Learning to Walk Again

My first solo backpacking trip didn’t exactly start out as planned. That’s what happens when you trudge down a path with bags so heavy that it felt like I was learning to walk again.

I truly had no idea what I was doing, but I was sure I would figure it out as I went (and I did, eventually). The experience was exciting regardless – I was going to Australia and New Zealand, I was going alone, and (most importantlyI was skipping the bitter end of winter in New England. A win-win-win scenario to be sure.

So, when I arrived…

It had been a grueling 24 hours straight of traveling (21+ hours of flights – a first for me), the exhaustion was beginning to set in as I had only managed to sleep a few fitful hours on the plane.

Cash? I didn’t have any (I was skipping the insane ATM rates in the airports in the hopes of finding a local ATM to take money from).

Cell Service? Nope (getting an international plan was too expensive for my taste).

I didn’t even have a plan.

Google found the cheapest hostel in Sydney at the time, which was City Resort Hostel, and I booked three nights to start. That was it. So knew where I had to go, but I didn’t know how to get there. No matter. First things first, I had to get some money. I needed to find an ATM.

So, I hoisted my gigantic bags (first trip…I severely overpacked…it must have been like 80 pounds of stuff I was lugging around with a large backpack on my back and a regular school backpack across my chest), and started walking.

Conquer Fear Learning to Walk Again
There were plenty of rowers in the water when I arrived on a brisk Saturday morning.

The picture above shows the direction I had started trekking in to find an ATM. As I mentioned above, I was exhausted, and I just needed to accomplish my mission (get money, get to hostel, sleep). Therefore, I didn’t take any pictures. So to illustrate my story, I did a little digging on Google Streetview (what an insane tool, eh?). I think that if I had taken a right and headed up the river instead of going left across the bridge, I would have had a much different story…

But as it turns out, I did cross the bridge and was basically wandering aimlessly down this sidewalk looking for somewhere an ATM might be. I passed some construction workers who were attending to a building.

These guys must think I look like an idiot.

That was the first time I’d ever worn two backpacks like that. They were definitely paying a lot of attention to me, or at least it felt like it. Perhaps they were just wasting time, waiting to go home on a beautifully sunny Australian day.

Conquer Fear Learning to Walk Again
Apparently still under construction when the Google Truck made its rounds…

I pressed on, trudging down the sidewalk with all of my heavy gear, searching for some cluster of shops or a bank, literally ANYWHERE I could find an ATM to get some Australian money. 

This was where I was when I discovered that I could still use Google Maps as a map without any service, I just couldn’t enter a new destination into it. I could see that I had gone the absolute opposite direction of downtown Sydney (yeah yeah… hindsight = 20/20), and I could see a spot coming up ahead that I could make a left and follow that street right in the direction of downtown. I could even walk it all the way there, only a four hours walk! Ha…

So I headed for the turn. It was like a six way intersection, and was very strangely setup for pedestrians. So strange, in fact, that there was nowhere apparent for pedestrians to cross, and nowhere apparent for pedestrians to walk even if they DID manage to cross.

But I noticed a bike path that tunneled underneath the road and turned towards the direction that I was trying to go. I figured, Hey, I’ll follow this bike path for a bit and then it’ll meet up with that street and I’ll be all set.

I began hiking the path in my bulky double-backpack getup.

Finally, I get to where it should connect with the road, but to my chagrin it starts heading further and further from the road that I had guessed it would connect with. I decided to press my luck and keep going with it.

Next thing I know I’m walking this bike path next to a stream and guys are hitting golf balls on the course next to me, and I’m no closer to an ATM and now quite far from the road I had planned to turn onto.

Now, you need to know how hot it was on this particular morning. I’m talking like 80° Fahrenheit in the underneath that world-famous Australian ozone layer. The sun was beating down, and it was hot.

At this point I was sweating, and I was tired from lugging about 80 pounds of luggage on my back and chest. Not only that, but I was still no closer to finding an ATM. 

It was what’s generally referred to as a lose-lose situation.

