Jan 022018




“There is no song more agreeable to the heart, than the slow even breath of the pilgrim, learning to bless and be blessed by the mystery.”

Stephen Devine


The Camino wrecked me for an ordinary life.

I’d pretty much failed that test anyway, however walking 32 days straight for more than 900kms – for all its agonies and ecstasies – left me with one giant impossibility: I never wanted to come inside again.

No matter how beautiful the home, no matter precious the objects in it, no matter . . . (fill in your story), none of it compares to a wild sky loaded with stars at night, a gentle creek at dawn, a farmyard restless with feeding time, a surprise eclipse stealing the midday sun.

Even when life is at its most desperate discomfort – the heat of late summer paddocks, an endless rain hammering frozen fingers, a bed not forthcoming at the end of a long day’s walk. These are small prices to pay on the pilgrim’s road, even as they loom large at the time – because no matter what the external circumstances, when one is outside walking the soul is soaring. And we all know that when the heart is happy, life is good.

Writing too disrupted my life.

The longing to write that took root in my heart became a crescendo, and despite the crescendo still I ignored it. It was like having a symphony orchestra show up in your kitchen and acting as though you were listening to music through the speaker on your phone.

One day the cymbals in that orchestra shattered all I thought I knew and I walked out of my life. I had no idea what I would do, exactly, but I knew that I wanted to write and I did not want to die wondering.

Some time later I hit the pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostela and vowed to make no decisions until the day came when one more step, just one more, would take me off the pilgrim road to . . . deep down I knew. I knew I would write.

And there we have it.

Walking. Writing. Walking and writing.

They teach fearlessness. They teach commitment. They teach endurance. They command us to wake up.

Walking and writing both, rattle our bones and shatter our self-importance until we pay attention to twin human realities that define the soul willing no longer to settle for less:

* the longing to share our story

* a hankering to walk the turning wheel that is the world outside our door.

Wherever, you are – cities, factories, apartments, farms – walk. Walk when you can. Step it up, step it out. Let your eyes take a wander with your spirit, tune your ears into life broadcasting all around you. And one day, one day, shove a pen and small piece of paper in your pocket, and begin.

Walk while you write, write while you walk. Rest and write. Walk.

And as you begin to write your story, you will learn a profound pilgrim lesson: as within, so without.

Walking, writing: so many mysteries, revealed.


Stephanie DaleWritten by Stephanie Dale, author, journalist & traveling writer; founder of The Write Road and Walk and Write.

Stephanie Dale is an award-winning journalist and author with a fondness for walking and writing. She is a passionate advocate for the visibility and voices of everyday people and focuses on supporting new and unpublished writers to write and keep writing. The Write Road is dedicated to empowering people to tell their stories, their way.

 January 2, 2018  Tagged with: , , , , ,  Comments Off on Why walking and writing wrecked me for ordinary life
Mar 302014
Station Beach, Great Ocean Walk

Station Beach, Great Ocean Walk

Where to stop
Do you need a map?
Logistics – where to stay and how to get to and from the track
Is the GOW difficult?
GOW: the forest’s own voice

It’s not easy to find information about the Great Ocean Walk, the 106 km track that hugs Australia’s southern coastline known to drivers on the tourist trail as the Great Ocean Road.

The Great Ocean Walk – Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles – can be walked easily in five days, though some do it in six or seven.

Where to stop

My friend Caroline and I divided our walk into five legs: Apollo Bay, Blanket Bay, Aire River, Johanna Beach, The Gables Lookout, Gibson Steps.

At day’s end, we needed road access for the car – this determined our daily destination.

The following distances are close estimates:

  • Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay – 22kms
  • Blanket Bay to Aire River – 20kms
  • Aire River to Johanna Beach – 14kms
  • Johanna Beach to The Gables Lookout – well, I took a guess at this one and by our reckoning we were 5kms out – the 20km guesstimate was at least 5kms short
  • The Gables Lookout to Gibson Steps – 20ishkms.

In hindsight, Caroline would have extended the Johanna Beach leg to Melanesia Beach, thus shortening the walk to The Gables Lookout the following day. For me, I enjoyed the short day to Johanna – and loved the surprise of a ‘plan’ going awry, tipping us from jagged hills into undulating forest at the closing of the day.

The second half of that day was the most wild and beautiful of the walk.

When planning your GOW, your daily destinations will depend on your accommodation and transport options (see below).

Do you need a map?

We didn’t carry a map – though others we met on the track did. The GOW is well marked with little blue signs along the track; it is well worn and impossible to lose.

