Sore Soles – Writings

The sky was in the process of getting changed.  Casting aside its pyjamas of dusky grey and donning the day’s apparel of blue.  I lay a few seconds longer and the fragmented words of Leonard Cohen’s song slipped through clouds of consciousness.  Something about being sore in the places he used to play!  I was just sore, not sore in places, just sore all over.  A night’s sleep in a down sleeping bag lying on the white sand of an empty river bed under the brilliance of a clear Northern Territorysky sounds romantic and ideal.
I suppose it would have been, if I had been a lady of a certain age, in a group of ladies of a certain age being chaperoned by two men, young men.  Tour guides of a certain build, with designer stubble and that rugged outdoor Australian look.  Our paths had criss-crossed yesterday as they were collected from one spot, driven to another, walked 5 kms, were then collected and at the end of such a tiring day were driving back to base camp carefully erected by another few men, young men who provided the meals, the alcohol and various lustful thoughts for said ladies of a certain age.
But I was not a lady of a certain age; I was a man of a certain age who was feeling double that age.  We were 50kms into a 241km walk along the Larapinta Trail.  It had started as one of those throw away lines between father and daughter. 
“Dad, we should do that walk, bit of a challenge you know”
So it was that challenge became reality.  Only another 190kms to walk carrying 20+kilos!  The rangers told us we were lucky, this time last year they had to get people off the track because of hypothermia.  This year we had bush fires and were walking in temperatures of 30 +degrees!  The plus in the 20+ kilos we were carrying was 5 litres of water to make sure we stayed sufficiently hydrated.
I crawled out from my sleeping bag.  The desert wind was totally disrespectful of thermals.  These were good quality thermals, came from the backs of New Zealand sheep according to the labels.  The wind cut through them like a knife.  I stand there trying to work out whether to cook the porridge first or hot water for a tea.  They say the first stage of hypothermia is a slowing of the thought processes which is great if you are standing outside yourself watching the thought processes slowing but really not much help when you are standing in thermals trying to get frigging warm and wondering what to do first and why the hell you didn’t think of bringing along one of those tour guides that could at least have had the decency to boil you some water and make your breakfast.  Did I say being grumpy is the second stage of hypothermia?
The sky has finished dressing now.  The last stars had been rolled up and tucked away till tonight.  The sun, having woken had stretched its figures of light onto the rocks along the river bed.  Their orange hues brilliant and the ghost gums their bark so white, such stark beauty.  We often think of beauty as voluptuous, shapely, and seductive.  In the outback, beauty is stark, it is stripped back to its bare necessity – life, and it stands brazenly unapologetic in magnificent splendour.  I would love to stay here.  To forget my previous life, lives and stay like some hermit of old.  I can dream!
Camp broken, sleeping bags rolled up, tents folded down, rucksacks re-packed, 5 litres of water on board and we start another day of walking.  The Larapinta Trail is through and over the Western MacDonald Ranges.  Much of it is spent clambering through dried creek beds that are filled with boulders, not like the flat dry river beds we slept in.  These creek beds are filled with the force of natures anger when rains have poured through them and ripped boulders from the sides of the gorges and flung them down, like giants playing marbles.  If you aren’t clambering through creek beds then it is clambering over ranges on tracks of perpendicular shale.  It is the equivalent of walking along the back of a fossilized dinosaur; a careless step can leave you with a twisted ankle as I already knew.  While reflexology may be very relaxing when you are lying on a bed with a whale singing in the background and soy candles snuffling up your sinuses, it doesn’t have the same appeal when you are carrying a 20+kilo rucksack and trying to walk on perpendicular shale!
My soles were sore!  Sounds like the beginning of a psalm but believe me there was no singing psalms, there was much cursing and swearing.  It made me think of my grandfather.  Not the cursing and swearing, my sore soles.  My grandfather on my father’s side was a shoe maker.  He made shoes for people whose feet didn’t fit ordinary shoes! 
He was a shadowy figure this grandfather of mine.  From an early age I knew my father never wanted to spend much time with his father.  Apparently on one occasion my grandfather came to visit when we were living in Scotland.  My grandfather lived in Ireland.  I don’t remember this and the only story that is told of this visit was that my grandfather didn’t bring a Bible with him!  Fancy coming to visit your son who was a Minister of Religion without a Bible!  Good God, what could he have been thinking! The times we would go to Ireland for a holiday we would visit my father’s parents for one visit – that sufficed for duty done.  One visit I remember going into the shed at the end of the garage and finding there my grandfather’s workshop.  I remember the darkness of the workshop.  It was light outside; one of those bright Irish days when the sun was gaily shining yet in my grandfather’s workshop it was dark.  It was dusty, the dust of accumulated years and there was one shoe, it was a shoe that had been made for a person with a club foot yet they had never collected it and it just sat there – a forgotten relic.
My grandfather, a small shadowy figure from my past, who I barely knew, yet as I walked with sore soles, I suspect he, knew about such soreness.  I like to think that in his craftsmanship he made it easier for people to walk without pain.  I suspect he also knew about sore souls, the pain of a broken relationship that no craftsmanship could mend.  As his grandson we both know about that pain!

Dam it, just twisted the other ankle, still only 182kms left to go!

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