I chewed my quinoa and baked veg salad looking up at her; in 2 hours from now, it would start. After 16 years of no access, 500 locals had registered for ‘The Chinny Charge’, a 7km run/walk up our tiny but omnipresent Mount Chincogan, near Byron Bay.
The queue to collect our numbers was long, and you could feel the buzz of excitement; even Colin, who won the first ever Chinny Charge in 1967 with a time of 38 minutes and a $20 bar tab prize, was enthusiastic (in that utterly laid-back, short-phrased Australian country way)
“Stick to the rules, so we can hopefully do it again next year: wear shoes, don’t litter, stick to the path, and no fighting.” [Fighting? I’m going to be struggling just to breathe aren’t I? What exactly went on in the olde days round here??]
Yup, I’m happy to agree to all that. The tiny mountain is on private property, so unless the landowners give specific permission (which they do a few times a year to local school groups), walking up her is officially trespassing. It’s a 3km walk through town to her base, and with street closures and people cheering, it feels special. My teenage son has run on ahead, despite having done zero training, but I’m happy to tuck my head down and walk slow but steady.
Because I know I’m soon to [technically] break the law.
It’s not easy, this walk. It hasn’t rained for weeks, so the land feels thirsty, and there’s a bushfire haze smudging the horizon. As I begin to climb up the folds of her dress, a young man charges back down. He’s wild-eyed and sweat-shiny, clearly determined to beat the fastest time 16 years ago (held by a sugarcane cutter who did it in bare feet). [We just found out he did it in 29 minutes, a new record. Apparently he’s climbed Everest too.
I hate young people.]
Thank GOODNESS I did my water tower cardio training last week ‘Tackling the mountain’ HERE. Otherwise I’d be doomed…
Toward the summit, we bottlenecked. It got so steep and narrow, not to mention slippery and dusty as hell, that we could only take 2 or 3 steps at a time, giving way to those coming down (sometimes on their bums as the ground was so unreliable). My son jogged past me as I hit the traffic jam, and graced me with a grimace.
He knew what I was hoping to do up there.
So finally I got to the top. The last 300 metres were the most challenging, and I know many people turned back. But I’m stubborn, so here I am with the pole that marks the peak. There was literally a queue to walk around it, register your number as having reached the pinnacle, take a selfie, then return.
I hung about, trying to find a special tree, rock or other natural marker. Maybe I shouldn’t do it? Maybe I’d be spotted and get in trouble? I’d imagined it as more spacious up there, with room for a small ceremonial moment…
I spent about 10 minutes watching the line of people coming up, turning round, and heading back down. I tried to find my truest heart voice: was I meant to go through with this or not?
Another 5 minutes passed.
Then into my headphones slipped a sweet, soft, French song I love, and I knew the answer was Yes. I looked around me with new eyes: where would he be happy? For in my pocket, I carried a tiny tub of my Dad’s ashes, and I was ready to leave some of him up here.
He died suddenly in 2008, having just visited us for 3 weeks in Australia. I felt like I was drowning for 2 years afterwards, crying every day, and wearing a bland mask at work. All my beloved food tasted like sawdust, and I had to sleep with the light on. Finally I dragged myself out of the official depression (thank you to dearest friends, acupuncture, therapy, dance, writing, and of course the inspiration of my son); the colours of Life came back to me, slowly but surely.
Dad was a global traveller, who’d lived in Paris for a long time when I was growing up, then retired to beautiful Vancouver Island. He died on Kauai off Hawaii though, so we scattered some of his remains there. We poured some into the ocean which lapped his house in Victoria, and my two brothers and I each took some home when we parted ways after the funeral. I confess I put some into the Japanese Gardens in Adelaide where I was living at the time, and which he’d loved visiting with me. A few more sank into a courtyard fish pond in Sydney, where we’d shared many lively family evenings with good food, wine, and conversation.
All that indiscriminate ash scattering was perfect for Dad, as it feels like he’s still on the move, connected with all his favourite places and people…
But back to me, sweaty and dusty, lurking round the tiny crest of a mountain, acting suspiciously. For according to the NSW Government Health Department fact sheet re cremations and remains dispersal:
“… It is important to get permission from the owners of private land or the Trust of Parks and reserves, or from local council… as scattering of ashes may contravene the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 in terms of air or water pollution.”
Yeah. Nah. Whatever. Never was a big fan of following the rules…
I spotted a double-headed ‘grass tree’, or Xanthorrhoea, an iconic Australian flowering plant. Strong, simple, long-lived, and still a little mysterious. Perfect. I sat on the dry ground beside it, listening to the last of the French words in my ears. I knew I didn’t have the time nor peace to create a long ritual, so I just closed my eyes, filled my heart with an awareness of Dad’s ongoing love and presence, thanked him for everything so far, and asked him to keep my son and I safe as we continued our living paths. I told him I still missed him, yet also feel him around; then I emptied the little canister straight into the earth at the very base of the tree, and sat quietly for a moment more.
Thank you Dad, for so much.
Then I slid, scrambled, and slightly-hobbled my way back down the mountain, taking a photo of each side’s view of sea and land:
The ubiquitous Finish selfie had to be taken [but I’m sparing you], then I farewelled various friends who’d also done the walk, and cycled the 5 minutes home through town.
I want to end by acknowledging the Indigenous people of the Bundjalung nation, traditional custodians of the land upon which we live and walk. I honour Mt Chincogan for letting me climb her skirt safely, and as I sit on my verandah at the very edge of her hem, looking back at her to write this, I feel changed, knowing that a part of Dad is up there too now. And always will be.
My son wants to know what’s for dinner; there’s washing up to be done, the cat is hungry, and the recycling bin needs emptying. The daily profanity of Life goes on, but now we’re doing it all watched by our newly, and truly sacred mountain.