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Slices from Life Travel

How I Transitioned from a Desk Worker to a Rugged Trail Hiker at Age Sixty

Meredith Stephens shares how the pandemic impacted her life choices, with photographs and narration of her adventures

When I worked in Japan I prided myself on my routine of only exercising when incorporating physical movement into my daily routine. I would cycle to and from work, and between buildings on the university campus. This was easy unless there was a storm. Then I would cycle attempting to hold my umbrella, but to no avail. It wasn’t just that cycling with an umbrella was illegal. It was also that my umbrella would turn inside out in the gale and the spokes would break.

When there was a typhoon we were forbidden to go to campus, but I took no notice. Rather than cycling to work I walked. I would run between each building block hoping not to be swept into the air, and when I left the campus to walk home along the riverbank, I would hope that the wind would not pick me up and fling me into the river.

Every day at work I would walk up and down the stairs instead of taking the lift. This was natural given that university policy frowned upon using the lift unless you had to go beyond the third floor. I developed strong calf muscles from climbing the stairs, and strong biceps from carrying books up and down the stairs. I secretly looked down on those who drove to work and then spent their evenings at the gym.

I returned to Australia to visit family just before the pandemic started. Soon after my arrival the Australian government warned its citizens, ‘Do not travel’. I followed this advice and continued working remotely. My return coincided with that of my friend Alex who resided as an expat in the UK. He too decided to follow the advice of the government travel ban. Every now and then Alex invited me to go hiking with him and his daughter Verity. I keenly accepted, since I was so proud of my fitness and strength.

Alex and I began with regular seven kilometre beach walks. The terrain was flat, and I proudly maintained the same pace as him. Then Alex invited me to hike with him in the Innes National Park on the tip of the boot-shaped Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

I had as much stamina as Alex and I was determined not to lag behind, but there were numerous distractions. We were walking along rugged coastline on the south of the peninsula overlooking Wedge Island when a pair of roos caught my attention. The buck was overlooking the cliff, and the doe, who was beneath, was bathing herself in the warm sand, with her joey’s legs poking out of her pouch. In the glare, I fumbled to see the image on my phone’s camera in order to snap a photograph.

Next the bright yellow wildflowers rising from the succulents demanded my attention as I gazed at the grainy sand and rocks before me.

When I looked up I noticed a gap widening between Alex, Verity, and me.

“Why are you so far behind? Goodness Gracious!” Alex exclaimed.

I tried to explain myself but my voice was carried away in the wind.

I hastily caught up with Alex and Verity, and we completed the walk. Alex announced that our next walk would be along a trail of ruins in the deserted township of Inneston, a few kilometres inland. Now part of a National Park, Inneston had formerly been a gypsum mining town. The township featured a long-abandoned cricket ground, restored houses, and ruins of houses and a bakery. Abandoned farm machinery and mining equipment, long since left to rust, dotted the trail.

Alex informed me that the Inneston hike was seven kilometres and I bravely assured him that I could take it in my stride. The former railway track where gypsum had been transported had been transformed into a hiking trail.

Because I had lagged so far behind on the coastline walk, Alex now insisted I walk in front. I continued to stride confidently, safe in my position as trail leader. Alex monitored the number of kilometres we had covered on My Tracks on his phone. I felt like we had covered five kilometres but when I asked him he said that we had only covered three. Then when I felt we had covered ten kilometres we had only covered seven. On the return journey I could sense Alex’s strides growing closer behind me, and then Verity’s strides growing closer behind him.

“Hurry up!” insisted Alex.

I couldn’t reply. I was so proud of my stamina and endurance. Alex sensed my silence,

“Are you okay? I guess if you combine all of today’s walks we would have walked seventeen kilometres in total.”

I could feel my face burning and eyes swelling. I took a deep breath to calm myself, but couldn’t help blurting out.

“You go ahead. I don’t mind taking the rear.”

As we covered the remaining few kilometres to the carpark I started lagging further and further behind. I took less interest in the ruins and restored houses. When we arrived back at the car I gratefully heaved myself into the passenger seat and let Alex drive us back to our lodgings. On the way Alex stopped to look at the historic jetty in Stenhouse Bay but I did not budge from the passenger seat when invited to join him.

The next morning we resumed our hiking, and I was back in form, climbing up and down sandy dunes to the beach. It’s not so much that I was shorter than Alex or Verity, or even slower, but rather that I got distracted by the purple, yellow and white wildflowers, and the families of roos. Admittedly, I did start to lose stamina after hiking the first few kilometres while trying to hide from the intense Australian sunshine and stopping the legions of flies from entering my mouth.

After the Yorke Peninsula trip, Alex announced that our next hike would be on Kangaroo Island, which lies between the South Australian mainland and the Southern Ocean. No doubt, I will continue to be mesmerised by nature, not least because the kangaroos are smaller over there and have thick chocolate fur, with darker colouring on the tips of their ears, limbs and tails. I might even spot an endangered glossy-black cockatoo, or a seal. Despite these distractions, I am confident that I will keep up. Unless, of course, I stop to take some photographs along the way.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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