, and the potent Image we are constantly projecting; perhaps I should care more for how other people see me. I do so hate feeling that I misrepresented myself.
Then again, is it really my responsibility to control how others perceive me?
You might protest the complaints I’ve written here: “But Maurie was just concerned for my safety.”
Ironically, that’s precisely why I couldn’t trust his advice.
Other people come from an outside perspective, and if they are worried about you, well, it takes a pretty special type of wisdom to let go. Or shall I say, to hold on loosely. But give me my reign to seek my limits. Let me run, let me soar, and see how high I can get! Let me try to achieve something truly difficult.
For without a bit of madness, would anything truly special ever get accomplished?
In the morning I fixed up my bike and packed away my dry kit, supremely glad I had chosen to follow the Universe’s signs to this place. Now I was once again ready for anything!
Maurie suggested I call ahead to the National Parks office to check road conditions, but I was done with all that. Nope; I’ll just ride there and see with my own eyes thanks.
Then, what I consider his last-ditch attempt: “You know when you see a sign that says Trucks Use Low Gear…” at this I glanced sharply up at him. Was he really going to explain this to me?
“That means, trucks use low gear.” His voice dripped with implied meaning.
I ignored the flare inside, my ego rebelling against this statement that seemed so patronizing. “Yeah hm, I think I’ve seen that sign once or twice….”
I was so ready to be away from this negative influence.
But the feelings stayed with me for days.
Up on the mountain, I got quite angry with Maurie, when I realized how inaccurate most of his information was. The sky was clear, the firewood dry, and the road conditions wholly surmountable. It was gorgeous, even pleasant.
Would I have been so angry if his advice had turned out to be sound?
I doubt it.
So then, the source of my emotions was the fact that he was so righteous, so convinced, so sure that I shouldn’t do it. He had so much conviction, without even knowing whether he was true or not. Trying to control me is one thing. But trying to control me irresponsibly — that, I cannot abide. I wish it didn’t, but that sort of thing really gets to me.
There was true triumphant vindication, however. The justification of self. In the end, his energy was spent, his fear crashed over me like waves on a rock.
And I went. I did it anyway. Wichozani: I walk in the center of my life.
Just before I pedaled away, he saw in my eyes: he had failed.
I would not be giving up.
Or perhaps he succeeded, if bolstering my willpower had been his goal.
He peered at me with those far-seeing poet’s eyes, and said, “You cyclists are a determined bunch, aren’t you.”
“Yes… a bit like poets, I suppose.”