But hey, I was still in good spirits. I was doing something I’d never done before, and that was explore a foreign country by myself. So I resolved to keep moving along that bike path and hoped to find some cluster of shops or something to pull money out of. After that, who knew? Maybe I WOULD end up walking to the city.

This bike path, mind you, had one other interesting feature. All throughout my walk I kept hearing what sounded like human yells. And yet every time I turned to look it was birds. These damn Australian crows sounded like Jabberjays straight out of the Hunger Games. It freaked me out a little bit. Anyway, moving along.

I was passed a few times by cyclists enjoying the path (really felt like I could tell how many more Australians than Americans stay active just from this one walk), and I think I got some strange looks, but maybe it was in my head.

Or maybe they weren’t used to seeing solo backpackers on their bike path in the middle of random Australian suburbia on a sunny Saturday morning. Could’ve gone either way. Might have been a little bit of both.

After what felt like the longest hour of my life (though I guess it’s likely a tie), I exited the bike path into the aforementioned Australian Suburbia. I remember the name of the town because I only saw it on the map and don’t know how to say it.

I was in Kyeemagh.

And I had finally found a major road (score!), and some shops, but none of them could give me cash back, and there were no ATMs. At this point, my plan started looking all sorts of real bad.

I started following the road north, since Sydney was in that direction and I might as well look for an ATM in that direction (or so my mind thought).

That’s when I came to my second nemesis after the torturous bike path trek.

Conquer Fear Learning to Walk Again
The ominous sky foreshadows where this is going…

Endeavor Bridge.

This bridge was my nemesis and you’ll soon know why. But first, look at the mini-map that is embedded into the above picture. We’ll revisit that in just a second.

So this was where I started having doubts about the walk. I was just about ready to ask a stranger for a ride. “Sorry about all the sweat…”

After an embattled internal discussion, I convinced myself to keep moving. I wasn’t paying attention. I’d been up far too long, and fatigue was definitely beginning to set in. And so, I ended up crossing the bridge. 

Once I got to the other side, I noticed one big issue. The pedestrian path suddenly disappeared. I could no longer follow a road as it basically transformed into a highway; one side disappearing down a tunnel, and one going up above it.

Now back to the map.

Two things here. One: all I’ve basically done is take an hour and a half to make a giant U around and back to the airport while managing to accomplish zero parts of my mission. Two: you can’t just walk through an airport!

So there I am on the wrong side of the bridge, and took a minute and sat down by the river’s exit just to catch my breath. Now I was really beginning to question whether or not the best way to go about this would be to just get a ride to the city from a local. I figured I’d give it a shot.

I walked back across the damn bridge.

It’s very doubtful that anyone was in their cars for my walk over and then again for my walk back. That didn’t stop it from feeling like I was doing a walk of shame!

There was a path to the beach on the Kyeemagh town side of the bridge now, so I walked towards it and sat on a bench on the beach for a couple minutes. I was imagining a couple of things.

First I was thinking it would be great to shake off the New England winter and soak in the Pacific on a beautiful summer day, and also I was assuming that I’d probably get bitten by a shark. Doesn’t everyone get bitten by a shark in Australia?

However, it was still not a good time to let my mind wander. I could swim after I had a nice nap. I started walking back the way I’d originally come but stayed near the beach. The parking lot had only a few cars in it, and a few times I angled my walk towards some locals getting in or out of a car, but I never followed through with it. I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask a stranger for a ride somewhere, or for help in general. A man can’t ask for help – big surprise

I kept walking along the beach area, and at last I came to C Side Restaurant and Kiosk.

I walked in, finally ready to accept a little bit of guidance.

Conquer Fear Learning to Walk Again
There she is, C Side Restaurant and Kiosk, my savior!

I made my way to the counter as if to order. The place was empty – there were a few people eating sandwiches at the tables outside, but there was no line and there were no patrons indoors. A woman came to the counter when she saw me standing there, and I briefly explained my situation.

“Hey, sorry to bother you, but I just landed in Sydney this morning around 8 and I’ve been trying to find an ATM to pull some money out, and I need to get to the city. Could you point me in the direction of an ATM and a bus?” – you know, something like that.