Only once did we wonder where to go, and that was a few moments’ confusion at the Gellibrand River, where common sense told us there was no bridge at the river mouth and so we wandered up the sandy track towards Princetown, there to find a picnic spot with the little blue sign pointing us west.

Here is the Parks Victoria mud map we used to plan our walk. The red dots are the spots you can get your car in.

Great Ocean Walk mud map

Logistics – where to stay and how to get to and from the track

Here are the accommodation and transport options for the GOW – we spent a lot of time exploring the best, most efficient, most fabulous, most delightful way of doing the walk (see #4).

1. what we did

We rented a room in Apollo Bay via Airbnb.com – and then offered our host extra cash ($250) to drive with us each morning to our daily destination (Point B – where we would leave our car) and then drive us back to our daily starting point (Point A).

This option gave us showers, warm beds, a kitchen, daily supplies from Apollo Bay – and up to three hours a day on the road.

2. camping on the track

There is a string of campsites along the GOW – some accessible by car, others out there in the wilderness. To camp ‘out there’, which would be heaven and require no driving for the entire length of the track, means carrying all your food and bedding, some water (other water can be accessed and boiled for drinking) – this option is only for those willing to carry 15-20kilos on their back.

3. boutique accommodation and shuttle transport

There’s loads of private boutique accommodation options along the GOW – and a shuttle service that will drop you off and pick you up each morning. This sounds great and possibly is – if the shuttle service timetable works for you.

In our case, the shuttle would make no commitment in advance as to where we would start walking each day – our itinerary would depend upon the destinations of other bookings. This meant we might do our last leg third, our first leg last, our second leg third, etc.

This is why we paid our Airbnb host the extra cash, so we could walk the track consecutively from start to finish. The cash we paid him was less than the cost of the shuttle.

4. the ideal solution!

Here’s how Caroline and I would do the GOW again: We would pay Josh, our Airbnb host, to set up our camp each day at pre-determined destinations – thus eliminating the need to carry camping gear and food.

Josh would also bring us daily supplies from Apollo Bay – ice for the esky, wood for the fire (Blanket Bay and Aire River), food and/or takeaway dinners and wine for sunset.

He would then return the following morning and move the camp to the next day’s destination.

This solution eliminates the need to get in a car at all, leaving the walkers free to surrender to the wilderness as they find it.

On the last day, we would organise a shuttle to collect us from the Twelve Apostles and return us to Apollo Bay, where we would pick up our gear from Josh’s (the point at which we’d left our car). This option would cost us around $500 each – all accommodation and transport covered.

Find Josh here.

Is the GOW difficult?

Like all walks – pilgrimages – the degree of difficulty will depend on your attitude on the day.

Some days or hours or minutes are hard slog whether you’re on the flat or climbing hills. Other days or hours or minutes are a breeze as you scamper up hill faces and mind your footing on the way down.

The GOW has beach walking – though surprisingly little of it. As well, there are almost always high tide options, so if wandering along the tideline is not your thing, you can (mostly) escape the sand and stay high.

Some of the track is wide and undulating, other parts are narrow and foresty, other parts are wide open hill tops, and still others a rollercoaster of cliff faces.

The last two days will put you well beyond the reach of cars, which means you are truly alive to the wilderness. It’s a glorious feeling.

Overall, the track is not difficult. It has its challenges. All that’s required are Lessons One and Two of the pilgrim’s road:

#1. Keep going.

#2. This too will pass.


Parks Victoria Great Ocean Walk

GOW: the forest’s own voice

A wilderness puts a human in her place.

Her rightful place.

A living creature among other living creatures, their world shaped by the world in which they find themselves.

There are many reasons humans choose to walk long distances. For some it is a challenge to be measured and timed and achieved, perhaps even weight to be lost and fitness expanded. For others, the destination is irrelevant, perhaps even a disappointment: it is the being out there that is the point.

A long time ago I lived with a hunter. He taught me my place in the forest.

I am the wind, carrying the secrets of the ice from the south
I am the garden, defying the odds to live on a wall of ocean rock
I am the spiked grasses, growing on the civilised track where I am not wanted
I am the path, now sand now dirt now stone now needles of pine
    now white, now red, now brown, now black, now yellow
I am the twisted gum grown ancient and not as tall as I might
I am the fossil embedded for all time in the rock
I am the blue waves crashing, slowly, elegantly, challenging the voice of thunder
I am the bare hills of golden autumn grasses
I am the woolly creek, snaking the valley far below
I am the old man’s beard and bracken and banksia
I am the bright blue cove, beautiful and treacherous
I am the seed pod cracked open and broken, ready to be scattered anew.

