OZ BLOG: Day 34 – 42, What It’s Like to Travel When You Can’t Walk… Rockhampton to Melbourne, Australia

Travel blogging is a saturated community. Everyone’s at it. But do you know why I love it? Because it’s honest… apart from the small handful of people that regurgitate rubbish to earn the pennies. I find solace in travel blogs. I find first hand experiences, stories and reviews. I find interesting, overlooked activities. I find swearing and brutal confessions.

Blogs recreate that familiarity you get when you’re talking to an old friend. The friends that stand out to me the most, are the ones that face their issues head on and push forward. I’m not talking about #firstworldproblems; I’m talking about debilitating sickness, being broke without a way home and life threatng scenarios.

I’m in awe of travellers that pick themselves up and get on with their dreams. Not just their LIVES, but their DREAMS. I’ve seen a couple of my friends hooked up to drips in foreign hospital beds. I’ve seen and heard stories from both men and women of sexual harassment. I know of people that literally can’t afford to eat. But they all refuse to give in.

We all have our moments in life, where we think life as we know it is over… and it’s our choice to keep pushing on, or go home.

Since breaking my ankle, I’ve thought more and more about how physical and mental health can impact your travel and your lifestyle. I guess this goes without saying, but I just hadn’t really considered how much it could slow me down. I’ve had an awful lot of time to surf the internet lately, and I keep coming back to a certain demographic of bloggers.

Travellers in wheelchairs.

And I put this to you… Ms/Mr Traveller In A Wheelchair. HOW DO YOU DO IT?!

xray post surgery

I was discharged from hospital on a Friday, and despite being over the moon and well up for a much needed beer, I was in bed and asleep by 4PM. I was knackered. Crutches are not for the faint hearted. The rest of the week continued on in the same way. I missed a rodeo that I was desperate to go to, I starved for a day because I couldn’t make myself food, I was left out of the conversation because I was inconveniently propped up on the sofa about ten metres away from everyone else.

Every day I woke up at 6.30AM to start the monumental hop to the bathroom, and every day I was back in bed by 7AM because the thought of making my way across the gravel with no shoe on was enough to make me suicidal. Eventually, the poor connection to wifi had me rolling out of bed at 8AM and flopping back on to that god damn sofa. Until 5PM… when I went to bed.

It was tragic. I couldn’t move. My left foot was throbbing all of the time. My palms were bruised. My motivation to do anything was completely shot.

My plaster felt like it was made of lead and it was huge. I kept scraping my toes on the gravel as I hopped between areas of interest in the hostel. I couldn’t open doors on my own, I couldn’t get myself a drink on my own, I couldn’t cook any meals on my own and I couldn’t GO anywhere on my own.

I was stuck. At Rockhampton YHA.

I couldn’t help but ask myself if I should be going home. I wanted my Mum and Dad to look after me, and not judge me for sitting around day in and day out. Because I had this sneaky suspicion that everyone else was. How, Ms/Mr Traveller In A Wheelchair, do you continue to wheel your way across the world without a grumble, loving your life like you haven’t been dealt a kinda shitty card? How do you have the physical and emotional strength to not be reliant on others and to ignore the way people roll their eyes when you can’t reach something in the cupboard?

Because these feelings are killing me.

Or they were…

It was about three days into our stay that a lovely gent who worked on general maintenance at the hostel approached me. We had been talking over the couple of days that had just passed and he seemed to like me. He said I was clever. And because I was clever, he lent me his wheelchair for the day.

I wasn’t going to waste this and the guy was kind enough to drive us down to Rockhampton Zoo. Which is more of a small enclosure than a zoo, but was well worth the trip if stuck for anything to do in Rocky. Especially as it’s free.

We spent hours coaxing kangaroos into the encounter area, stroking koalas, feeding lorikeets and attempting to mow down children and little old ladies on downward slopes. I could have happily spent the whole day there.

If I could walk, I would stay longer.

But the hills were too difficult for me to push myself up and everyone else wanted to head back to the hostel

The boys picked us up the next day and after having my crutches dropped on me I was feeling a little fragile. Guy had to take a rest after driving all night with more or less no sleep, so I laid on the grass in the ‘park’ for some quiet time. It took me ages to get across the road.

If I had been in a car, I would have run myself over.

Then I had to ask for help getting up off of the ground. This whole asking for help thing was really starting to ruin my confidence.

We began the long drive back to Melbourne, via Dural, Sydney… where we got another infringement notice for parallel parking facing the opposite direction to traffic. Dammit.

It was between Dural and Melbourne that I had my melt down. A whole combination of things were really starting to bother me… the main one being that we needed to clean the van. Normally, I would have got up and done it all myself. Guy had already chucked most of the shit out at Dural and as designated driver it wasn’t really his responsibility to clean the sand off the floor.

Fliss was folding her things up and putting them away, whilst Jack started wiping down work surfaces. Long story short, I had tried to help in every way that I could, but with my lump of a leg no one could get around me to do anything else. I was in the way. Then, the sentence, “I don’t see anyone else doing anything!” was tossed in the air and I lost it completely.

I was so pissed off, that I had tried my bloody hardest to contribute to the clean-up process, and it hadn’t made a jot of difference. It hurt to move, let alone stagger around a moving vehicle with no suspension. Whether that fleeting statement was directed at me or not, I took it personally.

I am useless, and everyone else thinks so too.

I spent the rest of the journey ignoring and hating everyone, including myself.

The van had been our home for six weeks. It had gone nearly everywhere with us. It had been trashed, cleaned, trashed again and cleaned again, by us and various other stragglers that we managed to pick up along the way. We had no major accidents, no terrifying kangaroo incidents and only a couple of serious, “shit man, we have no fuel” situations.

Guy drove over 1,840 miles in three days and we returned the van three days early and two minutes before the store shut. We were done with the van. Fuck the van. Fuck the cleaning of the van. Fuck the fines. Fuck everything the van stood for.

It should have been the trip of a lifetime, and it was great, but it had its ups and it had its catastrophic downs. It was an educating experience if nothing else.

I was devastated to be saying goodbye to my brother two days later. I felt safe with him around. I knew that I could count on him to help me without me asking and that, to someone who hated asking for help, was crucial to keeping my confidence intact.

I made a vow to myself, that when he left, I wouldn’t slip into a hole. I would not let my physical strength (or lack of it) stop me from being myself and doing what I normally would.

So, with my crutches, I spent hours (and I mean hours and hours) sat in the pub, drinking Baileys and writing. Sure, I wasn’t moving much. I wasn’t wheel spinning my way across continents… but I was living and I was building a dream. I applied to an ad looking for writers on the topic of sex and dating and I am now paid to write on a casual basis.

In a couple of days I was to move to Adelaide where, as a temporary cripple, I was going to get out and enjoy myself. Things were looking great. I had a job (even if it was VERY part time), I was moving into a new house, with new people, in a new town.

So, Ms/Mr Traveller In A Wheelchair, I think I see now how it is that you do what you do. Life doesn’t stop because your body doesn’t work the same way as other peoples’ do. The same way the world doesn’t stop turning because you spent a week in hospital with chronic food poisoning or were mugged on your way home one night.

Beautiful parts of the world won’t stop being beautiful, and you’ll still see them if you’re determined to make it happen.

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