In response to what I had said, she responded, “Have you been carrying those bags around for two hours? Here, it looks like you need this.” And she handed me a water! I was confused. I tried to ask how much of my American money she wanted for the water, but she told me not to be silly. Then she called the owner of the store over (another very kind Australian woman), and they handed me $10 AUD and pointed me to the nearest bus stop. 

I thanked them profusely, and they just welcomed me to their country and told me that they weren’t any nicer than the average locals. “That’s just how Australia is,” they said.

Conquer Fear Learning to Walk Again
That yellow sign is the very same one I waited under as a clueless explorer in February 2016.

It’s funny imagining myself in the picture.I was so clueless, I had never taken a bus before outside of university. I was thinking, “What if the bus never comes,” and then I was worrying about when to give the driver my money. How much would it cost? I had no idea, but I was certain that $10 would cover it (it would, obviously). The bus finally arrived, and when it did, I was relieved. My day had really turned around thanks to the kindness of those two strangers. I stowed one of my bags underneath my seat and put the other on my lap, and for the first time in what felt like forever, I was able to rest a bit.

The ride into Sydney was long, but I was totally captivated by the “average day” in Australia. Everything that they considered routine, I was analyzing with wonder. The houses were different. The people looked different, acted different. I couldn’t believe how many children used the public bus to get around for school purposes.

Uh-oh, my suburban upbringing is showing…

They all carried no tickets, instead using a card (an Opal Card) to swipe on and swipe off the bus using terminals at the doors. I hadn’t seen anything like it so I thought it was amazing. It made the bus so little of a hassle; just swipe to get on, swipe to get off.

At last I was in the city, and I just picked a stop and got off the bus. I was in the Sydney Central Business District. This city was alive. I’m not really a city person. I don’t spend much time in cities, but I loved Sydney (and the whole area around Sydney). It’s pretty much sacrilege, but I think I loved Sydney more than I love Boston (gotta get warmah, bro, and cleanah).

I was closer to my goal than ever before, but I still had a ways to go.

To rectify my money problems (and temporarily – my wifi problem), I stopped at a bank. I only took out like $120 for some reason, but it was enough to start. I grabbed a bite to eat (and more wifi) at a Hungry Jack’s – which is basically the Australian Burger King. Finally I headed off to find my hostel.

Conquer Fear Learning to Walk Again
At last I made it to Sydney’s Central Business District. Time to get some $$$!

While I had wifi I input the address of my hostel into Google Maps. After that it was just a scavenger hunt to find it. I had to find my way back to the route every time I strayed from the path, but eventually I located the street. I cut through a few parks, down some side streets, and finally ended up on the hill where my lodgings were located.

The picture below shows the (slight) hill I walked up, until I stumbled onto that sign for City Resort. I checked in, and was pleased that I had made a reservation. The hostel staff thought I was a walk-in and told me they were all booked up.

It turns out that Sydney’s Mardi Gras was coming up.

Who’d have guessed?

Now about five hours since I’d landed – I was finally able to put my gear down and collapse into bed. A wondrous feeling. It felt so good to lay down that at first I didn’t even notice how run-down and awful this place was (seriously, downright, hilariously awful). But that just makes my first solo trip story even better….started from the bottom, right?

Conquer Fear Learning to Walk Again
My first hostel… my experiences literally had nowhere to go but up.

My first steps were fraught with mistakes, miscues, and wrong turns. Despite that, I came out of it with an appreciation of local kindness, and a general understanding of some of the routines of suburban Australians.

I started out with some kind of attitude like I needed to do everything by myself without help. Now I’ll spend way less time making mistakes before I speak with a local (or knowledgeable stranger) in the future.

You know, that’s what they say about the difference between learning in school, and learning in life.

 In school, you are taught a lesson and then you are given a test.

✪ In life, you are given a test, and then you are taught a lesson.

Lesson learned.

Source: Pictures were screenshotted using www.instantstreetview.com

Originally Posted January 24, 2017

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