Hitching North Pt. 2


I like to shroud segments of my travels in manufactured purpose.  The act imbues them with a heightened significance.  As I hitchhiked North, after leaving Mark’s company, it was to continue my journey to Bush Week; a music festival nested in the Daintree Rainforest.

All my efforts became linked to that overarching goal.

A sleepy truck driver picked me up outside Rockhampton and brought me to Airlie Beach.  I found no substance there, amongst the gift shops and tour agencies, the pamper and recreation.  There was nothing inspiring about the pricey, commercial, prepackaged adventures.  The consumption for consumption’s sake repulsed me.  There was no flavor in casual conversations sparked on bricked sidewalk.

I moved on quickly.

A retired husband and wife carried me several hundred kilometers from Airlie.  Then, as the sun kissed the horizon, a mud splattered truck filled with the smell of KFC drove me to the small oceanside town of Cardwell.

It was there in the penumbra of twilight, beckoning rides in futility, that a wiener dog approached tugging along a thin man.  The man offered me a night’s stay at his junkyard.

Sleep in a scrap heap with a complete stranger?  Wary of such an unsolicited invite, I told him I’d think about it.  But as the reality of a night in Cardwell cemented itself, and my only other option being a rough slumber on the patio of an unsold house, I decided to accept and do the legal thing.

If not the wise thing.

This guy’s place was a machine graveyard.  That night I slept in a dilapidated caravan trailer amidst the organs of a thousand mechanical devices.  I bet myself I could find a giant metal fan somewhere on the prop; probably with rusted blades.  A dutiful search revealed that thing.

That night I learned something about distrusting my gut.  A murky anxiety bubbled inside me, but I swallowed that reactive fear and believed in the deeper goodness of people.  I opposed my own prejudice.

The thin man and I BBQ’d some steaks and talked about surfing.  He conjured an instant rapport when he said, in agreement to a sentiment of mine, “Shortboards are athletic, longboards are elegant.”  With that insight he stopped being a stranger living in a field of metal parts, and he became a relatable human being.

Later, I drifted into a sound sleep laughing at where I was, given that two nights before I’d slept in a multi-million dollar beach house.  I chuckle to remember that swing.

The next morning I thanked him, walked to the bus station, and took it to Port Douglas to meet my friends.  I found them, and it was off to Bush Week.

Bush Week itself was fun as a collection of small moments.  Sneaking in by tromping through the densest of jungles; earning our entrance by payment of thorn-slashed shins and sweat-drenched foreheads.

There was the majestic potency of a nearby waterfall, and swimming naked downriver.  And stumbling with regrettable ineffectiveness into my past.

The music was mediocre.  The drugs unappealing.  I was ill prepared, sleeping in a small tent atop a mattress of squishy mud.  But I enjoyed myself, and learned the tools needed to craft a perfect festival experience.

At festival’s end, I jumped on a bus full of Italians who brought me to a shut down resort near Cape Tribulation.  The entrance is barred by a heavy chain.  The pool is a thick mossy stew; a gladiator’s arena for bats banking and diving to feed at twilight.  The lobby is enormous and empty, yet retains an imposing, regal atmosphere.  The rooms are crumbling and worn.  It’s a short walk to a vast, pristine, and utterly empty beach.  The entire scene has an apocalyptic paradise feel.  And living in this skeleton of luxury is the caretaker named Psy.

Psy impressed me.

The years of his life had etched a permanent Buddha smile into the lines on his face.  His stature and composure exuded a calm self-possession.  Psy was attuned, seasoned, a veteran of life.  Maybe he’d weighed and measured the credits of society and deemed them insufficient.  He seemed a man familiar with walking the fringe, discovering his own substance, and making his own way.  His intellect was undeniably sharp.  And he exemplified for me the way a man can grow limitless in confidence without broaching the realm of arrogance; a pure form of confidence that does not dominate, does not assert itself superior.

Psy and I played Chess.  He played with a remarkable casualness.  And I won because he was not motivated by the validation of victory.  He was more interested in gauging me, observing my strategy down to the decisiveness with which I moved the pieces.  He was content to enjoy the game as it was, not how he’d like it to end.

Perhaps that dignified swagger grows out of a counterbalancing self esteem, or a humility, or even an applied, genuine interest in people.  Maybe it’s a recognition that the treats of an imagined future are only illusions.  He lives for the moment.

I saw his example as the way a man ought to conduct himself, and I harbored as much of that quality as I could.

After some time, Psy decided that the accumulating vagabonds had begun to overcrowd.  It was time for them to leave.  So I jumped in a van with some friends, and rode onward again.

Thank you for reading.


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