I am the crow calling
I am the pig rooting
I am the feral cat running
I am the bullants mating
I am the wallaby grazing
I am the deer marking the tree with my tine
I am the snake warming her shiny black skin in the sunshine
I am the echidna, hiding her face in the bracken thinking I cannot be seen.

I am the mermaid on her rock,
wind and ocean one and the same to me
water can claim me as her own, it is all same to me.

For I am the living and I am the living dead.

If I die out here, by all means lament the passing of my selfless nature and gentle wit – by no means mourn the manner of my passing.

In truth, as I stand on a hilltop returned from the deep wild to civilisation, I don’t know whether to weep for the forest and the people for whom the land was life itself, weep for the convicts once and farmers since who cleared the land or praise them for their backbreaking work – or admire as much as I can the spirits of those who built a first world nation from this land, and from whom what is left must be protected.

With the heightened senses of the hunter, soft vision, light step, connected spirit, watchful ears, I grieve for the civilised human. For the price she has had to pay for her comfort. For her inability to read the pointed toe of the deer, smell the sow beyond the wall of bracken, decipher the marks scratched into the bark of a nearby tree.

For just a few moment, the Great Ocean Walk returned all this to me.

This and the long ago shadow of a long-legged man with a sunshine smile who taught me to wait – and let the forest come to me.

footprints Great Ocean Walk




Feb 052014
The loser in her lounge room, by the banks of an outback river.

The dreamer-loser in her lounge room, by the banks of an outback river.

I have just driven a very long way through outback Australia, to walk through a gorge that was flooded when I got there. I learned three things on my journey west.

1. dreamers are losers

2. I am a dreamer

3. humans fail – this is the purpose of being human.

Number 2 is significant to me; 1 and 3 are of significance to the whole world.

Ten years ago I sold everything I owned to liberate myself from all distractions, all excuses, all commitments that stood between me and writing – and plunged into the creative realms. I wrote, I traveled, I explored. I published. I caught basketloads of ideas and was free to explore them, like others might boat about the water pulling fish from the sea. I said ‘yes!’ to just about everything.

Then a year ago, I decided my time was up. It had been 10 years since I’d had a job. Mostly, I was out of money.

I have been doing my best for over a year now to machete my way back to the main track – and it is doing my head in. For the creative realms are like the lost lands of faery: time swells and means nothing at all, earth rhythms strum the blood like an ageless drum, life is fluid, it cannot and will not be contained, restrained, ordered about or commandeered by routine matters that are quite frankly irrelevant. Like getting a job to pay the credit card.

Hence my drive west. In three days I drove 2500kms, barreling through those wide open empty spaces of the Australian outback, the windows down, no-one but me on the road beneath that big blue sky. Face blasted by the warm wind, heat rising from the earth beneath my wheels, finally I understood: my plans for Melbourne were a pretend game.

I had been hammering a future into a shape that I hoped would deliver work and resources enough to rent a house and rebuild my life in the ‘real’ world. Then came the time I had set myself to fly to Melbourne to begin my new life . . . yet when I stared at airline departure dates I could not choose one. When I gave thought to where I might live, I was staring at thick brick walls. Nothing sang to me. Nothing beckoned. Nothing was true. Life went into meltdown.

So I drove west.

Somewhere out there in a wild forest far from the urbanised coast, I started to hum a favoured tune, pah-rumpa-pum-pum.

Come, they told me
A newborn king to see
I am a poor boy too
I have no gift to bring
I’ll play my drum for him

I’ll play my drum for him. And so it was I began to wonder: what do I have to offer? Writing, clarity and a love of wide open spaces are my strengths. These are my drum. My gift. It is all I have to honour ‘the king’, a metaphor I wish was more gender neutral but will do as a stand-in for life itself.

I must play my drum.

And that’s when I understood that I am a dreamer. And that dreamers are by definition destined to lose the success game. We are lost in the world of faery and it is futile trying to machete our way back. It will only end in tears.

Success, friends, is an illusion. Failure is the price of everything we do. Joy and success are fleeting. It is the price of our success that lodges in our bones and stays with us for the rest of our lives. This price is our failure/s. Therefore, the purpose of being human is to learn how to fail.

My children (in their 30s) and my friends (in their 50s) are aghast at my insights. I know this because people from whom I might have expected an engaged response have given the subject a wide berth. My son gave it a few days and rang me. It was like listening to someone peer around a corner to check the coast was clear.

We laughed. He was relieved to learn I had not totally lost my mind. In fact, I have recovered it.

What I don’t understand is how my insights are not really good news! When I remember that I am 1. a dreamer; 2. dreamers are losers; 3. humans are destined to fail – I feel incredibly light-hearted and liberated. Because I am free to live as the wind blows, as the seas rise and fall, as the silver moon rides the evening sky, as the rivers flow, as the trees grow, as the sun shines, as the stars pierce the evening dark.

And btw, I do not equate loser with worthless. We need our dreamers! We need what they can dream up. Because I really do have great ideas – I just exhaust myself in the implementing. What we need are ideas brokers, so we dreamer-losers can sell our dreams. And in between, for the lean times, we could implement the dream dole, support our dreamer-losers because we know how valuable they really are.


Knowing no matter what I do I am destined to lose/fail, means I can turn my back on the God of Our Times: striving for success. Fancy that, I don’t have to strive. I just get to live. And love my life as a speck in the wild spinning universe.

And if you doubt my pronouncement about failure, check your bones for grief. There’s no question that it’s there – the art of failure is how we learn to live with it. And therein lies our success.




 February 5, 2014  Tagged with: , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Great news! Dreamers are losers
May 302012

Lake Skenonto

I am the lake.

I am still water at dawn.

I fill the earth with liquid cool for the approaching summer, I touch her sides and bottom.

The water creatures move within me, skate over me.

The tongue of the gentle deer dips into me, feather soft.

The eagles soar above me, their eagle eyes sweeping the earth; the small birds sing for me.

The sky colors me.

The beaver sails upon me, a sharp V trailing the water behind her. She is a morning hunter, gliding, diving, curling into the water her lovely beaver tail, shining, smooth.

She dives. She surfaces. I, no longer the lake, and besides, I suspect the lake is a dam and the silenced voice the drowned earth below. I, no longer the lake but myself, tall and taut and bright in my red shirt, stand steady, watching the beaver.

I am mesmerized. I have never seen a beaver. At first I wonder who she is and I call her Otter. Then I see the tail and I think Oh! You are Beaver. But I am not sure. Like I am not sure the peck peck peck on a distant tree is a woodpecker. I’m not sure because these are cartoon animals. I’m not sure I ever thought these animals real; the beaver with her big teeth, Woody with his sharp beak. Of course I knew Bambi was real.

I watch the beaver on the lake, still but for the small pools that ripple around her, diving near the submerged branches of a large, newly fallen tree. She heads for the bank, I peer after her. When her back is turned I move closer. And stop. Still.

I watch. I listen. She is beating her tail. She is making gnawing sounds. I wonder if she is building a dam. She is busy as a beaver. She skates to the fallen branches and continues her hunting. Then heads for the bank and the gnawing sounds start up again.

I forget to be still. She catches me on the bank and makes a dash across the water, sailing past me as fast as her little beaver feet will peddle. I could weep that she counts me one among the enemy; I am not to be trusted.

I remember Grey Owl, an old book I came across in the Takaka Library in New Zealand a lifetime ago. Grey Owl and I by Anahareo, one of the best books I have ever read. That’s how I knew beavers weren’t cartoon animals. That’s how I learned about beaver.

I smile, sadly, to myself and long for the world before the silence of the 21st century forest. When the rivers and lakes and woodlands were full of life, when humans counted themselves as one among the creatures of the earth.

I am sad for the beaver. I tell myself a story:  that she is returning to her dam in the quiet light of dawn after the music, laughter and hijinx of the humans of the night drove her to a distant refuge. I am here with the young and the boisterous, who quite truly believe they are in the wilderness and it is theirs to possess as they please.

They are in love with the water and the night darkness, the traveling moon and the fire and the vodka and the sound of their own laughter. Even the animals, on human terms.

We are one hour from New York City.

They forget this is not their land alone, but the home of the creatures who were here before them and will be here when we leave with the midday sun.

A small orange bird bouncing around the branches of a nearby bush catches my attention. The fish leap from the water, splashhhh, splashh. A pair of dragonflies dance across the water.

A dog yaps on the distant shore. It is Memorial Day Weekend and those Americans not saluting white crosses for fallen soldiers or servicemen and women on parade in local parks have headed for the hills.

 May 30, 2012  Tagged with: , ,  1 Response »